The Sterile Life Of The Everyday Atheist

I get the strangest things showing up on my computer to read. Most recently, a Rhode Island bishop wrote a piece entitled “the sterile life of the everyday atheist”. Because it’s not enough that celibate men know all about women’s reproductive rights, these highly religious, didn’t-just-drink-the-Kool-Aid-but-mixed-the-batch-up believers know all about what it must be like to be an atheist. I think the position of authority has gone to his fevered noggin; he actually thinks he has an opinion worth reading. I’ve already answered him, in the links; turns out there is a Cuttleverse for nearly every occasion!

The life of the everyday atheist must indeed be a very sad, sterile and hopeless experience.

If you don’t believe in God, how do you explain the reason for your existence? After all, you can’t refer to a Creator, or a divine plan. If you’re not created in the image and likeness of God, as the Bible tells us, from what source do you derive your human dignity? Or are you nothing more than an accident of arbitrary biological forces? Does your life have any more value or meaning than other living creatures – even the simplest life forms that crawl in the mud or swim in the seas?

Here ya go, bishop. This sad, sterile, and hopeless atheist answers you.

If you don’t believe in God, how do you approach the question of your ultimate destiny? Is it simply a question of living a few years and then returning to the dust? Are you no more than an insignificant cipher in the long history of the universe, here today and gone tomorrow? Is there no final judge, no accountability for the way you lived on earth? Is there no spark of immortality, no heaven, no eternal life where the human soul is released from its earthly shackles? And when you die, are the precious bonds of love you forged with family and friends erased forever, never to be enjoyed again?

Our ultimate destiny? Lemme compare yours and mine.

If you don’t believe in God, how do you integrate the ups and downs of everyday life into some meaningful pattern? How do you make sense of the suffering and pain that inevitably comes your way? What is there that keeps you from getting depressed? Unlike people of faith, you can’t ask anyone to pray for you, nor can you depend on the intercession of the beloved saints. And when a loved one dies, you can’t pray for them, for their eternal happiness and peace, can you?

I lost my brother less than 2 years ago. Half of us in the room were atheists, the other half quite devout believers. None of us found comfort in prayer; when your brother dies, there is no comfort to be found, not even by lying to yourself about an afterlife. Here, read a bit more on it.

If you don’t believe in God, what is there to celebrate in life, beyond those things that are merely superficial and passing? Don’t you occasionally envy the joy that religion brings to families of faith – in moments of Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, and religious weddings when God blesses the commitment of lovers? What do you celebrate on Christmas and Easter, or do you just withdraw to the silent, darkened solitude of your home? And what about Thanksgiving Day? Someone wrote that, “An atheist’s most embarrassing moment is when he feels profoundly thankful for something, but can’t think of anyone to thank for it.”

Really? Seriously? You think religion adds something to the real world? I prefer the real world. I celebrate family–on christmas and at other times. And as for Thanksgiving, I do give thanks. But to the people who deserve it.

If you don’t believe in God, how do you navigate the secular world that is, nonetheless, infused with references to the God whose existence you deny? How do you manage to use, without a compromised conscience, our currency that proclaims our trust in God? Aren’t you offended every time you recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or sing God Bless America, or America the Beautiful? Do you leave the room when public events are bookended between invocations and benedictions? Do you avoid cities and towns named after things religious – like Providence, for example? Do you close your eyes every time you pass a Church with a religious name? Your daily existence must be really miserable.

It’s funny; the SCOTUS ruled that these are instances of ceremonial deism, and that the phrases are not religious. Perhaps you should alert them that bishops consider these things to be sacred, and that their ruling must be revisited. If these things celebrate your god, they are unconstitutional. If you want them to remain, you have to agree that the god they mention is a trivial one. Bishop, you should be the one demanding your god be removed from my money.

My question is this: If you don’t believe that God exists, why do references to Him bother you so much? Can’t you just shrug it off as you would other fables or fairy tales? Why does God bother you – unless of course – way down, deep inside, at some subliminal level, you’re still wrestling with the possibility that God really does exist?

