Then this letter:]
Those without religious affiliation made up 18.5 per cent of the resident population, up from 17 per cent in 2010, with the numbers being higher among younger residents compared with those in 2010.
It was reported that of those aged 15 to 24, 23 per cent said that they had no religious affiliation, while the figure was 14.6 per cent among residents aged 55 and above.
There appears to be an increasing trend of young persons having no religion.
If the mandate of the IRO is to promote racial and religious harmony in Singapore and it is serious about this, surely the “faithless” that constitute such a significant part of Singapore need to have a seat at the table.
I hope the organisation will consider this suggestion.
[To be fair, perhaps this letter-writer was truly clueless. And did not warrant this response on FB:
Please identify the head of the "faithless" (which BTW is an implied insult) that will represent this group of people without religious affiliation.
The basic assumption of the "faithful" (and I use this as insultingly as I can) is that the "faithless" is s homogeneous group of anti-religious militants/bigots/zealots/fascists/ "insert your own derogatory adjective".
The "faithless" could be faithless for many reasons. Maybe their faith failed them. Maybe the dogma/doctrine of their faith made no sense. Maybe they were never raised in any kind of faith and they grew up and outgrew fantasy and magic. Maybe their faith collided with reality, and rationality won. Maybe they were betrayed by leaders of their faith. Or members of their church/temple/mosque. Maybe they were denounced by their faith. Maybe they are too rational or too proud, or too individualistic, or too disinterest, or too happy, or too depressed, or too troubled.
Or maybe they just haven't found a faith that made sense to them.
Atheists are atheists for many reasons. The assumption that all atheists are the same, is the same thought processes that lurks beneath arrogant assumptions about gender, race, and other arbitrarily discriminatory behaviour.
[Which brings us to the previous string of articles on the "God" Question in 2016:
From April 2016: Within a day (on April 3), the ST printed two stories/commentaries (below) on Faith and God and including Atheists in Inter-Faith Dialogues.
See? Those with Faith are so inclusive and non-judgmental! They want to include Atheists in their little circle of friends! Aren't they nice?
What the two articles show are theists' need to frame or see atheism and atheists within their familiar cosmology. Or worldview.
Firstly, they assume that all atheists are the same, are alike, have the same reason for not being a member of organised faith.
And other erroneous assumptions flow from that.
The presumptuousness of the authors of these two articles, is exasperating.]
Atheists deserve a place in interfaith dialogue
In The Straits Times report, "Youth in Singapore Shunning Religion" dated March 21, 2016, it was reported that those who identified with "no religion" have increased from 17 per cent in 2010 to 18.5 per cent last year. Of this group, a large proportion are between 15 and 34 years old.
The report was published a few days after the inaugural dialogue between the religious and the atheists in Singapore, organised by the Humanist Society of Singapore and the Leftwrite Centre.
I was not at all surprised when I was told that this was the first "interfaith" dialogue between people with and without a religion. The sheer fact that we lack a proper term for such a dialogue - other than calling it an "interfaith" dialogue - proves this point.
I once had a very intelligent colleague who used to teach at the law school at my university. He happened to be an atheist, and a very religious one. We were rather good friends, until we began to talk about religion. This was around seven years ago, before I had joined any kind of interfaith activities and when I was still very much cocooned inside my evangelical Christian bubble.
He was fervent about his atheism, while I was very evangelistic about my faith. On my birthday in 2009, he gave me Sam Harris's seminal book The End of Faith. As a goodwill gesture, I gave him a book called The Case for God by Karen Armstrong.
Given our strongly-held beliefs, you can imagine how, or if, any further conversation between us was possible, especially when religion was raised.
Eventually, we stopped talking about religion, so that neither of our feelings would be hurt. Instead, we chose to tolerate each other's differences, while probably harbouring lingering thoughts about eventually converting each other.
"Lingering thoughts" of "converting each other" is a projection of this Christian writer.]
However, tolerance should not be the end goal between those of different religions, or between those of faith and those who are atheists.
The bar for tolerance is very low: It stems from a fear of confronting difference, a fear of being hurt and a fear of opening up oneself to the possibility of shifting one's position.
Tolerance silences differences. Dialogue, on the other hand, is the only way for us to surface assumptions, and remove blind spots and prejudice. It allows us to bridge differences, so that we can reach mutual understanding, not just tolerance.
