A fortnight ago I published Matter of Facts’ first ever guest post from my friend Helen arguing amongst other things for the beauty of a Christian worldview. In this response from a non-religious viewpoint Robin McGhee argues that a world without God is potentially far more beautiful than one with:
I find atheism is often defined more by being against religion than for anything else. Many prominent atheists have made their theological careers primarily by attacking religion instead of constructing something positive. Names like Richard Dawkins, Robert Ingersoll, and Christopher Hitchens are associated with opposition to religion rather than positive statements about atheism. I don’t think this is healthy. It forces the argument to be debated on religious terms. Why, many atheists have asked, should it be us facing the burden of proof? Likewise, we should not be the ones who ignore the positive benefits of our beliefs.
By contrast, arguments for religious belief are routinely articulated almost entirely by pointing out the positives. Yahweh is a loving god. Islam is a religion of peace. Believe in Christianity and you will be saved. This is what Helen says in her guest post on this blog. It is a very pleasing argument. Accentuating the positive rather than deriding your opponents makes it far easier to gloss over the basic metaphysical problems underpinning your philosophy.
I am attracted to atheism because it offers a more beautiful depiction of the world than religious faith could ever offer.
If you don’t believe in god, you hopefully understand the logical consequences. You were not created for any purpose, there is no afterlife, everything you’ve ever known and loved will be destroyed and all memories of it erased, and the Universe itself, and with it the laws of physics which enable your existence, will shrivel to nothingness in the course of billions of years. I like these thoughts. They give a lot of freedom. It’s much nicer to know you can do or think whatever you want than live according by the rules of a deity to whose absolute control you never gave any consent. It is especially wonderful to view the world as it is, a product of chance, with all the complexities and beauties an object of even greater fascination and delight as a result.
Sometimes I have tried to imagine how I would see the world if I were a practising Christian. I feel it would be a much less interesting, and considerably less welcoming, world. Instead of acknowledging a world created by amazing coincidences, I would feel compelled to ask searing moral questions about the causes of its hardships, and ignore its beauty. Instead of complete freedom to choose my own direction and meaning in life, I would feel compelled to see my purpose as serving a deity who might never makes its presence known to me, and whose edicts and proclamations are frequently confusing. It would be a life of direction, but not a direction of my choosing- I might not feel comfortable with it, but I would feel like I had to struggle on unless I renounced my religion. My implied criticism of him earlier notwithstanding, Christopher Hitchens’ point that to believe in Christian doctrine is like living in a divine North Korea is strikingly accurate. And his flourish that, at least, you can die in North Korea- while for Christians, to die is just the start of it- is especially pertinent when even the most liberal monotheists routinely believe in a divinely-ordained afterlife.
I embrace atheism because it allows us to understand our own freedom and power, and also our own fallacies. If I become crippled by illness or misfortune, I do not have to question the foundations of my own faith and worry about whether this is part of a divine plan. I can understand that we’re just molecules and this is the sort of thing molecules do to each other. Moreover, I can place my trust in human remedies to solve my problems, rather than prostrating myself before a god who I must constantly worry doesn’t care about my problems.
These are only some of the reasons for being an atheist. I have hardly delved at all into criticisms of religion per se. No doubt the reader is already aware of the main ones. However, I would ask any religious readers to reconsider their faith in a divine being, and recognise the beauty and freedom of a world without god.