Over the last few months I discussed 8 reasons that led me away from Christianity and toward Atheism: the conduct of “gods” people, the lack of perspicuity in scripture, “god” being “above” his law, the problem of evil in the world, Biblical genocide, errors in scripture, evolution and the silliness of worship. None of these alone are enough to formulate the opinion that god doesn’t exist, but taken as a whole they provide strong evidence against the personal, Christian god. This god is defined as a god who cares about his people and is intimately involved in their lives and wants them to be emotionally involved with him.
For instance a loving, caring, compassionate, sovereign and merciful god cannot easily be reconciled with evil in the world and the biblical record of genocide commanded by god. Errors in scripture dealing with subjects that can be checked makes it unlikely that there aren’t errors in the spiritual claims that we have to take on faith. Even those “faith-based” passages are unclear enough to create thousands of faith groups and beliefs within Christianity. In addition, the fact of evolution creates all sorts of problems with the classical understanding of the Christian god as a redeemer for a world plunged into sin and darkness through the action of a fictional couple. This is not to say that people don’t feel that such a god exists, but if the evidence is looked at objectively, it is highly unlikely that there is such a deity.
Since I started on this journey a few years back because of the conduct of “gods” people, it is fitting to end this series with a consideration of this topic and it isn’t pretty. Study after study, even those conducted by Christian organizations, have shown the lack of any real difference in the lives of those who claim the Christian label and those who don’t. For example:
- The abortion rate is the same or higher among the religious (e.g. Religious devotion does not impact abortion decisions of young unwed women, Religion = higher abortion rate?)
- Addiction to pornography is similar (e.g. Poll: Christians addicted to pornography, Porn again, Addicted to Pornography)
- Divorce rates may be actually higher than those evil, immoral atheists (e.g. U.S. divorce rates: for various faith groups, age groups and geographical areas, Born Again Christians Just As Likely to Divorce As Are Non-Christians)
- Faith seems to have little actual effect on believers lives (e.g. Faith Has a Limited Effect On Most People’s Behavior, Spiritual Progress Hard to Find in 2003, Practical Outcomes Replace Biblical Principles As the Moral Standard)
Gregory S. Paul has shown that societies with high religiosity actually have more societal dysfunction than those that don’t (Journal of Religion and Society Vol 7, Vol 8). This was also shown in a recent book by Phil Zuckerman (Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment). In fact, the lack of a any real difference in lifestyle between believers and unbelievers is a potent argument against the Christian god, especially given the claims the bible makes about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a believers life. This dichotomy has lead more than one person down the road to atheism. William Lobdell in his book Losing My Religion describes his loss of faith:
“If the Gospels were true, then shouldn’t I be able to find plenty of data that showed Christians acted differently—superior in their morals and ethics—from the rest of society? I wanted to see that people were changed in fundamental ways by their belief in Christ. This was a new tack for me. For years, my assumption was that Christianity was true, and my studies and readings focused on shoring up that belief. I used the historical record, the Bible, anecdotal evidence and arguments by theologians and apologists to back up my position. Now, I wanted to take a step back and test my assumption about the truth of Christianity itself by examining how Christians behaved, looking at their actions, not their words.” (Kindle Edition, loc 2677)
I can relate to those words because that was also the start of my journey away from Christianity. I too needed to test my assumptions about the “truth of Christianity” and like Lobdell, I found it wanting.
This is not to say that their aren’t exemplary examples of believers who take their beliefs seriously and live them out to help the poor and downtrodden, devote themselves to prayer and fasting, and seek to make themselves and the world a better place. William Lobdell details such remarkable people, yet these people cross all faith lines and are found in people of no-faith as well. While religion may motivate some of these people, their sacrifices aren’t limited to a particular religion or set of beliefs. So, while real for the individual, a particular belief isn’t a prerequisite for their action (although they may think it). Men and women of deep conviction come from all and no particular religious group.
The fact that people have thrilling emotional stories about what god has done for them and the fact that some believers live astounding lives, is not objective evidence since such stories and lives are also found in other faith groups (and no faith groups) that are diametrically opposed to Christianity. In other words, people have deep religious type experiences regardless of the god or gods they worship. These experiences are very real to the individual and, while confirming for them, actually point against a belief in god since they are experienced regardless of the god(s) worshiped.
Now if only one group of people in one belief system had these experiences, had radically answered prayer in a testable way, had people who led compelling lives that differed greatly from all other faith groups, and demonstrated various well-documented miraculous events, then maybe these experiences would suggest that their god was the only valid one. Much like the Old Testament story of Elijah where he taunted the prophets of Baal to call upon their god to answer by fire and consume the animal sacrifice that was laid out for him. (1 Kings 18: 20-40). Baal was impotent but the god of Israel was not. Why are there no miracles like this in today’s age? Because they are just stories for the faithful and not much else to the “unfaithful”. No religion believes the miraculous claims of a rival religion, but theirs are always “true”.
The fact is, the average Christian doesn’t lead a compellingly different life and, sadly, the actions of some are amazingly immoral, at least by human standards. In fact, the actions of many people acting immorally in the name of god was a driving force that caused William Lobdell to lose his faith. There is good in religion but there is also evil. Now you might think that one shouldn’t reject god because of the actions of his people, but this, in actuality is a shallow argument I once believed. Here is Mr. Lobdell again talking about his article in the Los Angeles Times describing his deconversion:
“My piece did receive criticism, the most consistent being that I had witnessed the sinfulness of man and mistakenly mixed that up with a perfect God. I understand the argument but I don’t buy it. If the Lord is real, it would make sense for the people of God, on average, to be superior morally and ethically to the rest of society. Statistically, they aren’t. I also believe that God’s institutions, on average, should function on a higher moral plain than governments or corporations. I don’t see any evidence of this. It’s hard to believe in God when it’s impossible to tell the difference between His people and atheists.” (Kindle Edition, Loc 3682)
Again, this alone isn’t evidence enough to reject a the Christian god (or any personal deity that is involved with mankind). However when combined with what I have presented over the last few months, I believe that the evidence for the personal Christian god, as most people worship him, is almost nil. That said, there are at least a couple of scenarios that the evidence doesn’t rule out:
It is possible that there is a god who just doesn’t give a “damn” about truth. He doesn’t care what religion you are or what you believe about him, just that you believe. This certainly would explain the large number of Christian denominations and non-Christian religions. It would also explain similar religious experiences regardless of the god or gods worshiped. This deity would spread his “miracles” and “answered” prayer around making it look random and of no consequence. Of course, if such a god existed, he would be capricious in the extreme. To allow people to die for beliefs and doctrines that are of no consequence would be the height of immorality. Also, such a god, is rarely one that is worshiped. Even those religions that think there are various paths to god and that god can be called by many names, usually think their way is the better way. However, the evidence can’t rule out this type of deity, but if such a deity exists he is not worthy of worship. In a sense, such a god would be as mischievous as Loki, the Norse god of Mischief, Deceit and Lies.
- It is also possible that there is a deity that many Deists have in mind. A deity that created the universe, set everything in motion and then sits back and watches. Such a Deity rarely, if ever, gets involved with his creation. Such a deity would act exactly as if there were no god and thus fit the evidence, but it is hard to imagine that such a Deity particularly cares about what you believe or whether you worship him, her or it.
Neither of these choices is the comforting father figure most believers worship.
As an atheist and skeptic my unbelief rests on evidence and not faith. If that evidence changes, I am more than willing to change with it.