atheism.davidrand.ca: Living Without Religion
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FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

Most of the questions discussed in this section are distilled from comments and questions from visitors to this site since its inception in 1998, as well as from correspondance and conversations with believers and non-believers. The responses are from the webmaster. Some readers may find that the responses contain much explaining of things that should be obvious. But when dealing with controversial topics, it is important to be very clear.

This section is a work in progress, as is the entire site!

2008-09-23



General Questions


The Goals of this Site

What is the purpose of this site?
To present an atheist point of view.
To promote secularism.
To denounce religious obscurantism.
To tell atheists that their non-belief is valid and justified and deserves to be expressed.
To tell religous believers that, yes, they have the right to their beliefs and that we, atheists, also have the right to state openly that we find their beliefs futile and often dangerous.

Why do you criticize religions?
Because religions are, in our estimation, both unnecessary and dangerous.

Are you trying to convert believers into atheists?
Not really. The goal is to reach out to atheists and other non-believers in general, especially "closet" atheists (of which there are probably a great number). If some believers are led to reflect upon their religion as a result of visiting this site, then so much the better, but that is secondary. What is most important is that atheists come out of the shadows!

Your site presents itself as for atheism and against religion. How do you define these terms?
Very briefly: atheism = without belief in god(s); religion = supernatural religion.
For further details, see the definitions of atheism and of religion in the Repertory.
See also What is atheism? in the Basic Principles section.

Are you anti-religious?
Yes and no.
Yes, in the sense of denouncing the futility of religious beliefs and their negative consequences
No, in the sense of respecting the right to belief.


Atheism and Agnosticism

Since it is possible to prove neither the existence nor the non-existence of God, is it not more reasonable to be agnostic, i.e. to remain neutral and leave the question open?
Evidently you promote symmetric agnosticism, the position that the existence and the non-existence of "god" (which one?) are equally probable. It is the doctrine of relativists, i.e. those who refuse to draw the necessary conclusions. If you adopt such a position, then you must also refrain from denying the existence of Santa Claus, garden fairies, and the Elohim of RaŽl... In fact, you must give up making any decision for which you lack 100% complete information. (And in real life, we rarely have anything more than partial information.)
Such a position is untenable. Given that there are no valid proofs of god's existence, and recognizing that theistic beliefs can be explained by the evolution of human societies, the obvious and necessary conclusion is one of negative atheism, i.e. an absence of belief in god(s).

Is it not possible to live without religion while nevertheless maintaining a belief in God?
Continue to believe in "God" if you insist, but theism remains a religious belief, i.e. a belief in a supernatural being, with no rational basis.

I don't believe in God, but I don't consider myself an atheist either. What am I?
Confused. Not believing in god(s) is precisely the definition of atheism. So, congratulations, you are an atheist!
If you don't call yourself an atheist, perhaps it is because the word scares you. If the term atheism has negative connotations for you, then that is probably because of the widespread religious propaganda which claims that religion is necessary for morality and that atheism therefore leads inevitably to immorality or amorality. This is a self-serving lie on the part of religious institutions. Do not be taken in.
On the other hand, you could call yourself an agnostic, but the term is problematic. Please read the question and answer on the subject of agnosticism. See also the definition of agnosticism in the Repertory.

Do atheists hate God?
Not really. But we find that his social skills could use some serious improvement.
But seriously, a person who hates "god" (or loves "god", or has other feelings about "god") is by definition not an atheist, because it is impossible to hate a being whose existence one does not even recognize. Do you hate seven-legged unicorns? Our quarrel is with some human beings - those who choose to believe in the existence of supernatural beings and whose belief systems are directly or indirectly imposed on society at large (through legislation, or the school system, etc.).
Atheists sometimes use the word "God" metaphorically. For example, when Josť Artur says that "God will never receive the Nobel peace prize", it is obvious that he is referring to the belief, not the hypothetical entity.



Believers and their beliefs


Respect and Tolerance

Do you respect religious beliefs?
No. Beliefs should not be respected. On the contrary they should be examined, evaluated and questioned just like any other theory or hypothesis. The old principle which states that we must "show respect for all beliefs" is nothing but the imposition of silence, an attempt to stifle necessary debate. This so-called "respect" can lead to censorship, to a denial of freedom of expression and, in extreme cases, to the criminalization of "blasphemy".

Do you respect religious believers?
Yes. My respect for those who hold religious beliefs is well defined: by the importance I attach to legal recognition of fundamental liberties, including freedom of religion and irreligion, i.e. secularism. My respect for believers is also expressed in the following way: by an honest critique of their beliefs. The silence of those who never dare criticize openly the religious beliefs of others is not necessarily an attitude of respect: on the contrary, it is one of resignation, and often of hypocrisy.

How can you criticize religion, when so many intelligent well educated people are believers?
Truth, falsehood and the validity of hypotheses cannot be decided by referendum. Many intelligent people have joined sects or embraced astrology or Marxism or postmodernism, etc., but that tells us nothing about the validity of those beliefs.


