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Oct 27 2011

Why I am an atheist – Peter Wagenaar

I’m an atheist because I see no reason not to be. There is no compelling evidence for the existence of God(s) – and an awful lot to the contrary. Added to which, I don’t need “God” – whatever that really means – to validate the life I have now. Its worth is also not dependent on a future eternal after-party at what you once described so beautifully as a “Disneyland in the sky for dead people”.

I’ve often joked that after 2000+ years and any number of ‘second coming’ predictions, we can safely assume that Jesus is a ‘no show’. But maybe the following innocent comment from my three-year-old niece shows up the sheer ridiculousness of religious belief better than any lengthy treatise I might write: “Why do we have to pray? Doesn’t Jesus have a phone?”

Peter Wagenaar
South Africa

28 comments

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  1. 1
    Dennis McDonald

    If Jesus had a phone would it be an iPhone or an Android?

  2. 2
    AJ

    That’s the great thing about the naive mind of a young child – they ask the obvious questions that outdated social conventions have taught adults not to even consider.

  3. 3
    Kieren Lythgow

    When a young child’s innocent question can expose the contradictory nature of such beliefs there has to be a strong feeling of embarrassment from adults who attest to these ideas.

  4. 4
    Alex, Tyrant of Skepsis

    A jPhone, I suppose.

  5. 5
    jennyxyzzy

    One thing I really noticed about Peter’s reply, because it closely resembles my own experience: when you’re not forced to adopt a religion at birth, the story of why you’re an atheist is rather short.

    My family aren’t religious. My mother is nominally Christian, but she never went to church whilst we were growing up. Nor did my grandparents from both sides, although they were big enough believers that they thought it worthwhile to buy me a Bible…

    But here’s the thing. In my family we had lots of books. Enid Blyton books with all of their magical characters (I loved the Wishing Chair and the Enchanted Forest). Books about Greek, Roman, Norse myths. And that Bible that my grandparents bought me? Well, it was just another book of stories, and not even particularly interesting/believable ones. I mean as a child a found it much easier to believe that Moonface, Silky and the Saucepan Man lived in a huge tree so tall that it pierced the clouds, and on the other side of the clouds there were other lands, than it was to believe that some guy could get swallowed by a whale and live. And who wants to hear about a guy that gets nailed to a cross, when any decent hero – Hercules, Ulysses, Jason and the Argonauts), would have beat off their attackers and escaped! The End Times? A pale imitation of Ragnarok. I mean come on – the author wasn’t even making an effort!

    The point being, I never saw any positive proof for a god, no-one ever told me that a god definately existed, and naturally, my child’s mind formed the opinion that no god exists.

    Of course, if Enid Blyton had written the Bible, at least the “good guys” wouldn’t have run around commiting genocide…

  6. 6
    Hazuki

    I figured out what’s been bugging me about most of these entries: they’re inductive, not deductive.

    Now obviously one can’t prove a universal negative, but isn’t it better to at least be able to point to specific passages and say to an apologist “No, you pillock, it unambiguously means THIS and shut your stupid lying gob?”

    Apologists try to work around all the contradictions and problems by bafflegabbing about metaphor and suchlike. If one can show that, no, the ancients did NOT mean this was a metaphor, it’s useful.

  7. 7
    Moggie

    Very poor 3G coverage in Heaven. Jesus just uses his phone for Angry Birds.

  8. 8
    Alex, Tyrant of Skepsis

    Hazuki,

    the series is called “Why I am an atheist”, not “Why there is no God”.

  9. 9
    hoverfrog

    Atheism is the default position. I’m not convinced that gods exist or even that the word “god” has any real meaning. I’m an atheist by default. No deconversion story and like Peter I’m an atheist because I’ve never had a belief in gods.

    Nor do I intend to start.

  10. 10
    ronmurp

    Alex, I like the jPhone – as used by ‘sophisticated theologians’, those proponents of Schroedinger’s Catechism

  11. 11
    Jason Wilczak

    I agree with some of the postings about when you are not pushed into religion as a child, it is almost a “duh” to be an Athiest.

