The difference between atheism and faith

I had a discussion today on Google+ (yes, there are people using it) about the existence of hell and why atheists would choose to go there. Apparently the argument “I don’t believe in hell” didn’t go down too well because the response was along the lines of “You don’t believe in hell because you don’t like it.”

My opponent in the discussion had a pretty interesting analogy. He tried to argue that you can’t make things go away by not believing in them, for instance you can’t make poverty disappear by believing it doesn’t exist, nor can you make cancer disappear that way. Of course this analogy breaks down when you examine the evidence supporting poverty, cancer and hell. Two out of these three have (unfortunately) plenty of evidence supporting their existence. I tried to explain that while I didn’t like the concept of hell, it has little to do with me believing in it or not. I don’t like cancer either but I certainly believe it is real. I don’t believe in hell because there is no evidence for there being a hell and that is why I reject that such a place exists. In fact, if someone could bring up evidence that would prove the existence of hell or even make the existence of hell plausible, I would change my standpoint. Since no such evidence exists and is unlikely to be forthcoming any time soon, I stick with my standpoint of not believing in it.

Not only is it very easy to make imaginary things go away by not believing in them, I say it is absolutely essential that we cease to believe in imaginary things, whether they be goblins, tooth fairies, Santa Claus or any of the hundreds of deities that mankind has invented in the course of its history. Believing in imaginary things is something that belongs to our infancy, both as individuals and as a species. Since the infancy of our species, we’ve learned so much more about the natural world than our ancestors knew thousands of years ago, it is high time we reject their explanations of the observable universe and embrace the ones we have today, based on modern research, equipment and understanding.

This is where the very core of atheism is found, for me at least. Atheists reject believing in things for which there is no reliable evidence, whereas faith is accepting things as true despite there being no reliable evidence or even despite evidence to the contrary. It’s hard to understand why people of faith find this so difficult to grasp. After all, most people are comfortable being “abigfootists”, in the sense that they don’t believe such a creature as Bigfoot exists. Or, to bring it closer to faith, most people are perfectly happy being “azeusists”, rejecting the belief in Zeus. When questioned about this, most people will answer that they don’t believe in either because they are not real. So how do we know that Bigfoot or Zeus aren’t real? Easy. Both lack reliable evidence so their existence should be rejected.

Ironically, there is more evidence suggesting the existence of Bigfoot than there is any evidence suggesting the existence of hell. There are no blurry, shaky videos of hell. There are no eyewitness accounts of hell. All we have to go on where hell is concerned, are writings of some two thousand years old and the sadistic fantasies of church fathers who imagined the torments of hell and seemingly relished in describing them in great detail to trembling believers. Fortunately, since there is not a shred of evidence of any of it being true, it can be comfortably dismissed as fantasy.

Atheists do not choose to go to hell. We don’t believe there is one.