[Tolerance is the solution to bigotry. You only need enough tolerance to understand the other person's point of view. Once you fully understand what an idiot he is, you are no longer a bigot. Cynical, but it seems to apply here. Dialogue? You mean trying to find out why the other person believes the ridiculous things he believes? Or thinks the ridiculous things he thinks?]
Dialogue is urgently needed in our present times of global terror, especially when violence is committed in the name of God. Hence, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has rightly argued that "the greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others and, in that sharing of vulnerabilities, discovering a genesis of hope".
AN ACCIDENT OF BIRTH
In fact, much of our outlook on religion, faith, morality and ethics is influenced by where we were born and raised, and where we learn about social norms and values. For example, a person who was born in communist China is more likely to be an atheist, compared to one who was born in the Christian belt of the United States, or in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Hence, for many people, their position as religious or non-religious is merely an accident of birth.
[Here he shows he understands facts, but does not allow facts to interfere with his worldview. He acknowledges that someone born and raised in China might likely be an atheist. Simply because atheism is the norm. So, doesn't he think that an atheist from a society like China would be different from an atheist from a predominantly Christian society?
No because he is just excited about the possibility of converting all those fresh blood in China.]
Similarly, the ways in which they make sense of the world depends very much on the hegemonic discourses they were subjected to.
It may be difficult, if not impossible, for someone who grew up in an atheist environment to understand what it means to submit oneself to an unseen God. Likewise, for those who grew up in a religious environment, it is challenging for them to eliminate God from their everyday discourses.
[What does that mean? There are no atheists in Christian, or Judeo-christian societies?]
The gulf between atheism and religion is often widened by false dichotomies that each camp subscribes to. Simplistic dualism such as atheist versus religious, secular versus sacred, believers versus non-believers, saved versus unsaved, reason versus faith, continue to lure both religious and non-religious people into believing that either religions are the root of all evils or that all atheists are going to hell. They force us to accept that atheism and religion are logically incompatible, and the gulf between them is unbridgeable.
Such a position cannot be more misleading. Atheism is a continuum rather than an absolute position; so, too, is religion. There are atheists who adopt various religious or spiritual practices and there are religious people who, at various points in their journey, have lost faith and found it again, or decided to go on a different path altogether.
It is dangerous to generalise and assume stereotypical attributes of religion and atheism based on sensationalised characteristics. Nor can one assume that one knows everything about Christianity or atheism just because he has read Rick Warren (The Purpose-Driven Life) or Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion).
To dialogue is to try to find a common ground and bridge the gulf between religion and atheism. It means for the religious to try to understand how an atheist cannot find it appealing to be able to depend on a metaphysical power greater than him or herself.
It also means for the atheist to try to understand how a rational being could totally surrender one's reason to trust in something invisible, unproven and possibly non-existent.
Both religious persons and atheists must not be compelled to trade their intellectual reasoning for faith, and vice versa. The challenge is to balance reason and faith, and to understand how people draw strength from either, or both, of them.
[If the point of this article is to say Atheists and Theists must learn to understand one another, that is a motherhoody statement. No one will disagree. But how they arrive at their understanding is a personal journey. Also, not everyone will be able to make that journey. Also there are differing levels of "understanding". One level of understanding or respect, is in this quote:
We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart
(And also because there is no point arguing with deluded people.)
Author Brain McLaren wrote a fascinating book that discusses ways to negotiate the Christian identity in a multi-faith world. Its enthralling title is Why Did Jesus, Moses, The Buddha, And Muhammad Cross The Road?
In a media interview, Mr McLaren was asked: "So, Brian, why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Muhammad cross the road?" He responded: "To get to the other." They did not cross the road to get each other, but to get to the other.
He further wrote: "When we cross the road to meet one another as friends, in some way, perhaps they do, too, through us. Perhaps their story is not yet over, but continues to unfold in us."
Perhaps it is time for the religious to extend the invitation to cross the road to atheists, so that they can also meet one another as friends. Interfaith dialogue has to go beyond faith to include atheists, who have long been excluded in such conversations.
It is only with such effort that we can together create a truly inclusive society where every voice is valued, regardless of faith, or lack thereof.
Chang-Yau Hoon is Assistant Professor of Asian Studies and Sing Lun Fellow at Singapore Management University.
