Dealing With Life Without God

Aug 26, 2013

The recent posting of an interview “Showing God Does Not Exist,” attracted over 2,000 comments. So here’s a follow-up.

The 12 Unthinkable Horrors of Human Existence: A Manual for Atheists, Agnostics and Secular Humanists
By I.M. Probulos, Amazon Digital Services

Slightly edited and brought up to date on August 26, 2013.

Victor John Stenger, PhD, is an American particle physicist, outspoken atheist, and author, now active in philosophy and a popular religious skeptic.

As of August 2013 he has published twelve books for general audiences on physics, quantum mechanics, cosmology, philosophy, religion, atheism, and pseudoscience. His 2007 book God: The Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist was a New York Times bestseller. His latest book is God and the Atom.

Dr. Stenger popularized the phrase:

“Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.”

Dr. Stenger was gracious enough to answer the following questions:

1. What do you say to someone who comes to the realization that this is all there is, there is no personal God?

Stenger: Deal with it. It’s a fact of life. Look at the bright side. You no longer have to worry about eternal punishment. Your life is now your own, not governed by external forces except for those imposed by the fact that you are a physical being in a purely physical world.

2. If the physical world is all there in is this life, why bother living? What is the purpose of living? How do you give your life purpose?

Stenger: You live your life as it is and not rely on some imagined afterlife. One of the greatest evils of religion is how it aids those in power to keep the downtrodden in line by telling them they will get their reward in the next world. Seek fairness and justice in this life. Do not put off its enjoyments. You have love, work, pleasure, family, art, music, and science – much to make life worth living. Why should you need primitive superstitions from the Bronze Age to find purpose? I have a wife to whom I have been married for 50 years, two wonderful children, and four wonderful grandchildren. What more do I need? No one is the center of the universe. Religions, especially Christianity and Islam, feed off narcissism and self-centeredness. Buddhism, at least in its original form, emphasizes that the only path to peace of mind is through the elimination of the personal ego.

3. When a horrible tragedy strikes your life or someone you love, how do you console them without a belief in a deity or the afterlife?

Stenger: At least you know they are not in hell or purgatory! You grieve but get on with your own life. Again, it’s a fact of life that you have to deal with.

4. Why are you moral if you do not believe in absolute morality, and heaven and hell?

Stenger: Because I want to respect myself. Humans invented morality as a set of rules to live by in society. Religions have been the most immoral forces in human history. Just read the Bible if you want to see what immorality is all about; and that includes Jesus Christ, who supported slavery, rejected his family, and damns everyone who does not bow down to him to an eternity of torment.

5. If there is not a “reason for everything,” then how do you justify either good or bad things? How does or would this revelation impact your daily life?

Stenger: What revelation? There is no evidence for a reason for everything. Humanity is an accident of nature. We define what is good and bad based on our innate feelings and our need to get along with others in a peaceful world. The fact they we do not have a peaceful world is surely judged “bad” by anyone who is not a sociopath or psychopath. And they are brain diseases.

6. What do you say to those grieving without using the common religious clichés such as they are “now in a better place” or “I will pray for you”?

Stenger: Certainly, grieve by whatever means you wish. Believe what you want. It’s not for me to tell you what to believe. But if you ask me what I believe, I will gladly tell you.

7. What do you substitute for prayer? Research has shown that meditation or prayer has a beneficial effect. What would be a substitute?

Stenger: It’s all in the physical brain. Carefully controlled scientific experiments have demonstrated that the benefits of meditation do not require any supernatural assumptions, and that prayer has no special value other than whatever benefit arises from purely non-religious meditation.

8. If you find yourself in a horrible accident or you have a terminal illness, how do you deal with it, and what do you say to someone in the absence of faith?

Stenger: That’s life. Recognize that the world does not revolve around you and accept your fate. Replace thoughts of yourself with thoughts of your loved ones.

9. If you were trapped in a cave with no way out, and no hope of rescue, and certain death, what would say to yourself, and how would you deal with the situation in the absence of faith?

Stenger: Just take it as it is rather than fantasizing about a non-existent afterworld. Notice how all your questions focus on the assumption of self-centeredness. The trick is to recognize that you are not at the center of the universe. Meditation is supposed to rid you of your ego. To the extent that prayer is self-centered, it does not work.

10. Do have any unique insight or strategy for dealing for a natural world? Common examples would be an emphasis on physical health with daily workouts. Another would be altruistic works because they are the “right thing to do.”

Stenger: Nothing unique. Of course, you need to take care of your body and mind and care for others. Just don’t waste your time and money going to church.

11. What advice or specific statements or phrases do you have for your religious family, and friends, and neighbors?

Stenger: I don’t argue with them. But I don’t hide where I stand. They accept me as I am, and I do the same for them.

12. Do you believe evil exists? Why, and give an example.

Stenger: Evil is a human concept, and it applies to much unspeakable human behavior. That behavior does exist, and society has the right to prevent or punish it.