The Last Road

Living every day like it's the last… because one day, it will be.

Why I am an Atheist (and you should be, too)

Posted by Rystefn on October 10, 2012

So there are about ten times as many of these essays out there as there are atheists in the world, so I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this, but it seems like the thing to do. I guess partly because there are a hundred times as many instances of religious people telling each other made-up bullshit about why people are atheists (or pretend to be atheists, but really, truly believe deep down).

My story is pretty straightforward, actually; no sudden realization, no slow acceptance that I’d been taught wrongly. I wasn’t raised a nonbeliever, either. Not deliberately, anyway. The indoctrination just didn’t take. My father was a lapsed Catholic turned deist and my mother was a Southern Baptist. Their solution was to raise the kids in a weakly religious household with the idea that we’d come to our own decision. We’d do the occasional Easter Mass or Vacation Bible School in the summer, and growing up in Texas, we were surrounded by Jeebus-talk pretty much all the time. Staying over at a friend’s house Saturday turned into church with their family on Sunday almost without exception, even well into my teenage years.

None of it stuck, though. You know how, when you’re a kid, you figure out Santa isn’t real, but you keep on playing along for a while because it’s fun or you want the presents, or your parents can’t handle that you’re growing up? As far back as I remember, that’s what I was doing. To the best of my knowledge, it was always a game of make-believe. Same thing with the Easter Bunny and Satan and Jesus and God. It wasn’t until I was old enough that none of the kids my age even pretended to believe in Santa anymore that I started to get that the grown-ups really actually thought some of that stuff was real.

At some point in your life, usually in early adolescence, you start to suspect that you’re smarter than all the so-called adults in your life. By around fifteen or sixteen, most people are completely convinced of it. Imagine that at fifteen, you were the only person you knew that didn’t still believe in Santa Claus. All your “peers,” all the adults in your life, parents, teachers… they all put out cookies and milk and wrote letters to the North Pole saying how good they’d been this year. Then, when the presents didn’t show up, said they just hadn’t been good enough, nevermind that they didn’t get lumps of coal, that doesn’t matter. Occasionally, someone would leave the tag off a present, and that one must have come from Santa, right? That’s what the world looked like to me.

Long story short, I am an atheist because they failed to indoctrinate me as a child.

Now, if someone wants to convert me to their faith, they have to convince someone, not just that their religion is right, but that religion in general isn’t a patently ridiculous concept. That’s a much harder sell. To convert someone from one religion to another takes some work, but the hard part is already done for you. They already buy in to the idea that gods are real things and that faith is a useful trait for a person to have. Now you just slap on some emotional appeals about your god(s) being nicer or stronger or whatever, and you’re golden. To get me, you’ll have first convince me that’s there’s such a thing as gods in the first place.

So far, no one has even come close. I’ve heard a lot of people attempt to justify their faith in lots of different ways. I find none of them convincing, and neither would anyone else who didn’t already believe them. Here’s a quick rundown of a few of the more popular ones I’ve heard over the years. I’m sure many of them will sound familiar.

-The Bible says it’s true and we know the Bible is true because God said so, it says so right in the Bible. No, really, people literally argue that with no intermediary steps.
-A painting implies a painter, a building implies a builder, so creation implies a creator. Also a rock implies a rocker, so you’ve proven the existence of Ozzy Osbourne, I guess, but you skipped the step where you demonstrate the universe is a creation.
-Existence is greater than nonexistence, so the most powerful being imaginable must exist. They pretend there’s a few more steps in it to confuse people, but that’s really what they’re saying.
-”I feel it in my heart.” To which the only response is “I don’t.”
-Everyone really knows God is real deep inside, they just pretend because they don’t want to follow God’s law. A more laughable idea, I’ve rarely heard.

There are more, of course. An endless stream of nonsense and non-sequiturs. Most often, though, they skip right over trying to demonstrate that their god is real and go into why their god is more believable than others or why religion is a force for good in the world or the like.

Lots of people talk about the evil that religion in general and various religions do (and they’re often right). Lots of people talk about whether or not they’d want to live in a world with gods, or a million other nitpicks. Those people are making a mistake. They’re conceding off the bat that the entire concept of religion isn’t patently ridiculous on the face of it. Until you can convince me that Santa is real, I’ve got no interest in discussing what counts as naughty or nice, nor in whether he’ll leave a bundle of switches with the lump of coal.

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11 Responses to “Why I am an Atheist (and you should be, too)”

  1. I could not agree with you more and that is why I say I’m an anti-theist…. the premise is completely false to begin with.

  2. thesauros said

    but you skipped the step where you demonstrate the universe is a creation.”
    And you, I think skipped the steps where you must of necessity believe:
    . Matter created itself
    . That an infinite regress is not impossible
    . Something can pop into existence without an external and transcendent cause
    all of which science itself shows to be impossible. By science I mean the scientific method of knowing i.e. observing, testing, verifying. None of these three have ever EVER been observed.
    Sooo . . . that’s some big-time ignoring of evidence you’re doing just to maintain a blind faith.

  3. Alex said

    “At some point in your life, usually in early adolescence, you start to suspect that you’re smarter than all the so-called adults in your life. By around fifteen or sixteen, most people are completely convinced of it. Imagine that at fifteen, you were the only person you knew that didn’t still believe in Santa Claus. All your “peers,” all the adults in your life, parents, teachers… they all put out cookies and milk and wrote letters to the North Pole saying how good they’d been this year. Then, when the presents didn’t show up, said they just hadn’t been good enough, nevermind that they didn’t get lumps of coal, that doesn’t matter. Occasionally, someone would leave the tag off a present, and that one must have come from Santa, right? That’s what the world looked like to me.

