What does atheism have to offer?

29 Jan

Earlier this evening I met up with a group of fellow atheists for a round circle discussion. While there I got to meet the hosts of the A Matter of Doubt podcast and one of them asked a very simple question that honestly stumped me for a bit:

What does atheism have to offer?

That question really made me stop and think, and at first I couldn’t really come up with any serious answers other than “Well, we have the best comedians.”

But really, what does atheism have to offer? Well there’s a lot it doesn’t have to offer:

A reward after you die, the ability to see lost loved ones, a large community safety net, a constant feeling of belonging, etc. Instead atheism, at least on its face, appears to offer a first class ticket to be socially ostracized with no happily ever after. That’s a tough sell!

But after thinking a bit more on the matter, and discussing it with the other people in the group, there is one very important thing that atheism does not offer: certainty.

And you know what? That is perfectly fine for me. “I don’t know” are three very humble yet powerful words. Unfortunately uncertainty scares people. One of the greatest draws for religion is the false sense of certainty is asserts, backed up by nothing but the tenacity of the belief. If I can only will it hard enough, it will be so. I feel a big part of growing up and achieving maturity is gaining the understanding that “I don’t know” is a good phrase, that it is ok to utter it.

As we discussed this question further, I realized there was something that atheism offers that religion does not.

Responsibility

(Now depending on the person, if they shy away from responsibility or not, it could be yet another mark against atheism)

With atheism comes the realization that you are responsible for your own actions. You have no excuses for misdeeds, and no salvation from consequences. You cannot blame things on the work of the devil, and you cannot be forgiven by proxy from a god. There are no bailouts or handouts. There are some theists who would say that atheism is a free ticket to do all the horrible, wicked things you want, when in reality it is exactly the opposite. With atheism you can’t commit evil and then wash your hands of responsibility by asking an invisible man for forgiveness.

Which brings me to the next thing atheism offers:

Freedom

With this great responsibility comes great freedom. You are not born evil. You are not somehow sinful and broken. Your life is not planned out for you, it is not a test that you must pass. You are you’re own person, responsible for your own actions, and free to make your life what you want it. If you ask an atheist who used to be religious, chances are they’ll tell you that when they left religion they felt a great sense of relief. I know I did. Suddenly you no longer have heaven and hell looming over you, no supernatural puppet masters, no self-loathing. You are free, you are in control.

9 Responses to “What does atheism have to offer?”

  1. humanitarikim January 30, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    Atheism prompts us to live now, enjoy our time and reach for more as we know this life is all we have.

  2. John Barron Jr. January 30, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    Honestly, as far as responsibility, its not a true responsibility. It’s only a personal-subjective-can be altered at any time-responsibility. If your life now is all there is, there is no real justice. Sure you can be punished here for X-number of months/years after that its done. But if the society you live in does not value responsibility, you don’t have any anyway.

    Being accountable to yourself is not accountability. If you can evade who you have wronged, then you haven’t fulfilled any responsibility. But if there is an afterlife, what you do now really counts for something.

    And I would agree, atheism offers a real freedom. freedom from accountability. As long as you can keep from getting caught, you can do anything you want-rape, murder, robbery with no consequences whatsoever. I am not saying atheists act this way with regularity, but what prevents them? Their conscience? That can be silenced. Society? Who is society to impose their standards on you, what gives them the right? You have freedom as an atheist to do anything you wish.

  3. humanitarikim January 30, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    The thing that prevents them, John, is they are good people who don’t wish harm on others… yes, a conscious. Atheists have them. There will always be bad people, religious or not, but the good atheists choose to be good because it’s the right thing to do not because they are worried that if they don’t act a certain way they will burn in a fiery hell for eternity. See, they do it because it’s right without fear of punishment.

  4. godlesspaladin January 30, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    John, there is no justice in the afterlife. There is nothing a human being can do while alive that would warrant an eternity of torture, not even Hitler or Bernie Madoff. The idea that someone would be eternal tortured like that is infinitely unjust.

    I could say the same about you having no responsibility. As long as you evade police you can do whatever you want! All you have to do is say “I’m sorry, please forgive me” right before you die and you’re in the clear! What a bailout.

    Your notion that atheist can do anything they want (and thus commit lots of crimes) would hold water if it weren’t demonstrably false. Look at prison populations. Atheists make up about 16% of the country, yet they make up less than 1% of the prison population. You would think they’d make up about 16% of it… Or are atheists just that much smarter than Christians not to get caught?

  5. John Barron Jr. January 30, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    Humanitariankim: Why do they do the right thing? How do we know what the right thing is? And why is fear of a punishment a bad thing?

    Godless: Why do you define hell as torture? could you define torture?

  6. thesecretatheist February 2, 2011 at 10:55 pm #

    Christianity offers an escape from justice as well. According to most interpretations of Christianity a person can do horrible things all their life, even beyond the atrocities that a man like Hitler committed, one could personally torture, rape, and murder thousands of individuals through your lifetime, then one your deathbed “accept Christ as your lord and savior” and when you die you will end up in Heaven, enjoying all the joys and benefits of it.

    Likewise, according to most interpretations of Christianity, one could be born, live their life doing good deeds and being sure to do no harm to anyone. Yet, if they die without having “become saved” they will spend the rest of eternity in hell, being tortured for the inherited sin of humanity and the sin of not believing in the right religion.

    How is this justice? In the (real) world without a god, the former person dies in the end and their reign of terror is over. They don’t end up in some paradise, regardless of what they may come to believe by the end of their life.

    The latter person dies, having impacted the world in a small way, and is remembered fondly for their kindness and generosity. They don’t receive an inheritance in afterlife, don’t go to some paradise to be rewarded, but they also aren’t tortured for simply being born a human.

  7. thesecretatheist February 2, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    Doing what is considered right because you fear the punishment isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I don’t drive 100mph because I a) fear having to pay the ticked that I would likely incur were I to do this and b) fear the death that I would possibly bring upon myself or another person were I to partake in this reckless activity. Being motivated by fear is not bad.

    But when you have a religion that sets up the fear of eternal punishment or eternal reward as the major motivation for believers it opens the door for major abuses. That is why you have people willing to blow themselves up for their god. It is why we saw in history people burned at the stake for preaching “heresy”. It gives those who control the religion a much stronger stance against those they disagree with.

    It is not an effective tool for moral guidance. It is an effective tool for enforcing whatever laws those at the top see fit.

  8. Redskin March 31, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    How would you foster responsibility in an atheist who realizes they can do whatever they want as long as they can get away with it? Conscience? Why would they need one? Mortal punishment? If a person has nothing to look forward to after this life, they will probably do whatever they can to get what they want in this life. That is when morality deteriorates.

    Atheism is supposed to teach individuality. Why would a free thinking individual follow someone else’s rules? Would an atheist forgive another if they harmed a loved one? Why? They wouldn’t have anything to gain by it? There wouldn’t be someone at life’s end giving you a gold star for that. Would revenge be better since you won’t have to answer for it?

    What about high crime rate inner city areas? How would you teach street gangs to be accountable for their actions? Many youths who go to prison find God and come out a more considerate person to their neighbor. An atheist convert in prison would have no one to be accountable to when they get out, or, as referred to in some of these comments, maybe just hasn’t gotten caught. People with a conscience usually get caught or turn themselves in.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Ep. 4 – The Godless Paladin and What Does Atheism have to Offer? | A Matter of Doubt - March 11, 2011

    […] what atheism has to offer compared a religious worldview.  Please read Dustin’s blog post on What does atheism have to offer, it is very well stated. You can download this podast from our feed page or from […]

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