So, my aggregator is weird; I’ll completely miss stuff from here at FtB, but find something from halfway across the world on a user-generated news forum… this is one of those latter times. The News24 people in Cape Town, South Africa have such a user-generated section, and in it, a regular commenter is trying to understand atheism.
After posting similar questions on the comment section, I decided to take it a bit further. I just need to understand the atheist stand point more. I am looking for honest answers on the below questions. Also take time to really think of the answers before you start answering.
1. Where do you come from?
2. What is your purpose on earth?
3. Does life have a meaning?
4. What is just and fair for you?
5. God forbids, if your child is murdered and the person is never caught and brought to justice, how would you handle it, seeing that life has no meaning and we are just here on earht to live and die. Where would you get justice from?
6. An intelligent, thinking child brought up by atheist parents becomes a Christian how do you respond? Oh and becomes preacher and starts a new church, would you say your child has a problem?
7. What about all the injustice in the world that goes by unreported, where must everyone else get justice from?
8. How do you answer your own child that is searching for meaning and purpose in life?
9. Why does research, discovery, diplomacy, art, music, sacrifice, compassion, feelings of love, or affectionate and caring relationships mean anything if it all ultimately comes to naught anyway?
10. Is death the end of life?
Yes, some of the questions are insulting, but it’s possible this person is really actually trying to understand. Assuming that, then, honest answers might be the best way to replace insulting stereotypes with actual understanding. My own answers, after the jump:
1) A poorly-phrased question, this one is, with multiple answers. I come from unstable nothingness. I come from exploding stars. I come from an unfathomably long and improbable series of accidents. I come from my parents, my community, my culture, my history.
Every one of these answers can be supported with evidence that independent observers can agree on. Your answer was “created by God.” Even religious believers have a tough time agreeing on which god created what, how, and when.
2) Another bad question—if you mean “ultimate purpose”, there is none. If you mean my own purposes, it is to make the world a better place for those I love. The nice thing is, the best way to do this is to make the world a better place for everyone—and to choose long-term goodness whenever possible (which means, sometimes, tightening one’s belt and working a bit harder in the short term).
Your answer was “to glorify God and to serve God.” Does this mean you would choose your faith over your fellow humans, over your family, if it came to that? Do you know His purpose for you? (The restaurant industry gives livestock a purpose to serve; having a purpose imposed by some powerful outside interest is not always a good thing.)
3) Life has many meanings; we imbue life with meaning, and live our lives in accordance with the meanings we construct. To learn, to give pleasure, to receive pleasure, to create beauty, to continue the family line, or to serve some philosophical position, including a religion.
You answer “yes, life has a meaning”, but do not elaborate. Do you give your life meaning? Do you think that your life would be meaningless without your god? What sort of meaning does a god give your life?
4) Justice and fairness are both human constructs, based on the notion of repayment. If I break your window, I should replace it. If I steal your money, I should return it. If I kill your loved one, though, this is a debt I cannot repay—even the loss of my own life does not return your loved one. Even if there actually was a Hell, eternal damnation would not bring back your loved one. This is why it is imperative that we do our best to have peace and harmony in our world—because justice and fairness are, at times, impossible once an act has been committed.
You answer that you “will refer to God.” I don’t know whether you mean as a good example or a bad one, but the notion of eternal torment for a finite sin is hardly fair or just. Worse, the idea that “God will deliver justice” leaves humanity off the hook, and allows us to shirk our responsibility to one another. (Worse than hell? Yes—hell is fictional; our world is real.)
5) As I said before, there can be no justice when a child is murdered. There is no fairness. There will be no reunion in heaven; there will be no magic. Wishing for some sort of punishment after life is nothing but a revenge fantasy. There is no good news in your example, with or without a god. There is grief, and there is mourning… and there should be.
Your question includes a slander against atheists, by the way. You write “seeing that life has no meaning and we are just here on earht (sic) to live and die.” This presupposes quite a different view than my answers to your questions 2 and 3. Do you honestly think that your life would be meaningless without your god? If so, I honestly pity you.
