I’ve been reading posts for the last couple of hours and have felt inspired and entertained. It appears that you and I have the common experience of being raised Christian and eventually finding not only no good reason to continue to believe, but good reasons not to believe.
For many years, I was a “quiet atheist” because I found my lack of belief often made me asocial outcast. Over time, I met agnostics, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus who made me much more aware of America’s lack of religious freedom (including freedom from religion) and I started to stand up for my rights and those of others.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen no evidence of doing any good. I’ve never converted a person of faith to atheism (which isn’t really my intent.) More importantly, I doubt that I’ve even made anyone more aware of the imbalance we have. Usually, all I get is a promise from someone that he/she will pray for me, so that I can be saved.
I like your point of “not having a choice”. I know what my Christian friends will say about that, but you’re right. Even if I wanted to be a Christian, Muslim, Jew, or anything else, I can’t just decide to believe. I’d have to trick myself into it, but I do think it’s possible I might be happier if I could. It must be very reassuring to believe that one day, God will reward you for good deeds even if no one else will… and that the people who continue to do “evil”, but never get punished will be judged. That would be a comforting thought, don’t you think?
I have learned that if someone is up for an intelligent discussion, that it can be quite stimulating, but it is very unsatisfying to have someone decide to just feel sorry for me because I’m going to Hell. (I have to mention that your response to hate mail that simply said, “Satin?” made me laugh. Sadly, your correspondent probably didn’t get it. )
The reason I came to this site in the first place was because I had just read something about the witch hunts of Salem and was distressed about all the “evil” done in the name of religion. I think the world might be a better place without it because contrary to some of your opponents’ posts there have been countless lives lost and people hurt as a result of it. But there’s no way to gauge the effect of no religion at all. I’d like to believe it would be better, but I don’t know how many people exist that are reasonably decent, just because they have religion that wouldn’t be so without it.
I know some people can be moral without religion and my guess is some can’t. So, “Your Honor, Is there a question anywhere in our future?” my question is, would the world be better without religion? I think it would, but I can’t prove it.
This was much longer than I intended and you may have interesting thoughts on my issues that I’d be glad to hear, but ultimately, I’ll probably stick with keeping my atheism to myself most of the time.
I do, however, appreciate your efforts.
I think there’s nothing wrong with being a quiet atheist, since your personal philosophy is nobody’s business unless you chose to make it their business. I would draw the line at letting your rights be violated, though.
I’ve heard a number of responses from religious people to my “I don’t have a choice” statement. Most of them insist that I do have a choice and that I just need to “open my heart” or something like that. I generally ask them if they would be willing to open their hearts and completely believe in Islam, just to see how it goes. The variety of responses I get to that is interesting, and occasionally it helps the person I’m speaking with see my point.
I agree that it would be comforting to believe that there was an afterlife and that justice would be done. Of course, it would also be comforting to believe that my lottery ticket will be worth millions of dollars as of next Saturday evening. I wish it was all true, but my wishes have no value when it comes to testing the truth.
Getting to your question — do I think that the world would be a better place without religion? Not necessarily. People can be ignorant, immoral, or led astray with or without religion, and some people are happier with religion. In fact, I think that if all religion magically disappeared overnight, we’d actually be worse off than we are now — religion adds structure to many peoples’ lives and greatly enriches culture.
But what if, over time, people became more reasonable and willing to examine their own beliefs? This might lead to atheism, or it might not. In any case, I think it would lead to more tolerance and understanding, and that would go a long way toward mitigating the potential for harm inherent in religious thought. So if I had a vote, I’d vote for advancing critical thinking, not eliminating religion.