Your god does not bother me. You can keep him. Your flock, however, using their banner to separate the acceptable christians from the unacceptable others, they bother me. Your flock flouting the first amendment, that bothers me. We live by a social contract, and you and your flock have violated that contract; your god had nothing to do with it. And the old saw of “why should it bother you? Follow the link, and try it on yourself for size.

As Christians, we don’t persecute atheists or belittle them. We will, however, defend our core beliefs and values whenever they’re attacked. We should be patient with atheists and try to understand the difficulties that arise from their limited worldview. And most of all, we should pray for atheists and conduct ourselves in a way that convinces them of the goodness of our faith. In that way, perhaps, they too will come to know the “Unknown God” in whom they “live and move and have their being.” (Acts 17: 22-28)

Yeah, this article was no attempt to belittle atheists. And yeah, the reeling in of privilege is exactly the same thing as an attack. The wall of separation is there to protect you, bishop. Don’t tear it down.

And you go ahead and pray for us, if it keeps you busy. Won’t bother us a bit. Just stay out of the way while you do so. And you might want to meditate a bit on the concept of “bearing false witness”. And get to know an atheist before you deign to describe us. You might learn something.

Cuttlecap tip to Steel City Skeptics (against every instinct of this Cleveland Browns fan).


  1. The Lorax says

    I agree with the last bit: conduct yourselves well, and we won’t have an issue. A few things we can agree on: honesty and protecting children. That should do for starters, right? So you won’t deny any observational scientific evidence (’cause doing otherwise would be dishonest) and you won’t allow people in your faith to rape children, and atheists won’t deny any observational scientific evidence and atheists won’t allow other atheists to rape children. This is great, we’re getting along so well now! :D Maybe soon we can move on to both upholding the First Amendment!

  2. gvlgeologist says

    Cuttlefish, lots of interesting links here – I hadn’t seen a lot of them. For anyone reading this, look at his link entitled, “Here, read a bit more on it.” If you’re like me, you’ll weep. It is beautiful. Dance naked indeed.

    As far as the rest of today’s post – a brilliant dissection of the bishop’s bs.

    This part:

    “Your god does not bother me. You can keep him. Your flock, however, using their banner to separate the acceptable christians from the unacceptable others, they bother me. Your flock flouting the first amendment, that bothers me. We live by a social contract, and you and your flock have violated that contract”

    is precisely the point that so many of the religious don’t understand or don’t care about.

  3. Marshall says

    That’s funny, because one of the primary things that has helped me to cope with depression is my shedding of irrational religious and spiritual beliefs, and the resulting ability to more rationally analyze both myself and the world around me. Which is to say that I’ve been FAR happier over the past two or three years than I have been in, hell, about TWELVE or so years before that; at least in part because I don’t have the weight of feeling like I’ve done something to offend God or that my depression is the result of not being ‘correctly spiritually attuned’.

  4. says

    “We should be patient with atheists and try to understand the difficulties that arise from their limited worldview” Really? How can the bishop write all that he did and then call the atheist world view limited? Religion, by definition, limits how one can look at the world. Does he not see that obvious truth? Probably not, one does need to shut down the brain in order to follow religion in the first place. I suppose it would be too much of us to ask that they turn it back on before speaking.

  5. Cuttlefish says

    I’m tempted, reasonbeing, to write to the bishop and let him know that some idiot posted an opinion piece under his identity, and that he might want to contact the authorities to keep it from happening again.

  6. says

    Lets be blunt, Bishop. The reason for my existence, and your existence, and the existence of every human being who has ever lived, is that two people had sex, the female of the pair got pregnant, and we were born after 9 months, give or take. As for devine plans to believe in such a thing requires us to believe some people are created for no other reason than to suffer, or to make others suffer, as part of this plan. Kind of goes against the whole “loving God” thing, doesn’t it?

  7. Die Anyway says

    As I ready through his questions and thought about the implied answers he expected or even in some cases provided, I concluded that he was correct in many, maybe most cases. Correct about the literal answer but way off base as to its effect.

