As my immediate family and closest friends already know, I decided last year to reject the Christian world view. My reason is simple: not enough evidence. The Bible is not consistent with itself, let alone with what we can observe of reality, be it history, science, or the reality of suffering all over the world. There is no strong evidence that Jesus is who the Bible claims he is, or that he rose from the dead. Some Christians point to a personal experience of positive change in their lives as evidence. But that doesn't lend any weight to Christianity, because people of all religions claim to have experiences which they interpret as validation of their religion. And faith, which is belief without sufficient evidence, is a cop-out.
Of course, these are just assertions, and my rejection of Christianity would not be rational if I didn't back those assertions up. The nice thing about the Web is that I can simply link to some more detailed treatments of these subjects. So here are a few links to get you started. I may not agree with all of these authors on every single point, but I'm in substantial agreement with them.
- Why I Am Not a Christian, by Richard Carrier
- Why I Am Not a Christian, by Keith Parsons
- Bible Contradictions, by Dan Barker
- Why Won't God Heal Amputees? (deals with much more than the name implies)
Yes, I'm unabashedly linking to the writings of vocal atheists, and I've read many more such writings than I've linked to here (along with Christian apologetics). My Christian parents and other family members have expressed their concern that I've opened my mind to the influence of the devil, and have asked that I refrain from doing so. I agreed to refrain for a time last year, but not anymore. I believe that the very idea of Satanic influence is simply Christianity's built-in defense against skepticism. If Christianity were true, then my belief should have withstood my study of arguments from both sides.
Some Christians may assert that I am rejecting Christianity because I want to live a selfish, immoral life, or because I don't want to be accountable to my creator. That is emphatically not the case. I'm not perfect, but I want to live an upright, moral life. In fact, if you ever notice that I'm using my new beliefs to justify an act that is clearly immoral or overly selfish, then please call me out on it. Furthermore, if there is evidence that we humans were created by some intelligent being, that this being is still alive, and that this being cares how we live our lives, then I'd love to receive guidance from this being. But I don't know of any compelling evidence for such a being, so it seems foolish to organize my life around a belief that the Bible is true.
So what do I believe instead?
At the most basic level, I believe that beliefs should be backed by logic and evidence. In other words, beliefs should be internally coherent and should be consistent with observable reality. What are my logic and evidence for this belief? Well, logic and evidence, in the form of science, have worked pretty well for us in the last few centuries. And we use logic and evidence to determine the truth or falsehood of ordinary factual claims. So why not apply the same standard consistently? In particular, why accept faith as a valid answer for the biggest questions we face, when we wouldn't accept it for more mundane things?
I believe that morality is all about maximizing overall well-being for all conscious creatures, most notably humans but also including many animals. On a more practical level, I believe it's fine to pursue one's personal goals, but only to a point; we need to be considerate of others. In particular, we need to avoid doing to others what we would not want done to ourselves. All manner of moral guidelines can be derived from these principles. Some moral choices are pretty clear-cut; some are not. And it seems to me that the Bible is of little value as a guide to morality. Of course, I'm not setting myself up as any kind of moral authority; this is just my current understanding of morality. And I'm still working on practicing these principles in my own life.
I believe that, in the absence of evidence for a god or an afterlife, we should live as though we're on our own and this life is all there is. This, I think, is where my beliefs collide most directly with Christianity. Christians believe that this world is ultimately doomed, and that it's most important to prepare for eternity, meaning the world and the life after this one. Frankly, I'm afraid that if the first part of that belief is taken to heart, it may become a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially with strong Christians occupying positions of power in the most powerful country on Earth. A belief that God will eventually set things right also seems to encourage apathy about the state of this world; at least it did that in me for a time. I now believe that this world and this life are all we can be certain that we have, and when we see something wrong with this world, we should consider what we can do, if anything, to make it better. In particular, in a country like the US that has at least a semblance of democratic government, it really matters whom we vote for and what causes we support.
And that's why I'm writing this blog post. It really matters what we believe and what we do about those beliefs. I will try not to be pushy or obnoxious about this; I know I can't make my Christian family and friends see things as I now do. And I'm doing my best to continue to live peacefully with my Christian family and friends, whom I still love. But I will not keep quiet about my beliefs anymore. If you're a Christian, I urge you to think calmly and rationally about what I'm writing here, and follow the links above to learn more. And feel free to respond. But most of all, let's all try to make this world a better one for all of us. It sounds trite, but I truly believe it's the best goal to which we can aspire.