January 19, 2016

Dear Christians: More answers to questions for atheists

Every once in a while, I get an email (or Facebook message) with a variety of "gotcha" questions. Usually, I can type those questions into Google and be linked back to some sort of list online of questions to ask atheists.

Today was one of those days, and the list that I found was pretty comprehensive. I'd like to take a time to hit on the questions under the heading "Disbelief in God". I think these questions are interesting, and I'm certain that sharing my answers, as an actual atheist and former Christian, would be informative to those who have atheists in their lives.

Here we go.

1.    What do you consider to be the single most compelling reason to believe God does NOT exist?  Why?

This question is difficult because I don't necessarily believe that there is a single most compelling reason for not believing in a God or gods.

But I do think that if I had to nail one down, it would be the cumulative effect of God's characteristics as I was taught them. I was taught that God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, good, just, and righteous. There were, naturally, other attributes...but these were the basic ones.

And when I reflect on the nature of this God that I was taught about versus the world we live in, there's a stark contrast.

2.    If God does exist, do you have a subjective desire that He not exist?  Why?

The short and sweet answer to this is: No.

I'd prefer for God to exist. I know there are many atheists, including prominent thinkers and activists, who would disagree with me. What's the point, they'd say, of a man in the sky watching you and judging your every move?

But I grew up with God. I suppose in many ways I projected on my god the image of my own dad. Having a personal relationship with Christ was comforting. Having someone to pray to was soothing. There was a distinct ability to place things in God's hands and not worry about anymore--something that was, in some ways, beneficial to a person suffering from sometimes debilitating anxiety.

So personally: no. I have no subjective desire for God not to exist. Quite the opposite.

3.    Are there any practical benefits to atheism?  If so, what are they and why? 

For me? Yes.

Atheism, in a pretty direct way, made me okay with myself. I've struggled with a depressive disorder since I was much, much younger. It includes a little voice in the back of my head that constantly tears me down, sniping away at any sense of self-confidence that I have.

When I was a believer, here were a handful of arguments that little voice leveraged against me:

  • You're a sinner.
  • Your existence is pointless without God.
  • Nothing you do matters; only that you believe.
  • You killed Jesus.
  • You're a woman, a descendant of Eve. Sin and suffering are your fault for leading Adam astray.
  • You can't follow every thing that The Bible says. Why do you even try? You're a failure.
  • If you believed better, you'd be less sad.
I had these ideas from a young age--nine or ten. When I wrote my first suicide note at ten, it was after a particularly fiery sermon left me feeling like my every effort to better myself was pointless. I felt like a failure because my walk with God was strong, and I was begging him to help me feel less sad all the time, and nothing was working. I had no joy of the Lord as I'd been told I should if I were doing my part.

And so, for me, atheism has very practical benefits. Without a god, there's no sin. No broken human. I'm a flawed human being, but I'm able to grow, to learn, to change. I'm able to make moral decisions for myself.

I've been able to accept myself, and it's done wonders for my self-image and confidence.

4.    What would it take for you to believe in God’s existence? 

Evidence. Here's a variety of evidence that would really prove the existence of God for me:

  • A retraction of The Bible or addition to it that shows a truly progressive, fair morality
  • Accurate science and mathematical systems within sacred texts.
  • Accurate biblical prophecies
  • Some concurrence between different sects

5.    If you found the Biblical God does indeed exist, would your life change for the better or worse? Why?

This is a false dichotomy. It assumes only two options, but really, there's at least one other.


If there was a biblical god, it wouldn't affect my life at all. I live a moral life. I treat people with love and respect. Even with regards to mentioning how having God helped me deal with my anxiety in some ways, I've learned coping strategies since leaving religion that have really helped me face what makes me anxious instead of just ignoring it and "releasing it" for God to handle. Heck, I'm even a modest dresser!

My life wouldn't change at all.


What I am becoming more and more convinced of as I encounter more of these lists is that most theists attempting to evangelize atheists don't really understand atheists. It's hard to visualize someone coming from such a completely different premise, and that makes these questions leap to assumptions. In this small batch, I saw two recurring assumptions:

  1. That atheists don't want there to be a god
  2. That existence of a god would change an atheist's life

These assumptions are damaging to the prospects of having a respectful dialogue. Admittedly, even though I freely undertook writing this post, I rolled my eyes when I got to them.

My best advice? Meet someone whose beliefs differ from your own either on their philosophical terms or on a more neutral ground. To that effect, there were some really fantastic questions here--what's the most compelling evidence and what evidence would it take to change your mind are both great, in my opinion. And they allow for an actual dialogue--the atheist can ask you what compelling evidence you find for the existence of a god and what evidence would change your mind too. It's a two-way street.

And that's the way we learn about each other, and learning is never a bad thing.

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