What Do Atheists Believe?

I really enjoyed this speech by Todd Stiefel at the Reason Rally. It’s worth 11 minutes of your time and you may even get inspired!

via io9

Does My Life Have Purpose?

I received a comment on my ‘Atheist Life‘ page. My response was pretty lengthy so I made a post out of it. Here is the original comment:

Brenda, if atheism is true, then regardless of what pleasure and satisfaction you may find in your life there is no rational grounds for believing that your existence and choices have any objective meaning, value, or purpose. Do you agree? I get the impression, judging from the rather blithe tone of your writing throughout much of this blog, that you don’t.

Many prominent atheist thinkers have agreed on the point that to behave as though one’s life has meaning in the absence of an infinite-personal creator God is fundamentally absurd. It’s necessary for survival, but nonetheless delusional. Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Russell, Sartre, Camus, and even Richard Dawkins have said this.

It seems to me, based on what I’ve seen on this blog, that you have a double-standard when it comes to thinking logically about atheism. On one hand you defend it as a rational position. And maybe it is. But on the other, you seem to believe that your life is intrinsically valuable and meaningful. Maybe to you it is, but what objective basis is there for such a belief? I challenge you to think on this, to consider whether you’re willing to stare the logical consequences of atheism fully in the face.

Here is my lengthy response:

Let me just preface my comments by saying that I will answer them in the context of Christianity even though the comment doesn’t spell this out. Most people who bring up the issue of purpose are Christians and also that is my religious background so I’ll stick with comparing my current atheist worldview with a Christian one.  Also, let’s be clear that when Christians discuss these types of issues, they almost always assume that the god they are discussing is always their type of god and not some other person’s version of god. We could also discuss the issue of purpose in relation to the many other hypothetical gods that could potentially exist. But for this discussion I’ll just keep it simple by discussing this in the context of a Christian worldview.

I find it interesting that you describe my blog as having a ‘blithe tone.’  Blithe can have two types of meanings:

1: of a happy lighthearted character or disposition

2: lacking due thought or consideration : casual, heedless <blithe unconcern>

Am I correct in thinking that you were using the term with the second meaning in mind?

I’d really like to address this. If you are saying that my happiness exists only because I am not fully aware of what the logical outcome of my atheistic beliefs are then you are mistaken. Also, if you are at the same time implying that I have not given it due thought and that my happiness only exists because I am shallow in my character or thinking, then you are also mistaken.

I do know people like that who are very cheerful but it’s mostly because they don’t give the serious issues in life any thought and they barely see past their own nose.  Ignorance is bliss as they say. I have trouble relating and connecting with people who fall into that category, but I don’t judge them.  The world takes many types of people and those people often lift the rest of us up when we get down from analyzing things to death.

But let me assure you that I most certainly do not fall into that category. I think you may have gotten this impression partly due to the fact that I started my blog after my deconversion was pretty much complete and I was ready to move on with my life. My blog doesn’t document the two years of intense struggle and study that led me from being a fundamentalist Christian to an atheist. My amazon bills were insane as I read and read and read some more (never mind all the articles and videos I read and watched online). And while I was struggling with all of the big questions in life, I still had to get up every morning and be a mother to five children and a wife and daughter and friend. It was an awful and messy time in my life but it was necessary to get me to where I am now.

While I love the philosophical reading I’ve done and I would love to do much more of it, the busyness of my life right now doesn’t afford me the time to do as much as I would like. So while I don’t have the time to begin an in depth philosophical discussion, I think we can still address the issue you bring up.

My main question is why meaning must only exist in the context of an infinite-personal creator God? It seems like you’ve defined meaning as needing this and then called anyone who describes a type of meaning outside of your definition as delusional. Why does meaning that comes from an outside source have more value than meaning that I create for myself within the context of my own life? That would be my main question for you.

If you want to know if I think my life has some higher purpose in the grand scheme of the universe, then no, I don’t think it does. And I no longer feel that my life needs this level of purpose. Christianity told me I needed this level of purpose but I have found it unnecessary.

But if I picture myself laying on my proverbial death bed looking back on my life and reflecting, then I see plenty of what I would call purpose. I wake up every morning and make my own meaning and purpose. That involves trying to be a better person, loving, being loved, reaching for goals that give me satisfaction, getting through the tough times as best as I can and hopefully helping others get through the tough times in their lives … the list could go on. And when I look back on my life, why are these purposes of any less value than the purpose that a god might give me which is to be a slave in a twisted system that I think is reprehensible? And if we are talking about some other type of god who is more passive and benign – some ‘presence,’ – then that god is irrelevant to me in my life here and now and that type of god has not communicated any purpose to me.

I don’t need an outside source telling me that my life has value and meaning.  I don’t think Christians (for example) have any more purpose in their lives than I do. They’ve decided that some invisible entity who has never spoken to them directly has told them that they are part of a great cosmic battle between good and evil and that somehow their role in this battle gives their life purpose. Considering that I think this hypothetical god doesn’t even exist, I look at them and think they are wasting a good portion of their lives on something that is delusional and I see that as sad. You may think my atheism taken to its logical conclusion is bleak, but I think that if a Christian was faced on their death bed with the fact that all their religious beliefs were false then they would regret having defined and lived their life’s purpose solely in that context.

