9 Questions Atheists Might Find Insulting
After taking a hiatus from reading atheist-leaning material, I happened across this article today and decided to respond to it:
As Christians, we know that biblical truth hurts sometimes and comes across as offensive no matter what, and it’s our duty to still speak the truth. However, other times it serves no purpose other than to shut the other person down from even listening at all.
That being said, this is my own blog and I’m not saying this directly to anyone in particular, so I decided to write my own responses to the opinions she presented. The author’s portions are excerpted in italics.
1: “How can you be moral without believing in God?”
The answer: Atheists are moral for the same reasons believers are moral: because we have compassion, and a sense of justice. Humans are social animals, and like other social animals, we evolved with some core moral values wired into our brains: caring about fairness, caring about loyalty, caring when others are harmed.
I agree that asking this question to atheists is a bit short-sighted for a number of reasons. First off, we should already know that according to naturalistic beliefs, human behaviors are supposedly adaptations that increase our chances of survival. Things that are beneficial to a group tend to persist in a flourishing species. So atheists would naturally turn to these sorts of answers when it comes to morality.
But this question is also short-sighted because as Christians, we should know a very simple and fundamental truth: God created ALL people in His image. This means a moral sense was instilled in every one of us; it is built into our nature. So whether or not someone believes in God is independent of whether they have a basic moral code. True, specific moral duties and responsibilities may differ (hint: when the Bible explicitly commands us to do something, it’s usually because we naturally do not want to do them). But we all have a basic sense of right or wrong. The question is, how do we objectively define what’s right or wrong?
You have to wonder, from a naturalistic perspective, if morals are simply an adaptation to promote survival, why not kill off unproductive members of the herd? Why bother taking care of the elderly or even barren women? Why not save our resources instead of taking care of handicapped individuals who can give nothing back? What practical benefit is there to some of these “good” deeds? As Christians, we know that every person has intrinsic worth as an image-bearer of God, but what value is there from a naturalistic standpoint?
And if someone disagrees with your sense of “good,” what right do you have to condemn them for it? If Hitler thought he was making the world a better place by killing Jews, how can we prove that he’s wrong and we’re right? Apart from some higher objective standard, we can’t. But if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we know deep in our bones that killing humans is wrong, and it’s not just some arbitrary adaptation ingrained in us over time.
What’s so special about human survival anyway? From the naturalistic environment’s perspective, we are actually bad for the health of this planet, and doesn’t the planet have a higher importance than our species? Since it is home to every other creature we know about, maybe it’s not right to exhibit this form of bias. Maybe we should depopulate…war and killing could be of great practical benefit to the world.
I could go on and on about this, but I think the point has been made. We are all made to be moral creatures, but only with God as an objective standard can it really become something more than just some arbitrary result of probability and undirected adaptation.
2: “How do you have any meaning in your life?” Sometimes asked as, “Don’t you feel sad or hopeless?” Or even, “If you don’t believe in God or heaven, why don’t you just kill yourself?”
The answer: Atheists find meaning and joy in the same things everyone does. We find it in the big things: family, friendship, work, nature, art, learning, love. We find it in the small things: cookies, World of Warcraft, playing with kittens. The only difference is that (a) believers add “making my god or gods happy and getting a good deal in the afterlife” to those lists (often putting them at the top), and (b) believers think meaning is given to them by their god or gods, while atheists create our own meaning, and are willing and indeed happy to accept that responsibility.
We Christians find joy in a lot of those same things as well, and indeed, we believe a lot of them were given to us by God for the very purpose of making life on this earth more bearable. But enjoying something is a far cry from having a deeper, firmer sense of purpose. And trust me, as humans with prideful desires, we Christians would love to accept the “responsibility” of creating “our own meaning.” Who wouldn’t? It’s fun to play boss. But at the same time, we have come to grips that living like this is just playing an empty game. In the end, it’s all pointless apart from a greater purpose.
From the atheists’ point of view, the purpose in life is to enjoy every moment and to derive “meaning” in relationships and activities. But if you think about it, this sense of meaning is completely illusory. If humans are nothing but a collection of matter, randomly thrown together for no apparent purpose or design, then why are your family and friends special? Why are nature and art to be admired when they’re just an accident of impersonal and random forces?