    Long story short, I am an atheist because they failed to indoctrinate me as a child.”

    Long story short, you’re an atheist because you’re stuck in early adolescence.

  4. Rystefn said

    And you’re a theist because you’re stuck in early childhood. What are you asking Santa for this year?

  5. Rystefn said

    Thesauros, sorry for the delayed response, your comment got caught in the spam filter for some reason.

    As to your points, I think you’re making a few very common mistakes.
    -I do not believe that matter created itself, nor do I need to.
    -Science does not show that an infinite regress is impossible, nor is there anything I believe that demands that an infinite regress must be possible.
    -Nothing I believe demands that something pop into existence without an outside cause, it is religion which demands that.

  6. Alex said

    - “And you’re a theist because you’re stuck in early childhood.”

    Hey it’s a lot more fun than adolescence. And while children’s vision might in some ways be more limited than adolescents’, it’s often more unclouded. (And they’re usually a lot less obnoxious.)

    - “What are you asking Santa for this year?”

    Well St Nicholas is the patron saint of scholars, among other things, so I’ll probably ask for a couple of books.

    + + +

    - “I do not believe that matter created itself”

    Of course not – something creating itself is a logical absurdity.

    - “Science does not show that an infinite regress is impossible”

    I thought the current scientific model posited that the universe began at the Big Bang, which surely rules out infinite regress …? In any case, logic rules it out.

    - “nor is there anything I believe that demands that an infinite regress must be possible.”

    Does that mean you don’t believe in an infinite regress? If you don’t believe in an infinite regress, and don’t believe matter created itself, what does that leave?

    - “Nothing I believe demands that something pop into existence without an outside cause”

    Does that mean you *do* believe in an outside cause?

    - “it is religion which demands that.”

    Er, no. Religion (at any rate theism) insists the universe came into existence precisely *because of* an outside cause.

  7. Rystefn said

    “And while children’s vision might in some ways be more limited than adolescents’, it’s often more unclouded.”

    Is that not-so-secret code for you don’t care that you’re wrong, so long as you have a simple explanation?

    “I thought the current scientific model posited that the universe began at the Big Bang, which surely rules out infinite regress …? In any case, logic rules it out.”

    Logic does no such thing. I’m not sure you understand what logic actually is…

    “Does that mean you *do* believe in an outside cause?”

    Not remotely. It means I don’t believe that things pop into existence.

    “Er, no. Religion (at any rate theism) insists the universe came into existence precisely *because of* an outside cause.”

    From whence cometh the outside cause? You posit that the universe has a beginning because it was created by something which has no beginning. You accept that something with no beginning can exist, then imagine something which has no evidence for its existence to be that thing. I just skip the stupid step.

  8. Alex said

    - “Is that not-so-secret code for you don’t care that you’re wrong, so long as you have a simple explanation?”

    It’s an observation that the Revolution encourages people to prolong the adolescent mind well into adulthood. Hence wrinkled old farts like the Ozzy Osbourne you mentioned prancing on stage. Hence grown men squandering their precious time playing video games and dressing like teenagers. Hence the hectoring, hysterical, self-righteous tone of so much internet atheist discourse. Hence the incestuous love-hate relationship between liberal and libertarian politics, each exemplifying a different aspect of the adolescent psyche — a massive sense of entitlement and an arrogant assertion of the individual self. Hence the schizoid modern attitude toward death, fearful denial coupled with a morbid fascination with its particulars. These things are bad so the Revolution must be destroyed.

    - “You posit that the universe has a beginning because it was created by something which has no beginning. You accept that something with no beginning can exist, then imagine something which has no evidence for its existence to be that thing. I just skip the stupid step.”

    But if you believe the universe had no beginning — in defiance of science? — why did you say “nor is there anything I believe that demands that an infinite regress must be possible”?

  9. Rystefn said

    Save your pseudointellectual philosophizing for people who give a shit about the pretended decline of modern civilization.

    While you’re at it, go back and read what a scientist has to say about the Big Bang (as opposed to what your creationist buddies have to say about it), then come back and we’ll discuss it. Better yet, discuss it with one of those physicists, they’re better qualified than I am to teach it.

    In the meantime, there is no conflict between accepting that infinite regress can be possible and stating that nothing I believe demands that infinite regress must be possible. Really. Maybe the Big Bang was /the/ beginning, maybe it was simple /a/ beginning. No way to know. Seriously, though, if you’re interested in learning, go ask a physicist. If, as I suspect, you’re more interested in arguing in an attempt to “prove an atheist wrong” to feed your ego or whatever, at least be honest about it, and we can carry on arguing on the internet – just don’t expect me to put much effort into it. I’e never been real big on mental masturbation. I prefer the regular kind.

  10. Alex said

    - “Save your pseudointellectual philosophizing for people who give a shit about the pretended decline of modern civilization.”

    My dear fellow, you yourself are proof there’s nothing pretend about it. You are a child of the Revolution. And “the Revolution, like Saturn, devours its children”.

    - “if you’re interested in learning, go ask a physicist”

    Last I heard the physicists were saying the laws of physics gave rise to themselves according to the laws of physics.

    - “I’e never been real big on mental masturbation. I prefer the regular kind.”

    They used to say onanism made you go blind.

    Anyway, Merry Christmas!

  11. Rystefn said

    That’s what I thought. Let me know if Santa brings you what you wanted or a lump of coal this year… I’m sure when it’s neither, you’ll be making excuses.

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