Why Choose not to Believe?

The question ‘why do people choose atheism?’ was put forward by Does God Exist Today?, and I thought it may be an interesting post to address. The post, written by one Robert Earnst, offers some interesting material to discuss.

I think it is safe to say that some choose atheism because they don’t want to follow the moral standards of Christianity. By rejecting God, they can reject His moral standards without pangs of conscience. Living immorally becomes easier when we can pretend that there is no higher authority who sets standards of moral conduct. According to Pew Research, less than half (42%) of Americans believe that it is necessary to believe in God to have good moral values. But that is much higher than in France, where only 15% think that belief in God is essential for good morals. Interestingly, in some Muslim-dominated countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia, 98% to 99% say that a person must believe in God to be moral.

Is morality the exclusive dominion of the religious? Is a belief in a deity a must if one is to lead a moral life? Are the moral standards of God ones worth following?

If we look at this from a Christian perspective (since Mr Earnst appears to be Christian, based on his post), then I will refer to a previous post of mine: Religion, History, Violence and Hitler. Back then, I confronted the idea that atheists lack morality:

A History of Bloodshed

SoM argued that atheists lack morality, for atheism is responsible for more deaths than any other form of ideology. He cited Stalin as an example. SoM would not be the first person to conflate atheism and communism, and therefore incorrectly blame atheism for Stalin’s murderous regime. His motive was to suggest that atheism is amoral, or even immoral. ‘Stalin was an atheist, Stalin was evil, therefore all atheists are evil’. SoM also sought to point out that Stalin and Heck -Mao (a follower of Marxist and communist ideals) proved atheism is more violent, by virtue of a greater death toll than religious ideology. Therefore, not only did he falsely equate atheism with communism to make atheists look bad, he proved ignorant of several important factors.

During the era of the Crusades (furious wars of religious ideology, between Christians and Muslims, pagans, and even other Christians), the weapons of war were nowhere near as sophisticated or powerful. There was a smaller population, and they lived in smaller cities and rural areas. It stands to reason that a holy war, waged with the weaponry of a modern military, among today’s densely-populated urban and suburban cities and towns, it would be as devastating as any major war. SoM ignored this, and ignored the point about the Crusades.


This is digressing, but it is important to establish that Christianity cannot claim superior moral standards to anything else. In fact, the moral standards displayed by God might well be a factor behind why so many people are turning away from Christianity…

Biblical Commands for Bloodshed

Christianity has a long and violent history (it’s not the only religion in this boat, but Christianity quickly became the central point of discussions in SoM’s post). Is this violence because of, or in spite of, what the Bible contains?

The Old Testament is filled with violent commands from God. The Bible is often held as the inerrant Word of God, and to some Christians, is to be taken literally as well. We are often told that we cannot judge God by human standards of morality. Is that because so many people would reject the ‘morality’ on display in passages like this, if read in isolation? Imagine you did not know of God, and for all you knew, the following were said by a human being:

1 Samuel 15:2-3 – This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy[a] all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

If we heard Numbers 18:2-3, and thought it were another human being who had spoke, what would we think? Bring your fellow Levites from your ancestral tribe to join you and assist you when you and your sons minister before the Tent of the Testimony. They are to be responsible to you and are to perform all the duties of the Tent, but they must not go near the furnishings of the sanctuary or the altar, or both they and you will die.

What would you think if you heard Isaiah 13:15-16 in isolation? This appears to relate to the treatment of prisoners of war. Whoever is captured will be thrust through; all who are caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives ravished.

Numbers 31:14-18: Moses was angry with the officers of the army–the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds–who returned from the battle. “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.


These are but some of the commands that God ordered in the Old Testament, and it would not take long to expand that list. Again I must wonder, if someone heard those commands coming from a human being, would they accept them, or baulk at the brutality?

It is no small wonder that with greater awareness of the savage instructions of the OT (to say nothing of the conduct of supposedly pious Christians in various public arenas), people are not so inclined to regard the Christian life as morally superior.

Atheists not only refuse to believe in God, but they also think that faith is a negative factor in society. In the U.S., 71% of atheists say that the decline in religious influence in public life is a good thing. About the same amount (70%) say that churches and other religious institutions do more harm than good. They overlook how many hospitals, orphanages, and charitable organizations have been founded and are supported by Christians. Many Western European countries, such as Belgium, France, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, have high rates of atheism (14-16%). That contrasts with the percentage of atheists in many Eastern European countries, including Romania, Ukraine, Bosnia, Poland, and Lithuania (1-2%). Even in Russia, only 4% of the population claims atheism. Could that be because the people of those countries lived for years under atheism, and they understand its consequences?

Does Mr Earnst think no atheist has ever contributed to charities, or the construction of hospitals?

As to the percentages, here we see (yet again) that classic conflation of atheism and communism. The two are not one and the same, yet opponents of atheism repeatedly use the terms interchangeably. Communism is a political system, and atheism is merely the absence of belief in deities.

Would this reasoning be considered fair if it were applied in the opposite direction? Churches in the USA rather infamously do not pay tax. Individuals can be exemption from taxation on religious grounds. Many of these organisations speak of charity, yet their followers (who are often closely aligned to the conservative political right) are not interested in taking steps to address the tremendous financial inequality that has come to characterise America. The slightest suggestion of a better minimum wage leads to intense hand-wringing, ironically from people who speak of charity. It is often the religious right that claim to be pro-life, yet show absolutely zero interest in doing anything for the quality of people’s lives. When these forces conspire to maintain the status quo (which helps no one beyond those who, like Churches, horde wealth), is it any wonder that more and more people turn their backs on that system?

In the end, might the argument for why more and more people are choosing not to believe be found in the less-than grand examples set by the religious right?

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