Online comment 1:
Theists unable to understand atheism on its own terms can only "accommodate" atheism within their cosmology by framing "non-belief" as the extreme end of faith.
Unable to understand that atheists are not homogeneous, they can only deal with atheists by projecting values and even beliefs onto atheists, and treating all atheists as the same. It is like treating all women the same, or all Chinese the same, or all Politicians the same. It is stereotyping, and eventually discriminatory.
To think that atheists should have a place in "Interfaith dialogues" is the height of arrogance informed by ignorance.
If you don't understand the problem, let me present the logistical problem: Who are you going to invite to the Interfaith dialogue to represent Atheists?
Richard Dawkins? I like his books on evolution but he doesn't represent me or a lot of atheists.
Christopher Hitchins? Interesting (dead) person. Interesting Ideas. Does not represent me. At least not on the subject of atheism.
This proposal simply shows that theists are unable to understand, let alone accept atheists and atheism except on THEIR OWN terms.
When you get off your high, divinely-inspired, metaphysical horse, then we'll talk.
The first order of the day will be for Atheists to elect someone to represent Atheism. Dawkins or Hitchins might win, but I'd like someone like Clint Eastwood.
It is a truth that people who come knocking on your door to "share" their faith with you, are not interested in you trying to "share" your faith (or lack) with them.
I agree that "Tolerance silences differences".
But there is a reason for this as many has already pointed out: the differences are insurmountable.
If you believe in a god (or gods), do you believe that it is the one true (pantheon of) god(s)? Is there any room for doubt about your god(s), and is there any room to consider the "truthiness" of other faiths, other gods?
The answer is, it depends. Some faiths/religion are more inclusive and accommodating. Their beliefs are not absolute and exclusive. However, some faiths are not. The more exclusive faiths are those that believe in the "One True God (patent pending)". When you believe in the OTG (pp), then, the corollary to that is all other gods are false gods. In fact, in a documentary on different faiths, the Christian pastor explains that the perspective of the Christian, is or should be, that all other "gods" are manifestation of the devil.
How does one resolve that intractable difference in an interfaith "conference" or circle? It would be interesting to find out if one has the time.
However, while the writer is correct about the limitation of tolerance, he is overly optimistic about the power of dialogue. There is a simple reason why there is no dialogue between atheist and theist: No common Ground.
The theist, like the writer, is ever hopeful and sees the atheist as simply someone on the extreme end of a continuum. Theists, such as the writer, like to paint atheists as followers of science or logic or rationality or humanism, and that their "religion" is reason. Or their self. Or their pride.
Or better yet, they believe that all atheists are the same. That atheists are homogeneous. It is a form of bigotry. Or stupidity.
The reality is that atheists other than the common characteristic of not believing in the existence of a god/gods/supreme being/creator, may not have anything else in common.
Sure, some may be similar in some ways, but dissimilar in other ways, and no, atheists do not gather somewhere to plot to overthrow organised religion. Yes, there are "militant" atheists, and virulent anti-theists, and proactive anti-religion atheists, but there are also atheists who would rather live and let live.
If you still do not understand that concept, it's like you have a friend who believes that 13 is an unlucky number and will not have anything to do with that number. You think he's nuts, but he's your friend. You have asked him how did he come to believe that 13 is unlucky, and he rattles off a whole list of incidents where the number 13 had "caused" him bad luck. You realised that the fear or belief is deeply rooted in him and decide that there is no point in trying to dissuade him. Atheists are usually like that. In a world full of people with different beliefs, it would a lifework to convince people not to believe what they believe.
As for dialogue, my opening paragraph explains my derision. The writer wants to share his faith with atheists. I doubt very much that he is open to sharing by the atheists. More importantly, some atheists arrived at their status not by sharing, but by questioning, by seeking answers from the universe, rather than looking for "truths" in a holy book, and that is not something that can be "shared".
God is a question, not an answer
Apr 3, 2016
Worrying about the existence of God is only natural - and honest
Near the end of Albert Camus' existentialist novel The Stranger, the protagonist Meursault is visited by a priest who offers him comfort in the face of his impending execution. Meursault, who has not cared about anything up to this point, wants none of it. He is an atheist in a foxhole. He certainly has not been a strident atheist, but he claims to have no time for the priest and his talk of God. For him, God is not the answer.
