Are there Any Advantages to Being an Atheist?

Atheism vs. Theism

Question:
Are there any advantages to being an atheist over being a theist?

 

Response:
This is rather an odd question — shouldn’t the primary concern be with whether or not any gods really do exist? Shouldn’t the truth of this question be the focus of our attention, and not any personal advantage or disadvantage which we might get by taking one position or the other?

It is possible that that is the point of this question — perhaps the person asking it really means to be asking whether or not atheism has the “advantage” of being more likely true.

It is reasonable to say that it is more “advantageous” to hold a belief which is a more accurate description of reality than one which isn’t very accurate.

If that is what is being asked, then atheism does have an advantage over theism so long as theists are unable to provide good rational, logical and empirical reasons to believe that their god exists. In the absence of such support for their claims, theism is not reasonable — and, on the whole, reasonable beliefs have a better chance of being more accurate than unreasonable beliefs. There is no guarantee, but those are the types of beliefs most people tend to go with in most situations, and this one shouldn’t be treated differently.

Another way to look at it is that atheism has the same advantage that skepticism generally does. When we refrain from adopting beliefs and accepting claims which lack adequate support, it is less likely that we will be cheated, tricked, or made fools of.

It’s no guarantee, but it is a good method for maintaining intellectual and personal integrity and for preventing religious hucksters from taking advantage of us.

Sometimes, however, the theist asking the above question may have something different in mind. This question sounds quite a lot like something which would be asked by someone who uses Pascal’s Wager as a reason why people should believe in God.

According to this argument, believing in God is a “good bet” because even if no god exists, we haven’t lost anything — but if God does exist and we don’t believe, we’ll suffer eternally for our disbelief in the fires of hell.

This argument is seriously flawed and doesn’t work as a rational basis for belief. Because of this, a person asking the above question from that context is also not asking a reasonable question. The questioner is assuming that beliefs can be “chosen” based upon what we think will benefit us — and even if that were true, it isn’t clear that it is a good idea.

At any rate, I have explained how and why there can be advantages to atheism — but are there any disadvantages? Yes, there are absolutely disadvantages to atheism. Atheists have to contend with suspicion and mistrust on the part of many theists in society. Atheists often cannot reveal their disbelief to coworkers, neighbors, friends, or even family. Some atheists are effectively disowned by parents and siblings. Atheists experience discrimination and bigotry from a wide variety of people.

None of that, however, really qualifies as reasons not to be an atheist. Many Christians take pride in how members of their religion have experienced persecution while retaining their faith, so why not admire atheists who retain their intellectual honesty while suffering persecution due to their skeptical, disbelieving position with regards to God?