I was a Christian for 20 years and defined my purpose in that context and when it was ripped away it was more than difficult. But contrary to the notion that I haven’t considered how both sides defined purpose and what the consequences of each view would be, I read and reflected and then hashed it out in my real life. What you are seeing on my blog is a very conscious and well thought out view of purpose and meaning and happiness. I may not matter in the grand scheme of things, but my life matters to me and I matter to those around me. I really started focusing on the people and events in my life here and now instead of chasing some eternal life and some purpose that was supposed to come from on high.

After I read your comment I came across this quote:

A man said to the universe:
“Sir I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

–Stephen Crane

And you know what?  I’m fine with that.  And I don’t find it bleak. I think when people chase a purpose from a higher being they sacrifice something very real in their lives here and now.

Let me finish off by saying that this whole discussion reminds me of this quote:

Christianity must convince men that they need salvation … Christianity has nothing to offer a happy man … Just as Christianity must destroy reason before it can introduce faith, so it must destroy happiness  before it can introduce salvation.

George H. Smith

So what I’m hearing from you (in the context of this quote) is:

Brenda, I’ve decided that according to my definition of meaning and purpose your life has no meaning and purpose. But lucky for you, if you become a Christian like me, you can now have meaning and purpose as defined by me.  How fortunate for you that I came along to take your meaning and purpose away so that I could replace it with my version of meaning and purpose.

So to get back to your basic question, I don’t think my life has a Purpose but I do think that I create purposes for it and I find that is enough to fill up a lifetime. I am certainly open to discussing this further and I’d love for my readers to chime in on the discussion in the comments.

(Note:  You can visit my ‘purpose’ tab or type ‘purpose’ into the search bar to see other posts on this topic.)

Origin of Love – MIKA

Love this song! (NSFW due to some nudity.)

via The Friendly Atheist

 

Love is a drug and you are my cigarette
Love is addiction and you are my Nicorette
Love is a drug, like chocolate, like cigarettes
I’m feeling sick, I’ve got to medicate myself

I want your love, don’t try and stop me
Can’t get enough, still hanging on me
Your guilty heart, don’t let it break you
And if you pray, well, no one’s gonna save you

Like everyone that you fear
And everything you hold dear
Even the book in your pocket
You are the sun and the light
You are the freedom I fight
God will do nothing to stop it

The origin is you
You’re the origin of love

Love is a drug and you are my cigarette
Love is addiction and you are my Nicorette
Love is a drug, like chocolate, like cigarettes
I’m feeling sick, I’ve got to medicate myself

Well if God is a priest and the devil a slut
Well there’s a reason for nothing
Like every word that you preach
Like every word that you teach
With every rule that you breach
You know the origin is you

From the air I breathe
To the love I need
Only thing I know
Is you’re the origin of love
From the God above
To the one I love
Only thing that’s true
The origin is you (x2)

Madre Deus Deus machismo
Madre Deus Deus machismo
Dio de madre Deus machismo
Deus eso santo spirito

Like stupid Adam and Eve
They found their love in a tree
God didn’t think they deserved it
He taught them hate, taught them pride
Gave them a leaf, made them hide
Let’s push their stories aside
You know the origin is you

From the air I breathe
To the love I need
Only thing I know
Is you’re the origin of love
From the God above
To the one I love
Only thing that’s true
The origin is you (x2)

Some love’s a pill and some love is a candy cane
It tastes so sweet but leaves you feeling sick with pain
Your love is air, I breathe it in around me
Don’t know it’s there but without it I’m drowning

Love
You’re the origin of love
You’re the origin of love, love, love, love, love
You’re the origin of love, love, love, love, love (repeat)
Thank God that you found me
Thank God that you found me
Thank God that you found me
Thank God that you found me

Poetic Words of Freedom

These poems really spoke to me.  I found them via The Bittersweet End.  Please visit this page on the Recovering From Religion website to read more poems from Bart Phillips.

A Simple Slave
By Bart Phillips

Life was simpler as a slave
Doing only my unseen master’s will,
Devoting all my efforts to his work,
Trusting enigmatic promises made to me
More than a hundred generations ago
In foreign tongues no longer spoken.

“Sacred” texts of spurious origin
Tell me that I am truly loved—
They say that I am worthless, too!
They say that I can be truly free—
They tell me, too, I must yield myself
To take up my “cross” and dumbly follow.

What kind of man would chose to make himself a slave?
How big a fool seeks wisdom for his life in ancient myth?
How silly is the notion that ages past found deeper truths?
Are love and purpose found in succumbing to a “jealous god”?

I refuse forever to be a simple slave
Forsaking the only thing I rightly own:
My limited life on this natural world.
No more! I claim myself for me,
To give my life and love to those I chose,
To live for what my reason says is right.

