10 Questions for Every Atheist

The website Today Christian published a list of 10 questions that “atheists cannot truly and honestly really answer”. Here are my answers :).

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1. How did you become an atheist?

Having been taught to think critically, I started noticing contradictions and fallacies during my Religion class when I was very young; however, it was not until I had finished university that I decided to seriously consider the claims for the existence of God.

After several years of careful and very challenging reflection (and countless hours of discussion with a dear friend of mine who was going through the same process), I concluded that it is more likely that there is no God.

2. What happens when we die?

We simply cease to exist. I do not deny that the idea of an afterlife is seductive, but we must be careful not to indulge in wishful thinking, especially with subjects as important as this one.

3. What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

If after I die, I find myself face to face with God, I would humbly accept that I was wrong and accept the consequences. However, I would not for a moment feel ashamed for having doubted Him; after all, it would be my God-given reason that led me to that position. I fully agree with Jefferson when he said:

“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.”

4. Without God, where do you get your morality from?

My reason. Given my experience and having read about happiness, I strongly believe that a good life leads to a happy life. I try to be a good person so as to increase my happiness and that of the people around me.

5. If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape while good deeds are unrewarded?

I have not once wanted to murder or rape anyone, regardless of whether I believed in God. These are two separate issues, in my opinion. More importantly, we should not need punishment to refrain from doing evil, and we should not refrain from doing good because of a lack of reward. Having ulterior motives for preferring good over evil is not moral at all.

6. If there is no God, how does your life have any meaning?

Meaning is something we can create regardless of whether God exists. My life and my actions matter to me and to the people around me, and therefore they are meaningful to me and to them. In spite of being overall, as Tim Minchin would put it, insignificant lumps of carbon, our ephemeral passing through this world can have a great impact on, and be deeply meaningful to, many people.

7. Where did the universe come from?

We do not know yet and yes, we may never know. While this humble answer may be unsatisfactory for many, I prefer it over saying that God created it for two main reasons: first, we cannot falsify that hypothesis; and, second, it does not really address the underlying issue as we do not know where God came from either (or even if He actually exists).

8. What about miracles? What about all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

Extraordinary events happen more frequently than we think; what some people might consider a miracle might be (and usually is) perfectly well explained without appealing to the supernatural. On the other hand, countless alleged miracles and all sorts of supernatural phenomena have been disproved as we advance our understanding.

As for people’s claims, people make mistakes or intentionally deceive all the time. We should not conclude that something exists (God, angels, fairies, the Loch Ness Monster) simply because someone claims to have seen it. Whereas some of these claims might be worth taking a closer look at, they should only serve as the beginning of a proper investigation, not as sufficient evidence for the corresponding conclusion.

9. What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris?

I find Dawkins too abrasive and arrogant; his position seems to be that one is either an atheist or an idiot, a position which I do not share at all. The worst possible way to effectively communicate an idea is to offend or underestimate those who disagree.

I really like the so-called Hitchslap; i.e., the articulate way in which Hitchens neatly and mercilessly destroys a flawed argument or fallacy. I would really love to have met him or at least have attended one of his lectures or debates in person.

As for Harris, even though I do not agree with all of his ideas, I like that he is willing to tackle difficult subjects, such as that of free will or morality. I also like the easy-to-follow language he uses in his books.

10. If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

There are several social and psychological reasons why we, as a species, seem to be predisposed to believe in God, none of which are related to whether God actually exists. On the other hand, we should realize that a belief is not necessarily true simply because it is commonly held (e.g., at some point, most people believed the Earth was flat).

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Have you considered these questions yourself? What would your answers be?

Hekanibru

The Little Miracle

The Accident

When I was a year and a half old, I had a very serious accident. My aunt had boiled some water to make coffee and as she was walking towards the dining room, the glass pitcher started to crack in her hands. Not knowing what else to do, she threw the pitcher to the far side of the living room, which she thought to be empty. Alas, I was playing there behind the couch.