What is “love” from a naturalistic purpose? Isn’t it simply a means to reproduce and to increase the chances of successfully raising offspring? Well, in modern day America, I think it’s safe to say that very few children die of starvation, even without monogamous parenting, so why not spread our seed as widely as possible? Why bother with marriage or commitment anymore?
If atheists are always accusing Christians of living in a fantasy world, I think it’s time that they come to grips with the illusions and mental tricks they are playing on themselves. Their sense of meaning and purpose are parlor tricks, and the prominent atheist Nietzsche is an example of someone who honestly understood these implications. He seemed to grasp that with the “death of God,” objective truth must necessarily break down. What’s ironic and sad is that while he referred to Christianity as a depressing and pitiful belief system, he himself ended up suffering a mental breakdown.
As for the last part of the question (“why don’t you just kill yourself?”), I really hope no one says this to an atheist. Apart from being cold-hearted or gimmicky at best (in trying to make some kind of poignant point), it is useless to wish death upon someone, especially if there is still time and a chance for them to find God. Better late than never.
3: “Doesn’t it take just as much/even more faith to be an atheist as it does to be a believer?”
The answer: No.
The somewhat longer answer: This question assumes that “atheism” means “100% certainty that God does not exist, with no willingness to question and no room for doubt.” For the overwhelming majority of people who call ourselves atheists, this is not what “atheism” means. For most atheists, “atheism” means something along the lines of “being reasonably certain that there are no gods,” or, “having reached the provisional conclusion, based on the evidence we’ve seen and the arguments we’ve considered, that there are no gods.” No, we can’t be 100% certain that there are no gods. We can’t be 100% certain that there are no unicorns, either. But we’re certain enough. Not believing in unicorns doesn’t take “faith.” And neither does not believing in God.
Ah, the good ol’ unicorns comparison to God, as if they were on equal levels as far as logic and evidence would direct us. But I won’t go into that now because I think I touch upon it frequently in some of my posts. The short version is this: we have solid and defensible reasons to believe in the existence of God; there are no such reasons to believe in the existence of unicorns. It sure does make a catchy (and extremely popular) argument, though.
Anyhow, I largely disagree with the author’s assessment that atheism doesn’t take the same (or greater) measure of faith as being a believer in, say, Jesus Christ. The honest answer should be “yes,” and let me explain.
As Christians, we have come to the conclusion that there is a specific God based on a number of influences and sources. These things can range from emotional leadings to stone-cold logic. Archeology and even science can lead some to the conclusion that there is a god. For example, Dr. Francis Collins—a prominent geneticist who led the Human Genome Project—believes that our DNA is actually the “language of God” and cannot be explained by purely naturalistic means. And yes, sometimes people believe without deeper investigation, but that’s usually because the existence of God seems so inherently obvious to them that they don’t feel a burning need to look deeper. While I would much prefer Christians to be better informed about their faith and able to defend their faith more competently (as the Bible even exhorts us to do), it’s hard to fault them too much for trusting their intuitions and common sense. In the end, we come to a conclusion we feel is reasonable, although there is that little leap of faith left on our part.
Now, with atheism, a similar track is usually followed. They emotionally feel things that turn them away from religion, such as anger at abuses in the church or judgmental attitudes. Perhaps it’s an abusive religious father or even strong homosexual tendencies that make the Bible’s teachings against this behavior highly objectionable to them. (This builds in an added incentive for such atheists to believe the Bible is wrong because its truth would put them in an uncomfortable spot. Perhaps that’s partially what motivated the author of this article to be an atheist, who happens to be a lesbian.) Then there is some form of “logical” thinking that takes place that utilizes catchy arguments to make the Bible seem ridiculous (but to be honest, I have yet to see any line of reasoning that holds up to any deeper scrutiny). Archeology says that a certain detail from the Bible cannot be corroborated (yet), and then science seems to take away the “need” for God, even if nothing directly contradicts His existence. Then, there is the apparent obviousness in thoughts like, “if there really were a God, why wouldn’t He show Himself? Why would there still be evil in the world?” With these seemingly reasonable lines of evidence, the last little leap of faith takes place when they trust their own intuitions and the conclusions of other people in published works or speeches, even if they could feasibly be wrong. Apparently, a smart-sounding and somewhat condescending British accent also helps greatly. The sad truth of the matter is that a mocking and sarcastic tone often comes with a built-in aura of superior intellect, for some reason.
