I'm now an atheist - not because I don't believe in the underlying prinicples of most major religions (peace, love, kindness, etc.), but rather because of all the contradictions, fallacies, and inaccuracies inherent to every religion. I live a lifestyle that follows a morality that does not need religion to operate, and I've never been happier in my life.
Instead of going to a church to kneel at a pew, bow my head, hold my hands together, eat a thin wafer of bread, and sip wine, I now spend my Sundays volunteering at the local hospital or nursing home, and instead of donating money to my old church I give it to secular non-profit organizations, especially those dealing with Malaria and AIDS in Africa (I did a lot of biological research at ND).
I understand that for many people, religion is all they have - it is their reason that they wake up in the morning and are able to get through the day, the reason they can live in a world that has given them much hardship or sadness, and that's not something I want to take away from people. For that reason I never try and shove my convictions down other people's throats, and that is why I absolutely detest when religious people try and get people to join their church or solicit money or new members. I simply do not need religion to be happy, and I would much rather follow a path of science and a quest for knowledge over the upholding of outdated or questionable traditions.
Having said that, whenever I encounter someone who is willing to have a civil and open-minded debate I am happy to discuss with them why I went from being a very religious Christian to a free-thinking moral atheist.
Here is an example of a conversation I had with a friend of mine from RS a while back:
This is long, but do not take it as bitter or condescending in any way. I respect all religions who positively affect the world in which we live. Having said that, brace yourselves. XD
One thing I find somewhat frustrating is that the vast majority of people who claim to be religious are simply the same religion as their parents, or the religion most common in the geographic region in which they were born. If you were born in Afghanistan, you would undoubtedly be Muslim, while if you were born in China, there's a good chance you would be non-religious. Most people who profess a religion have absolutely no idea what the differences are between other "rival" religions, and have never bothered to find out. It's interesting that historically atheists and agnostics consistently have a greater understanding of the specifics of religions and generally more religious knowledge, answering more religious questions correctly than religious people themselves. This is probably because atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study.
Here's a few questions to consider:
1) Modern humans have been around for ~25,000 years and experienced more suffering and hardship than many of us can ever imagine. Why would God wait 23,000+ years to send Jesus to save us from our sins? Did he not care about early humans? What about Neanderthals, and other earlier human ancestors?
2) The Divine Watchmaker Theory. Could it be possible we are simply looking at the universe as we would look at a watch? Watches are very complex, and as such when we see a watch we automatically assume it was created by something or someone and could never arise due to random chance. However, recent experiments have proven that the amino acid building blocks that form all life CAN spontaneously arise on their own under the conditions Earth existed in millions of years ago.
3) Why did Jesus appear in the Middle East? Why did China, Japan, North America, Australia, etc. not get to hear about him until hundreds of years later? Could the story of Jesus perhaps have been nothing more than the product of the people living in the Middle East combined with the stories of the past?
4) Speaking of the stories of the past, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all borrow heavily from ancient civilizations, as well as pagan religions. "Baal and Mot," two ancient entities signifying God and Death/the Devil, existed long before the big three religions, and many of the stories and ideas in the Bible, Koran, and Torah are taken directly from the ancient Ugaritic writings of Baal and Mot. Further similarities exist, such as the concept of "halos" derived from Egyptian sun discs, the pagan idea of placing their sins on a donkey and leading him out into the desert to die as a sacrifice to take away those sins was directly translated into Christianity.
5) The Bible itself is rife with passages that suggest it was written not by God, but by people living 2,000 years ago, in the context of people of that time. While many passages are very well written and promote many excellent ways to live your life, many others promote slavery, bigotry, genocide, torture, and revenge, among other wonderful things.
In the end, I believe people misunderstand many religions that they are not familiar with - even the lack of a religion. I've met many people in my day who do not practice any religion and would consider themselves atheists, yet they have consistently shown that they can be better people than many Christians, Jews, and Muslims I've seen in this world. Morality can exist without needing to be defined by any one particular religion (see Sam Harris's "worst possible suffering for everyone" idea), and I've seen many moral people that are not Christian.
If God really is omniscient and omnipotent, he knows the future and also has the power to do whatever he wants. As such, I find it odd that he would knowingly condemn 2/3 of the human population simply because they do not follow the correct religion. There is also a ton of suffering in this world. Many people die at very young ages from freak accidents - is that all part of God's plan? What if God was omniscient, but really just powerless to do anything about it? Or what if God was omnipotent, but doesn't know the future or just didn't care? Or what if he doesn't exist at all in the way we are all brought up to believe? Whichever it is, I know that a truly loving God would save anyone who lives their life in a positive manner, doing more acts of good than acts of evil. I would rather spend eternity in an afterlife with an atheist who did countless acts of kindness and was a positive force for helping others on Earth rather than with someone who was evil, self-centered, or any number of other terrible things, yet "confessed his sins and repented" on his death bed. But that's just me.
There are a lot of religions in this world, and I definitely find some more silly than others, but if their core tenants and beliefs don't harm other people and generally act as a positive force in the world, who am I to say that people shouldn't keep practicing them? Even if some of them get get labeled as evil or hypocritical atheists for doing so.
Ian, you really made me think. Sad to say, a lot of what you say is true, especially the first few paragraphs. Something I noticed among Christians specifically; the ones who were not raised that way, but converted later in life tend to be more devoted than cradle Christians (no offence to any, especially Jen, who's sincere). Sadly, I've met "Christians" who don't even get that you're supposed to love everyone and even called the act foolish. People are social animals and like being part of a group, and some won't even know what their group is about. Theological beliefs play a big role in a person's life and if you wish to join one, AT LEAST know the basics, be it Christianity, Islam or Atheism. So, thanks again, sir; you won my respect because you were able to argue intelligently without attacking.
Edited by KCCO, 25 June 2012 - 09:42 AM.