And really, while I can understand your desire to see the perpetrator punished, that is revenge, not justice. That does not repay the debt taken from you, whether the state or your god metes out the punishment. And while I, myself, might well want to punish the person who took my child from me, I have no illusion that there is any justice in this. It’s too late for anything to be fair about it. If this person’s punishment prevents that person or another from similar actions, that punishment is worthwhile… but it is not justice.
I honestly do not understand your answer; an omnipotent god could return your child to you, but you consider “just” the faith that your god will judge your child’s murderer? Again, this is revenge; you are hurting, and you want the murderer to hurt, too—none of this repays your loss.
6) I would not put my child to death, Old Testament style, if that’s what you are asking. I happen to have a great relationship with my grown kids; we are perfectly comfortable debating things we have differences of opinion on. While your scenario is vanishingly unlikely, I respect my kids enough to listen to them (and vice versa).
I have no idea whether my child would return from god or not, but this is my kid you’re talking about, and my kid is always welcome at home.
Your answer is strange—the question was not about your child answering to god, but rather about your own reaction. It sounds rather unnervingly like you don’t love your child as unconditionally as you love your god.
7) See answer 5. There is no justice after death, and so it is imperative that we make the world as good a place as we can, to prevent the sort of things that make us long for the comforting illusion of “god’s justice.”
Your answer illustrates this perfectly. What reason would you have to improve society? As the t-shirt says, “kill ‘em all; let God sort ‘em out.”
8) See questions 2 and 3. As I said, my children are adults now, and are wonderful, productive, compassionate, intelligent people.
Your answer is incomplete. You see, they will find out that people disagree about what God says. This is why there are thousands (or tens of thousands, depending on how you define them) of religious sects in today’s world, and many more that have gone extinct. If your children “turn to God” for answers, they will find that God approves and disapproves of same sex marriage; that God approves and disapproves of war; that God approves and disapproves of abortion; that God approves and disapproves of pork, or shrimp, or beef, or mermaid; that God approves and disapproves of pretty much any issue of any importance, so they might find themselves in the position of having to think for themselves. If they turn to God and get a bad answer, what then?
And if you, yourself, turn to God, and He tells you to kill your child (hey, it’s happened before), would you obey?
9) This is less a question than a thinly veiled insult. You presuppose your (wrong) answers to my ideas (see above) of life, and (once again, wrongly) assume that “research, discovery, diplomacy, art, music, sacrifice, compassion, feelings of love, or affectionate and caring relationships” are meaningless if done for any reason other than to glorify your god. You do not explain why it is that those things are meaningful under your worldview but not under mine. You neglect to consider the fact that each of those things impacts the real world—the one we live in—and that even if your god exists, those things over the course of all of human history would amount to the blink of an eye in his eternal view. Are those things, which are so important to our mortal world, nothing more than passing, trivial amusements for your god?
You answer (wrongly) that this question can only be answered by an atheist. But, you see, I’ve never met any atheist who agreed with your presuppositions about the atheist view of life, and I have spoken with more than a handful of religious believers who are adamant that it simply must be our view. I’d argue that this question can only be answered by someone who agrees with the presupposition… So, would love really mean nothing to you if it were not somehow ultimately for the benefit of your god? If so, I pity you again, but not as much as I pity your family.
10) Yes and no. In the sense of “my individual life”, yes, my death is the end of my life. Mind you, I will still influence others for a while, so long as my words stick around, so long as my friends, family, and students continue to work for notions I gave them. My brother is dead; I will never see him again. But I speak about him every semester, and my students—who have never met him—continue to be influenced by his good work (which he did, in part, because he was an atheist, and knew that there was no god to do the hard work for us).
In another sense, life does not so much begin and end as it continues. The cells that united to form us were themselves alive; the bacteria which will consume us are alive. Life began on this planet over three and a half billion years ago, and all of current life on Earth that we know of is related. That’s an unbroken chain, or series of interconnected chains, leading to each of us, with innumerable dead ends as well.
My life, in one sense, has already been passed to another generation; when I die, that’s it for me, but not for my life.
But no, there is no heaven nor hell, no afterlife in any sense but metaphor. All the wishing in the world won’t make them real.
So there they are. I’ll be trying to link this post to his thread… if you have your own answers, I’d love to see them both here and there.
For more or less the same thing, but with answers in verse, here ya go.