 

The Voice Inside By Bart S. Phillips

I once believed the voice inside my head was God.
I once believed the voice in me that said
That taking things that are not mine is wrong,
That hitting and hurting others is wrong,
That saying things which are not true is wrong—
That simple voice was God.

But the voice said many other things as well:
That torture and slavery are savagely wrong,
That subjugating women is inhumanly wrong,
That building gilded shrines and lavish temples
While children suffer and starve is heartlessly wrong.
What voice was this?

This voice inside my head also cried out
That punishing people for working on a “holy day”
Or for having sex with someone they love
Or for denying belief in unbelievable things—
These punishments are undeniably wrong.
Was this a different voice?

I once turned to that voice to decide my path,
To tell me what I should live for,
To tell me what I must oppose,
To tell me who to marry, where to live, what to do—
I tried to pledge myself entirely to that voice.
At that, the voice seemed suddenly silent.

So what is this voice inside my head
That speaks in the accent of my ancestors,
That encourages me when I struggle,
That chides me when I come up short,
That dares me to question and to reason,
That compels me to be better, to know more, to grow?

I once believed the voice inside my head was God,
But now I recognize that voice
As it enunciates my humanity,
That voice of intellect, of passion and compassion, of imagination—
That voice is no one else’s.
That voice is humbly, proudly, simply…me.

Newsflash: My Kids Like to Eat Candy on Halloween

It never fails that on Halloween a few people throw religious tracts in with the candy they are handing out.  Don’t worry – I’m not offended at all.  Heck – you’re giving my kids free candy – who am I to complain?

Last year hubby and I tried to grab them before the kids did but this year I didn’t make such a big effort and missed a couple.  Funny thing.  Found them on the couch later – I’m quite sure they were left unread by my kids who were intent on attaining a sugar high experienced at a level that has never been reached by any human being before. Huh – guess kids like to eat candy Halloween night instead of reading.  Go figure.

But it got me to thinking what I would say to my little guys if they actually read every word in that tract.  Here’s how it would go:

All those things that they seem so sure about in that tract, how do they know any of it?

They say it says all this in the Bible.

How would the writers of the Bible know any of those things are true?

They say God talked to them.

Do they have any way of proving God spoke to them or are we just supposed to take their word for that?  They are making some pretty huge claims with major consequences so you should expect that they can back that up with reasonable proof.

No – they can’t back it up.  God’s invisible and they don’t have any proof that he talked to them.

Well – what if you asked a scientist to back up what they are saying.  Can they show you how they arrived at their answer?

Yes. They spend a lot of time showing how they arrived at their conclusion.

Well – make that the focus when anyone tells you they know something about the world (or the afterlife).  If you can trust the method they used to get their answer then you can at least tentatively trust what they say – unless evidence comes along later to show that their initial conclusion was mistaken.  And if they are after truth, then they will correct any mistakes that are made – whether it’s in the answers or the methodology itself. If they don’t have a reasonable method of discovering truth that involves a method you can trust then you don’t need to take any of their answers seriously. And in the case of religion many people believe it out of fear of punishment and you should never trust an argument that tries to use fear to convince you of something.  Fear won’t get you to the right answer, only a desire to understand the world as it is will.

Ok – mom.  Can I go eat more candy now?

Sure kid – I’ll see you on the other side of the sugar coma!

I’m sure there might be more to the conversation and I have had more in-depth conversations with my older daughter, but that’s where I would start.

But it also got me to thinking about one of my first doubts as a Christian (way before my deconversion).  I wondered why God used Christians to spread his message if everyone’s eternal destinies were on the line. Christians screw up all the time and have no trouble admitting that. We’re sinners after all.  And sharing the gospel was one thing we often messed up on.  Even the people who made a point to be really good at it would still fail to share the gospel with people.  And that doesn’t even take into account all the people that we just wouldn’t rub shoulders with in the first place. So if the most important decision of people’s lives is on the line – why would God use a method that is sure to fail in most instances?

Wait!  I know the answer! I was a fundy Christian for 20 years after all.  God knows who will be open to the gospel and will guide us to those people, so no worries.  God’s in control after all, not us.  Well – then you need to question your God’s wonderful plan for all those people who will burn eternally.  His omnipotence seems to have failed Him. I know, I know .. we have freewill.  Here’s a post I have up about freewill if you want to explore that topic more.

I thought of all this as I looked at the tract from my kids’ Halloween candy as it lay unopened and unread on my living room couch.  Such a pitiful way for an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving God to spread his message.  Good thing it’s not true and it’s just a sad little piece of paper that got tossed aside as my kids gorged on candy. I feel bad for the person who put it in there.  They thought eternal souls were on the line as they placed that in there.  They thought they might be saving some little child from burning in an eternal torture chamber. I feel bad that they are trapped in a religion that sees the world this way.  The guilt, the fear, the tears over lost souls.  I wish I could free them from that prison. And again I’m reminded why my blog is here.  Not to win a philosophical battle but because I want to be here for people who can see life outside the prison of religion but need to know that others have broken free ahead of them and are enjoying the sunshine and fresh air outside the bars.