'Why are you so mad at him?'
'What did he ever do to hurt you?'
These are the kinds of questions that I have heard a lot from Christians, especially over the last few weeks as the Stephen Fry video about what he would do if he met God played out in mainstream media. If you haven't seen it you can watch it here, he is unapologetic about how evil, stupid and capricious that god would be. The facial responses from the interviewer are priceless. He clearly was completely taken aback. But we atheists weren't, we have seen it many times before from the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, Matt Dillahunty, Greta Christina and many, many more. The tirade that says that surely if a god exists he would be an evil, capricious tyrant rather than the benevolent, all caring, protective, merciful god that so many Christians have in their minds when they think about their lord and saviour.
Most of us non believers have at some point given our own version of this argument, commonly referred to as the 'problem of evil'. We use it to justify why we don't subscribe to the god that they seem to quite willingly put all their trust in. There are very few believers I have talked to who don't admit that the 'problem of evil' presents a challenge to their faith. They usually put it down to God and his 'mysterious ways'. Deep down, I think they see it as an unsatisfactory answer. It certainly felt like a weak response to me when I was a Christian. However, the 'mystery' challenge didn't knock my faith down back then, as I reflected on how often great triumph can emerge from tragedy, and that there's plenty of opportunity to make delicious lemonade from the limes and lemons that life throws at us.
I imagine that this is the way that most of my religious brothers and sisters still think today. So, when they hear rants that the likes of Stephen Fry throw up, they hear a person who is just not willing to try to make the best of the world he has been given. Doing the easier thing of sitting back and blaming someone else for the shit, rather than getting up and trying to help ease the pain as it happens. When words like evil, bully and tyrant are used. The believers cringe, wondering what on earth could cause those that claim to not care or believe in a creator god, hate him so much.
As one of the persons who commented on an extended conversation on my Facebook page told me,
"How can Stephen Fry say all those bad things about a person whom he has not ever met."
The power of the hypothetical: IF changes everything
What Christians seem to miss every time they chide us for being upset with God, is the impact of that simple two letter word, 'IF'.
A small word that signifies a BIG hypothetical.
IF I won a million dollars
IF the moon were made of cheese
IF men could become pregnant
IF I were a squirrel in a tree.
IF there was a God.
In the 'non God' examples, nobody ever makes the mistake of thinking that the speaker actually believes that what is being hypothesized is true. However, when it comes to god, many Christians just don't hear the 'IF'.
They hear "God is evil".
When what is actually being said by atheists is,
"If there was a God existing in the world, that god would be evil".
These are obviously two completely different statements.
I think that a big part that plays into this problem is many believers' inability to hypothesize in the way that atheists do. Atheists do not believe in god, but every atheist I have met has been capable of imagining what a world with a god in it might look like. We can conceive of different gods in the universe and imagine the implication of each of these god's actions or character. Much in the same way that we can imagine a super hero, give him or her fictional powers and imagine what the person may do in a particular scenario that we conjure up in our minds.
But for some reason, this power to hypothesize seems to be very difficult if not impossible for the majority of believers, even for believers that claim they were once atheists. They just seem incapable of imagining a world without a god. I have met some who feel that even putting that thought in their head for a split second would be a severe insult to the god they serve. Since they can't make that theological leap into the hypothetical, they assume we also can't.
So, whenever we mention anything about a god, they believe that we actually believe in that god. Any slander against his character is a slander against a real entity. Blasphemy for them is not a victimless crime. But their god is safe, because even if he exists, we atheists have never seen him, so we certainly won't be able to find him to hurt, maim or kill him.
One of the things that is troubling about this widespread notion that atheists hate god, is that it demonstrates a barrier to many believers' ability to empathise with us. In all aspects of life one of the most important things to be able to do is to show empathy. Through being able to imagine what it would be like to be the other person we are speaking to, we are more easily able to relate and provide the right response, or engage in the behaviour that is more likely to help that person.
It's not always easy to be able to fully empathize with a person or concept foreign to us, but I think we have an obligation to try, so that we can bridge the gap a bit. I can imagine what it might be like to be white, gay, a woman, an elderly person, a professional athlete, a starving infant or a middle aged man diagnosed with a terminal illness. Doesn't mean that I immediately can become an expert on those things by just thinking about it, but I can often come to an understanding or at least learn to ask the right questions when I think of something that I really can't get my head around.
By imagining what it is like to be gay doesn't mean I will suddenly start being attracted to men, thinking of being a woman isn't going to make me start ovulating overnight and imagining what I might be like to be laden with a terminal illness isn't going to cut my life expectancy in half.