Some 70 years later, Kamel Daoud, in his 2013 novel The Meursault Investigation, picks up the thread of Camus' story. In one scene late in that novel, an imam hounds Harun, the brother of the unnamed Arab who was killed in The Stranger. In response, Harun gives a litany of his own impieties, culminating in the declaration that "God is a question, not an answer."
[Not to discount the power of fiction to explore truths, the fundamental problem with novels as a source of truth is that it is a work of fiction based on a person's perspective, experience, and opinion. While this does not invalidate his personal truths, his views are at best opinions. Which is not to say that those opinions cannot or does not reflect universal Truths, but that if it does, there is no factual support, or logical reasoning for that Truth. In other words, "nice story".]
Harun's declaration resonates with me as a teacher and student of philosophy. The question is permanent; answers are temporary. I live in the question.
Any honest atheist must admit that he has his doubts, that occasionally he thinks he might be wrong, that there could be a God after all - if not the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, then a God of some kind. Nathaniel Hawthorne said of Herman Melville: "He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other."
[No. But keep quoting opinions of people of other people. It serves to establish the foundation of your "philosophy".]]
Dwelling in a state of doubt, uncertainty and openness about the existence of God marks an honest approach to the question.
There is no easy answer. Indeed, the question may be fundamentally unanswerable. Still, there are potentially unpleasant consequences that can arise from decisions or conclusions, and one must take responsibility for them.
[Hypocrite. Didn't he start off by saying answers are transient, only questions are permanent? Anyone who seeks easy answers do not want the Truth. Only convenience and easily digestible lies.]
Anyone who does not occasionally worry he may be a fraud almost certainly is. Nor does the worry absolve one from the charge; one may still be a fraud, just one who rightly worries about it on occasion.
Likewise, anyone who does not occasionally worry he or she is wrong about the existence or non-existence of God most likely has a fraudulent belief. Worry can make the belief or unbelief genuine, but it cannot make it correct.
[Logical flaw here. Extending "worrying about being a fraud" to a "fraudulent belief" is a leap in logic. Firstly, the definition of "Atheism" is a non-belief. It is not that atheists do not believe in god. It is simply that on the balance of evidence, there is no evidence that god exists or existed. It is not a belief. It is a conclusion. Thus there is no "fraudulent belief" because there is NO belief. But the theists are unable to comprehend that fundamental difference, and insists on defining atheists as "believers in no god". On a continuum of "faith".]
People who claim certainty about God worry me, both those who believe and those who don't believe.
They do not really listen to the other side of conversations, and they are too ready to impose their views on others. It is impossible to be certain about God.
As for your worry (about people's certainty about God), well, we all worry about things. Deal with it.]
Bertrand Russell, asked what he would say to God if it turned out there was one and he met him at judgment, replied: "You gave us insufficient evidence."
Even believers can appreciate Russell's response. God does not make it easy. God, if He exists, is "deus absconditus", the hidden God. He does not show himself unambiguously to all people, and people disagree about his existence. We should all feel and express humility in the face of the question even if we think the odds are tilted heavily in favour of a particular answer. Indeed, the open-minded search for truth can unite believers and non-believers.
In a previous essay in The Stone, the philosopher Gary Gutting re-conceived Pascal's wager. Rather than consider it as a bet on whether God exists, which has tremendous consequences on one side and relatively trivial consequences on the other, we should consider it as a bet on whether to embrace a "doubt of indifference" or a "doubt of desire". A doubt of indifference is simply a matter of not caring, and it has no clear benefits.
By contrast, a doubt of desire approaches the question with the hope that a higher power could be found that would provide greater meaning and value to human existence. As Dr Gutting sees it, the choice is obvious.
[Again the theist projects his need (for "greater meaning and value") onto the atheist. ]
Of course, non-believers will object that there are various secular alternatives for finding meaning and value in life. Additionally, there is an assumption built into Pascal's wager that we are talking about the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Non-believers may see no reason to favour that particular deity.
So Dr Gutting's "doubt of desire" needs to be more explicitly conceived as an openness to the question in which the non-believer explores what various religious traditions have to offer. The non-believer might embrace the ethical teachings of Christianity, the yogic practices of Hinduism, the meditative techniques of Zen Buddhism, or any of the vast array of teachings and practices that the world's religions have to offer. Such embrace may lead the non-believer to belief in God, or it may not.
