I wrote this in response to this piece, entitled “If God is dead then what?” It should be noted that the writer is a dear friend of mine, and has been since junior high, so to say we go way back is putting it mildly. I have a great deal of respect for him, though it’s not terribly unusual for that to be a respectful sort of disagreement ☺.
His answer to the question tends toward the position that god being dead would be a bad thing. And yes, I disagreed.
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In the beginning there was the word. Now, I’m going to ask you to imagine a world in which there were no words in any language for the actions we know of as murder, manslaughter, rape, child abuse, robbery, slavery, torture, terrorism, human sacrifice, or hate crime. Imagine interacting with a society such as this, and trying to explain these concepts to them. If this society had a benevolent god, what would they think of ours? And if, in addition to all those terrible things they had no words for, they also lacked a term for god, what would they think of *us*? What if they didn’t even have a word for terrible? Now, look around you, listen, read. Is this the world a benevolent god would create? It is not. Should we be stressed out if he were to suddenly fail to exist?
So let’s assume that everyone in the whole world had a simultaneous, abrupt epiphany, and all the world’s religions were rendered a moot point. For atheists, the concept of “no god” is a familiar one, and the lack of belief in an afterlife causes us no particular sadness or hopelessness — so the effects of sudden worldwide atheism would very much depend on the manner in which the religious came to find themselves de-converted.
If, in the process, everyone experienced startling moments of clarity that led them to understand that since there had never been a god to obey, that they had always been responsible for their own morality, then they would presumably just carry on being good and decent people. Since we would no longer have arbitrary vice laws based in impossible standards of piety, we could focus on eliminating actual crime. The incidence of suicide bombing would be limited to the clinically insane, and rabid fundies everywhere would be standing around, looking at each other sheepishly and saying, “Now what was that all about? What were we thinking, anyway?” People who had been persecuting gays would have to come up with a logical explanation for it, and they wouldn’t be able to, because it makes no sense. People who had been clamoring for creationism to be taught in schools would suddenly be delighted by the wonders of science. Without religious differences, many of the currently quarreling countries would have no basis for their irrational hatred of others, and secular dictatorial regimes would soon fall, having lost the advantage of being just another fractious country in a world full of fractiousness. All the money and wasted lives being spent to fight religious-based wars, and all the resources needed to support various religious institutions (much of which ends up being used to campaign against the rights of others who believe different things) could be put towards the advancement of knowledge, and the benefit of all humankind.
But if this moment of clarity came without the attendant embracing of rationalist thought, science, and logic that typifies most de-conversions, well, there’s your sticky wicket right there. How many religious folk have you heard say that if it weren’t for god they’d [insert horrible things here]? So if we’re talking about a worldwide crisis of faith rather than the global advent of reasoning, then we’d be in trouble. People who were convinced that their morality came from an outside source would be rather a handful if you took away that threat of the burning, now, wouldn’t they?
However, I suspect that the majority of people who claim to be on the verge of a tri-state killing spree if not for god are merely echoing things they’ve heard repeated in the community, things used to justify the embrace of blind faith. I will stipulate that my views on this are influenced by the fact those statements make absolutely zero sense, so it’s possible that I am attributing entirely too much sanity to the people who say such things.
As to the question of how people would handle the lack of the comforting notion that their dead loved ones are “in a better place” and that they’ll all be reunited one day, I find the whole thing quite irrational. As a person who lost a child to crib death at the age of 72 days I can say that I would be appalled if anyone tried to make that claim in order to comfort me — if it’s such a better place, then we should all go there as soon as possible, yes? Religious individuals stricken with terminal disease would be bouncing around joyfully rather than fighting with every ounce of energy to find a cure, or at the very least, treatments which will extend life. People would not request that everyone pray for them to get well, nor rejoice over a remission. The bottom line is, no matter how much anyone raves about how awesome heaven’s going to be when they get there, the only people who do something to hurry along the process are *crazy*. Life is beautiful, precious, and brief, and should not under any circumstances be wasted obsessing about an afterlife, especially since no there is no direct evidence whatsoever that it exists.
And I did a little research into the biblical definitions of heaven to make sure I wasn’t completely off base with this but — from what we know (and by “know” I am not referring to anything that would fit the textbook definition of knowledge, so I suppose I should say, from what we’re told), it sounds like the only thing to recommend it is that it’s not on fire. Aside from that, the descriptions of differing levels of favoritism make it sound like it would be as political and backstabby as any mortal realm, with oppressive classism in full force. And … running around singing hymns and praising the deity portrayed in the bible — that dude? The one who was such an advocate of genocide, slavery, rape, blood sacrifice, and dismemberment by bears, to name a few? That may be better than burning, but not by a whole lot.
And lastly, the whole bit about hedging one’s bets — here’s the thing. If we’re ever having an argument, and at any point I say “I’ll bet you a hundred bucks,” my advice is … take the bet! Really, I could use the money. I don’t bet unless I am as certain as it is possible to be about something. And I can tell you this with that much certainty: no god that I would consider worthy of worshipping exists. If one does, it is not one I’m willing to accept on the unquestioning basis expected of followers of the Judeo-Christian faith. The entire concept of an all-powerful being that refused to make himself clearly known and demanded irrational and obsequious deference to the unknowable and unfathomable whims otherwise known as “his will” offends me. The concept of an omnipotent, omniscient being creating us, clearly knowing were bound to commit the sort of atrocities humans habitually do, and then sitting idly by while billions of innocents over the course of history were doomed to exist in horrifying torment and die unimaginably wretched deaths (many of them without ever being made aware of a path to salvation) offends me. If he knew there would be this much anguish, and had every ability to prevent it, then he’s infinitely more sadistic than any mortal being has ever been, or will ever be. Period.
If obedience to this theoretical entity is the only way I can be spared eternity in fire lake, then I hold with those who favor fire.
Or, if you prefer: