NOVEMBER 21 ― I am writing to religious believers who disagree with my article on atheism titled “Why I left the faith”.
I did not expect my personal life story on how I left Christianity and became an atheist to go viral. However, I’m glad that my story made some people reflect and question their faith, even though it was used as a cautionary tale by at least one church against “worldly” teachings.
In this letter, I will address the existence of God and why religion is harmful to society. As I'm most familiar with Christianity, I will limit my arguments to Abrahamic religions.
The existence of God
My critics put forth the argument from design in explaining the existence of God, in which God is the Uncaused Cause, or the Prime Mover, of the universe. Firstly, this assumes that time is linear and that the universe came into being at a certain point, popularly known as the Big Bang Theory. But another theory posits that time could be cyclical and the universe could have existed forever, without requiring a beginning.
The argument from design is also arbitrary. Why should God be the Uncaused Cause? If we can accept that there is something which doesn't need a causal origin, ie: God, then why not apply it to the universe itself? If God can exist on its own, so can the universe.
A Christian friend told me that he could not accept the randomness of existence. He said he found atheism depressing as without God, there is no reason why we're here on this Earth. Of course, science can only explain the how, but not the why. For centuries, mankind has struggled to explain the purpose of our existence.
But we cannot answer that question by inventing God just to resolve our existential angst. That is putting the cart before the horse. We like to feel special, like we are different from the other seven billion people on this earth. It's comforting to believe in a God who knows us personally to the extent that every hair on our head is counted (Luke 12:7). However, all the belief in the world cannot make God real.
Why religion is harmful
My critics answered my argument on how the bible places women in submissive roles by citing Ephesians 5:25-26 that says husbands are to love their wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in response to a preceding verse that orders wives to submit to their husbands as they do to God.
The order to be submissive does not make women inferior to men, they argue. After all, the bible is telling men to sacrifice themselves for their wives. My critics also highlighted a number of female leaders in the early church.
However, I have a problem when the bible tells a man to love his wife, while the wife is to respect her husband (Ephesians 5:33). This reflects a relationship with unequal power dynamics, akin to a parent-child or a boss-subordinate relationship. The woman is not of equal status with her husband; she is meant to “respect” or obey his authority. This notion can be easily misused in abusive relationships, in which the man claims that he is beating his wife out of love to “teach” her.
Even if we accept the argument that women are treated fairly in the bible, it certainly isn't reflected in society, where right-wing Christians in America oppose abortions, the Obama administration's birth control policy and gay marriage. The Christian church in Malaysia is also fairly conservative.
It's strange to see right-wing Christians attacking same-sex marriage when churches allow divorcees to remarry, even though divorce is frowned upon in the bible. In Malaysia, Muslim right-wingers are equally hostile towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Religious believers who oppose other people's right to marry someone of the same sex are like vegetarians who want meat banned. It's as bad as banning interracial marriages, which would be unthinkable at this time and age.
Then there is the teaching of creationism at some schools in America instead of evolution. Malaysia doesn't fare much better as the government has banned the Malay translation of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. How can we teach children myths instead of basic science? Young minds should be encouraged to explore and to question. Simply teaching children “God did it” will only hamper their growth and create an unquestioning generation that thinks in absolutes.
Religion has inspired violence too, whether it's the Crusades launched by the Christians during the Middle Ages or the massacres currently carried out by the Islamic State that includes beheadings, crucifixions and rape.
The holy scriptures may not explicitly permit such violence, but it is problematic when belief in God is the main motivation for such acts. We can't simply dismiss such barbaric groups as minorities who are wrongly interpreting their holy books. Holy scriptures are always open to interpretation anyway. The problem is with the holy text, not believers, because it can push men to commit such dastardly acts in the name of God.
As a conclusion, I have yet to find evidence for the existence of God. A Christian told me that I can't use empirical measures to prove God's existence because faith, or the spiritual world, is beyond the ambit of science.
If that's the case, why should we worship a particular god when we can easily believe in other things? After all, no proof is required to make one god more authentic than the other. A particular religion cannot claim that their god is the one true God when all they have is mere belief. Inevitably, religious believers end up relying on physical evidence like archaeological finds to try to prove their faith.
I have no qualms with people who find meaning in religion or spirituality. The bible has one of the best quotes on love in 1 Corinthians 13:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”.
I also share the same view as my critics, in that a philosophy ― or God ― should not be judged by the failures of the church or other religious institutions.
However, I must stress that in the same vein, the lack of meaning of our existence should have nothing to do with whether God exists or not. We create our own purpose in life. As Jean-Paul Sartre says, humans are “condemned to be free.”
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.