The water burned both my arms and my chest. Even though the burns were only of first and second degree, I was immediately admitted to the hospital given the percentage of the affected area. The months that followed were torturous for me and for my parents. Every day, after having been soaked for hours, nurses then proceeded to thoroughly disinfect and wash the wounds to remove any secretions. Unfortunately, given my age and the seriousness of my condition, it was not possible to use any kind of anesthetics. During the first weeks, I would implore the nurse to stop with the very few words I knew. I eventually stopped crying but I would grit my teeth as I looked at my parents with despair and anguish. On many occasions since then, with tears in their eyes, my parents have described to me their feeling of helplessness and grief at having to see me suffer like that.

During that time, my parents never left my side. They both asked for time off work so they could take turns and be with me 24 hours a day. They took it upon themselves to ensure the doctor’s orders were carried out to the letter. The type and amount of every food, liquid, and, of course, medicine that I was given was thoroughly verified. They corrected numerous potentially dangerous mistakes made by careless nurses. Even though my parents’ watchfulness caused some discomfort to the hospital staff, they increased their vigilance after a very unfortunate incident.

Misael was a three year old boy who had also suffered serious burns but was well on his way to recovery. One day, as a nurse was getting ready to disinfect my wounds, Misael’s mother said her son should go first, as he had been soaking longer. My mother agreed amicably, thereby inadvertently saving my life. Shortly after the nurse had started disinfecting Misael’s wounds, he began to choke and his skin turned purple. To the horror of his mother, he started convulsing and died. The nurse had forgotten to dilute the powerful iodine-based disinfectant.

Under my parents’ intensified vigilance, I began to recover. Sadly, in spite of the precautions taken to maintain a sterile environment, I contracted chickenpox and my condition worsened rapidly.

My entire body was covered with sores and the still raw wounds became infected. To avoid the risk of septicemia, pustules had to be removed from the burned areas with pinking shears every day. I stopped eating and had to be fed intravenously. The lack of solid food caused my stomach to become distended. I started having cardiac arrhythmias, pulmonary problems, and frequent nocturnal seizures caused by the lack of electrolytes. After a few weeks, the chief of Pediatrics told my father that there was nothing else they could do, that my death was imminent.

The ‘Miracle’

What happened next is something my mother unreservedly describes as a miracle.

She had finished her vigil for the day and left the hospital not knowing what to do. She wandered aimlessly for hours, deeply immersed in her grief. She eventually found a church and went inside. She prayed more fervently than ever; this time, however, she was no longer asking for my recovery. She told God she did not want me to suffer any longer, that she was even prepared to accept my death. At that moment, she realized someone had left an empty baby food jar on the floor. On a whim, she picked it up and filled it with holy water. She snuck the jar into the hospital and, in an act of sheer desperation, she made me drink the water. My father only knew of this much later and the doctors never found out.

Given my health condition in general, and the state of my digestive system in particular, one might think that drinking water that was very likely unsanitary should have been disastrous. However, on the very next day, after not having spoken for weeks, I asked my mother for soup. Even though eating solid food in my condition was dangerous, my doctor allowed me to have a regular meal, perhaps considering it to be my last. I ate the whole thing and from that day onwards, to the amazement of the staff, I started recovering. In the course of only two weeks, after having been in the hospital for approximately four months, I made a full recovery and was permitted to go home. By the time I left, everyone at the hospital knew me as ‘the little miracle’.

How can I be an Atheist?

Several people who know this story do not understand how I can be an atheist: “How can you explain what happened? You wanted soup the very next day!”, “And what about Misael? It was your turn!”, “Either the holy water or the food they gave you could have killed you!”, “Not even the doctors had an explanation for your recovery!” I honestly cannot explain my recovery, but neither can I accept that it was a miracle; that is, an intentional transgression of the laws of physics undertaken by the creator of the universe.

There is an enormous difference between something extremely unlikely and something impossible. If I buy a lottery ticket, it is highly unlikely indeed that I will win, but it is not impossible. According to the medical experts, my recovery was so unlikely that they thought I would not survive, but was it actually impossible? Did God necessarily have to intervene and break the laws of physics so I could recover? Is it really inconceivable to imagine an unlikely scenario in which my recovery was physically possible?

However strange it may seem, highly unlikely events occur relatively frequently. There are countless books and websites describing some of the most extraordinary examples (simply google for ‘amazing coincidences’). Although many of these events remain unexplained, it is important to understand that this does not imply that there must be a supernatural explanation. Throughout the centuries, we have attributed a large number of now-understood phenomena to the supernatural.