    I, unfortunately, was brainwashed young, that’s all i can remember as a child. I was fortunate enough to have been given a very good mind that is capable of changing if rational logic is presented. Additionally, I found a partner that was not a religious individual and her guidance has helped me “see the light” (had to throw that in there).

    In any event, I have detailed part of my story and musings here:
    http://temporalrelativity.blogspot.com/2011/06/day-12-im-coming-out.html

    I also wrote another piece about religion here:
    http://temporalrelativity.blogspot.com/2011/10/day-16-thorn.html

  12. 12
    John Phillips, FCD

    Hazuki, instead of constantly griping about how these ‘Why I am not an atheist’ posts are not to your liking and that they didn’t come to it in the right way, as you apparently did, why don’t you simply write your own. And for FSM’s sake, STFU with the constant whinging, it’s already way past old.

    Additionally, to quote Alex, Tyrant of Skepsis;

    the series is called “Why I am an atheist”, not “Why there is no God”.

  13. 13
    A3Kr0n

    The jPhone? Jphone? Gphone?
    Good post!

  14. 14
    Alverant

    @Hazuki #6

    Now obviously one can’t prove a universal negative

    Sure you can! It’s easy!
    Step 1: Define object
    Step 2: Check object for paradox and internal contradiction
    Step 3: If object contains an absolute – check to see if it really is an absolute or if it’s an “absolute except for…” pseudo-absolutes

    If Step 1 isn’t defined or has a flexible definition then its existence is questionable
    If Step 2 or 3 come back positive, then the object cannot exist.

  15. 15
    Thomas Lawson

    This entry (good job, Peter, by the way) and the one after has made me think that if atheists need a mascot then the cuttlefish will do just fine. We’re all essentially alike, but our patterns are unique. We’ve all had to resort to different camouflage at times. And is there anything cooler than the cuttlefish? They’ve got cool mouth-spears (like we have PZ). Plus, we’ve got very good poetry from Eugenio Montale…
    -
    from Cuttlefish Bones:

    My prey you are, offering me
    a brief hour of human tremor.
    I will not miss even an instant of it:
    this is my part, every other is empty.
    My wealth is this unrest
    that runs you through and turns
    your face upwards: this slow
    gazing round of eyes which now can see.

  16. 16
    Thomas Lawson

    By “the one after” I meant PZ’s video of the cuttlefish, obviously…

  17. 17
    raven

    Get your xian troll bingo cards ready.

    The past pattern for these posts is one incoherent driveby, one unconvincing Fake Atheist, and one or more babbling, mindless godbots.

  18. 18
    Peter Wagenaar

    Wow … not only was I thrilled to see my contribution make the cut, but thanks for all the feedback and comments. Just to clarify, though, given that I seem to have given the impression that I never believed … I was raised an Anglican and becoming who I am today was a process, like it was for so many others. That said, it wasn’t especially painful, maybe because I was really only ever “nominally Christian”, to borrow jennyxyzzy’s term; it was just a case of gradual incremental questioning, learning more and finally knowing better. I simply outgrew religion just as I outgrew other childish things.

    My nieces attend Sunday school, not because my sister and brother-in-law are especially religious, but rather for the social aspect. The elder one, whose priceless comment about the phone I quoted above, is matched in cynicism by her two-year-old sister who recently, in the middle of a prayer, wanted to know, “What are we saying thank you for?” Uncle Peter is very proud of both of them and will be there to answer their future questions with truth and reason when the time comes.

  19. 19
    EvN

    Good for you, Peter!

    In some areas in South Africa it is still very difficult, even dangerous, to admit to atheism. I have had some nasties demanding my address to come “teach me a lesson.”

  20. 20
    Gen, or The RadFem of Dhoom

    Good for you, Peter!

    In some areas in South Africa it is still very difficult, even dangerous, to admit to atheism. I have had some nasties demanding my address to come “teach me a lesson.”

    Word. In small towns, and even not-so-small cities, this is indeed the case, especially amongst the Afrikaner community.

    An example:

    I can’t find a secular primary school for my kids in the entire town, out of 7 Afrikaans schools.

