As with the other articles on this site, the primary goal is not to get you to stop believing in your god. It is simply to help you understand why we don't believe.
Atheists often get asked, "Why don't you believe in God?" Sometimes it is phrased more like an accusation, such as, "How can you NOT believe in God?!"
The first problem that many of us have is that usually the person asking this question assumes we know which god they are talking about. It doesn't even occur to them to ask about the gods of other religions. For some reason, in their minds, it is perfectly reasonable to not believe in those other gods. After all, they don't believe in them. But to not believe in their god is somehow unimaginable.
In my country, the U.S.A., it is usually safe to assume they are talking about the Judeo-Christian concept of God. So I will address this first. As to why I don't believe in any gods, or the general concept of a creator, I will write that in another article. They are two very different questions.
I can't speak for every atheist. I can't tell you every detail of why every atheist does not believe. But I am confident that most of the ideas I will convey here are shared by most atheists who have ever spent much time contemplating these things.
It starts with "In the beginning..." Any true believer will recognize those as the first three words in the Bible, Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1.
If the Bible stopped there, things might have been a lot better.
But it goes on to discuss the creation of the universe. Then it describes the creation of man, and how man became a sinner. Then it describes God's interaction with man over several millennia that followed.
Along the way, it fails on any number of scientific and historical facts. That in itself might not be so bad; maybe it was all just meant to be allegory. But then it comes up with lots of philosophies...
But let me back up a bit.
The Bible says God created the universe in six days. If you believe this to be a literal story, I can't help you. I'll just tell you that everything we know from science, which includes a vast amount of provable facts and testable evidence, tells us that it has actually taken many billions of years.
That's "billions" with a "B".
It is neither my job nor my goal to teach you astronomy, physics, geology, chemistry, and biology. Suffice it to say that they are all pretty much in agreement on this stuff. If you don't believe me, you'll have to go study it for yourself. Again, my point here is to simply tell you why I don't believe in your God, and it starts right here in Genesis 1.
Now for those of you who think this story is allegory... I know some of you think that each "day" was actually an age of the universe, or an epoch. Something on the order of billions of years. But this assessment doesn't work either, because everything is out of order.
So all in all, this is simply an invalid account of the creation of the universe. Not an auspicious beginning for a book that was supposedly inspired by the all-knowing creator. This, by itself, might not necessarily be enough to cause me to be an atheist. But it's the first chink in the armor.
The concept of original sin is absolutely central to the Christian faith. Christianity teaches that we are all born sinners, imperfect, and in need of salvation. Most believe that this salvation can only be gained through belief in Jesus. A few believe that it can be achieved simply through good works, although the Bible contradicts this philosophy in a number of places.
Neither one matters to me much, because the initial premise is flawed. The premise is that God created us perfect ("in his image"), but he also gave us free will and we chose to be sinners. Further, Christians believe this is not God's fault. So let's examine that.
God created Adam and Eve and put them in some place called The Garden of Eden.
Whether you are a biblical literalist who actually believes every word of this story, or if you are the type who considers it "merely allegory", it fails in my mind for much the same reason, as we'll see by the end of this discussion.
God created Adam and Eve without any knowledge of good and evil. He then placed a tree in the garden and told them not to eat from it. He told them if they were to eat from it, they will die. Only from eating the fruit of this tree would they know the difference between right and wrong.
This was exactly like giving a two-year-old an open jar of cookies, and being surprised when the child eats the cookies. If you don't have any concept of right and wrong, how can you be held accountable for your actions?
Furthermore, what were they to make of the threat of death? They had never seen death. They were the first humans, and the garden was a paradise. This would be like me telling you that if you eat something, you are going to blibble. You might look at me oddly and go, "Blibble, huh?" You would then ignore whatever I said, since it made no sense in your mind.
So no surprise, they ate the fruit. Except God didn't follow through on his threat. Once they ate the fruit, they didn't die. God just got really mad at them for it... for something that really was his fault and responsibility.
