I Need an Athiest

Atheism seems to be in the media more lately than it has been in the past decade. (I choose the word “seems” because I’ve been out of the states for almost a decade and I don’t think I really know what’s going on back home.) As a result, the more thoughtful Christians among us are curious and are attempting to pose serious questions to atheists about their beliefs. I don’t know if Cat Juggler is a Christian but he puts this question into the “world wide weird” for atheists to answer. Like him, I need an atheist or several to answer a genuine (meaning “not rhetorical”) question:

What contributions has atheism (or atheists) made to the good of humanity?

As a Christian, I know both the good and evil that we’ve done in the world, but as an outsider to atheism, I can’t say that. So, I’m seriously asking any atheists who might find their way here to fill in the gaps of my knowledge by answering the above question. I’m not looking to debate, just to learn something.

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18 responses to “I Need an Athiest

  1. eblack

    i am not atheist… but i think it is a great question for all people who believe anything. there seems to be an imbalanced debate between Christianity and Atheism as opposed to any other world religions. Much more tense. Perhaps for good reasons.

  2. not an atheist either, but one thing i know for sure and for certain that atheists have contributed in a positive manner is to point out some of the stupider prejudices christianity brings to the table

    like the desire to supplant honest science with unverifiable superstition

    they also fight a hard and vicious fight to keep christianisms out of legislation, and quite frankly there are far too many of them in there.

    the issue of gay marriage is one example.

    marriage pre-exists christianity and is part of every culture in some fashion regardless of religion or form of government. denying any two people the right to legal marriage is bloody barbaric

    on an individual level any number of atheists has made personal contributions to the worlds of science, art, literature, fine cuisine – oh, wait, i already said art . . . you get my meaning. they’re out there. you have but to look.

    and since you’ve been away awhile, THIS might be fun

  3. It’s fascinating to see how Christians (and, I presume, most other religions) think of atheists as something really weird, different, objects of curiosity. We are your co-workers, your neighbors, even your relatives. But in answer to your question, I’d say atheists contribute just as much to the good of humanity as anyone else. Our not believing in God or the supernatural in no way changes our desire (or lack of it) to be good, honest, decent people. Just google “famous atheists.” The list of names is diverse and endless, so I won’t clutter your space with it.

  4. I’m just popping in to say thanks for the comments.

    -30, I don’t know about “weird” or “objects of curiosity” but certainly “different”. Believers and non-believers and disbelievers are obviously different. Attempting to understand how and maybe even why we are different is a good thing, wouldn’t you agree?

  5. I, personally, feel that Atheism allows people to think for themselves and take greater responsibility for their own actions. It seems to me that, in my own observations, Christians often give credit to god when something good happens in their lives and blame the devil when something goes wrong. Saying it’s “god’s will” is like saying I have no control over my life.

  6. Bad

    Believers and non-believers and disbelievers are obviously different.

    Sure, but we are still just people in the end. We laugh, cry, have families, loves, hobbies, and so on.

    Though what you do need to understand is that we are not necessarily a “group” in the sense of all being of the same mind, or really even having anything to do with each other. I mean, even “believers” aren’t really a good group either: are Southern Baptists really allied with Eastern pagan mystics? Atheists are even less connected than that: the only thing we have in common with each other is that we don’t believe in god. That’s like saying that people who aren’t professional cooks are a group.

  7. Teresa

    As with any other religion, there are knee-jerk atheists in the world. That is to say, there are those for whom belief or non-belief is a statement rather than a quest. And of course, atheism is also a religion.

    For me, I am (like my father) an agnostic. A devout agnostic, even. I sometimes describe myself as a secular Christian, meaning that I was raised in a Christian culture and strive to behave in ways that are consistent with Christian values. Service to others. Compassion. Forgiveness. I actively struggle against intolerance, greed, and hypocrisy in myself and others. Old-fashioned Christian values, by current American standards.

    Unlike Christians, however, I stand permanently on the abyss. Like the fool in the Tarot, every moment is a reaching into the unknown. I am not a thoughtless person; questions of faith and god have been central to who I am for years. Is it not another expression of faith, though, to continue to reach, to question, and to work for the greater good, in the absence of guarantees or certainty about an afterlife, a reward, or a benevolent god?

    As to your question, though. People of all religions, including atheists, have contributed both good and evil to the world. How could it be otherwise?

  8. Atheism, in the sense “there is no God”, implies that there’s no actual “good” or “bad”. The only thing that “may” be arguable is that “good” = “what’s best for survival” (of the species). But then, if I rape your wife and she gets pregnant, it may be good for the survival of the species! And that starts by the fact that there’s one more human being on earth. So, raping as something “bad” cannot be justified from that point of view.

    Now you don’t want me to rape your wife, of course. And there are other better examples (this one just occurred to me) that show that “good”, as being “better for the survival of the species”, is (at the most) a quite witty way to mislead human minds with something that is not practical in everyday life.

    So, if you are an atheist, there is no “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”. You can do whatever you want to do. So, if you are an atheist, you cannot answer this question!

    Kind regards.

  9. It may seem like splitting hairs, but there is an important difference between not believing that God exists and believing that God does not exist. I think most thoughtful atheists belong in the former camp.

