Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Why would anyone want to be an atheist? 5 reasons

This is a great question and one that I think I am uniquely qualified to answer. Religion was at the center of my life growing up. I was a Born Again Christian and experienced all forms of religious ecstasy. Jesus Christ was my personal savior and my walk with the Lord was never far from my thoughts.

My early answer to the question, “Why would you want to be an atheist?” was, “I don’t want to be.” Why would I want to give up beliefs that provided so much comfort? I wanted a loving, omniscient parent figure watching over me. I wanted bad people to be punished and good people to be rewarded. I wanted miracles to be real. I wanted to meet my loved ones in Heaven after I died. I wanted the power of prayer to influence outcomes in this world. I wanted to believe what everyone I grew up with believed. I wanted to believe in magic.

As I began to develop my critical thinking skills, I found that my religious beliefs did not hold up to my personal standards for logic and evidence. I desperately wanted my Christian beliefs to be objectively true. Everyone I loved and respected growing up was a Christian. “Christian person” and “good person” actually meant the same thing to me (I have since found this to be a grossly inaccurate perception). I was so determined to prove my beliefs valid that I spent over 20 years attempting to reconcile rational thinking with Christianity. I failed. Historically, better minds than mine also failed at this endeavor. Ultimately, I had to accept that there were no loopholes through which I could contort a logical argument to such a degree as to deny reality. As the religion of the ancient Greeks, my religion was simple mythology.

Reality demonstrates its true nature to us every minute of every day. You don’t need to be an atheist to know that snakes don’t talk, that gravity is constant, that death is permanent, and that even the potential for evil (or free will) could not logically exist if God were simultaneously all good, all knowing, AND the creator of all things.

1. In the absence of credible evidence, atheism is the default position

I didn’t decide to become an atheist. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, atheism is the default position. Every baby on the planet is born an atheist until she is indoctrinated into the mythology of her culture. The burden of proof is on he who makes the assertion. As Carl Sagan said, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” If I claim to have a pocket full of magic beans, it is not your job to prove me wrong. I made the claim, therefore, I must show you the beans and show you that they are magic. Likewise, if I claim that there is a god, I must show you the god.

I am an atheist because any other position would be intellectually dishonest. The fundamental human thinking error is to mistake “feeling true” for “being true.” The modern age was born the minute the scientific method factored out this natural human tendency. “Wanting” a piece of information to be true does not make it so. “Believing” a piece of information to be true does not make it so. Objective truth is provable through evidence and logic. Objective truth often conflicts with what I would prefer to be true. However, I value truth above my own emotional preferences.

The evidence for every single religion is no evidence at all. Each is justified by the same fallacious support:

Personal, spiritual experiences that have led the believer to an intuitive sense or “gut feeling” that the god in question is real.

Feelings are NOT evidence.

Many other people within the believer’s culture, especially respected people in positions of authority (parents, ministers, educators, political officials), share a belief in said, God. 

Popular opinion is NOT evidence.

Spoken or written stories state the existence of the god in question. 

Stories are NOT evidence.

Sometimes Christians say, “If you knew Jesus as I do, you would believe.” Speaking in tongues? Check. Healing? Check. Emotional redemption experience? Check. Feeling the Lord’s presence? Check. Prayers answered? Check. I have been through the experience that people call “knowing Jesus.” However, I imagine that it is a rare Christian who has experienced the dignity, peace, and wisdom that accompanies living completely without superstition and under the warm light of reason. It takes great courage to manage life without imagined supernatural helpers, but the benefits are tremendous.

2. Self-deception is degrading

As a boy, when my mother told me that Santa wasn’t real, I remember longing to believe again. But, it was impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. Discarding my belief in Santa was a loss of innocence and, though painful, loss of innocence brings the gift of maturity. If I were an adult who refused to acknowledge Santa as a myth, I would be considered by most to be mentally unsound. Discarding my comfortable religious mythology was also a loss of innocence, but it allowed me to develop an aspect of maturity otherwise impossible to access.

As an adult, I wouldn’t want to still believe in Santa and I wouldn’t want to still believe in a god. Through the 19th century, women were generally regarded as incapable of managing adult life without the guidance of a man. It is repugnant to modern sensibilities that female adults were treated like children. It is equally offensive to me that religion keeps the adult believer in a child’s role throughout life.

3. The permanence of death is scary but makes life richer and fuller

The irreversible nature of death is an obvious truth when considering mosquitoes, tomato plants, or bacteria. However, when we have to deal with the death of a loved one, the permanence of death becomes overwhelming. And, when we have to reflect on our own ultimate mortality, this truth is seemingly unbearable. So like children, we retreat into fantasy. No one we care about really dies. We all get to live in a magical paradise forever.

Dealing with one’s own mortality can be a frightening business. But, as Emily Dickinson said, “That life will never come again is what makes life sweet.” Truly accepting our own impermanence makes every sunset more beautiful, every meal more delicious, and every kiss more passionate. It shines a bright light on the things that are truly important in life. Knowing that our time is limited makes opportunities to interact with the people we love deeply special.

4. Making the world a better place is intrinsically rewarding

Often times, bad people enjoy great success and good people are punished. Likewise, aggressive, violent apes are often rewarded with the first choice for food, grooming, and sex partners while their passive counterparts live as victims of an unfair social order. This doesn’t occur because the ape god is punishing or testing the passive apes. It occurs because this is the nature of life in an ape tribe.