Furthermore, the atheistic belief system mandates that a lot of the things we know and feel intuitively are not objective or real at all. They believe that the entire universe and life within it is nothing but a big cosmic coincidence, devoid of any purpose or design. They believe that science is conclusive and true, despite having a track history of being wrong and needing revision. They believe that anything that feels objectionable to them must be false, even though these feelings cannot be reliable as beacons of truth if they are merely adaptations for survival. They believe that fulfilled prophecies are merely math-defying coincidences or that they were manipulated in some way—even without any evidence of tampering. They will believe radically fringe ideas such as “Jesus never even existed” sooner than they will believe the words of first-hand witnesses who were martyred without recanting.
So yea, it’s not so ridiculous to say that it takes “the same (or greater) measure of faith” to be an atheist.
4: “Isn’t atheism just a religion?”
Calling atheism a religion assumes that it’s an axiom accepted on faith, not a conclusion based on thinking and evidence. And it shows that you’re not willing or able to consider the possibility that someone not only has a different opinion about religion than you do, but has come to that opinion in a different way.
This one is much like #3, so I’ll just quickly say that a religion can involve thinking and evidence as well (or at least from what I’ve seen, Christianity can). And truthfully, from what I’ve encountered, atheists don’t seem like the most “willing or able” to consider that they’re wrong either…not even on clear and simple points! Read any back-and-forth between a believer and an atheist and you’ll see an inability to even acknowledge any legitimate point made. So this accusation goes right back to the author of this article.
5: “What’s the point of atheist groups? How can you have a community and a movement for something you don’t believe in?”
The answer: Atheists have groups and communities and movements for the same reasons anyone does. Remember what I said about atheists being human? Humans are social animals. We like to spend time with other people who share our interests and values. We like to work with other people on goals we have in common. What’s more, when atheists come out about our atheism, many of us lose our friends and families and communities, or have strained and painful relationships with them. Atheists create communities so we can be honest about who we are and what we think, and still not be alone.
I think this answer is very legitimate and well spoken. Humans were made to be social creatures by design because we are not to fight this fight (of life) alone.
I suspect, however, that it’s also fun to get together and mock religious types. I can’t say this for all atheist groups, but it’s hard to imagine them feeling much genuine sympathy for the rest of us, whereas Christians earnestly pray for nonbelievers all the time…sometimes with tears. I watched a video of four prominent atheists gathered in one room talking to each other, and it felt like a big religion-bashing fest where all parties involved were highly amused and reveling in each other’s apparent brilliance and wit.
And again, if atheists believe they are doing meaningful work, they need to be truly honest with themselves. If their efforts are at all difficult or costly, they really shouldn’t waste their time and energy on it. Why champion a cause if it takes away from their own resources and enjoyment? The world around them is just a fleeting and random collection of matter. In fact, it’s all steadily leading toward maximum entropy and will cease to exist eventually. There are no REAL concerns of lasting consequence. What difference does it make to them personally what others believe if they believe we’re all just going to die and return to dust anyway? It’s an exercise in futility if you ask me.
At least the social aspects mentioned by the author give us a more realistic, honest, and digestible answer to help us understand.
6: “Why do you hate God?” Or, “Aren’t you just angry at God?”
The answer: Atheists aren’t angry at God. We don’t think God exists. We aren’t angry at God, any more than we’re angry at Santa Claus.
And honestly? This question reveals how narrow your own mind is. It shows that you can’t even consider the possibility that you might be mistaken: that you can’t even conceive of somebody seeing the world differently from the way you do. This question doesn’t just make atheists mad. It makes you look like a dolt.
I think it’s disingenuous to completely deny this point, but I could be mistaken. Quite frankly, this is a line that atheists can stick to until death and there’s really no concrete way to prove that they’re angry at God (and they know it).
Maybe we’re all wrong about them. Maybe their way of expressing themselves is different from all other forms of human interaction I’ve ever seen. To me, name-calling, rolling eyes, and biting sarcasm directed at God usually indicate some form of emotion…dare I say, anger or bitterness. But what do I know?
