Thank God For Atheism

Over at The Huffington Post, a guy named Sam Harris has a succinct, and convincing (well, for me he’s preaching to the choir, so maybe I’m not the best to judge) defense of atheism and argument against belief in God, etc. titled “There is No God (And You Know It).”

At the same time, the current book I’m reading (For They Know Not What They Do by Slavoj Zizek) has raised some interesting points about Christianity as well.

So far, both works have suggested the same thing: (if he exists then) God is impotent.

From Harris’ piece:

Of course, people of faith regularly assure one another that God is not responsible for human suffering. But how else can we understand the claim that God is both omniscient and omnipotent? … If God exists, either He can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or He does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil.

From Zizek’s book:

So what is revealed in Christianity is not just the entire content but, more specifically, the fact that there is nothing — no secret — behind it to be revealed … Or, to formulate it even more pointedly, in more pathetic terms — what God reveals is not His hidden power, only His impotence, as such.

I just find it really interesting that within 24 hours, I’ve read this twice.

As for Harris’ argument, I want to highlight some other very convincing points:

… “atheism” is a term that should not even exist. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make when in the presence of religious dogma. The atheist is merely a person who believes that the 260 million Americans (eighty-seven percent of the population) who claim to “never doubt the existence of God” should be obliged to present evidence for his existence — and, indeed, for his benevolence, given the relentless destruction of innocent human beings we witness in the world each day.

What I really like about this point is that it refutes an argument against atheism that a religion professor I once had made. She said that atheism was a paradox because it had to acknowledge the existence of the thing it rejected. That is, atheists had to admit that God existed — or maybe the idea of God — in order to say that God didn’t exist. Or, in my more psychoanalytic Hegelian terms: they had to acknowledge the presence of an absence. Harris’ argument here, however, places the burden on the believers. I think that is much more justified.

Another commonly-made argument against atheism that Harris makes is that of arrogance/narcissism. I’ve had believers accuse me of being too full-of-myself for believing that I am the one solely responsible for my life and my existence and for thinking that the world revolves around my perception of it rather than believing that there is some God somewhere that is pulling strings and making everything happen. Harris rightfully calls the believers on their narcissism for thinking that they, as believers, earn a special status in the world that makes them better/luckier/worthy:

Only the atheist recognizes the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the saved. Only the atheist realizes how morally objectionable it is for survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving God, while this same God drowned infants in their cribs. Because he refuses to cloak the reality of the world’s suffering in a cloying fantasy of eternal life, the atheist feels in his bones just how precious life is — and, indeed, how unfortunate it is that millions of human beings suffer the most harrowing abridgements of their happiness for no good reason at all.

Bringing some literary/historical arguments into the picture, Harris suggests something that I’ve been saying ever since I first went to church: Why is it that people assume that the Christian God (or whatever modern religion God/deity/etc.) is any different than “mythological” gods in ancient religions. When I asked this in Sunday School once, I remember the leader answering that it’s very likely that what the Greeks and Romans thought of as gods were actually the Christian God — that they just didn’t understand Him as well as Christians do. Okay, that makes sense — but if we allow for that possibility, shouldn’t we also acknowledge that maybe it’s the other way around — that the Christian God is really Zeus? That didn’t go over so well.

And finally, Harris makes my favorite point: that atheists, because they don’t have this “well everything is better in heaven and Earth is just a place to suffer” attitude, are far more compassionate than any “compassionate conservative” would ever hope to be:

Consequently, only the atheist is compassionate enough to take the profundity of the world’s suffering at face value. … That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religion — to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious delusions, and religious diversions of scarce resources — is what makes atheism a moral and intellectual necessity.

It is for these reasons, and many others, that I continue to call myself an atheist .

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