What do atheists believe?

As a believer, you likely believe that God exercises control over events, and causes or allows things to happen as He sees fit. Thus, in some situations, you fail to intervene, because you believe that God will take care of things.

You believe that there is a spiritual reason and purpose behind every event. Thus, no matter how bad a situation is, there must be an upside to it, because God ordained its occurrence. This leads you to downplay the negative aspects, and overemphasise the positive aspects, of any situation, no matter how dire.

In this section, we'll examine what a non-believer might say about each of the following:
  1. What is real- God? The Spirit? The mind?

  2. How does religion help us?

  3. How does it hurt us?

  4. How can we overcome the negative effects and obtain only the good?

What is real- God? The spirit? The mind?
There is, in fact, no external deity, separable from our physical environment, who makes matter move and atoms interact.

People greatly underestimate the occurrence of coincidences, due to the strong tendency of the human mind to seek patterns and look for causes and effects in our environment.

When believers gather in prayer and raise up cries to God to ask Him for help, or to intervene on behalf of those in distress, none of the events that follow are a result of the actions or interventions of a god.

Rather, they occur as a result of the circumstances and forces that precede the events, in the absence of any supernatural causes. Any beneficial effects that are observed after prayers and pleas have been offered can be explained by a variety of reasons, none of which require the existence of an omniscient god. Coincidence is a common explanation.

The power of suggestion, which comes into force as you pray, is enough to influence people’s attitudes and actions. Believers are then psychologically motivated to bring about certain events, just as placebo effects exert considerable influence over patients’ beliefs, and tangibly affect numerous aspects of their body and health.

Although some of the time and energy spent in prayer was productive, for the reasons mentioned, the rest was wasted, and could have been spent far more usefully. Prayer and supplication is only useful to the extent that it elicits productive activity from those who engage in it.

Beliefs that certain consequences will result solely from the exertions of a god who takes care of the problem, in the absence of human (or animal) endeavour, are unfortunately mistaken.

How does religion help us?
Believers are often encouraged to spend time worshipping God, marvelling at His glory, and appreciating His blessings. Numerous and substantial benefits can be derived from these activities.

However, as described in the sections on Prayer, Community, Forgiveness, Tithing, and Rituals, these beneficial effects can also be obtained in the absence of religious beliefs, through other means. They occur in the lives of believers and non-believers alike, and can be explained without making the assumption that God exists.

As long as people think that it is God, rather than the activities themselves that are being carried out, or the people involved, who is responsible for producing the benefits of worship, then an extraneous, non-existent factor is being added to the chain of causation.

Instead of recognising, for example, that the soaring music and ritualistic movements engaged by worshippers are directly affecting their emotions and physical sensations, people believe that the experiences they undergo arise purely from unknown factors, external to their own minds and bodies.

Many people do not fully grasp that the human mind is an integral part of the body, that the brain is continuous with every other body part, and not separate from the rest. Our consciousness, our thoughts, our emotions, our rationale- all result from the activity of neurons, proteins, and molecules, in the brain, interacting with cells and chemicals in other parts of the body.

A key reason why it seems difficult for many people to understand this is that our bodies, especially our brains, are extremely complex, and it takes time and effort to understand their components and study the mechanisms that allow them to function.

Once a certain level of understanding is reached, however, then it is readily apparent that these physical processes occur without the need for spiritual invocations, and the entities that we refer to as the soul, the mind, the spirit, and so on, are all concepts generated naturally by parts of our brain.

The insertion of a conception of God to explain events is unnecessary, and adds confusion and cloudiness when we should be trying to understand the workings of our bodies and our circumstances in as clear a manner as possible.

People memorise hymns, chant verses, summon spirits, and devote their attention to all kinds of extraneous activities, when they could be taking other, more direct and effective steps to enjoy the benefits obtained during worship. Evoking the presence of a god is inefficient and unnecessary when one understands how these effects come about.

How may religion hurt us?
  • Sanctioning of harmful behaviour

    Belief that an event, no matter how regrettable, destructive, painful, or horrendous, can be justified by some means, allows people to carry it out, or, through inaction, allows it to be carried out by others.

    In the case of religious beliefs, one doesn't even need to provide a reason- one can simply justify an action by claiming that God’s will is behind it.

    In this way, great acts of cruelty are carried out, and people who are in a position to actively prevent them do not intervene. When followers believe that God will punish wrongdoers, and that victims will be protected, glorified, and avenged by their all-powerful deity, then human beings are absolved of a portion of their responsibility to stop evil from occurring.

  • Resources are squandered

    Instead of channelling all resources towards those in need of help, worshippers expend precious energy on activities such as prayer and evangelism. As mentioned before, such activities have their useful side effects, but are not strictly necessary.

    Many non-believers accomplish the same amount of good as believers do- without relying on spiritual beliefs, and without devoting part of their valuable resources to superfluous religious rituals.

  • Helplessness and perceived lack of control

    The belief that God is responsible for all events that unfold can promote feelings of helplessness, resentment, desperation, and hopelessness, during difficult times.

    During better times, this belief acts as a decoy, and prevents one from examining the factors that create and maintain a happy situation, in as much detail as would otherwise be possible.

  • Misunderstanding of causation

    Each time we ascribe effects to something non-existent, we are likely detracting credit from the places where, in reality, it is due.

    It prevents us from recognising the genuine reason behind both good and bad events, and evaluating the chain of causation. Instead of repeating the strategies that led to our achievements and learning from our mistakes, we imagine that God was responsible for all outcomes, and we do little to change our behaviour accordingly.

    Thus, we fail to learn from experience as quickly as we potentially could.

  • Exploitation of the faithful

    If unscrupulous individuals masquerade as God's ordained leaders, and their followers believe that their leaders are acting under God's orders, then these people have the power to do as they please.

    They are insulated from criticism and scrutiny, exert a disproportionately high degree of control over others, and receive undeserved benefits, such as accommodation, employees, financial benefits, fame, and recognition.
How can we overcome the negative effects of religion and obtain only the good?
There are many benefits to believing that God can take care of you, and that His decisions are ultimately made in your best interests, as well as those of the rest of humanity.

The problem arises when people attribute these benefits to a non-existent god, instead of recognising the underlying ways through which the holding of these beliefs aids us.

When people are not aware of the power that humans have, over our moods, mentalities, and actions, and instead ascribe the effectors of change to an external, uncontrollable source, then this potential is not being maximised.

The solution is to understand ourselves better- what motivates us, why we believe what we do, how our perceptions arise, how we are influenced by our surroundings, and how we affect our bodies through thought. (For more on the power of the mind, refer to the Mind and Body section.)

The better we understand ourselves, the more closely we can analyse our actions and adjust our behaviour. For instance, once we understand how religious rituals enhance our wellbeing and strengthen bonds within community, we can use these insights to do good for good's sake, instead of focusing on satisfying the dictates of an imaginary god.

The last thing we want to do is stagnate mentally, and abandon interest in learning.
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