This proposal should be taken in the other direction as well: There should be no dogmatic belief. The believer should concede that she does not know with certainty that God exists. There is no faith without doubt.
The late Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote that faith "is a decision, a judgment that is fully and deliberately taken in the light of a truth that cannot be proven - it is not merely the acceptance of a decision that has been made by somebody else".
Indeed, belief without doubt would not be required by an all-loving God, and it should not be worn as a badge of honour. As non-believers should have a doubt of desire, so, too believers should have a faith inflected by doubt. Such doubt can enliven belief by putting it at risk and compelling it to renew itself, taking it from the mundane to the transcendent, as when a Christian takes the leap of faith to believe in the resurrection.
We can all exist along a continuum of doubt. Some of us will approach religious certainty at one extreme and others will approach atheistic certainty at the other extreme. Many of us will slide back and forth over time.
[Yep. The only way a theist can understand atheism is on THEIR terms. Close-minded twits, the bunch of them. Those twits that slide back and forth? They are not atheists. They are theists struggling with their faith, struggling to come to terms with their faith, living in doubt because faith and reason collide within them. To put it lyrically, for some, it's like living in a powder keg and giving off sparks. Yes, many atheists may have struggled with their faith trying to marry the realm of reason with the realm of faith. And some do managed to get their cats and gods to live relatively harmoniously within their mind and not create insurmountable issues, and some don't and subordinate one realm to another, and some just say, "chuck it. It doesn't work for me" to one or the other. Atheists are not sliding back and forth over time. That may be when they were still struggling with their faith. Atheists may have seen the sliding back and forth and say, "what the fuck was I thinking? How is that a productive use of my time? I could have been solving problems or writing a fucking great novel!"]
What is important is the common ground of the question, not an answer. Surely, we can respect anyone who approaches the question honestly and with an open mind.
[Generally, atheists have let go of the question. Let me give you an example.
When I was growing up, I was a comics fan, as were a lot of my friends. And of course each comic fan would have their favourite superhero - Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Spiderman, Iron Man, Thor, etc.
And of course there were endless discussions and debates on whether Superman was better than Batman, or Green Lantern was more powerful than Superman, if Flash was fastest of all, and so on.
At some point in our lives, these questions became less important.
Similarly, at some point some atheists (like myself) might have asked, not about the existence of god, but why was the existence of god important, not just to them personally, but to humanity as a whole. Why did almost every culture "invent" a god, or gods. If there were one true god, why did he not reveal himself consistently? If he were a social construct, then what was he constructed for? Why was god important? What important function did he fulfill for humanity?
Common ground of the question? I don't think so.]
Ecumenical and interfaith religious dialogue has increased substantially in our age. We can and should expand that dialogue to include atheists and agnostics, to recognise our common humanity and to stop seeing one another as enemy combatants in a spiritual or intellectual war. Rather than seeking the security of an answer, perhaps we should collectively celebrate the uncertainty of the question.
[In other words, "agree to disagree"? I'm sorry, that is the wrong answer, because your question is only of relevance to you, and completely irrelevant to atheists. But you get a consolation prize. Enjoy.]
This is not to say that we should cease attempts to convince others of our views. Far from it.
We should try to unsettle others as we remain open to being unsettled ourselves. In a spirit of tolerance and intellectual humility, we should see ourselves as partners in a continuing conversation, addressing an enduring question.
[Yes. As a philosopher, you love to talk, to converse, to dialogue, on enduring questions, with no answer. Others may not have the philosopher's bent.]
NEW YORK TIMES
It is telling that they are unable to break out of their mindset, to see things from outside the box that is a faith-based view of the world and life.
Atheists are not homogeneous.
I cannot speak of how other people became atheists, or realised that they no longer believed in god, or that god doesn't exist.
I can only speak of my journey, and while I do not believe my journey is totally unique, I am also not so sure that any other atheists travelled the same road as well. So here's my story.
I was raised to believe in the One True God, and my experience with my religion was not negative. There was no crisis or trauma or abuse or scandal. While I believed, I tried to keep to the teachings and beliefs and dogmas, and I strove to understand the teachings and the reasons for them.
So I understood my faith as best I could.