The hypothesis that my recovery was miraculous cannot be falsified; that is, it is impossible to prove that it was not. There are, nevertheless, only two possibilities: either it was a miracle or it was not. The latter does not require the existence of a supreme being capable of breaking the laws of physics who, for some mysterious reason, decided to save me; therefore, I consider it to be more likely that it was not a miracle (cf. Occam’s razor).

Setting aside for a moment what I consider the more likely explanation, there exist moral reasons for my preference to believe that God had nothing to do with my recovery. If I accept that it was miraculous, what about Misael? We were both innocent children, did he deserve to die and I did not? Why? How could it be fair to save one and not the other? Let us, for the sake of argument, assume that God had a valid reason to save me over Misael. If God, in his infinite wisdom, had decided I should survive, could he not simply have prevented the accident in the first place? Why was there need for so much suffering, anguish, and sorrow? The God my mother believes saved my life is one of love and justice, I refuse to believe that the whole experience was some kind of test of faith. I definitely prefer an indifferent God, even a nonexistent one, to a sadistic one.

Finally, even if we ignore all these important questions, what kind of egotistical megalomaniac would I have to be to believe that the very creator of the universe personally intervened to save my life? I do not think that God saved me so I could fulfill an ‘important mission’ in this world, as some people would have me believe. I do not consider myself a special person, only an extremely lucky one.

The True Heroes

I will probably never know for sure whether God intervened, but what I do know beyond any doubt, is that it would have been much less likely for me to recover had it not been for all the people involved in my treatment. My gratitude goes out to the countless people who have contributed to the development of medicine through the ages; to the medical staff who treated me, for their experience and their efforts; and finally and above all, to my parents, for their unconditional love and their uninterrupted vigil, for so many hours of helpless anxiety and suffering. It is all of them, real flesh-and-blood people, whom I consider the true heroes of this story. Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s; it is they who deserve the honors and to whom I undeniably and undoubtedly owe my life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I wear my scars with pride. They are silent witnesses of a truly wonderful fact: even though we are unavoidably subject to the seemingly cruel whims of the universe, by use of our reason and motivated by the love we feel for others, our efforts have the power to transform nearly impossible dreams into happy realities.

Hekanibru

Un destello en la oscuridad

Despierto súbitamente a la mitad de la noche.

Mi instinto me dice que no debo moverme. Algo está mal.

¿Qué es ese ruido? Suena… ¿como si alguien estuviera conteniendo la risa? En la oscuridad es difícil distinguir las formas.

Algo capta mi atención de repente. ¿Un destello en el clóset? ¡Pero qué diablos! Sí. Algo en el clóset está reflejando la luz que entra por la ventana.

Disimuladamente me acomodo de lado para poder ver mejor.

Dios mío.

Es… Es un cuchillo.

¡Alguien está metido en el clóset con un cuchillo! Con la otra mano se cubre la boca apenas pudiendo contener una risa malsana.

Estoy paralizado.

La puerta está muy lejos. La ventana también. No tengo nada con qué defenderme.

Cristina duerme apaciblemente a mi lado.

Hekanibru

¿Qué es el amor?

El amor es encontrar la felicidad más plena y genuina en su sonrisa; es perderte en Nirvana simplemente oliendo su cabello; es pasar horas a su lado completamente feliz sin necesidad de hablar.

El amor es que su ausencia literalmente te duela; es sentirte completamente impotente y vulnerable en sus brazos; es que el mundo se disuelva con sus caricias.

El amor es sentir sus triunfos y fracasos en carne propia; es estar dispuesto a sacrificar tus sueños por los suyos; es encontrar la verdadera plenitud en la suya.

El amor es que su mero recuerdo te arranque un suspiro; es encontrar en sus ojos la fortaleza para seguir luchando; es convertirte en la fiera más mortífera cuando es cuestión de protegerle.

El amor es eso, escalofriante e inconmensurablemente intenso, que siento por ti.

Hekanibru

Raíces

Imagen

Raíces

Disfrutando una deliciosa torta de tamal en mi queridísima Tlaxcala

No importa a dónde te lleve la vida, cuán alto llegues, o lo mucho que cambies. Nunca olvides de dónde vienes. Lleva contigo el recuerdo de tu terruño, de tu gente, de tus raíces hasta el final de tus días.