However, when I talk to theists and ask them to imagine what it might be like to be an atheist like me, there are often unable to do it. They say that the idea is just too far 'out there'. But why should that be a problem? I can imagine myself being a lot of things that are 'out there'. I can imagine I am an alien living on another planet coming down to investigate and probe humans. Why can I do that and my theists friends not make the relatively tiny intellectual leap to imagine what it would be like to not believe in god like me? Why can't they walk in my shoes for a block or two? I am not telling them they have to keep the shoes on for life. Just a brief walk around to see whether or not the shoes are super comfortable or pinch around the toes.
The fact that most of them can't do that is telling. And I think that is a definite indication that the indoctrination and brain washing is deep. People's minds have been so closed off, that they can't become an atheist even for the sake of argument. It's unfortunate, because that creates a barrier to understanding our position. It explains why we so often get questions from them during our discussions that just don't make sense. Why they are often talking to straw men rather than talking to us.
It's the reason why they can't see the absurdity of using the bible to prove the bible.
It's the reason why they don't see that it's ridiculous to try to convince an atheist to have faith by telling her that without faith it is impossible to please god.
It's why they can only see our non belief in god as a denial of a god that we know in our heart is true.
The fact is that the best most believers can do when talking to us is put themselves in the position of a believer pretending to be an atheist. That's are far as their powers of hypothetical thinking can take them on this topic. So the questions we get are the questions they would pose to a person who believes like them but is trying to convince themselves that they actually believe the opposite.
It would be like if a man tried to understand a woman by assuming that the woman he was speaking with was actually a man like him, only trying to believe that she was of a different gender.
With this in mind I came up with an example of such a HYPOTHETICAL interview between Simon (a confused man) and Jenny, a self proclaimed woman in a HYPOTHETICAL world where the prevailing view is that gender differences are a myth and that all humans are either men or people who try to deny that they are men. I call this fictional interview 'Why do 'women' hide their penises?'
Why do 'women' hide their penises?: The Hypothetical Interview
Confused Man (CM): I am confused. What made you decide that you are a woman? Could you please explain? Why do you go around trying to deny that you have a penis ? Why do you self proclaimed women spend your whole lives trying to hide your penises? It just doesn't make sense to me.
Self Proclaimed Woman (SPW) : It's pretty simple really. From the time I was a kid I was told by my parents and everybody around me that I had a penis. I just accepted it to be true, even though I never saw evidence for the existence of such an organ on my body. For years and years I kept looking and looking, waiting for a penis to show up on my anatomy as promised, but it never did. One day I just came to the conclusion that I really didn't have a penis. It was hard at first, but I thought it was important to embrace the reality that it wasn't there. Ever since that day I have identified as a woman.
CM: So, just because you looked and haven't found a penis yet, you came to the conclusion that there is no penis on your body? Did you really look hard enough? Can you honestly say that you have searched every millimetre of your body? When was the last time that you did a complete body search? How do you know it didn't become visible a minute ago? There are some parts of your body that your eyes can't see. There are some parts of your body that your hand can't reach. How do you know that your penis isn't located in one of these out-of-the-way crevices? The way I see it, you can't prove with absolute certainty that you don't have a penis.
SPW: That may be so, but I think it is very unlikely that my penis is located in one of those out-of-the-way places. I would need some strong evidence to believe that my penis is any of those locations. I have no reason to believe it would be and without any evidence pointing to that possibility, the most reasonable conclusion for me to come to, is that it's not there. Why is it so hard for you to accept that I am really not a man?
CM: This may come across as harsh, but I honestly don't believe in the existence of women. There are only people who claim to be women. Men who choose to deny their manhood or who have been deceived by 'the enemy' to believe that their manhood isn't there. The book of peneology makes it clear to all mankind. There is no such think as gender. Our Lord Testiculus has placed the mark of the penis on every human body.
SPW: Peneology is a myth. The reality of gender that we see all around us clearly shows that the words of Testiculus are false. I don't set my beliefs according to that ancient book, science has long since proven those old beliefs about a genderless universe false.
CM: (Gasp) Are you telling me you deny the words of Testiculus? You really have to have some balls to do that.
SPW: Yes, of course I don't believe in Testiculus. Read any book about chromosomes and reproductive organs and you would see the truth too.
CM: Oh my God! You're a genderologist! Do you really believe that propaganda that you came from a mutation? Those liberal universities really brainwash you young people. Sadly, you have been taken in by the religion of embryology.
SPW: It's not propaganda it's scientific fact! Based on evidence!
CM: Ok, I can see you're very set in your views. Even if Testiculus came down from the heavens now and showed you his holy appendages you wouldn't change your mind. Let's move on.
Have you ever found anything on your body that you even once thought might have been a penis? You can't tell me that there isn't at least one time in your life that you felt something that might have been that hidden organ.