So at this point, God (being omnipotent and all) should have realized that his great experiment was a failure, and somewhere a mistake had been made. Whether he wanted to take the blame for it or not, he should have undone it. With a snap of his magic fingers, he could have blinked Adam and Eve out of existence and started over from scratch, thinking, "Note to self: next time put the tree outside the garden. No wait, come to think of it, No tree!"
Seriously, why was the tree there in the first place? What purpose could it have possibly served other than to tempt Adam and Eve. Honestly, I think he secretly wanted them to eat it. And this was borne out by his next set of actions.
God got SO mad at Adam and Eve, he cursed them and all of their offspring for all time.
So to recap: The all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God:
- Put the tree of knowledge in the Garden for no apparent reason, when all it could do was harm.
- Told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of the tree, knowing full well they did not understand the consequences of their actions.
- Failed to recognize that the serpent might present a problem and tempt Eve. (Why was the talking serpent there to begin with?)
- Acted surprised when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, and cursed them and all their offspring for all eternity.
So let's say it is just allegory. What are the implications?
God clearly created man. He created a world where he knew evil would exist, where people would suffer in unimaginable ways. He demands absolute love from all of his creatures, though it does not appear he is willing to necessarily give it in return. He created people as imperfect, and apparently gets mad at them for it, because if you don't worship him — despite the fact that he loves you — he is going to send you to eternal torment.
If this makes sense to you, you are a Christian. It makes no sense to me, which is why I am not.
Anyone who has read the Old Testament realizes that God was quite a cantankerous guy back in those days. He regularly wiped out large numbers of people who upset him. (This despite the whole "free-will" argument that I often hear... as in, "God doesn't punish people in life because we have free-will.")
He also gave some absolutely bizarre laws. Laws that he later changed his mind on. Books like Leviticus 20 are chock-full of them. People have compiled longs lists of the injustices and intolerance dictated by God in the Old Testament.
After I got through all of that, and I finished scratching and shaking my head, a few more questions needed to be asked. Why did the all-knowing creator change his mind? If he is perfect and eternal, shouldn't he have made the correct laws in the first place? Why was he so cruel and unforgiving? Why did he once support slavery, but later oppose it? Why did he tell people to burn witches; did he not realize that there was no such thing as witches? Why did he once require lamb sacrifices after childbirth, but not any more?
To me the answer is simple: because the Bible was not written by an all-knowing creator, but rather by very primitive tribes of men who were simply putting into writing their primitive notions of justice and behavior, as well as their superstitions. And when viewed through those lenses, suddenly the whole Bible came into focus. Everything that once seemed mysterious and illogical suddenly made perfect sense.
When it comes to the topic of Jesus, there are two broad categories that make no sense to me, and have led to my non-belief in him as the son of God. These categories are "factual problems" and "logical inconsistencies".
When I look at the facts given in the Bible regarding Jesus, there are numerous things that give me pause. Here are just a few.
The Virgin Birth
Jesus is said to have been born from a virgin. My experience has taught me that women don't have babies without having first had intercourse.
If Mary is even a real person, I find it far more likely that she got pregnant through the usual method, but that it happened unexpectedly. Remember, she lived in a time when a woman could be stoned to death for such a transgression. What would you do in her place? What would anyone do?
Well, in her case, she came up with a story about how she was visited by an angel, and the angel told her that she was going to have the son of God. Absolutely ingenious... if you can get people to believe you.
Which brings up the next question: how did she ever get anyone to believe her? Imagine if someone came to you today and gave you that story. You'd laugh and think they were either lying or crazy, or both. Even if it were absolutely true, you would never believe her.
Jesus is said to have done many miracles: he healed people with incurable diseases, he turned water into wine, he fed a large crowd with a few loaves of bread, and he walked on water, among just a few.