    The point is that even a Bible believer has to make personal choices about what moral principles to accept and reject. You’d be hard pressed to find a Christian who thinks people should be put to death for working on Sunday or wearing fabrics blended from wool and linen. There’s a moral compass people carry around with them that denies those things, and atheists have that same compass.

  10. First of all, thank you for trying for civil, reasoned argument between believers and non-believers. There needs to be much more of that, and I think we are capable of it.
    Second, atheism is not a religion. Saying that atheism is a religion is just like saying that not collecting stamps is a hobby. It isn’t. It’s a lack of a hobby. Similarly, atheism is a lack of religion. It is not an active affirmation or belief in anything, it is the lack of such. This is an old argument though, and there is no further need to go into it.
    One more thing, saying that atheism is amoral is false. Atheists do not deny the reality of objective morality, they just denies that this morality is divinely handed down. Since we all have to live together on a finite world, it is best for the survival of the group if we don’t act like jerks to each other. It is best for the group if we create laws and stick to them, if we avoid hurting each other as much as we can. You don’t need to believe in god to see this is true.
    As to what contributions atheism has made to the world, I think the main benefit is skepticism and science. Without skepticism and the scientific method, we would still be treating our ills with snakeoil (I guess in some senses we still are – homeopathy and chiropractics are modern equivalents) instead of modern medicine and technology. If the Bible is the most influential book in western civilization, I would argue that The Origin of the Species is the second (and contrary to popular belief, Darwin did NOT recant on his deathbed and convert back to Christianity). Atheism gives us the permission to question what it is that we think we know, and with this we are able to better gauge when we are being taken advantage of and when we are succumbing to irrationality and superstition. It gives us permission to ask questions. It gives us the drive to know more about this world and to seek scientific answers, because if this world is all we’ve got, then we should know about it.
    Also, I think that atheism is much more positive than religion. If this life is all I have, if there is no do-over or life-after-death, then I had better make the most of every day. I had better be the best person I can, try to make the world a better place with every action, because my legacy is the only kind of eternal life I will ever get.

  11. Natasha said it first. Atheism is not a religion; it is a lack of religion. In fact, as nearly as I can tell, we can’t even agree on what to call ourselves. Atheists? Secularists? Humanists? Freethinkers? I couldn’t tell you the difference.

    I especially love the “no do-overs” assessment. I too decided many years ago that the only certain things I have are myself and today. So I’d better make both the best they can be, right now. Tomorrow may never come and “when you’re dead, you’re dead” (a blunt but accurate conclusion from my 5-yr-old nephew.)

  12. Teresa

    I suppose, since I am not an atheist myself, I shouldn’t speak for them as a group (or groups, or individuals). I will refer you, instead, to http://www.atheists.org/Atheism/ where the American Atheists organization defines their belief system in current and historical terms.

    And a reasonably coherent discussion of the meaning of the word “religion” can be found on Wikipedia — see here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion

    I will reiterate, though, that having a different belief is not the same thing as having no belief.

  13. Bad

    Atheism, in the sense “there is no God”, implies that there’s no actual “good” or “bad”.

    Simply false… but a good propaganda claim for those that want to smear non-believers I guess.

    Maybe one of these days believers will get around to explaining how the existence of God is required before one can value the lives of other people.

  14. As the host of the this blog, I’m going to jump in here and say a few things:

    1) Thanks for trying to keep the comments respectful. I really do appreciate it.

    2) Thanks to the no-god camp for taking the time to post on this Christian’s blog.

    3)Could further comments give specific examples of humanitarian efforts started by, funded by and otherwise supported by athiests?

    Again, thanks for attempting to enlighten me.

  15. Bad

    amtog, the problem you are going to have with looking for “atheist” charities is that atheists do not generally do things as a group under the particular named banner of atheism. It happens (check out the secular humanists sometime), but most atheists are involved in charities directly, not coupled with a promotion of atheism.

    Non-belief isn’t itself an ideology or a creed. Rather, individual atheists generally have their own particular creeds, and operate under those particular causes. They don’t call them “atheist” anythings: their charitable works are done for charity, not to promote atheism.

    Charities that are not religious are all around you, working under names specific to their causes, not their secularism: they are the non-profits, the foundations, the community organizations: you just don’t notice it because they spend their efforts promoting a particular cause, not mixing the cause with any sort of promotion of atheism or secularism. The people who founded the homeless services charity I worked for in New York, for instance, weren’t believers, but they didn’t call their organization “atheists helping the homeless” or spend any money on handing out books of philosophy to homeless people. No: they spent their time and money on trying to alleviate the problems of homelessness. Because that was what they cared about.

    If you are looking for famous philanthropists who were non-believers though, how about Andrew Carnegie, the man who gave away all his wealth to various charitable organizations and wrote extensively about how rich men should do likewise. Or Bill Gates, who is a stated agnostic and non-believer and founder of several charities. Or Warren Buffet, who is giving away 85% or his 40 billion dollar fortune to charity. And so on. Again, these guys don’t spend lots of time talking about or promoting atheism along with their charitable work. Most atheists don’t. That’s because atheism isn’t our ideology the way religion is some people’s.

  16. Thanks for that Bad!

    I gathered a while back that atheists were not organized in the same way theists tend to be (i.e. into religions.

    By telling about the homeless charity you work with and refering to the famous philantropists, you gave me the examples I was asking for.

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