Why I Am Not a Christian (and Am an Atheist... and Antitheist)
First, I admit to thievery in stealing this title from an essay by Bertrand Russell, a known atheist, philosopher, and perhaps to some, a cantankerous old curmudgeon. It's hard to reword the meaning of that title into a unique form, so I have stooped to blatant plagiarism.
Perhaps philosophers and theologians will have easy pickings at my informal arguments. I am neither a philosopher nor a theologian, but all sentient beings possess one undeniable attribute: the ability to think. I will invoke Descartes' distillation here: "I think, therefore I am." So these are my informal thoughts, reasons, and explanations for who I am, and why I deconverted from Christianity to atheism.
Though I was raised Baptist, I will start with a Catholic mantra, the Apostle's Creed. With the exception perhaps of Jesus' descent into Hell, and the communion of the saints, this creed spells out very fundamental Christian doctrines, with which I daresay most Baptists and other Protestants would find no issue. Listed here in columnar form, the Apostle's Creed states:
I believe in:
- N -God, the Father Almighty
- N -Creator of Heaven and Earth;
- N -and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
- N -Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
- N -born of the Virgin Mary;
- ? -suffered under Pontius Pilate,
- ? -was crucified, died and was buried.
- N -He descended into Hell;
- N -the third day He rose again from the dead;
- N -He ascended into Heaven,
- N -is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
- N -from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in:
- N -the Holy Spirit,
- ? -the Holy Catholic Church,
- ? -the communion of Saints,
- N -the forgiveness of sins,
- N -the resurrection of the body,
- N -and life everlasting.
I have marked "Y" for the various claims I believe to be true—none of the above. The ones marked "N" I find to be factually impossible regardless of revealed wisdom or authoritative texts. The ones marked "?" are perhaps factually possible, but their truth is not sufficient to support the broader claim of salvation offered through belief in Jesus Christ, the Christian narrative.
For example, the physical claims (of God the creator of Heaven and Earth, of Jesus born of virgin Mary, that Jesus died and rose again, and in life everlasting) are not physically possible. Yes, I am aware of such things as faith and the belief in the supernatural and in miracles. I have had extensive communication on the general topic of religion with various friends; and the net result, regardless of theology, always turns to scientific evidence versus faith in the supernatural. If one has faith that these physical laws can be broken or suspended, then the discussion is thwarted before it even begins. I believe in the inviolability of the natural physical laws.
The theological claims (of Jesus as the son of God, judging the living and dead, and forgiving sins) carry no significance since they are based on the presumption that humans need salvation because they have sinned. This premise I find unconvincing not because humans are perfectly moral, but because there is no supreme moral being to offer salvation, and no ultimate consequence to need to be saved from.
Thomas Jefferson physically cut out parts of the Gospels that he found implausible or not believable. The result would certainly not be recognized as a gospel, or a bible. (Jefferson made no pretense, naming it "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.") Similarly, I have removed all parts of the Christian doctrine I find implausible or not believable, and I am left with nothing which could be recognized as Christian. Thus, the main title.
It's beyond the scope of this essay to discuss all the arguments for the existence of god/s, such as the teleological argument, kalam cosmological argument, argument from fine tuning, and so on. I have studied them all and found them lacking. At best, if one were to achieve the level of establishing that the existence of god/s is at least as probable as their nonexistence, then we would have arrived at a place where simple preference or a coin flip is sufficient to make a choice. A very ungratifying and inconsequential state of affairs, I would say.
It's also beyond the scope of this essay to discuss the tenets of even a few of the extremely broad collection of religions. (adherents.com claims 4,300 "faith groups," with at least 19 religions having over 1,000,000 followers.) I am neither the first nor last to recognize the rather obvious conclusion that if two religions' claims are mutually exclusive, then at least one of them has to be wrong. I simply maintain that both are wrong. And by extension, all the others are wrong, too, if they claim exclusive rights to the Truth with a capital "T."
There are no gods. I would call this epiphany, in the parlance of the faithful, my "personal (non)religious experience." By fiat, and with no divine texts, and with wisdom revealed only to me by me, I claim that this statement has exactly the same degree of proof as all others. I suspect my confidence carries no weight with my detractors, and I would agree. A "personal religious experience" carries exactly zero justification or substantiation for the truth of any proposition. We are all capable of claiming equal enlightenment, epiphany, knowledge, and so on, with equally superlative adjectives, and of course none can supersede any other.
So I have a disbelief in, and a denial of, the existence of gods. Thus the first extended title.
For modern humans' 200,000-year-existence, religion has obviously played a major role. In the early days it was our first, best, and only explanation of the unknown. In merely the last 400 years, our knowledge has advanced to explain many of those unknowns; and though many questions remain, it's time to let go of our initial best efforts. One may claim that religion has had beneficial side effects, but sprinkle in all its heinous, violent history, and one could reasonably ask whether the scales are tipped significantly in the positive direction.
So if asked whether the world would be better or worse without religion, I would say let's give a world without religion a try—religion hasn't set a very high bar to surpass. Yes, many (most?) adherents are peace-loving and nonthreatening, so why complain? Why remove religion from the world? Generally speaking, I'm not in favor of teaching children an untruth and then expecting them to believe it's actually true. We teach all sorts of these things (that there's a Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and so on), but then are quick to clear it up when the child can understand the real truth. I would ask the same for gods of any name. We've successfully put the Greek and Roman mythological gods into the history books, hopefully the current crop will follow.
It is in this vein that I claim to be an antitheist. Thus the second extended title.
So here it is, the modified "Apostle's Creed"—which I name "Apostate's Creed."
I believe in:
- Y -Reality,
- Y -the creator of the universe;
- Y -and humans, members of one species
- Y -Which was conceived by evolution,
- Y -through the power of natural selection,
- Y -and who suffer the same harsh cycle as all living things:
- Y -One birth, one life, and one death;
- Y -Who will not descend into Hell,
- Y -nor will ever rise from the dead,
- Y -nor will ever return again to Earth,
- Y -and who remain unequivocally committed to reality and reason,
- Y -and who will be self-judged by their own morality.
I believe in:
- Y -Evidence, reason, learning, vetting,
- Y -the physical laws of the universe and the three immutable laws of logic,
- Y -rational discourse among sentient beings,
- Y -emergent, or naturally evolved morality,
- Y -the singular existence of one living organism,
- Y -and the eternity of time.
This is an essay, not an academic treatise—nor a philosophical if-p-then-q argument. Consider it analogous to a personal testimony given by a parishioner in a local church service. It is offered with the same sincere heartfelt meaning, and with the hope that if the reader/listener's heart and mind are in a searching place, he/she will use my words as a starting point for a new journey. A journey worth taking, a life worth living. A life full of truth, meaning, joy, and inspiration. One life. Better make the most of it.
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