April 26, 2016

Dear Christians: Answers to Questions for Atheists, Part XVII

Today we are continuing our series of questions for atheists. The section is simply called "God" and deals with attitudes towards God.

Again, there seems to be a presumption through the questions that an atheist can't understand the nature of God. I was recently listening to a TED Radio Hour podcast. It mentioned the phenomenon of "political motive asymmetry." PMA is the idea that our political ideologies come from a place of love, while our ideological opponents come to from a place of hate. It's the idea that we can't understand how we could both come to different places from a similar emotional starting point.

I often encounter a similar phenomenon when I am speaking with believers. There's this assumption that I can't have all the information, or I can't have thought about it, or I can't have done this or that, because if I had, how could I have come to this decision?

I think discussions benefit from examining the motive asymmetry that we assign to the other participants and bringing that into line as much as possible. It's an important source of bias, and that makes it an important concern to confront.

That said, here's how I answered the questions about God.

1.    If you ARE God’s creation, isn’t it true your present attitude is unfair to Him? Insulting, actually?  And you thus have very good reason to deny His existence because you deserve punishment for your utter disregard?


I used to believe this as a very naive Christian. I really did believe that I owed God for...what, I can't really articulate. Creating me? Loving me? Allowing me to exist?

Then I became a mother. My children owe me nothing simply for bringing them into existence or loving them or providing for them. That's my duty.

If God demands constant worship and devotion for the very basic, then he is, by definition, unworthy of it.

Sometimes it helps to visualize this in the context of relationships we have every day. If you're with a partner who constantly makes you feel like you need to shower them with praise, and cut off friends and family that don't believe, and prioritize them over every thing else, that's not a happy relationship. It's not a relationship that deserves your time.

2.    Are you willing to follow the evidence where it leads, and consider the “cumulative case” for God’s existence?  If not, why?

The cumulative case for God's existence is exactly why I don't believe in him.

However, I have made a promise to some folks that care about me that I will continue to look at the evidence and keep an open-mind, so I suppose my answer is "yes".

3.    Are you right about God? How do you know?

I don't know, and neither does the author. But I see no evidence to contradict my understanding of the supernatural.

This kind of calls back to the lottery ticket fallacy that we've talked about before in this series. Every religion, every different means of salvation, is like a lottery ticket. If you have five people who've all bought tickets, they each believe that they've got the winning ticket. Each ticket may look a little different--maybe it's clean and crisp, maybe dogeared, maybe it has a stain. But regardless, all of them have equal odds of being the winning ticket...and those odds are all equally small.

4.    If you are not right about God, do you know how to GET right with God?

Which God?

I kid. I know which God the author means. And yes, I do. I was raised a Christian by devoted, believing Christians. I can recite the Roman Road. I can pray the Sinner's Prayer. I understand minutiae of Baptist doctrine. I've been baptized.

This harkens back to the point I was trying to make in the introduction, so I'm not going to dwell on that part of it too much. I do want to point out that questions like these derail the conversation. It goes from being a discussion about attitudes and beliefs, to one that questions one of the foundational premises of a discussion--the idea that you are relative equals capable of discussing the material at hand.


So. To sum this all up: Being an atheist doesn't mean that I don't understand God, or at least, a version of God believed in by many theists. Some atheists come from a background that has little to do with religion; others don't. Without talking to us, without getting to know us, you can't know where we fall or what we think.

That's where compassion and empathy begins, so I think it's a beautiful place for us to all try to get to.

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