I have two main reasons for being an atheist. One is that I find absolutely no evidence for the existence of a deity. The second is that belief in an all-powerful, all-wise, and all-good friend in the sky contains numerous internal contradictions. The most obvious of these contradictions concerns the question of how a perfect deity could create an imperfect world and then abandon the residents of that world.
The supposed answers to these problems imply that God is limited. For example, it is claimed that God wants us to be virtuous and worshipful, but that he would find it unrewarding to simply make us virtuous and worshipful (the way he made the angels), so he is forced to endow us with the freedom to choose evil and withhold worship. It is also said that God wants us to appreciate love, happiness, and beauty, but that to do this, he must expose us to hatred, misery and ugliness.
God is therefore extolled on the one hand as having unlimited power, but on the other as being limited in ways that are disastrous to his creation. He is also said to be whole within himself, yet he so wants our worship that he punishes us when he doesn’t get it. Like us at our worst, God only cares about himself. He could have spared us hatred, misery, and ugliness, but to satisfy his own needs, he made a world in which not only children suffer, but in which squirrels, dolphins, wildebeests, and every other creature that ever lived or ever will live suffers. God might tally dying sparrows, but they still suffer, and they still die.
As for God’s absence from the world, I’m told that he isn’t absent at all, but there’s little agreement about what this means. Some say he came to earth as Christ; others that he spoke through Mohammed; and still others that he commanded Joseph Smith to transcribe some mysteriously absent gold plates, etc. Nearly all believers say that he answers prayers, yet none pray for the dead to rise, amputated limbs to be restored, or for anything else that might not happen anyway.
I am told that it is my job to figure out which of God’s self-proclaimed representatives is the right one, and all will be well, but I’m given no basis for my decision. If God wants me to know him, why doesn’t God speak to me directly? Better still, why doesn’t God speak to all of us directly?
It is also claimed that God isn’t responsible for our problems because he simply gave us free will and we chose evil. The fact that our choices cause innocent children and animals suffer is not seen as an objection to this view, nor is the fact that if we really had free will, a great many of us could be expected to choose good, yet the amount of time that even the best of us can maintain virtue can probably be measured in hours. It is also the case that much of our suffering doesn’t come through us. Earthquakes, tornadoes, and many other problems afflict us without regard for our goodness.
In the Hebrew Bible, God allowed Satan to take away everything the righteous Job had including his health and family, only to later restore them all, as if that constituted justice. This solution bothered me even as a child because justice is only served when the innocent don’t suffer. For example, if a drunk driver kills a child, there can be no justice for anyone involved except, perhaps, the drunk driver. But even if the drunk driver is punished in exactly the right way and to exactly the right extent, this would not bring justice to the child, or to the family and friends of the child or the drunk driver. Even if all of these people were rewarded in heaven for their suffering on earth, it wouldn’t constitute justice because it wouldn’t erase the fact that a supposedly just God had allowed an injustice to occur.
Believers demand that nonbelievers respect their religion, but they give us no reason to regard their religion as other than absurd. If I doubted gravity, global warming, or the existence of the three-toed sloth, they could present me with evidence, but when it comes to religion, they can but say that I must have faith in whichever god they think is the right one. I would ask how they know which one is the right one when all they did was to take the word of their parents and neighbors. But even if they had searched the world over for the right religion, how could they prove that their choice was correct, and how would they explain the fact that other searchers make other choices?
While I can respect those rare believers who use religion in a salutary way, I know from personal experience and the daily news that cruelty and bigotry are far and away the most common fruits of religion. I would not object nearly so much to the groundlessness of religion if I could but see that the good it does outweighs the bad, but unfortunately, the good is minuscule compared to the bad. I’ve heard it said that we create God in our image, and I would add that we nearly always instill him with our deepest flaws. God is but a way to proclaim the evil that is within us as having its source in divine authority. This makes it chief among our depravities.