Here are ten common questions and answers to get you started. If you have more questions, why not ask an atheist?
Q1: Who are the Sydney Atheists?
A1: Sydney Atheists is a group of atheists and likeminded people who consider religion, in the sense of belief in a supernatural deity, to be harmful and who believe that our understanding of the world and how we live within it should be based on reason and compassion, not dogma.
Q2: Why do you consider religion to be harmful?
A2: Religion privileges faith over reason. By doing so it prevents people from solving their differences constructively and, where this cannot happen, injustice and suffering tend to follow. Religion can also limit the ways in which we can express our sense of wonder and joy at the very fact of existence (what some people call “spirituality”).
Q3: What are you campaigning about in relation to Catholic World Youth Day?
A3: Two things (for starters). The first is that Morris Iemma should not have given $118 milion of New South Wales taxpayers’ funds to the Catholic Church, an organisation that clearly doesn’t need the money, for CWYD. The money should have gone to badly needed community services. The second is that people should know that it is entirely possible to be good without God.
Q4: Why shouldn’t Catholics get together and celebrate their faith in Sydney?
A4: You can if you like. But we see serious flaws in the Catholic religion (and other religions as well) and consider atheism to be a better, more constructive and fulfilling way to live.
Q5: What’s wrong with supporting a major religious even that will bring tourism dollars to NSW?
A5: Because its not the New South Wales Government’s job to fund religion. Religion and government need to remain separate. The absence of that separation threatens everybody’s freedom of thought and expression, not just atheists. The State must remain secular in order to represent the interests of all of its citizens. And if the object of the exercise is simply to make a profit for New South Wales, it stands to reason that a larger profit would have been made had the Catholic Church paid its own way.
Q6: You are impinging on my freedom to believe in God
A6: You are free to believe whatever you like so long as you do no harm to others. Again though, by privileging faith over reason, the actions you take may restrict other people who don’t share your views from living their lives as they choose. You may end up causing them harm. You may even harm yourself. To interact with others meaningfully, to solve the problems we face together, requires reason and compassion, not dogma.
Q7: You can’t be good without God because atheists have no morals/are evil
A7: Atheists have morals but we prefer to call them “ethics”. “Morals” has connotations of being handed down by a supernatural being. “Ethics” derive from an ethos, understood by atheists to mean the natural world. Our ethics originally developed a long time ago as tools to help us survive in a dangerous environment. Understanding others and the world around us helped us to guard against danger. Doing good to one another built trust, co-operation and strength in numbers. Respecting the experience of elders (particularly our parents) helped us to learn. Through history, we have gradually developed these basic guidelines for survival into universal values. We took this last, most important step because we recognised that every living creature shares something in common and, like us, deserves the opportunity to live life to the fullest. Those core values of respect and understanding, openness and goodwill are entirely natural and accessible to all of us through our ability to reason and have compassion for other living things. They are our common heritage, shared by atheists and religious people alike. It is actually religion’s explanation that is wrong. It seems entirely natural that our ancestors, unable to comprehend how our ethics are generated through existing in the world, invented gods to provide them for us. The problem with religion is that it also allows other “rules” that conflict with those universal values of respect, understanding, openness and goodwill to be justified simply by reference to a God without regard for how those other rules may harm others. Trying to apply other rules is not unique to religion. But resorting to religion to provide authority for doing so is a tool that has been used by those with selfish intent since the world began. The best way to prevent it happening is to understand that our core values are not handed down by a supernatural lawmaker. Rather, their fullest application depends on us living as conscious beings in the world, using reason and compassion.
Q8: But atheists don’t feel anything/miss out on the spiritual
A8: Atheists experience the wonder and majesty of life like others do. We feel the sublime and our connection with other living creatures. We know how fragile and precious life is. We want to celebrate those things. But we don’t need to believe in a supernatural being in order to do so. The emotions we all feel are an entirely natural response to our existence in the world, not a religious one. Atheists also understand the power of believing you have been given an answer to life’s mysteries, that you have been given a purpose and the promise of eternal life. Its a very powerful set of beliefs. But that doesn’t make them true. The feelings you feel, the elation, the joy, are very human feelings generated by nature. But we are not only our passions, we are our reason too. And to make use of one to the exclusion of the other is to live less than your full human potential.
Q9: Religious people do a lot of good work
A9: Almost everyone does good work. They just don’t all feel the need to call it religious. Again, our desire to do good doesn't get handed to us by a supernatural God but has arisen naturally from our existence in the world. As conscious beings, we understand the importance of kindness for its own sake. It doesn’t matter that our own good deed isn’t repaid. It helps someone else, someone who, as a fellow living creature, we recognise as inherently deserving of the same opportunities as us to live their life to the fullest. Religion doesn’t create that. Reason and compassion do.
Q10:You seem so certain. What if you are wrong?
A10:If we’re wrong, we’re wrong. But for thousands of years people have been looking for direct evidence of the existence of supernatural beings. Despite all those people looking, not a single piece of hard evidence has ever been found. Furthermore, all the things that religion tries to justify as flowing from the existence of God either have entirely natural explanations or no basis in fact or experience at all.