Friday, March 22, 2013

The Atheist's Certainty

Recently, I heard a comment made about non-believers that the only thing we have to hope for is that there is no God. While I'm certain that I hope for a great deal more than that, I find this a curious statement for a believer to make and demonstrates how little they understand the true nature of humanity and their own beliefs.

First of all, the assumption that a non-believer's only hope that God doesn't exist is patently false. I, for one, would find evidence for the existence of a god or gods exciting. This would be a fantastic discovery. I would also find the discovery of the real life existence of flying dragons, fairies, and the Loch Ness Monster to be equally fantastic discoveries. I don't expect any of these discoveries to be made, but I certainly would never hope against their discovery. My atheism is not a blind faith; it's a default position made necessary by the existence of religion.

The atheist's certainty is much greater. Consider that a Christian believes only in one specific god. All of the polytheistic legends are myths to the Christians (and, to be fair, the Muslims), because they are told there is only one God. While this is what they are told, it's not exactly what the bible says. The first commandment in the Ten Commandments states as such:

"Thou shalt have no other Gods before me."

This does not state that there are no other gods; in fact, it clearly suggests the opposite: That there are other gods, but that you should not have them before this god. This means that it's perfectly okay for a Christian to believe in polytheism (the belief that there are more than one God), but that the one they worship is the one of this bible.

Why don't most Christians accept polytheism? Part of it is that they recognize the polytheistic religions as the myths that they are. This is because they weren't brought up with those beliefs. With modern knowledge of science and understanding of how things work, they can see how ancient people would attribute a god to a natural phenomenon like lightning and rain, but their understanding of how these things come about in the natural world causes them to understand that a specific god isn't necessary for lightning or rain. There's another reason they choose to believe in only one god: They believe they're hedging their bets. As it turns out, this is a big mistake.

Consider the possibility that there might be multiple gods, or just one god. In either case, it's probable that only one of them is responsible for the afterlife business, and if that's the case, that's the one god anyone with a fear of death does not want to offend. A good Christian knows that if they might be worshipping the wrong god, they can weasel their way into a good afterlife by at least making the case that they intended to worship the right god. I hope that works out for the Christians, but I'm afraid they don't get off that easily.

As it turns out, an atheist has a much better strategy. Where a Christian hedges his or her bets by believing in one god and disbelieving the existence of other gods, an atheist simply chooses to disbelieve in them all. This is a much better strategy for the following reasons:

  1. The Christian god might be a hated enemy of the one true god that is in charge of the afterlife, and worshipping that god alone might be enough to offend whatever god is in charge of the afterlife. An atheist would be non-offensive to this kind of god in comparison.
  2. Consider the possibility that the Christian god actually exists and is the only god to worry about. The atheist's lack of belief is based on the fact that all they had to go on was the word of other men and women, who are, by definition of the tenants set out in the Holy Bible, fallible and inherently full of sin. How could this god punish a man or woman for not accepting the word of another man or woman? From our perspective, a preacher, priest, pastor, monk, or pope is simply a man or woman who does not wish to work to earn a living and is a parasite we wish not feed. Those of us who were Christians who left the faith can make a further case that God did not call to us when we prayed. Who are we to pressure the almighty for miracles when we are happy enough with life itself and there are children starving and dying of disease who are more deserving of miracles? Therefore, we default to the position of atheists, ready to convert as soon as we are called to by virtue of solid evidence.
  3. Worst case scenario for the atheist is that there is a god, it is the Christian god exactly as the bible describes, that the men who wrote the bible were really enlightened, and this god is a jealous god who demands our undivided attention and obedience. We must worship him and, if we do this well enough in life, we get to spend eternity worshipping this jealous entity. If this is "Let's make a deal," I think I'd rather see what's behind door number two, Monty, because this is looking more like winning the goat. I think I'd rather have no goat and stop playing this insane game show.
  4. That there is no god. The atheist gets to live his or her life free of superstition, free of mythical beliefs, understands this is the only life we get, and as a result lives a significantly richer, fuller life than they would if they believed. Thus, the only life we get in this case is greatly improved, and becomes its own reward.
I'm not against anyone believing in a religion, but as far as I'm concerned, hedging your bets in belief in a god is not a whole lot different than gambling at a casino, except in the case of religious worship, it's your time that you're using to bet instead of money. Just like in the casino, it's unlikely you'll win any of that time back ever. Unlike the casino, we never see anyone hit the jackpot. I'm glad to have had the presence of mind to have cut my losses when I did. I also understand why those who believed and worshipped their whole lives continue to do so: They are like problem gamblers who must keep plugging their time into keeping their chips on the table, and they must convince others around them that they haven't wasted their time by making statements like, "The only thing an atheist has to hope for is that there is no god." Or, as the problem gambler would say, the only thing a person not gambling has to hope for is that there is no jackpot.