    Bishop> “Is it simply a question of living a few years and then returning to the dust?”
    Me> “Why, yes it is. But Bishop, your tone implies that there is something wrong with that. I accept it for what it is, just like I accept the fact that it rains on parades sometimes.”

    Bishop> “How do you make sense of the suffering and pain that inevitably comes your way?”
    Me> “Make sense of it? Your question is nonsense, but maybe the closest answer I can give is that I use statistics and biology to make sense of it. Your attempt to make sense of it by attributing it to your God doesn’t make sense to me. You posit a loving God but somehow rationalize that he can inflict suffering and pain yet is still good. No. Some people are going to suffer, some are not. It’s statistical, not God-driven, and I’m better off mentally if I think that it was somewhat random rather than thinking God has it in for me.”

  8. Cuttlefish says

    Agreed, DA; thus the “I am accident on accident…” in my first link. The reality of our precarious place in the universe is far more beautiful than the wildest imaginings of even the smartest people of two thousand plus years ago. Their dreams, their wishes, their fantasies, pale in comparison to what we can see through a telescope, a microscope, in a test tube… and far more amazing is the fact that the latter are real.

  9. otrame says

    It’s funny that for me most of the questions he asks get the answer, “Yes.” I have no existence except right now. When I die the only thing left of me will be in the memories of those who knew me. I’m okay with that. My life is full of happiness, pain, joy, annoyances, fears, angers, pleasures, and all the other things that a human can experience. The only thing I am missing is the anxiety of trying to believe in a god while looking around me. I need no tortured reasoning to explain the evil in the world. I need no explanation for how god could let such bad things happen. I need not believe that I must kiss the ass of a psychotic evil overlord in order to have eternal life. Which I don’t want anyway.

    And most of all, without the blinders of religion, I can see so much more, marvel at so much more, love so much more. At the end of my life I will know that I contributed to the lives of the individuals I have known, and the culture that surrounds us. That is enough.

  10. doktorzoom says

    are you nothing more than an accident of arbitrary biological forces?

    Cuttlefish has the better (and less snotty) reply, of course, but Tony Hendra’s “Deteriorata” also works pretty well for me.

  11. Mandrellian says

    @ 10:

    “Are you nothing more than an accident of arbitrary biological forces?”

    quoth the learned bishop.

    The simple fact of my existence may well be the latest in a long series of “accidents”, but as far as me being “nothing more” than that – well, that’s kind of up to me isn’t it? That, to me as an atheist, is a very clear reality (one which, if I’m honest, is sometimes quite daunting). As far as I or anyone else can know, for as close to a fact as possible, there’s noone waiting for me after I die, nice or nasty, and while I’m alive I am in control of what I do.

    And you know what? I’d much prefer to be a mere “accident of arbitrary biological forces” than, say, a prisoner of arbitrary theological force.

  12. Oli says

    What Mandrellian said! But I would like to also point out two things-
    1) That a human is much more than just their physical being. I am also my ideas, my relationships, my influence on my environment, and every single interaction I have in my life be it lasting or not.
    2) That biological forces are not by neccessity arbitrary. That makes it sound as if things happen willy nilly to get to today; in reality there is a cause for each force to act as it does.
    Silly Bishop thinking he is omnipotent and understands everything and everyone *shakes head*

  13. gratch says

    “As Christians, we don’t persecute atheists or belittle them.”

    – Anymore. Because, you know, we’re not allowed now. But remember when we did? Ahhh, good times, good times. But no seriously we don’t persecute atheists anymore and you should give us points for that. For a laugh go back and re – read the whole thing but pretend the letter was written by a voodoo priest or a scientologist.

  14. says

    The thing that amuses me no end is that people like the Bishop are comforted by believing that God has a purpose for them.

    I have extensive experience with entities whose existence is given purpose by a higher being. Our cows’ existence had a purpose: to give milk, and then to be eaten once their milking days were through. Similar for the pigs and chickens. That purpose was given to them by us, much like we are supposed to think that God gives our lives meaning.