Cultural Heritage

What about the many great works of art which have been realized within a religious context?
Firstly, most religious works of art were created during a historical period when one religion held a certain monopoly in the cultural domain. It was thus unprofitable, or ill-advised, or even dangerous, to produce art outside the religious context. Secondly, it is both possible and necessary to denounce religious obscurantism without rejecting the richness of cultural history, including religious culture. One may study the history of astrology, or alchemy, or Christianity or ritual human sacrifice, without adopting these practices! Similarly, one may attempt to understand the intense emotions associated with so-called "religious" experiences without adopting the religion of the person having the experience. Indeed, it is important to place oneself outside the context of religious belief in order to make an objective analysis of these phenomena.

Do you want to eliminate all myths?
Of course not. Mythology is part of humanity's rich cultural heritage. I do not even favour a direct elimination of religious mythologies. Rather, I propose the abolition of the privileges enjoyed by religious institutions who promote their particular mythology, as if it were true, and who attempt to impose it on others, even on non-believers.
A mythology is dangerous only when a significant number of people mistake it for reality. Consider, for example, the famous "Lord of the Rings" trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien. No one, as far as I know, claims that these books are the word of "God". No one has declared that the good magician Gandalf is the son or prophet of "God". There is no Vatican of "Gandalfism" which tries to force "Gandalfian" morality on everyone, even on those who do not belief in Gandalf. But there certainly does exist a Vatican of Christianity which would like to impose its Christian mythology (which from its point of view is Christian "reality") and its moral code on everyone. Further, this Vatican (like other Christian institutions) pretentiously declares that its favourite book, called the Bible, is truly the word of God and that its big hero, named Jesus of Nazareth, is the son of God. (Muslim, Orthodox Jewish, Hindu, etc. institutions have similar pretentions.)
Thus "Gandalfism" is not a threat, but Christianity, on the other hand, is dangerous. But I do not propose that Christianity (or Islam, or Judaism, or Hinduism, etc.) be suppressed. Read your Bible or Quran and go to mass or synagogue or temple if you wish. I propose only that the privileges enjoyed by these institutions be abolished. I criticize only those mythologies which have been taken to the level of dogma; on the other hand, myths of which everyone recognizes the mythological nature pose no problem.


Apostasy

What is apostasy?
Apostasy means to renounce a religion or a set of religious beliefs, possibly expressing that renunciation publicly or informing the appropriate religious authorities. There are several reasons why one would want to do this, some political, others more personal.

What political reasons are there to apostatize?
Many individuals are members of a particular religion not because they necessarily believe but because they were recruited or indoctrinated into that religion as children, before they were mature enough to make an informed decision on their own. Separation of church and state (or mosque and state, or synagogue and state, or temple and state) is essential for a healthy democracy. The political influence of churches and other religious institutions is in part a result of their demographic importance. Such institutions must not be allowed to inflate dishonestly their importance by claiming members who in fact are no longer believers—if indeed they ever were.

What personal reasons could one have to apostatize?
An individual may want to make it clear to members of the religious community which he or she wishes to leave that his or her membership in that religion is a thing of the past. Freedom of religion includes the freedom to change religions or to have no religion if one so wishes. Apostasy is an exercise of one's personal freedom.
It should be noted that apostasy is specifically forbidden by Islam, and that the Coran indicates that it can be punishable by death. Such a principle is an extremely serious violation of the freedom of conscience and freedom of religion of the individual. A Muslim—especially a Muslim woman—who apostatizes performs an act of considerable courage and deserves our support.

Why is it important for Catholics and other Christians to be "debaptised"?
A very large number of people, baptised Catholic shortly after birth, are no longer—or never were—believers. Their membership in the Catholic Church is false because it was imposed upon them without their consent. The Catholic Church uses inflated membership numbers to increase its political and social influence. If you are one of these individuals, you are strongly advised to consider taking steps to have your name removed from the Church's membership rolls. Having only one person's name removed may seem inconsequential, like a single vote, but the cumulative effect of many debaptisations can be significant. A similar argument applies if you are officially a member of any other religious institution whose dogma you do not support. Be true to yourself! Do not allow your name to be sullied by being associated with an institution you do not support.




A Few Arguments for Theism


The Argument of the Benefits of Belief

If religion brings people together and helps them to live better, more in harmony with their neighbours, is that not a good thing?
The prettiness of a falsehood does not make it any less false.
One must be sadly ignorant of history to say that religion "brings people together and helps them to live better." Religion is a greater source of conflict than of harmony. At any rate, in those cases where religion has (or claims to have) beneficial effects, these effects to not constitute a proof of the wellfoundedness of doctrine and do not in any way justify the imposition of that religion on other persons, especially not on children.
Racism also brings people together -- people within the same community that is! -- while at the same time fomenting division between communities: just as religion foments discord between different religious communities.


