Open Letter to Practicing Christians
Most Christians, and most people really, are rather ignorant about the spiritual aspect of life, and only believe out of convention. I congratulate you for being personally invested in the issue of your life's purpose and meaning. Before I start, you should know that I am an atheist. Please don't get offended - I don't want to deconvert you, and I don't think anyone can do that without your will already being inclined in that direction. I just want to ask you a few questions, which I would like you to take with an open mind.
Do you read the Bible ?
A funny question, perhaps. But I mean read the entire Bible, not just the verses they read you in church, like the famous John 3:16. I have to tell you, however, that I also find this verse morally repugnant, as it tells us that salvation is judged on the basis of people's beliefs, not of their actions, so that even a mass murderer who converts to Christianity can be completely exonerated. You probably don't agree with my interpretation on this, and you may rationalize this by saying "other people can't be moral, so it's ok", but you have observed that this is not true, and you know there's something wrong with this. Yet this is a central principle of your own religion.
Have you ever read these stories of Adam and Eve - where all of mankind is condemned for the crime of its ancestors - the Flood - where all life on Earth is brutally drowned - all those wars ordered by God where innocent children are slaughtered and raped - Jesus' words, all of them, even the ones where he tells you to hate your loved ones (Luke 14:26) and sanctions slavery (Luke 12:47) ? Do you really think these are good stories ? I don't think that you would find them laudable if they happened in real life, but maybe you've learned to accept them because they were shown to you in a cartoonish way when you were younger.
Where does morality come from ?
Doesn't morality come from the Bible ? No, not really. I'm willing to bet that you don't read the Bible for most decisions you make. I'm also willing to bet that you disagree with people who use "Biblical morality" - people who hate others because of who they are, who sacrifice their own values in the hopes of another life, who preach that everything you love is irrelevant.
We all have basic human values - at least, those of us who are sane and reasonably intelligent. We got them from our observations as we grew up, our recognition that other minds exist, and that those minds have their own values, and later in life as a recognition of the needs of living in society together. We got them from the loving relationship we had with our parents, and later in life from the trust and love we have for other people. We get them still from our yearning for peace and plenty in ourselves, our family, our society, our world. All of these things are natural and don't require a religion or doctrine.
As a Christian, you've never lost those values, they are still there. But sometimes you hide them under your beliefs. Because your pastor, your Bible or your tradition says that something is good or evil, you'll say that it's good or evil, even if you know very well it's not. That may make you feel guilty. You don't have to feel guilty for being who you are and having the values you do, that's just being human. Becoming an atheist wouldn't destroy those values : they are part of who you are. All that atheism does is let you express those values, free you from dogma and belief, and give you the possibility of using your reason and finding real answers to your questions, not "God did it".
After that, if you still want to be Christian, and that decision follows your own independent values and your own rational understanding, then do it. I won't argue with you. And most importantly, to have personal responsibility - not only to take the praise or blame for your own decisions, but to be the one in the driving seat - something you don't have right now. That lack of responsibility is what makes religious atrocities possible. Once you stop seeing other people as individuals with their own values but as tools for your salvation, you're no longer a good person.
May I assume that you are American for a second ? Why do you think the United States has the highest incarceration rate of all countries in the world, the highest crime rates of all developed countries, and close to the highest rates of racism and homophobia ? Think about it for a minute. If Christianity really did make people better, shouldn't the United States be a country full of moral, upright people ?
Some of you say you hear God in your head. Have you thought that maybe this is a mental voice that everyone has, and that you only call it "God" because that's what you've been taught to believe in ? Just a thought.
Is that all there is to life ?
Just a cog in a divine plan that you cannot possibly understand or change, following a lifestyle that forbids you from expressing yourself and tries to get you to force others to do the same, believing in the primitive idea of "God did it" as the ultimate answer for everything... is that really all there is to life ? Or might there be something more ?
When I was seven years old, I got on my knees and prayed to God to reveal himself to me, to give me a sign. I didn't get any. Even at that age I didn't see any point in holding a conversation with my imagination. What kind of father hides from his children to test them ?
In the past century, science has revealed to us a world more wonderful, more intricate than any holy book ever wrote down, from the bizarre lifeforms at the bottom of the oceans, to the quantum world of electrons and quarks, to the farthest reaches of the universe. After millennia of prayer, it's science that is showing us the way to eliminating hunger, disease, poverty, suffering. Science, not religion, has given us the tools to make our lives easier and our time more effective, tools that bind the world together, tools that save lives. Why would anyone deny himself all that ? I bet if your life was in danger, you'd trust science first, pray later.
I refuse to believe that life is just a test, and that everything important to me - the love I have for my wife, the light of a bright summer morning, the people I am reaching with my words, my feeling of oneness with the universe - is just a means for me to get brownie points for another life. I'm not in high school any more. I measure my life by how much I fulfill my own values, not on how the teacher is grading me.
What does being a practicing Christian mean to you ? For most people, it means fellowship, hope, love, security, a personal relationship. You don't need to lose any of this, you only stand to gain. You stand to gain meaning and purpose in a material universe that is knowable and within your reach. Without God, there is incredible freedom.
How much do you know about atheism ?
An atheist knows there is only one life to live. That you don't get a second chance, so live it to the fullest. That if you commit evil, no one can "save" you - you are responsible for your own actions. And that we must accept people as they are, and deal with other people on our own terms, not on the terms of a book written thousands of years ago.
Atheism is not a belief system, but atheism lets you be free to adopt a belief system, if that's what you really want. All that it does is open the door and show you all the possibilities that life has to offer. You can decide to be a humanist, an existentialist, an Objectivist, a Buddhist, a capitalist, neurotic, patriotic, iconoclastic, or even (Providence forbid) a Western singer... it's up to you. You are responsible for you own future. Even right now, as a Christian, you constantly choose to stay a Christian, and you have the power, ultimately, to decide that you want to be more and open up your world.
If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or read more information on my ministry at http://www.graveyardofthegods.org/
And if you decide not to, remember that there will always be people out there to help you.