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Wed, 31 Dec 2008

The Worst Atheist Argument in the World?

One of the standard arguments for atheism goes like this:

"Religion is responsible for many of the world's evils (the 9/11 attacks, the Inquisition, the Crusades, oppression of women, abuse of children, and so forth). Therefore, the world would be better off if people did not believe in God."

This argument comes up again and again in discussions of atheism. Atheists state the argument in various ways - some short, some long - but all the forms of the argument amount to the same thing.

No matter what the atheists tell you, this is one of the most preposterous arguments in the world.

The main problem with this argument is obvious: not every form of belief in God promotes the evils blamed on religion. The atheist argument only hits the forms of religion that do promote evils like these. The argument might work if aimed at fanaticism, extremism, or cruelly strict and prudish forms of religion. However, it can say nothing about more reasonable forms of belief that do not promote these evils. This fault in the atheist argument has long been known, but some atheists just don't seem to get it.

It is possible to believe in God and also deny most of the dogmas of conventional religion.

You can believe in God and also be against all forms of war. (Pacifist Quakers do this today.)

You can believe in God and also reject the use of force to spread your religion. You might even think God wants people to believe only through a free, uncoerced decision to believe, and not through any kind of force. Some believers think that way.

You can believe in God and also believe in human equality, kindness, and mercy. You can believe in God and support the quest for an end of oppression in the world. Martin Luther King did that.

You can believe in God without believing in religious doctrines that are likely to promote cruelty. You don't have to believe in hell. You don't have to believe that only members of your religion go to heaven. You don't have to believe that God wants us to be afraid. You can believe in God without believing in a cruel God-image derived from the earlier books of the Bible.

It's possible to believe in God, and yet reject all the evils done in the name of religion. It's possible to believe that God disapproves of these evils.

It's possible to believe in a God of love, goodness, beauty and freedom, instead of a God who promotes suicide bombings, sexual repression, and bigotry.

So what happened to the atheist argument? When you think carefully about it, the argument just goes away! It stops being convincing - like a magic trick once you see how it's done.

It is vitally important that we oppose the evils done in the name of religion. However, belief in God is not the real source of those evils - and atheism is not the solution to them.

posted at: 15:31 | path: /religion/atheism | persistent link to this entry


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