The Demographic Argument

If God does not exist, why do billions of people belief in him?
Truth is not something to be decided by votes. It is quite possible for billions of people to be wrong.
There was a time when it was generally believed that thunder was caused by the gods. A very large number of people once believed that the earth was flat, or that the sun rotated around the earth, or that Hilter was a great guy.
Millions of people have firmly held beliefs which are incompatible with the beliefs firmly held by millions of other people. They cannot all be right. But they can all be wrong.


The Argument of Miracles

How can you say that God does not exist when so many miracles have been reported?
Any competent scientist will tell you that anecdotes have very little evidentiary value. There has never been any solid proof (well documented and reproducible by others under controlled conditions) of any supernatural phenomenon.
Consult the Scepticism & Sceptics section of the Links page of this site.



A Few Arguments Against Atheism


Personal Criticism of Atheists

Atheists are intolerant.
Religious believers have a lot more to fear from competing religions than they do from atheists. Atheists are generally very tolerant—I would argue TOO tolerant— of religious belief. Even when intolerant, they are no more so than many religionists are against other, competing religions. When a atheist state starts forcibly repressing religious institutions, then you can talk about intolerance (for example, the case of the Soviet Union), but in such cases the state repression is not a direct result of atheism but rather of the state's political ideology which fails to respect individual freedoms. Theocracies are generally very repressive of all religions other than the state religion.

Atheists are arrogant.
Even if this were true, it would be irrelevant because an individual's character is no guarantee of the correctness or falsehood of that person's views. But how could anyone possibly be as arrogant as a religious authority who claims to have intimate knowledge of the will of the ruler of the universe? Nothing can compare with the pretentiousness of a pope or a priest or an imam.

Who are you to criticize other people's religious faith? You are insulting hundreds of millions of believers.
Who are you to place limits on other people's freedom of expression?
One (perhaps the most important) reason why it is often considered unacceptable to question other people's religious beliefs is the simple fact the such beliefs have no rational justification and are based solely on authority and the tradition which underlies that authority. Thus, to question religion is to question authority. The idea that religious beliefs must be "respected" (meaning never openly criticized) is simply a denial of freedom of expression. It is censorship.
Yet criticism of religious beliefs harms no-one and can only benefit society. Note that I am not in any way questioning freedom of belief here. Both freedom of belief and freedom to question beliefs are essential ingredients of a healthy, open society.
To put it another way, we should try to respect people, not beliefs. To examine and evaluate another person's beliefs is more sincerely respectful of that person that is silence.

Even though I neither practice a religion nor believe in God, I would not call myself an atheist because word has such negative connotations!
If you don't believe in god, then you are evidently an atheist. But since you don't want to admit it, you are thus a closet atheist.
The negative connotations of the word atheist are the result of centuries of religious propaganda. Christian popes and other religious leaders are constantly holding atheism responsible for the "moral decay" of society, whatever that means. What they are really saying is that they are angry at having less power than previously because many people have abandoned religious practice. The idea that atheists are less moral than theists is probably the greatest lie ever spread by any religion, and they have spread some whoppers!
See xxx and xxx.



The BIG Questions...and a few little answers


Meaning and Existence

Does god exist?
I don't know. Does rhegnixique exist?
The question "Does god exists?" is meaningless unless the word "god" has been defined. Most people who ask this question simply assume that everyone knows what "god" means, and many people think they do, but this so-called understanding involves a whole plethora of presupposed concepts (omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, creation, personification, anthropomorphism, etc., etc.) which make the question extremely loaded. Whence cometh this idea of such a creature anyway? Why would such a bizarre question come to mind? To accept the question "Does god exist?" at face value is to accept this battery of preconceived notions. The sarcastic answer given above turns out to be remarkably appropriate, because it reveals the absurdity of the question.

What is the meaning of life?
The meaning of life is written on a stone tablet which I keep in a very secure safe in a location I will not reveal. You may consult this tablet if you wish. The fee is CDN†$†1000 per minute, minimum 10 minutes. American dollars graciously accepted at par.
OK, I'll try to be serious. I would suggest that life has no meaning, except that which we choose to give it. If that statement leaves you feeling directionless and anxious, well, welcome to the real world. A more reasonable question which one might ask oneself is "What is the meaning of MY life?" or, similarly, "What meaning do I wish to give to my life?" In other words, you are responible for how you play the hand you are given. Sorry, there is no rhegnixique to come to your rescue. But perhaps a few well chosen friends can help you along your way.


Morality

If you don't believe in god, what stops you from going out and murdering and performing other similarly evil acts?
Human beings have an intuitive moral sense which is independent of any religious values.
We all live in society, interacting on a regular basis with other human beings with whom we share this planet. I may feel like punching my neighbour in the wahzoo because he plays heavy metal music at 3 a.m., but then, if I felt free to do that, maybe the classmate who hates my annoying off-key whistling will, in similar fit of rage, do something very nasty to me. So, to reduce the level of violence, pain, chaos and anxiety, we make compromises with other human beings and do our best to live in harmony with them, because it is in our own self-interest to do so. The key concept here is enlightened self-interest, or, in other words, being intelligently selfish.



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