This page is concerned with additional arguments, questions and concerns raised by atheists.
The "a" in "atheist"
"You atheists are always negative: anti-god, anti-religion, anti-freedom of belief ..."
Many religious people interpret the "a" in "atheist" as "anti" - atheists are seen as anti-god and anti-religion.
They often confuse an atheist's enthusiasm for arguing with religious people as being, in some way, "anti". Not true - atheists just love a good argument - especially when they often know more about religion than the person they are arguing with!
Unlike many religious people, atheists are capable of putting a question on the table and arguing about it. It is god and religion they are arguing about, not individuals.
That's why it is not Christianophobic to argue about the history and ideas of Christianity, it is not anti-semitic to argue about the history and ideas of Judaism, it is not Islamophobic to argue about the history and ideas of Islam or about the life, teachings and actions of Mohammed.
Atheists support the right to believe what you like - with certain important conditions. Beliefs should not be used to cause harm, or to call for harm, to anyone or anything. That harm may be physical, a militant attempt to impose a religious way of life on others by force; it may be legalistic, trying to prevent people having happy lives by imposing religious beliefs as law; it may be psychological, by attempting to indoctrinate young people by teaching them about only one set of beliefs and leaving them ignorant of others (especially ignorant of non-religious alternatives); or it may be social, ostracising those who decide that they no longer wish to follow the beliefs of a particular community.
Atheists judge everyone, religious and non-religious, by their actions, not by what they say or what they claim to believe. If you claim to lead one of the world's largest religions, and claim responsibility for its religious sites, while you run a violent, murderous, intolerant, inhumane, misogynistic, homophobic, theocratic, kleptocracy then atheists will, quite rightly, accuse you of being guilty of crimes not only against your own people but against humanity.
" ... anti-freedom of belief ... "
That's a laugh coming from the religious! Only a secular state can guarantee:
- Freedom of thought.
- Freedom of belief.
- Freedom of speech.
- Freedom of expression.
Yes, of course some people will be offended by what others may say - and we are deeply offended by much that is done in the name of religion - but we support the right of people to believe what they wish and to say what they wish - as long as they cause no harm and they don't try to impose their views onto others.
How much "freedom" is there in a theocratic society? Look throughout history, look around the world today, look at past and present theocracies where the rule of god and religion take priority - is this the way we want the future to go?
God as human
"This god seems to have some very unfortunate human weaknesses, not the sort of person to meet on a dark night!"
What would be the attributes of a god?
- Unique - god can have no competition or the ontological argument falls by the wayside.
- All-powerful - she created everything in the Universe!
- Omniscient - all-knowing - why? Do we assume she must know everything just because she created everything?
- Omni-present - everywhere at once - why? She took a day off after creating the Universe so give her a break now!
- Loving - why?
So, unique and all-powerful go without saying.
The rest of the stuff about god seems so human.
- Why would god be "jealous"? What or who has she got to be jealous of? She's unique and all powerful - that's hard to compete with!
- Why would god be "he"? Is god a sexual entity? Does god have a penis? Does god breed? Does god have a partner? Surely god is an "it"? Could the continuous reference to "he" explain the oppression of women by men in so many religions?
- Why would god be "vengeful"? About what? This is all so small-minded and un-god-like. Surely god is bigger than this?
- Why would god want to be worshipped? Wouldn't that make her an ego-maniac - a very shallow and sad entity? She is all-powerful - why would worship make any difference to her?
- Why does god want to be "obeyed"? Is she a petty, tin-pot dictator? Why would she want to be that? Surely she would be above all that nonsense?
- Why would god be loving? Why should she care? Why would a god be emotional? What has she got to be emotional about? Isn't this wish-fulfillment by humans?
It seems pretty evident that gods have been created in the image of their creators - men - and with some of their most unpleasant attributes.
The true, loving, friendly, intelligent, considerate, tolerant, open-minded, free-thinking god is the one revealed by the-word-of-god.
Knowing when to give up
"I have experienced god directly - something you will never understand."
"God has entered my heart."
"My relationship with god is a personal one, I don't wish to discuss it."
"I know I have no rational arguments, I know you think I'm deluded, but I love god and god loves me."
"Jesus is my saviour, hallelujah."
Experienced atheists know not to argue with those who have "seen god" or who have "god in their hearts" - they are happy in their beliefs, it gives meaning to their lives and they are beyond reason. It is not for us to kick away such an important support to their lives.
You could offer them a cup of tea and a biscuit, and sit them quietly in a darkened room, but that would almost certainly be seen as patronising. No, it is best to leave it to care in the community.
As long as they are happy and don't try to force their views onto the rest of us, that's fine. However, if they start tub-thumping and demanding that we do this and don't do that - because of their god - then it is time to act. Time to reach for the straitjacket or the tablets.
