I entered this in the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s undergraduate contest. Unfortunately, I received no honors in the contest. (it was the second to last in a long line of rejected entries of mine, lol!) I wanted to post this so others could read it. Feel free to message me, ask me questions, courteously(!!) argue with me, whatever. Yes, I’m an Atheist, and I’m proud of it.
“Why don’t you believe in God?” is a question that I get asked with startling frequency, both by fellow atheists eager to hear my de-conversion story, and by theists who don’t understand how it is possible to live without God. To me though, this question is difficult to answer. I find it easier to ask “What is God to you?”, and subsequently, “why have you chosen to leave this concept out of your life?”
What is God to me? The answer to this question has varied throughout my life. As a child, God was a friend and protector, which was what we were told in Sunday school. I think it is important to note here that as a child, I also had an imaginary white horse named Captain who was a friend and protector to me as well. This vision endured for several years, but I never really had the feeling of God being near me in church. Looking back, I believe that I doubted God’s power ever since I was old enough to sit in “adult church” instead of going to the kid’s program. God became something I had to pay lip service to and then once church was over, I would go and do other things that were more important to me. He began to feel less real to me than the Norse myths that my parents read to me at bed time.
After taking a class about archetypal myths as an older teenager, it finally dawned on me: God is a story, told to explain the unknown, and to get people to behave. He’s obviously more interesting and terrifying than a list of rules: if you displease him, he’ll smite you, and if you’re good, he’ll invite you up to heaven to sip nectar and ambrosia with him. Judging by the amount of archetypal myths that try to get people to behave, the “God is a story” theory seems very plausible. Curiously, the Old Testament and culture from the time when the bible was written have much in common.
Is there anything really wrong with believing in God though, if he helps you to be a better person? Besides the cognitive dissonance of believing in something that doesn’t exist, there isn’t too much wrong with believing in God if your actions are good. In Alasdair Gray’s classic novel, Lanark, the main character’s father summarizes this idea perfectly: “What men believe isn’t important-it’s our actions that make us right or wrong.” In my opinion though, it makes much more sense to just forgo God as the messenger of these moral ideas and just live life the best we possibly can. Some people really do seem to need God to be a good person, but it honestly seems safer to live virtuously for the sake of living virtuously. What happens if someone who is taught to be reliant upon faith to be a good person suddenly loses faith? In theory, it is possible that they could lose all sense of ethical virtue. Therefore it makes sense to just be directly virtuous, without God as a “middleman”.
The other major pro of eschewing religion, God, and afterlives is that you believe that this life is the only chance you have to make an impact. It becomes much more urgent to live a full, valuable life when you believe that it’s the only one you are ever likely to have. Rather than praying to alleviate a bad situation, why not go out and try and do something to change it? Take Dan Barker’s song “Nothing Fails Like Prayer” to heart and go forth into the world to make a difference! Imagine that, instead of praying for world peace and an end to world hunger, if suddenly everyone decided to stop buying sweatshop made clothing from nations that propagate genocide on their own people? There are of course, theists who both pray and use their own two hands to make a difference through volunteer work and the like. However, I believe that when people believe that the power to make a difference rests in their hands alone, they are likely to do more.
The belief that this life is the only one has other positive effects as well. Without this belief in the afterlife, the concept sacrificing yourself in the name of religion. As Victor Stenger put it: “Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.” Had the men who flew planes into the World Trade Center believed that they were sacrificing their one chance at life on earth, with no promise of an afterlife, they may not have committed this atrocity in the name of their god.
I don’t believe in God because I think we can do better. Science has advanced by leaps and bounds in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, negating the need to explain much of the universe by religion. We have outgrown the need to use stories of a fearsome God to control our behavior. Most importantly, I think that instead of clapping our hands together and praying to change our world, we can instead take those hands and use them to build this planet into a better and stronger one.
Gray, Alasdair. Lanark: A Life in Four Books. New York: Harper & Row, 1981. Print.