And sure, there were discrepancies which were unresolvable. In such matters, there is faith. That was what faith is for.
But at 15 or 16 years of age, I began to question. But I did not leave my faith.
Questions are, as the commentary suggests, where you find God.
But my questions were not, "who is God? What is the nature of God? and What are the Characteristics of God? Or What does God want me to do?
Those were the wrong questions for me. And not important.
It is through observation.
Firstly, I realised that there were good people and bad people. Moral people and immoral people. And they may be religious, or they may not be. Religion or Faith does not correlate to Morality.
Which lead me to ask an Atheist friend a very important question (to me): What is the basis of your morality?
To which my friend had no answer. Because it was not a question that my friend had ever asked. It was, to my friend, a stupid question.
But I tried to answer that question with observations of people around me.
The next question I asked was, what is the purpose of Religion. And the corollary to that, What is the purpose of God.
I got that answer from a movie, "Oh, God!" starring George Burns as God, and John Denver as a journalist.
I do not know if that movie was intended to support faith and religion (I think it was), but I got a different message from it (which shows my inclination even then).
The central message of the movie, in which God reveals himself to the journalist, is that God Exists.
After the journalist clarifies that God did not reveal himself in order to set the record straight as to which is the correct religion, or that God is going to start intervening in the world's affairs (i.e. working miracles again), the journalist asks, so what is the big deal that God Exists?
No Big Deal? That God Exists is no big deal, asked God. Of course it is a big deal! If God did not exists, then the world was not created, but is just some random accident that happened fortuitously, and humans crawled out of the primordial soup through evolution, and you could just be wiped out the next time a meteor passes by too closely and becomes a meteorite.
But because God revealed himself as the Creator, he tells the journalist, then God can tell the world that he made the world so that it CAN work. The catch is, humans have to MAKE it work. This is his guarantee.
But, asked the journalist, if the catch is human have to make it work, then we could still be doomed!
Yes, but if God did not exist, did not create the world, then there is no guarantee. You could do everything right and the world could still die, humanity could still be a mess. With a god-given guarantee, you know that if you do things right, things will work out. And if you do things wrong, and the world explodes, it is your fault.
And that was when I understood WHY people needed god or a creator or an intelligent designer.
Because if there were no god, there was no guarantee.
Because if there were no god, no afterlife, that this is all we have. this 60 - 80 years of life, this brief moment in the light, and once we are gone, we are gone. We are mortal and our lives are finite.
Theists (some) have sometimes suggested that Atheists are incredibly proud. They (atheists) believe that there is no greater power, because they believe their intellect or reason is sufficient and complete. They do not bow to a god, because they think that they are the most rational, most developed intellect, and therefore the most intelligent beings in the universe and because they cannot conceive of a being greater than themselves, beyond their intellect and comprehension, that can only be approached and understood only with Faith.
They (atheists) are too proud to believe.
If you are a person of faith, and this is what you believe of atheists, then read no further. This is all you need to know. Faith will keep you. If you read on, you may feel insulted. I am sure your faith will sustain you, but there is not need for you to be insulted, right?
Are the faithful gone?
OK. I will assume that they are gone, or if they are still reading, that they have strong constitutions and self-esteem. Or they believe their faith is strong.
My takeaway from the movie was this: In trying to solve any problem or facing any personal crisis, there were two options, two approaches. I could approach it as a believer, that God has set this all up and he has given me a challenge and there is a way to meet this challenge and overcome it, and God has given me all that I need to meet this challenge, and he would not challenge me in this way if he had not given me everything I needed to overcome this challenge. In other words, my faith would be a source of confidence.
The other approach is to assume none of the above. The challenge is a challenge with no predetermined outcomes, there was no certainty that I have all the tools, resources, and skills needed to solve the problem. There was no guarantee that I could find an answer let alone the right answer. I could not count on a Creator or God to ensure (to guarantee) that the right outcome would flow from "right" actions.
This is the practical difference between believing in God (at least the Judeo-Christian God which is what I am familiar with and was brought up in), and deciding that there is no god.
Which path would you take? The path of Faith, in which there is a God who provides you with some guarantee that this will all make sense. Or the atheistic path, that gives you NO guarantee, that life was an accident, there is no higher purpose, no greater plan, no creator, no heaven or hell except what you create with others on this world, no afterlife, no eternal reward or eternal damnation, that there is no ultimate justice. Just us.