Making a free and informed choice
Most religious people accept, usually without question, the first religion that comes along: the one of their family, friends and community.
In some religions young people are given no choice: religion is forced upon them from the moment they are born. Should they dare to question or disagree they are thrown out by their families and ostracised by their community. Try being a freethinker in a Muslim community or in the Southern States of the USA.
Atheists want everyone to make a free and informed choice about what to believe. "Free" means without pressure from anyone and "informed" means with full knowledge of the alternatives, including non-religious alternatives.
One of the favourite tricks of atheists is to ask a religious person:
"what specific aspect of Zoroastrianism was it that made you decide that it was not the religion for you?"
This usually results in the frightened rabbit look and one of the following responses:
- "I am quite happy with the religion I have."
- "I don't know anything about Zoroastrianism - is that one of the atheist 'religions' like Pastafarianism?"
- "I was taught about my religion, it's all I know about."
- "Zoroastrianism, whatever it is, is wrong, my religion is right."
- "My family/priest/imam/vicar/rabbi/school never told me anything about Zoroastrianism."
- "I don't need to find out about other religions, mine is right."
- "Can I get back to you on that one?"
- "I'm an atheist when it comes to all religions except Christianity." (Said by a Church of England vicar in England.)
Of course, as any informed reader of this page will know, Zoroastrianism, from Persia, was the first great monotheist religion and had an enormous influence on Judaism and therefore on Christianity and Islam. Some of the rituals of Zoroastrianism survive in the rituals of all three of the Abrahamic religions just as many of the rituals of Arabian paganism survive in the rituals of Islam - including the worship of a black meteorite which forms part of the Kabah in Mecca - a relic of pre-Islamic pagan stone worship.
Psychological and other needs met by god
If people didn't need god, there wouldn't be one.
Atheists answer the big questions of life (see the theist page) without inventing the god idea.
Atheists feel no intellectual, emotional or social need for the god idea.
Many self-confident, strong-minded atheists may see religion as self-delusion and mass-hysteria but that doesn't mean it doesn't meet the needs of many people. It can provide:
- Simple black and white answers to the big questions of life - including "the meaning of life" - "God did it", "God tells us to ..."
- An authority figure, particularly a father figure, to look up to.
- An external set of rules: "we must do this because it says so in our holy book" - which rapidly becomes: "you must do this because ..."
- A feeling of support in a hard life.
- A social structure with like-minded people - security and a way out of loneliness.
- A reward in heaven to overcome the fear of death.
Of course none of these is really dependent on religion: atheists can answer the big questions of life to their own satisfaction, they have no fear of death (though they would prefer as pain-free a death as possible), they have the support of family and friends, they have many ways to engage in a social life, and they don't need an external authority to tell them what to do or not to do - they develop a personal set of moral values. Try telling an atheist what to do and you will soon be engaged in a heated argument!
Freud described religion as "an infantile disorder", a failure to make the break from dependency into fully independent and responsible adulthood, always looking for external justification and parental guidance in the form of a hero-figure, a god, religion, holy books and ritual. Some people want a strong man to look up to - look at the success of Hitler, Margaret Thatcher and Vladimir Putin.
It is worth pointing out that there are good and bad atheists just as there are good and bad theists - but most atheists are quite capable of creating a personal set of moral values that enable them to lead happy and responsible lives while helping others to do the same. Religious people have no monopoly on "goodness" - in fact, much of history would indicate the exact opposite given what has been done, and continues to be done, in the name of god and religion.
God save us from holy books!
Holy books are the greatest man-made disaster ever to have befallen mankind.
"The word of god"
Does god write?
(Update: actually she does - please click here for her words.)
In the case of Moses on Sinai apparently the answer is "yes" - god is a stone mason who happens to write in Hebrew (or Aramaic, or, whatever.)
Most religions claim that their holy books contain the literal words of their god(s) - but those words have been "revealed" to us through a human intermediary, usually a prophet, allegedly chosen by god but in many cases obviously self-chosen!
Quite why an all-powerful god could not have made her existence known to all of us is never explained. Perhaps it's a quiz: "Do I exist or don't I? Figure it out for yourself." Perhaps it's a test to see which of those who claim to have spoken to god is actually telling the truth. How do we know? What is the yardstick for us to judge? It is made more difficult because there are so many of them, they keep coming and they keep saying different things!
The one thing you can say about god is that she lacks consistency.
Why is the word of god frequently revealed to an illiterate person living in a desert? If he (always a "he") can't read he could not have read the holy books of religions that came before him. Living in a desert means he is highly unlikely to have been influenced by other cultures. Illiteracy and isolation are key assets of a prophet - it's what makes them pure and untainted.
What about the physical books? If the all-powerful god revealed the words to the prophet then surely she could have given the prophet a quick course on reading and writing so he could write the words down?
Well, no, she didn't.
The prophets wrote down nothing - but they did pass on what they heard to others around them - by word of mouth.
