A godless understanding of reality is so bleak compared to a Christian one. Christianity says that the God of the universe knows your name, loves you, and created you to live for Him and love Him back. Without God, the universe neither knows nor cares the least bit about you.
But as PZ Myers writes:
Reality is harsh, man.
But it is reality. We’ve done the paternity tests, we’ve traced back the genealogy, we’re doing all kinds of in-depth testing of the human species. We are apes and the descendants of apes, who were the descendants of rat-like primates, who were children of reptiles, who were the spawn of amphibians, who were the terrestrial progeny of fish, who came from worms, who were assembled from single-celled microorganisms, who were the products of chemistry. Your daddy was a film of chemical slime on a Hadean rock, and he didn’t care about you — he was only obeying the laws of thermodynamics.
You aren’t you because of some grand design, but because of chance, contingency, and selection. Your genome is a mess of detritus with a tiny fraction of well-honed functionality, and your body is cobbled together from the framework of a tetrapod — you bear the scars of chance throughout, and you are mostly unaware of them because selection, that is the death of millions, has patched them over…but they’re there to the eye that will look.
When Myers wrote that reality is harsh, but it is reality, he was right on target; he was speaking my language. But he goes on to point out that atheists are not the cold and broken people which some expect them to be. Similarly, many insist that people can be good without God.
Atheists – or at least atheist bloggers – you need to listen up on this one. You are losing smart religious people with this rhetoric. I understand that it may be important to the atheist community to keep up some (incidentally false) narrative that you have all the moral resources that theism has. And it may be important to theistic communities to keep up an (incidentally true) narrative that they have moral resources that you don’t. But you should realize there are at least a few people on the theistic side who don’t parrot this narrative simply because they’ve heard it, or simply because it’s in the interest of their community. There are others like me who actually read and think about these ethical issues, and realize that a theistic morality is radically different from an atheistic one. If you also realize and accept this, they’ll listen. But if you keep shouting non sequiturs about nice atheists, they’ll think (or know?) that you don’t get it.
The claims that atheists are not cold and broken, and that people can be good without God, are empirically true, and are important – but are missing much of the point. I’m asking philosophical questions about beliefs and their implications, and these points address the question of how atheists actually feel and think and live. We can’t rule out the possibility that these two bear little relation. We humans are pretty damn irrational, especially on emotionally charged issues. And nothing in the scientific narrative of our existence would lead us to expect otherwise.
It matters to me whether atheists avoid being cold and broken on the one hand because their atheism does not rationally lead to coldness or brokenness, or on the other hand because their atheism does rationally lead that way, but most refuse to connect the dots. It matters to me whether people are good without God because moral beliefs and beliefs about God bear no logical relation, or because our social animal instincts are so much stronger than our flimsy reason.
For at least a few of us in this world, these philosophical issues matter, and they matter in practice. However strange or unnatural it may be to work through an issue using rational discourse rather than gut feelings, and to do this even on emotionally charged issues, and to then actually fucking act on all this – I do. Maybe as an atheist, I now have no reason to do so. I certainly have no moral imperative to do so. But even if only on a level of personal preference, I don’t want to sink into irrationality or cowardice. I want to know and face the truth.