Praying will not change unfairness. One hundred years of prayer research has clearly proven that prayer has absolutely no impact on external reality.[1] None. The problems of this world are myriad and complex, but solutions will only come about when people take action to provide actual help for one another.

The fantasy that everything will be made right after one dies has been used to control slaves, peasants, oppressed minorities, and the downtrodden throughout history. This horrible myth has enabled the rich and powerful to live in opulence through the suffering of gullible believers. Believers who accept their miserable lots in life, because they think a god will fix everything when they die. How many lives have been thrown away? How many people wasted this one and only opportunity they would ever have to enjoy the absolute wonder of living a human life?

The promised rewards of heaven and threats of hell are completely superfluous to any human being with an ounce of empathy. The joy one feels for doing good is its own reward.

5. Being responsible is empowering

You are 100% responsible for your life regardless of your beliefs. This truth becomes obvious at the end of life, but it is often denied by believers until that point. The number one regret of the terminally ill? “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”[2]

If you are unhappy with your life circumstances, it is not because you are being punished by God. You are randomly thrown into this world under a wide range of life circumstances beyond your control. You may be fortunate, unfortunate, rich, poor, ugly, beautiful, healthy, sickly, tall, or short. Regardless of your circumstances, you have the right and the responsibility to make something meaningful of your single opportunity at life.

Religion demands a prescribed life. It provides a paint by numbers formula for meaning. Conversely, my life is a blank canvas on which I paint from an endless palette of the experiences that vibrate with depth and significance specifically for me. Unrestricted by the egocentric delusion that my every thought and act is being monitored and judged by an invisible deity, I live as a truly free man and revel in the joy it brings me. I still experience fear, but I fear things that are real. Demons, devils, and other magical forces have never once harmed anyone. People who believe in such foolishness, however, have inflicted harm beyond comprehension.

I guess my final answer to, “Why would I want to be an atheist?” is “Because it is the most satisfying life I can imagine!”

[1] Masters, Kevin S., Glen I. Spielmans, and Jason T. Goodson. "Are There Demonstrable Effects of Distant Intercessory Prayer? A Meta-analytic Review." Annals of Behavioral Medicine Ann. Behav. Med. 32.1 (2006): 21-26. Web.
[2] Rosen, Katerina. "The Top 5 Regrets Of The Dying." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 24 Sept. 2015.


  1. Great article. I followed a path very much like yours. It's very well written. Thanks so much for writing it. I've shared it already.

    1. Wonderful! If u don't mind I will use some of your wisdom to speak at my unitarian universalist org.

  2. Standing on one foot could be efficacious--if done as part of a marathon fundraiser for a worthy cause.

    Prayer, not so much.

  3. Well said! At 73 I have had similar experiences ---- until I gave up, gave in, and realized that there was on one out there who cares or will make my life more bearable ( my dog gives unconditional love -- your god gives me people who cannot reason).

    1. Many thanks twoshoepattyfoot... Its all up to us!

    2. Interesting comments. Then how do you interpret those who have a gift of sight? Those who appear to have crystals in their eyes?

  4. Hi Edward,

    I just stumbled on this post. I appreciated your sincerity. It's particularly interesting to me because my personal intellectual journey has slowly moved me away from atheistic naturalism. I grew up in a nominally Christian household in which I was basically taught to "believe in belief". I think this is the case for many people. Not surprisingly, as I became older I dispensed with religion all together (not that I ever took it seriously) and became your pretty standard apatheist.

    When I got into my thirties, I began to take inventory of my beliefs. When I got to the "big picture" questions, I knew what I didn't believe, like nonsensical religion, but I didn't have a clear idea of what I affirmed. Once I started the process of figuring that out, I slowly but surely came to reject philosophical materialism. Anyway, I think it is super interesting as to how a journey of discovery can lead to entirely different destinations.

    1. Me too, Chris. I have had the sense that I was on the brink of figuring it all out every step of the journey regardless of which philosophy I embraced at the time....In ten years, I am certain that I will look with bemused condescension on my current positions, as I currently do on my positions from ten years ago... Its a fun ride though! ;-)

  5. Thank you for this article. I happened across it from a link at a site I visit only rarely. You have stated as clearly as anyone I have read the reasons for the atheistic world view. It took me fifty years of life to finally abandon my religion and now at 73 my worldview is still evolving. Reason and empiricism are the bedrock of how things really are.

  6. "3. The permanence of death is scary, but makes life richer and fuller"

    Ugh, not this again. *NO IT DOESN'T*. The correct answer is that facing the inevitability of death head-on is a sign of maturity, and making up fables in order avoid facing it is childish. But death itself is not a *good* thing, and pretending that it is is every bit as immature as pretending that we magically survive it. Worse, pretending that death is "good" stands in the way of scientific research into life extension, which hurts *everybody*.

    1. I'm all about life extension and don't mean to imply that death is good. However, at this juncture it is inevitable and like all of the things that have caused me to suffer in life, death comes with a gift. As a young man, I didn't appriciate the wonders of being alive. I had all the time in world, so I had much to squander. As an aging man, I repeatedly awaken myself to every experience (desireable and undesireable), because I am keenly aware of my own impermanence. My father died suddenly. I often consider that he didn't realize that the last time he appreciated a summer day, or a sunsey, or a wlak on the beach would literally be his last time.

  7. 6. Not being obligated to go murder people I know little about because some jack ass says so is priceless.

  8. Good writing; but please change the font and color scheme to make it easier and more pleasing to read.

    1. Totally open to suggestions for the font. I live in sepia, so unlikely to change color schemes ;-)


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