    They are all “supposed” to be non-discriminatory and secular according to the laws of our country, and Bible Class and daily prayer and devotions and hymn singing etc. etc. is, of course, not “mandatory”, of course they’d never actually punish any child who made it clear that they don’t wish to attend, but at the same time, not one of the children in any of the seven schools, each having a total of about 700-1,000m kids over all 7 years (as each school assures us parents on Open Day, to set “our” uneasy minds at rest about all this secular science stuff invading “our” Christian Afrikaner nation!) ever misses any one of these things, the total of which is about 10 hours per week of blatant, overt bible teaching churching, if added up, not to mention the continuous and very public displays of all manner of religious paraphenelia and continuous references in other subjects to the “will of God”, “sin”, “praying for the poor”, including having to nominate a church you belong to when joining and making it clear that by entering your child into their *PUBLIC* school, you agree with its Christian values – although there are no other options available if you want your child to be educated in hir mothertongue and that mothertongue happens to be Afrikaans…

    I’m sure not going to force my kid to be the first and only child to refuse to participate in these “classes”/”activities”/whatever they want to call it. I can’t. :’(

    I’m sure there are other atheist parents in this very city who feel the same, yet the prospect of putting my child through that level of bullying on primary school level, where kids have absolutely no filter at all and the teachers openly agree with the bullies’ point of view? I simply cannot fight that, even in my own life as an adult.

    Great post, Peter. I am in awe of your casualness, and that of your nieces. They sound really awesome.

  21. 21
    Gen, or The RadFem of Dhoom

    Sorry, my [rantoff] tag got lost. Here, have one for free.

  22. 22
    rational jen

    My parents were not religious, I’ve always been rather an atheist. Lately, I have come to think this:

    The existence of the Pope proves the non-existence of the Christian God.

  23. 23
    Hazuki

    @12

    What, exactly, makes you think I didn’t? It’s not very good, but it was submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society some time ago. I may need to rewrite it and make it less mushy.

  24. 24
    Emmet

    raven #17 – “The past pattern for these posts is one incoherent driveby, one unconvincing Fake Atheist, and one or more babbling, mindless godbots.”

    or other atheists pointing out the piss-poor arguments of their fellow atheists:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/10/18/why-i-am-an-atheist-james-grimes/

  25. 25
    myeck waters

    I wonder if PZM’s habit of frequent posting these is starting to thin the herd of drive-byers. Or wear them out or something.

  26. 26
    Paul Gnuman

    Peter,

    You shouldn’t be so certain that there’s no Second Coming. After all, Jesus says that the Son of Man is going to come and encircle Jerusalem, and that the temple and all the buildings in the temple complex will be destroyed so that no stone is upon another. And he says it will happen within the lifetimes of some then present. This would have been at about 30 CE.

    If you were to visit Jerusalem today you would notice that there is only a small part of the temple complex remaining, a wall. So why do people believe that there is an unfilled promise of a Second Coming? OK well it wasn’t Jesus who came and did that, it’s true, but Jesus didn’t really say it would be himself anyhow. He said some fellow called the Son of Man. Just who was that fellow who did what Jesus promised? It was Titus Flavius, who was a true son of a god. That is, he was the son of Vespasian, who was eventually deified by the Roman Senate. Also he showed up right on time, destroying the temple in 70 CE. (Look up First Jewish War on wikipedia to confirm).

    I only bring this up because it’s a fact worth knowing. Christian powers that be are deliberately overlooking it when invoking a Second Coming for the sake of manipulation of the credulous. We should not let them get away with it. Anytime anyone brings up the Second Coming in my presence I enjoy mentioning that the Son of Man prophecy has already been ably fulfilled, to the letter, and on time. That is only a first step on a road that leads to understanding who invented Christianity and why they did. The most interesting thing is that the inventors of Christianity wanted to be appreciated as such by posterity, and so they left strong evidence. Try googling Flavian Signature.

    Yours sincerely,
    B.D.

  27. 27
    Robster

    There’s only one thing that would happen if you called jesus, but you’d be too late. He’s already hung up!

  28. 28
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