For reasons of my own, I thought I would put this post together to as an answer that I can direct people to when they ask me about my religion (or lack thereof).
I grew up in the United Church of Christ (UCC), which is one of the more liberal denominations of Protestantism in the United States. Check their website out — they supported healthcare reform, Racial equality, LBGT equality, disaster relief, environmental issues, and people in need. These are all good things — culturally and politically they are issues that I agree with.
My wife is also Greek Orthodox, having grown up with the Church of Cyprus. For her too however, the cultural attachment runs deeper than anything else.
So… Why am I not a Christian?
I simply don’t believe that the basic tenets of Christianity are consistent with reality. That is, even though many Christians argue the NOMA position, you still must concede that a reality including the Christian god Jehovah would be different from a reality with another god instead, or with no god at all. Instead, I find the argument of a cognitive basis for the false perception of gods to be much more persuasive (Agency and Theory of Mind).
Moreover, we can examine the basic affirmations of Christianity to see why I am not a Christian. I’ll go to the most central of Christianity’s affirmations: The Apostle’s Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Let’s deconstruct that.
“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.“
No, I don’t. I don’t believe in gods of the river, the harvest, the sun, the rain, or of war. Nor do I believe in “fatherly” gods.
Cosmologists actually have a pretty good argument that the solar system (and hence, the earth) formed and evolved sans a “creator.” And astronomers have actually seen stars (collectively, what were referred to as the heavens in antiquity) forming, in nebulae.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
I’m sure someone named Jesus lived around 2,000 years ago. In fact that was probably not so uncommon a name, from what I understand about Aramaic and the culture in Palestine in that era. But the son of a god? No, not in any literal sense, any more than some guy named Hercules was literally the son of a god called Zeus.
“who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,“
Is that something like a benevolent incubus?
“born of the Virgin Mary,“
“suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;“
Some guy 2,000 years ago was roughed up a bit (okay a lot). That seems fairly common then. So yeah, this part isn’t so unbelievable.
“he descended to the dead.“
With the “spirit” leaving the body, as in mind-body duality? That contradicts everything we know about the mind and brain. Not to mention that dualism implies a credulous belief in the principles of psychic mediums, the reports of the paranormal, and spooky ghost stories.
“On the third day he rose again;“
He became the undead? Sorry, I don’t believe in zombies or vampires either. Or maybe this means that someone wasn’t quite dead in the first place?
“he ascended into heaven,“
Again with the “spirit” leaving the body? To go to space?
“he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.“
You have to remember, when they say heaven, they thought that the place up high where the stars are was a really tiny place, only the size of the earth itself (just on top of it). Kinda silly, unless maybe if you’re talking about an astronaut ascending to the International Space Station. But I’m not sure that there’s a fatherly god-like entity in the ISS, nor that the ISS is what is meant by heaven in the Apostles’ Creed, nor that anyone up there has power over life and death, nor any authority to judge.
And the rest is just a bunch of platitudes about believing in a spirit (or ghost), the church, people given the title ‘saints,’ forgiveness, resurrection of the body (zombies again?), and immorality. Not as silly, as it’s trivial to say that one believes that organized religion exists, or that people have in the past been given the title ‘saint,’ but still pretty silly.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it sounded a lot less ridiculous 2,000 years ago (not to mention less counter-factual), when the world was considered flat, the stars and planets all revolved around the earth, astrology held wide credence, people believed in magic, and so on. Today however, we know quite a bit more, even if we’re still learning. We know the earth is just another planet. We know the cosmos is a vast place, vast beyond reckoning. We have telescopes that can see quite a bit about how the universe is arranged and appears to operate; we have microscopes and other tools that can see quite a bit about how conception, life, and death occur; we know that perceptions of spirits, gods, and other visions are caused by altered mental states. And we know that we occupy a very insignificant speck of space in this universe, that we’ve done so for a very insignificant period of time, and that the universe will continue on just fine without us if we cease to be. That’s not nihilism, that’s just the facts as we know them, and there’s no reason to be upset about it.
But okay, the Apostles’ Creed can be accepted as a metaphor. Kinda. Sorta. If you really stretch the meanings of every word there. A metaphor for what though? I’ve never been able to figure out what it could be a metaphor for.
That’s why I’m not a Christian – the central beliefs of Christianity (as affirmed in The Apostle’s Creed) are contrary to everything we know today about reality.
What do I believe in, you ask, regarding the eternal search for the answer to the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything? 42.
Okay, that was a joke. But seriously though – I can say succinctly that I believe in a reality-based worldview, updating assumptions when confronted by new data that contradicts previously-held beliefs. But that’s pretty vague. The best articulated response I’ve yet heard was via P.Z. Myers, and has been called “An Atheist’s Creed”:
I believe in time,
matter, and energy,
which make up the whole of the world.
I believe in reason, evidence and the human mind,
the only tools we have;
they are the product of natural forces
in a majestic but impersonal universe,
grander and richer than we can imagine,
a source of endless opportunities for discovery.
I believe in the power of doubt;
I do not seek out reassurances,
but embrace the question,
and strive to challenge my own beliefs.
I accept human mortality.
We have but one life,
brief and full of struggle,
leavened with love and community,
learning and exploration,
beauty and the creation of
new life, new art, and new ideas.
I rejoice in this life that I have,
and in the grandeur of a world that preceded me,
and an earth that will abide without me.
That’s more like it. It’s rooted in reality, existential but not nihilist, skeptical but embracing, emotional yet honest, among other things.