They seem to hate or mock God’s laws. They ridicule passages from the Bible that seem outdated or absurd. They ask questions like, “Where was God when…?” And not in a purely speculative or investigative way, either. You’ll notice that error found in other areas rarely evoke the same amount of impassioned speech and mockery that surround religious discussion. Why is this?
I don’t buy that they’re only angry at the believer, not an “imaginary God.” Much of the time, the believer has good intentions, and it’s hard to believe atheists get THAT angry when some random person disagrees with them or doesn’t see things the way they see it.
If atheists weren’t angry with God on some level, you’d expect a much different tone from them than what you actually see. I also find the author’s accusation of narrow-mindedness and being a “dolt” puzzling considering her own choice of words.
7: “But have you [read the Bible or some other holy book; heard about some supposed miracle; heard my story about my personal religious experience]?”
The answer: Probably. Or else we’ve read/heard about something pretty darned similar. Atheists are actually better-informed about religion than most religious believers. In fact, we’re better-informed about the tenets of most specific religions than the believers in those religions. For many atheists, sitting down and reading the Bible (or the holy text of whatever religion they were brought up in) is exactly what set them on the path to atheism — or what put the final nail in the coffin.
Why you shouldn’t ask it: As my friend and colleague Heina put it: “‘Have you heard of Jesus?’ No, actually, I was born under a f**king rock.”
There are some interesting and semi-valid points given here.
First off, atheists did not become atheists by accident. They had to weigh information and decide to be that way, so of course they will already know some of the basic truths of religion. Asking them these simplistic things can come across and obvious and insulting. I concede that point.
As for whether atheists tend to be better-informed about religion than most religious believers…
I’d have to say yes and no.
Yes, they may have spent more time reading the scriptures or doing highly academic exercises such as using Google or ordering popular books off of Amazon to read the opinions of others. Sadly, many believers know precious little about the very truths they are staking their entire life and eternity on.
Atheists’ knowledge of the Bible > Casual/young believer’s knowledge
Then an interesting factor comes into play here. On a spiritual level, that factor is the Holy Spirit and “scales” falling off of our eyes. But even on a human level, there is another important differentiator: passion and motivation.
Imagine on one side, you have an atheist who thinks Christianity is foolishness. On the other, you have a curious and thorough Christian who wants to know God to the deepest level possible. Who do you think will understand the Bible better?
The atheist comes across a difficult passage, and already assuming that the Bible is flawed and man-made, he immediately concludes that the passage is in error. It’s a contradiction or an oversight. Then he laughs about it, but does his diligence in remembering the details so that he can equip it in his next argument with a Christian. At this point, he can already stump the ho-hum Christian who knows nothing of the Bible.
The motivated Christian comes across the same passage and feels conflicted about it. How can that make sense when it sounds so off? Then, he remembers a related passage, perhaps 1,000 pages later that adds another layer to consider. Then he checks cross-references, commentaries, and draw upon his deep well of understanding to finally decipher the true meaning of the passage. It now makes sense and is crystal clear. Through this deep probing, he now has a better sense of the truth and God’s character, even if the final conclusion is much different than what he initially thought or expected.
In the end, this Christian has a far better understanding of the passage than the atheist does. Why is that? It’s not because of superior intelligence, but it’s because of his motivation and willingness to stretch his thinking to allow truths to come to him rather than dictate things with his own intuitions and biases. It’s his humility and deep desire to know God that opens up the words on the page to him. Otherwise, they would remain hidden.
Before you scoff at this idea, you should know that this applies in a lot of other areas as well—for instance, simple things like sports or even frivolous things like video games. *Warning: Geek speak is about to follow, so you may want to tune out.
You could be the smartest guy out there, and even be naturally gifted at video games. You could quickly excel to a certain point without a ton of effort. But unless you actually care about a game and devote yourself to it on a deeper level, you will never unlock your true potential in it.
People who have never been at an elite level in gaming (or other areas) will find this hard to understand and agree with, but it’s true. Lots of capable gamers will try out a game, see what they recognize to be an obvious flaw or limitation, and decide not to play it competitively. They write it off as shallow and unworthy of their efforts. They quickly find it boring and move on.
But the dedicated gamer will go deeper. He will see what looks like an “unfair” flaw and discover ways around it. What seemed like a broken imbalance is now just one mechanic that has been solved and pushed aside. Then other mechanics are discovered underneath. A deeper, richer game is uncovered for this gamer, but it never would have happened if he was haughty and decided the game was as simple as it first appeared.