So, at least those people immediately wrote it down.
Well, no, they didn't.
In many cases they were also illiterate (there is a pattern forming here) but they also passed on the word of god orally. "Send reinforcements, going to advance" rapidly became "send three and fourpence, going to a dance."
Eventually, after decades or even centuries, things did get written down and of course we have copies of those original documents.
Well, no, we don't.
For whatever reason (rotting papyrus, things being put in the wrong cupboard or hidden in the wrong cave) the originals seem to have been mislaid and, given that everything had to be hand written, there were not many copies to go round.
At least we know who wrote the words down.
Well, no, we don't.
We haven't a clue as to the real identities of those who transcribed the words passed on by word of mouth and, unfortunately, the different people who did write it down wrote it down in different ways, at different times, in different places and sometimes with completely different meanings.
God would have been much better served had she ensured that she passed on her words to someone who could write!
Even better, we know she can write (Moses and his tablets) so why didn't she set pen to paper and pass down the books in their final form so there could be no doubt and no ambiguity? Surely it is not too big a step from making contact and speaking "the word" to just passing "the word" down - a perfect holy book from a perfect and all-powerful god. She could have kept up with technology and arranged for printing by Gutenburg and Caxton and, in the modern world, she could have her own blog. Is that too much to ask?
But at least we now have the definitive versions of the holy books.
For example, Christianity would never have emerged from the darkness had Constantine not required something to unify the Roman Empire and called "the early Christian fathers" together at Nicea to hammer out exactly what Christianity was. Until then various sects had been killing one another over such things as "was Christ man, god or both?" and "is there a bad god, a devil, as well as a good god?" and "what is meant by 'the trinity'?" Even then a large number of writings inconvenient to a succinct and politically correct definition of the religion were omitted entirely. Also Constantine was looking over their shoulders and he was quite keen to ensure that things such as "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" made it into the final edit - he needed the taxes!
Even more deadly than "the word of god" (and the god described in the holy books of the Abrahamic religions is a genocidal, murderous, jealous, vengeful, homophobic, misogynistic, dictatorial, maniacal, picky eater - quotes available on request) is interpretation.
Far from being clear, concise and unambiguous, "the word of god" seems to be vague, rambling and nebulous - holy books can be interpreted to mean almost anything from "love thy neighbour" to "kill anyone who disagrees with you!" They are still being interpreted that way,
For atheists the real problem is how to decide which interpretation is correct? What do the holy books really mean?
Some religious people insist that their holy book is literally correct at all times: god created everything 6,047 years ago, in October, on a Tuesday, just before tea time; Eve was manufactured from Adam's rib; a talking snake spoke to Eve; Adam and Eve's children had to commit incest (with all the genetic implications) in order for the human race to kick off; Noah did indeed collect two of all kinds, viruses and bacteria included, to place in the ark, and the Sun does indeed go round the Earth. Others make vague mutterings about "well, that part reflects a primitive explanation suitable for the time but it is not really suitable for the modern world?" How they decide which bits are in which category is completely beyond us.
Interpretation leads to differences of opinion which lead to schisms which lead to the formation of sects - an endless process of sub-division (mitosis and meiosis?) which results in all religions breaking into smaller and smaller factions always at one-another's throats. The history of religion is full of examples of murderous wars, torture and violence justified by head-of-a-pin arguments about the interpretation of holy books., The current murderous mess in the Middle East shows that these problems of inter- and intra-religious conflict are still with us.
Would the Jewish holocaust have taken place had it not been for 2000 years of Christian hatred towards Jews for killing their saviour?
Since "the word of god" is so ambiguous and open to interpretation we have endless "commentaries" written by "religious scholars" who, almost always, disagree with one another.
Even this was not enough and arguments over interpretation continue to this day. Thousands of calf-skins and gallons of ink were consumed as "scholars" added their bit. Acres of forests are destroyed each year as one religious scholar argues with another. Billions of bytes of bandwidth are consumed as "religious experts" argue with others - look at the shouting and ranting on Youtube. Religion is second only to porn on the Internet.
We are amused by the rejection of evolution by so many religious people when the history of their own religions clearly demonstrates the process of change through natural selection.
God as a failed teacher
If god applied for a job in a school she would not stand a chance. She can't write, she is unable to make her voice heard (try that with year 10!), she speaks in a rambling, repetitious, boring and self-serving way (read the Qur'an for a terrible piece of writing) and what she says is totally unclear. She lacks both charismatic and sapiential authority and she needs to go on a teacher-training course. Maybe it's a case of those who can, teach, those who can't become gods.
God would not last five minutes in the classroom of a modern school.
Even worse, millions of her pupils, who she created in the first place, don't believe she exists!
Poor old god, time to try again - and this time make it clear to everyone by writing the book yourself! (Or send it by email as the-word-of-god!)