SPW: Well there was one time that I was exploring my body and I came across something that for a moment made me think I might have one.
CM: I knew it! You do believe! Deep down inside you know your penis is there!
SPW: No, I did some investigating and deep down inside me, what I was feeling was my clitoris. It wasn't a penis. It was too small to be that.
CM: A clitoris? Are you sure?
CM: No. What you felt was a penis. I am sure. You said it was too small to be a penis. But that's a mistake that many of you self proclaimed women make. You see pictures of penises in magazines or porn sites that show all penises as large and long. So you start to look for penises that look like that. But that was your error, you were looking for the wrong type of penis.You didn't find a penis that looked like the ones you were exposed to in popular media, so you assumed that no penis existed on your body. Just because you didn't find THAT penis on your body doesn't mean that ALL penises are absent from your body.
SFW: That's ridiculous, the clitoris is inside my vagina. It's a totally different from the penis.
CM: You and your genderology indoctrination again. Why are you so keen to hide your penis? I don't get it. Whatever the evidence you find, you always go out of your way to seek out the non peneological explanation.
SFW: But peneology has nothing to support it except for ancient writings. Surely the logical thing to do is to go with the explanation and descriptions found through science. It's not like I am making a predetermined decision to deny peneology or the fact that I have a penis. If I found a penis on my body tomorrow I won't deny its existence,
CM: Really? That's interesting because I still don't think you have done all you could have to find that penis. I mean, have you ever got down on your knees and begged the Lord Testiculus to reveal your penis to you? I urge you to try it. Try Testiculus, you won't be disappointed.
SPW: No, I am not going to do that.
CM: Why not?
SPW: Because I don't believe in Testiculus. If my penis is there, there should be some good evidence for it. Why should I have to beg Testiculus to reveal to me a penis that he has already supposedly bestowed on me openly? It just doesn't make sense.
CM: Let me explain. Testiculus has given you free will, but you have used that free will to turn away from him and reject belief in all possible penises, you have indeed become an a-prostate. This a-prostatecy has blinded you so much that you are now unfortunately unable to see your penis in all its glory.
Anyway, let's move on to my other questions. Without a penis how does your life have worth? How do you find pleasure?
SPW: Believe me, I can find pleasure in more ways than you could ever dream of.
CM: Nonsense, I know what my penis does for me! I know from personal experience that having a penis is great! It's got me through so many hard times. Do you want me to tell you about all the occasions when my penis has given me ............
SPW: No, it's fine. I don't need all the details. I get the point. Your penis is important to your life, I would never try to take that away from you. I am not saying that you don't have one, I am just saying that I don't have one but I am absolutely fine.
CM: I still find that very difficult to believe. It's not just about pleasure. I mean, without a
penis where does your sense of urination come from?
SPW: Again I can tell you, I don't need a penis for that. I know it's really difficult for you to understand, but we women can do all the things you men do and we don't need your organ to do it. You really don't need a penis to pee.
CM: I am telling you, it's just because you haven't found your penis yet. Once you find it your life will be transformed immediately, I guarantee it. Thousands of testimonies from people all over the world speak to the might of Testiculus and the transformational power of the penis.
But moving on. I must at least give you a compliment. I can see you have a considerable amount of courage about your conviction and you are more than capable of standing up for your beliefs.
SPW: Well thank you sir! * statement made dripping with obvious sarcasm which nonetheless is completely missed by confused man*
CM: In fact I am sure many would say you have testicular fortitude.
SPW: Of course.
CM: And tell me how can you have testicular fortitude if you have no penis or testicles! Ha! Checkmate genderologist!
SPW: That's just an idiomatic expression. Doesn't speak to anything in reality. It's like how I might say, " Oh my God!"
CW: Oh my God? How dear you take our Lord' s name in vain. I just hope Testiculus is merciful to you when it comes to the day of judgement.
SPW: That sounds like a veiled threat.
CW: No it's not. I just love you and don't want you to suffer due to your choice to deny that you have a penis.
SPW: For the final time. I am telling you. I do not have a penis! Don't have one, never had one, never will. And in spite of not having one I have a healthy, happy and contented life and there are billions in the world like me. We have purpose without a penis!
CM: I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. There is just no getting around your non-peneological worldview. It's quite sad really. Maybe one day Testiculus will reveal to me why you are the way you are. Then I may be able to answer this big question that has baffled mankind for centuries. Why do 'women' hide their penises?
(End of Interview)
Now, if you found that hypothetical interview absurd, silly or ridiculous, you now understand how it sounds when people ask us atheists why we vehemently deny the existence of a god, that we know deep within our hearts is real.