(When it comes to the Street Fighter series, I could go on and on about frame data, spacing, the meta game, P-linking, conditioning your opponent…but you get the gist by now. It’s never just as simple as the characters you see on the screen.)
In the same way, atheists fail to see the deeper level of truth beneath the surface. That’s because they assume there isn’t any. They also overestimate the power of their intelligence, as if they should be able to immediately crack any code presented before them.
Here’s a news flash: no one is as smart as they think they are. (I’m constantly reminded of this, which is one of the useful, humbling quirks of marriage.) Here’s another one: If the Bible was inspired by God, do you really expect to be able to figure it all out with a few hours, months, or even years of half-blinded study? Even if it were man-made, scholars over many centuries have written countless volumes about the Bible that would astonish you in their complexity. Are you in a position to top that? If you can’t master Shakespeare in a couple of years, what makes you think you’d be able to master something this comprehensive and grand?
I can honestly tell you that every time I read a passage after not reading it for a while, I see something new jump out of the page. And that’s with passages I’ve read numerous times before! How much more complex would it be to piece together the entirety of the Bible logically and theologically? From what I’ve seen, the more you know, the more it fits…often in ways you never expected.
The conclusion is this: unless an atheist somehow had the right mindset (and the Holy Spirit’s guidance) while poring through the pages of scripture, it’s erroneous to say that they know it “better” than informed believers. It’s just the reality.
8: “What if you’re wrong?” Sometimes asked as, “Doesn’t it make logical sense to believe in God? If you believe and you’re wrong, nothing terrible happens, but if you don’t believe and you’re wrong, you could go to Hell!”
What if you’re wrong about Allah? Or Vishnu? Or Zeus? What if you’re wrong about whether God is the wrathful jerk who hates gay people, or the loving god who hates homophobes? What if you’re wrong about whether God wants you to celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday? What if you’re wrong about whether God really does care about whether you eat bacon? As Homer Simpson put it, “What if we picked the wrong religion? Every week we’re just making God madder and madder!”
Are you really that ignorant of the existence of religions other than your own? Has it really never occurred to you that when you “bet” on the existence of your god, there are thousands upon thousands of other gods whose existence you’re “betting” against?
I agree that using Pascal’s Wager as the sole or primary argument to believe in God is a foolish exercise. In my opinion, while it can’t be completely discarded, there are a lot of other considerations that contribute to making a firm commitment.
Yes, Christians are “betting” on our God in some sense, but it’s not a blind bet at a roulette table full of equally appealing choices. For many of us, it’s a weighed and informed decision that appears more and more in our favor as we inform ourselves.
Again, I go into a lot of this stuff in my other posts, but there are solid reasons to believe Christianity is the real truth as opposed to the other religions. In fact, a little effort quickly reveals how shockingly little credibility any other religion has.
It’s not a simple game of luck we’re playing. Like any reasonable person, we learn what we can and make the best decision based on what we know.
9: “Why are you atheists so angry?”
The answer: I’ve actually written an entire book answering this question ( Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless). The short answer: Not all atheists are angry about religion — and those of us who are angry aren’t in a constant state of rage. But yes, many atheists are angry about religion — and we’re angry because we see terrible harm being done by religion. We’re angry about harm being done to atheists… and we’re angry about harm done to other believers. We don’t just think religion is mistaken — we think it does significantly more harm than good. And it pisses us off.
Organized religion has indeed done many wrongs in this world. The church is not exempt from this unfortunate fact. But none of these wrongs were directly in line with God’s will or the scriptures. They were a result of manmade institutions and corruptions due to the flesh. If you’re going to get mad about something, get mad at what we humans have molded religion to be.
But being mad about these transgressions is wholly separate from the truth of God’s Word. Furthermore, you might as well be constantly mad at everything and everyone because nothing is exempt from great sin.
Heck, I’m glad to be an American but does it make sense to continually stew in anger at my countrymen because of the corruptions in our government? Or to hate white people for the injustices committed against people of other races and the indigenous people on this continent?
We’re ALL at fault in some way because we are all wretched sinners. That doesn’t change the truth of the gospel one bit. Using past wrongs to justify unbelief is not only a cop-out, it’s unreasonable.