Is it so difficult to understand that people will want to choose the path that gives them a guarantee?
Which is why I do not try to "convert" people to atheism.
To believe in God, simply requires you to have faith. And the problems of this world, the complexities of this world, the uncertainties of this world, and the need to make sense of this world, and the craving for meaning and purpose in life all naturally drives us to seek out a God, or a Truth, or a Supreme Creator Being. Which is why in every culture, God is invented over and over and over again.
Again, I say, this is my path to atheism. It may not be your path, and it may not be even the path a majority or even a significant proportion of atheists take. And the reason I do not know, is because there is no "Pope" of Atheism, because it is not a homogenous category of person, there is no hierarchy, there is no common doctrine, or dogma, or articles of faith or even articles of association. There is no Universal Association of Atheists. New Atheists are not required to profess a creed or tick off a checklist of shared "beliefs".
We have only one thing in common - the lack of faith (small "f") in organised religion.
When my father passed away. I had a crisis of atheism.
No I didn't. I did wonder, so, where is he now. My atheism offered only one answer. He is gone. He is never coming back. I will never see him again except as a hallucination, a dream, or in my imagination.
Faith and theism offered another answer. He may be in a better place. And one day we may meet again.
I understood then the great seductive and attractive power of religion - the promise of immortality. Not just for ourselves. But for our loved ones. I asked myself if I would believe again, for the chance to meet my father again. But I couldn't bring myself to delude myself again.
So that ends my rant. It is a rant against the arrogance of theists who think they understand atheists and atheism. What has been shown (by two theistic authors above) is that Theists seem to be able to only understand atheism on their terms, and with their reference points. And their understanding and assumptions are severely flawed and completely wrong.
So does that mean I understand theists?
The Problem of Evil for the Theist
I did philosophy in university, and one of the term papers I had to write was on The Problem of Evil.
The question was, "What is the Problem of Evil for the Theist?" Briefly, the problem is as follows:
a) The Theist believes in a God who is 1) All-powerful (Omnipotent), 2) All-loving (Omni-benevolent), and 3) All-knowing (Omniscient). We will call this the Omni-3 God. (Note, this philosophical problem is framed around the Judeo-Christian God, because Western Chauvinism in philosophy.)
b) If God is an Omni-3 God, he would 1) not want harm or evil to befall us because he is omni-benevolent, 2) know when harm or evil is about to befall us because he is omniscient (and even prescient), and 3) act to stop the harm/evil from befalling us because he is omnipotent.
c) But there is evil in this world.
So how can there be an Omni-3 God and Evil in this world?
Now if God was not Omni-3 but only Omni-2, evil is easily explained. Maybe he is not all-loving. Maybe he is not all-knowing (evil happened when his (figurative) back was turned. Maybe he is not all-powerful (some things are just beyond his power to stop).
Another approach may be to question the definition of evil. You see some incident and decide that it is evil. Well, maybe from God's perspective it is not evil? So you hear platitudes like, "God called him to heaven because he was such a beautiful soul."
Sure. Rape and Torture are not evil. Just part of God's plan.
My approach, my answer was to focus on the definition of "Theist".
For the atheist, there is no problem of evil. Evil exists because there is no Omni-3 God who might prevent evil from befalling us. So for the atheist, there is no problem because there is no assumption that there would be no evil.
The Problem of Evil only exists for the Theist.
And it exists because of the nature of the God he believes in, and the irrefutable fact that there is evil in this world, which logically precludes the existence of an Omni-3 god.
And yet, the theist believes.
Because he is a theist.
The atheist entire cosmology is rationale and reason, logic and arguments. So if an atheist is presented with the conundrum of a world where there is an omni-3 god and the existence of evil, he would see that there is a "logical problem".
However, a theist is one who has reason, rationale and logic to guide him (I hope), but in addition he has Faith in God to fall back on. Thus, while the presence of evil in this world may present a problem to a logical rational mind, there is no problem for the theist because he has reference to Faith. Thus, for the theist, his answer might well be, "yes, logically, you have presented a question for which I have no answer. If pressed, I would submit this question to my Faith, and trust that God has a reason, that is beyond me. Thus the problem of evil does not present itself to the Theist. ]