Hekanibru

On the unjust and ephemeral nature of life

Once I stopped believing in God as understood by Christianity, the religious ideas regarding Heaven and Hell fell apart. Some time after that, by carefully and skeptically considering the existence of the soul, I came to the conclusion that it is quite likely that the soul does not exist either and, therefore, that there is no life after death.

Accepting that we only have one chance to experience this world was very difficult for me for two main reasons.

Life is not fair.

It is difficult to deny that life can be incredibly unfair: some people suffer immeasurably most of their life and there seems to be no correlation between how good a person is and the type of life that they live. If we believe in some kind of divine plan designed by a loving God, then we can think of different justifications or rationalizations for this apparent injustice (cf. “God acts in mysterious ways”). However, regardless of whether God exists, it is undeniable that there is much suffering in this world.

This is very unfortunate. We can try to remedy the situation with the idea of reincarnation (cf. “It does not really matter if you suffer in this life, you will surely do better in the next”). I believed in something similar for several years, so I could preserve some sort of universal justice. Unfortunately, when you stop believing in the existence of the soul (or that the universe has to be fair), then there is no place for reincarnation.

Thus, there is no escape. My belief system implies that life is full of abominable unjustified injustices and, moreover, that there is no later comfort or compensation to remedy them.

Reading about the Holocaust, seeing the photo of a starving child, or finding out that someone suddenly died of cancer, becomes incredibly more tragic. Simply and coldly, for one reason or another, those poor people had the misfortune to be subjected to these calamities and there will be no second chance for them.

Life is too short.

Even if we were to live a relatively normal and happy life, how can we accept that after dying we will never be able to embrace those whom we love? How can we accept that we will never be able to see the sunrise, have our favorite food, chat with out friends, or simply watch a movie curled up with the person we love?

Time flies. I still get a bit nostalgic when I reflect on the happy years of my childhood and realize that they are forever gone. And now, my melancholy greatly intensifies when I come to see that was the only childhood I will ever get to enjoy.

When I kiss my wife, when I smell her hair, when I see her smiling, I cannot help thinking that a whole life is simply not enough to be with her. If I find it difficult to accept that after one of us dies we will never see each other again, how can I accept that after I die I will never get to experience love again with her or anybody else?

It is tough.

Definitely, believing there is something else for us after death is very comforting. Trusting that starving children will reincarnate to live happy fulfilling lives, or imagining a wonderful suffering-free place especially designed for me by a loving God, brings a smile to my face. It is no wonder so many people think this way.

But I cannot. The cold logic of my reasoning does not let me escape, and my intellectual and moral integrity does not allow me to believe something just because I would love it to be true.

Things, however, are not as bleak as they may seem.

Yes, the world is riddled with injustice. But there is no reason for us to remain idle in the face of suffering. We can all contribute our grain of sand.

Let us go out in the morning with a big smile on our faces, let us be kind and considerate to all, let us make their day just a little bit more enjoyable. Let us reflect on all we have, be thankful, and share our privileges. Have you ever visited the sick? Have you ‘sacrificed’ your time in a social organization? Have you given to charity? The world needs us; even if God did exist, it is our and only our responsibility to make this a better world.

Yes, death is a tragic event that arrives too soon. But there is no reason for us to be depressed by such an unfortunate fact. We are here. We are alive now.

Let us try to take full advantage of the time we have. Let us experience the world. Let us enjoy the company of our family and friends, let us savor our favorite meal, let us laugh out loud, let us dance, let us run! Is there something you have always wanted to learn about and you have not done so for lack of will? Would you love to reconcile with that special someone? When was the last time you told your partner that you love them with all your heart? What are you waiting for?! Life is short.

We must face the world as it is, not as we wish it were, with its beauty and its ugliness, its injustices and its pleasures. We must face up to it to better understand it so we can improve and enjoy it in the best way.

Even though for some time the unjust and ephemeral nature of life made me feel quite distressed, curiously and even ironically, reflecting on the suffering in the world and the tragedy of death has led me to live a more human, more fulfilling, happier life.

Hekanibru