    I do not expect that, if the animals had known the ultimate purpose of their lives, that they would have been comforted by it.

    And the fact is that the various churches studiously avoid actually stating what God’s purpose for them really is[1] (and the Catholic church in particular has a nasty tendency to refer to their members as “sheep”, which I find disturbingly suggestive). If I truly believed that there was a God who had an unspecified purpose for my existence, I’d be scared witless.

    [1] Actually, I guess the Mormons do come right out and say that we are God’s offspring, and if we are good we will get to grow up and become gods ourselves. But that’s one of the points that the other churches ridicule them about, so *they* obviously don’t believe that God has any such benign purpose for us.

  15. Cuttlefish says

    Oli @#12–

    I’d be careful with your second point. Depending on one’s definitions, it ain’t necessarily so!

  16. HighDudgeonAZ says

    Shorter version: “Atheists aren’t people and should be converted or killed.” He’s just using politer language.

  17. says

    Dear Bishop:

    Thank you for your concern about my well-being. In particular, my post-death well-being. It’s quite kind of you.

    However, you seem to be operating under a set of wildly mistaken impressions about what atheism is and how to effective evangelize atheists.

    Firstly, atheists don’t believe in anything supernatural. Not gods, devils, angels, demons, the “soul”; none of that. So, your wonderment at how we’re able to live useful, productive, happy, wonderful lives without a god is akin asking us how we can do those things without Hercules, Zeus, or Quetzalcoatl. How do you survive without Zeus?

    Atheists do have a purpose in life. It’s the same purpose that theists have. That’s to perpetuate the species. It’s the single “ultimate” purpose of all species. One perpetuates the species by being a good parent (including the “it takes a village” style parent), a solid member of the community, and a careful steward of the Earth’s finite resources and fragile environment.

    As far as your “ultimate” purpose — well, we’re back to the disbelief in the supernatural. You use “ultimate” as a code word for “after-death”. Sorry, but there’s no evidence whatsoever that there is an “after-death” experience. Once your consciousness blinks out for good, that’s it. No heaven, no hell, no judgement, no nice apartment with the kitchen upgrade for being a member of the right-thinking mob.

    Where do we get our morals? Same place you do. From the society in which we live. Some parts of our moral code are very old indeed — don’t kill, lie, steal, cheat. They were already part of humanity’s moral code for centuries prior to their appearance (allegedly) on tablets in Palestine. Some parts of our moral code are much younger — treat all people equally (including women), don’t try to impose your rules on strangers, don’t rape children.

    Morality is plastic and situational. A Hindu thinks the bacon cheeseburger immoral for a different reason than the observant Jew. Until all religions everywhere can agree on the status of the bacon cheeseburger, I’m afraid it stands as direct evidence of the fact that morality comes from humans and is ascribed to god(s), not the other way around. And you’ll forgive us if we do not wish to ascribe to your moral teachings — because we find many of them to be profoundly and irretrievably immoral. In particular, your insistence on the subjugation of women.

    Although your suppositions about atheism are profoundly wrong, I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt. You truly do care about us, and want to convert us to your way of thinking. OK. Here’s how to do that.

    Provide one bit of surviving evidence of the miracles performed by Jesus. Something that cannot be natural, therefore is supernatural.

    The wine from the wedding, for example. Just a sip. I’m sure there’s more. Or some of the loaves and fishes. It fed 5,000. I’m sure there’s some still laying about, feeding people in perpetuity.

    What about the healed sick? Jesus healed many, many people. Surely, there are plenty of them still around to tell the tale. After all, when a god heals you, you should stay good and healed, right?

    Or Lazarus. Risen from the dead. Not just risen from the dead — risen from the stinking, rotting corpse dead. There’s nothing like the smell of decomp, I can tell you that. Lazarus could put on shows for the crowd, answer questions, let doctors examine him.