My experience has taught me that people can't do this. And I'm sorry, but a 2000 year old book is not nearly enough to convince me of such acts. Especially one that so frequently takes departures from reality. I don't believe that Noah, Adam and Eve, or the Book of Revelation are factual; why would I be any more likely to believe that the stories of Jesus are factual?
Think of it this way: Imagine if there really WAS such a person, someone who claimed to be the son of God, and who had all sorts of seemingly magical powers. Why is it that no one took much notice? Even back in the days when they didn't have satellite news networks and cell phones, I find it hard to believe that such a thing would have gone unnoticed. And yet it did. In fact, the earliest writings that we have of Jesus weren't created until 20-40 years until after he lived. Kind of strange, I think.
This sounds more like how a legend is created. Stories are passed down through the years, each time being slightly more embellished. By the time someone writes it down 40 years later, all of a sudden the guy can walk on water.
The Uncanny Resemblances to Other Religions
This is one that surprisingly few Christians are aware of. Or maybe it's not surprising, since it is certainly not going to be taught within any modern church.
Many of the stories of Jesus' birth, life, and death, bear striking resemblances to earlier religions. So strikingly, in fact, that it appears that early Christianity was merely created by combining together many of these stories into one cohesive whole.
I have read several-hundred page books on the subject, and I'm not about to repeat all the information here. But the information is readily available for anyone who wants to look for it. Here are just a couple of links; Google can provide many more.
- Historical Jesus or Jesus Myth: The Jesus Puzzle
- Did Jesus Exist? All Sides to the Question.
- Did a Historical Jesus Exist?
I've never met a Christian who gave any serious consideration to any of this information. They would prefer to ignore facts that contradict their faith.
Logically, I can't make the whole concept work in my mind.
Why did God need to go through all this trouble? The whole thing makes no sense. If he wanted to forgive us our sins, why not just do it! Why go through all the trouble of impregnating a virgin, placing yourself in her belly, and having her give birth to you... then pretending that you are your own son. Then going through an entire lifetime, only 30 years into it to start preaching to small groups of people. Then eventually allow yourself to be killed...and asking during the process why you have forsaken yourself?
Wouldn't it have been much more efficient just to write some big message in fiery letters in the sky that everyone could see: "I forgive you. Now stop screwing around."
An infinite god with infinite powers should have been able to come up with any number of better and more efficient ways to get his message across. I'm a finite being with a very limited imagination, and even I could probably think up several dozen in a span of a few minutes.
How I really View Jesus
Whether the story of Jesus was based on an actual historical figure, or whether it was cobbled together from many different sources, is largely irrelevant to me. In either case, I don't believe he was the son of the creator of the universe. All of the evidence points to him and his story being more legend than reality.
And then... he was gone. It's been 2000 years now. Paul and other New Testament writers clearly thought that Jesus was going to be returning soon, probably in their lifetimes, prior to the end of the first century. I think it is now safe to assume that something isn't right.
God used to show up all the time in the Old Testament, and perform all sorts of miracles. Why no more?
You don't have to answer that; it's more of a rhetorical question. Just something to ponder.
Hopefully this gives enough of an insight into the mind of an atheist to sufficiently answer the question "Why don't you believe in the Christian God?"
To be honest, this doesn't really even scratch the surface. I could fill whole volumes, but that would be kind of pointless and boring. (And in fact, others have already beaten me to the punch, and I don't feel the need to reinvent the wheel.)
Hopefully now you can see that disbelief is not just willful or blissful ignorance. It isn't because I haven't heard of Christ's offer of salvation. It isn't because I want to live a life without morals, or I don't want to be held accountable to God.
It's simply that everything about Christianity, to me, makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
As I said in the opening, I find it interesting that Christians feel exactly the same way about every other religion. In fact, they come to this decision about other religions sometimes without knowing the first thing about them, or maybe just a few simple facts. And yet they are unable to turn the same critical on eye on their own beliefs. Hmmmm.