Written by Dan
(A reaction to the missions of religious fundamentalists)
I have heard the message of salvation many times: we are all sinners, and we can have forgiveness and eternal life if we confess and accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. I have heard that there can be no morality outside of God's laws, and that no one can be truly good without being transformed by the Spirit. I have also heard that there is no peace, love, joy, or meaning without Christ. Christians feel that unbelievers are empty slaves to carnality and selfish pride, unable to grasp the truth, and must humble themselves before God's plan.
I have heard that the bible contains the "inspired word of God" -a message of ultimate importance- and that many scholars claim to have proven its uniqueness and reliability. Some Christians say that they have verified the truth by personal experience.
This is all very interesting. I want the best for my life. If there is an eternal paradise, I would hate to miss it; and I definitely would not want to roast in a literal hell. It would be unwise to ignore something like a god, especially one who takes interest in my life. I would ask a thousand questions of an all-knowing mind.
You and I breathe the air of the same planet, and truth should be the same for us both. The basic question which should be asked about any religion is: is it TRUE? If the basic claims of theism, sin, miracles, and revelation are true, then maybe your "good news" is truly good.
However, I am an unbeliever. It's not that I particularly want to doubt; it's just that I have no choice. I have examined your claims and I am not convinced that they are true. I may even wish them to be true (or I may not) -but I am not so naive to think that something can be true or false just because I desire it. There must be some reason, beyond wishful thinking.
I'm sure you agree. You certainly doubt that thunder is caused by the anger of Zeus, or that Allah is the one true god. Like myself, you see them as myths created to explain the unknown, to give life some kind of meaning, to enhance culture, or to empower the ruling caste. They are born in human imagination, and can be explained without reference to a supernatural world. There are many gods which Christians reject. I just believe in one less god than you do. The reasons that you might give for your atheism toward Roman gods are likely the same reasons I would give for not believing in Jesus.
You and I are alike. We have minds which perceive, analyze, integrate, and react. Our only difference in this regard is that you have judged (or assumed) the premises of your religion to be factual, while I have not. You would not want to commit yourself to an idea of which you were not convinced, would you?
You are welcome to try and convince me that Christianity is true, but you should know that I am not going to "just believe" by faith. I will demand substantiation. If you say that the bible is reliable, I will ask you to prove it. I may ask why the bible contains so many errors and contradictions. If you are not familiar with the findings of critical bible scholars with diverse points of view, I will view your conclusions with suspicion.
Neither will I believe because millions of others do. Truth is not determined by vote. If it were, the earth would still be flat.
I will ask if your conclusions are logical. If you want me to consider your beliefs, then be ready to tackle questions like these:
* Is there a higher judge of truth than reason?
* After centuries of bitter religious fighting, why is your mind suddenly blessed with the true way of thinking?
* What is morality, and is it possible without a deity?
* Is the violent history of the Church consistent with a message of love?
* What is a contradiction, and what would the bible have to say in order to be discrepant?
* Why did your god create evil? (Isaiah 45:7)
* Is there anything wrong with skepticism?
* Why should inner religious experience point to anything outside of the mind?
* Historians must assume natural regularity over time, so how can the bible be completely historical when it contains miracles, which violate nature?
* What is a god, exactly, and why do you think one exists?
What could be said about Christianity which, if true,
would make it false? If you can't answer that question, then your
conclusions may be based on something other than honesty. You can't
expect me to respectfully listen to you if you are closed to full,
honest inquiry-if you are unwilling to allow, theoretically, that
you might be wrong. I am open-minded and willing to change my position,
if warranted. Can you also be fair enough to follow the facts, wherever
Many unbelievers have carefully considered these questions, perhaps even more deeply than you have. And some of us were at one time just as religious as you are now. After honest examination, I am convinced that the bible is primitive mythology, that there is no evidence for a god, that Christians are not more moral or tolerant than atheists, and that religion has caused more harm than good. Why should my conclusions be less valid than yours?
You feel that the complexity of life demands a designer; but the mind of such a creature would be at least as complex as the rest of nature, requiring a designer itself, wouldn't it? If everything needs a cause, then there can be no first cause; and if you nonetheless assert a First Cause, I will ask how you know (assume) that there can be an uncaused cause. If a deity can be thought eternal, so can the universe. God-belief does not answer any question; it just replaces a mystery with a mystery: if god made anything, who made god?
If the mind of a god is the measure for morality, then there is no way to measure if god's actions are "good." The murderous, sexist, intolerant activities of the biblical deity and the presence of chaos, ugliness and pain in the universe portray your "supreme" god as supremely immoral, by my standards. I could invent a nicer god than that, and so could you.
If you have new concrete evidence or rational arguments, then I will be glad to hear them. But please don't waste my time preaching the same old sermons I have been hearing for years.
I am quite happy with life. I have purpose and peace of mind -I prefer goodwill over repentance. I don't want to die, but I accept death as natural. I sense no need to worship, confess, or apologize to anyone. I feel no guilt, and therefore no desire to be "saved" from anything: sin is a primitive idea, and salvation is religion's offer to solve a problem of its own making.
I happily admit I am a skeptic; and I am proud of the way I think. Although humans are not perfect, I respect the human mind and I am optimistic about our abilities to continue to solve life's problems, with reason and kindness.
I don't claim to have all the answers; but if you want me to hear your message than I will ask you to listen to mine.
1987, Dan Barker/ Freedom from Religion Foundation, Madison WI