    Or the risen Jesus himself. Don’t tell me he’s “about” to return. Show him to me. Live and in the flesh. Real flesh, with his intestines bulging out of his side.

    As soon as you provide any of those pieces of evidence, I’ll convert. Promise.

    Kindest regards.

  18. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    It is obvious the bishop has never had a discussion with an atheist, at least not one which lasted more than about two minutes. Certainly for me, after listening to the bishop’s pompous smugitude for two minutes, I’d either be walking away or enriching his vocabulary with words he’s not supposed to know.

  19. Mimmoth says

    My question is this: If you don’t believe that God exists, why do references to Him bother you so much? Can’t you just shrug it off as you would other fables or fairy tales?

    Tell me, bishop–how would you feel about “In Darth Vader We Trust” on your money? How would you feel about invocations to Darth Vader performed before every public ceremony? You go to a League of Women Voters potluck and it starts with everybody joining hands and bowing heads while one of the members invokes the goodness of Darth Vader? The pledge of allegiance includes “One nation, under Darth Vader,…” and the president of the United States makes a big deal of the importance of Darth Vader in his life?

    Suppose in all of Congress there is only one member who dares to say he doesn’t honor Darth Vader. You go to a folksong group, but it turns out to be songs about Darth Vader. You watch a football game, and there’s Tim Tebow, making a spectacle of himself praying to Darth Vader.

    Most of the army worships Darth Vader, and any soldier who doesn’t put on at least the outward show of doing so will be judged “spiritually unfit” and required to attend on a chaplain of Darth Vader.

    And then along comes some pompous ass who has made a living “serving Darth Vader” trying to tell everyone that if you mind any of this, that’s just an indication that deep down, you’re wrestling with the possibility that Darth Vader is real, and you owe him your allegiance, and it’s only pride on your part that you won’t submit to Darth Vader.

    How you would feel about that? Is how I feel about this.

  20. Cuttlefish says

    DA, I have posted links on some Catholic sites that re-posted the Bishop’s post. I am hopeful that my comment emerges from moderation.

    Could y’all try googling the title of this post? It’s the same as the title of the bishop’s post, and I guarantee the dude ego-surfs. For me, my post shows up above his, but the google algorithm would do that for me. Is it first for you as well? I want my answer to show up ahead of his question, so the bishop can see it for himself.

  21. says

    The reason for my existence? There is no reason for my existence, Bishop. I’m a coincidence, a happy, wonderful coincidence. There was an existence error in my favor, and I’m going to take advantage of it.

  22. Ray, rude-ass yankee says

    I have a question for the bishop: what about amputees? Trot out your god and heal a few and I’ll start to take you seriously. Until then, get your religion off my money, out of women’s uterus’s, and stay out of the political process.

  23. skeptic99 says

    Just googled the article title. I’m happy to report your piece showed up as the first two results, while the bishop’s showed as the third.

  24. Cuttlefish says

    Yay! I found the same, but was worried that perhaps google knew where I tend to look, and biased my results in favor. I need to check on, say, a library computer. Preferably from another continent.


  25. willyk says

    Somewhere deep inside this man’s psyche are two (or more) distinct personalities. One is like a child of maybe four yours old and the other is an older child of maybe ten. The four year old pesters his older brother with question after question. I counted twenty seven questions, there were many more questions that statements. This man is torn between the conflicts of the two children. His four year asks the questions, it is implied that the answer to each of the questions is “god did it” and that satisfies him. The ten year child trapped in his head is screaming out “these answers can’t be right!” However the ten year does not have the education to give his little brother rational answers.

    This is why this man asks so many questions and provides no rational answers. He realizes that atheists also reject the childish answer that “god did it” and many people including atheists seek answers via a scientific approach to understanding Humanity and the Cosmos. Another huge problem this man has is that he has a vested interest in the “god did it” way of thinking, he makes money doing it! He has told countless people this nonsense, they have given him money, they have provided him with all the creature comforts he enjoys.

    How could he now admit to all of those people that he was wrong?


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