And if there were, what then?

Posted by Piers Cawley on Sep 9, 2008

The Alpha Course people have been running a bunch of poster ads built around the slogan “If God did exist, what would you ask?”. The posters are filled with anodyne questions like “What’s the point?” or “Is this it?”.

They also tend to have large amounts of white space on them - I’m sure there are enterprising graffiti artists out there who look upon that as a fine opportunity.

So, here’s a few questions I’d ask god, if it existed:

What about that malaria parasite?

Because nothing says boundless Love like cooking up a disease that kills millions upon millions of people in the service of a parasitic lifecycle. Malaria’s been around so long that at some point during the long war between the parasite and humans, evolution cooked up a kink in the genome to try and keep the disease at bay. It works too. Sort of. Admittedly, if you get two copies of the gene, you get sickle cell anaemia, but malaria’s that awful that that bet seems worth making.

What’s the opportunity cost of religion?

Think about it. What proportion of humanity’s store of creativity, effort and money has been pissed up the wall in the service of religion over the years? Okay, so, the Sistine Chapel is a bit special, Bach’s Cantatas prod some serious buttock and it’s hugely good fun to sing from The Sacred Harp. But genius doesn’t go away if religion isn’t there. What would those artists have done, unshackled? And what might our scientists have done? The church has suppressed any number of scientific advances over the centuries and is still trying it on today. Look at the ongoing furore about stem cell research, cloning and all that other potentially good stuff.

Go to almost any place of worship and try to count the cost of it. It won’t be long ‘til you’re up to $lots. The money to pay for that comes off the backs of working people. For centuries, the tradition of tithing - giving 10% of your income to the church - wasn’t just a tradition, it was The Law. 10% of everything you earned, grew, made. For what? What might free people have achieved given that money and time to use as they saw fit?

Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, The Spanish Inquisition, Conquistadors… why?

Religious apologists would have you believe that the first three of those are proof of the awfulness of atheism. But they built their power and performed their atrocities by harnessing up the same religious impulses that gave us the Spanish Inquisition and the conquistadors. The religious impulse says “We are the Right People, they are savages”. Once you’ve got people convinced that they’re on the right side of the fence, it’s amazing what they’ll do to others in the name of a loving god.

If god exists, why were these people even born? You can tell me that god works in mysterious ways its wonders to perform, but I don’t really see how you can call genocide a ‘wonder’. If god’s going to claim to be the source of morality, then surely it should be held to those same standards. If god exists, then it has the power to stop atrocities. The fact that they happen leads me to infer that either there is no god, or any existing god is malevolent.

What’s wrong with women?

Look at almost any holy book you care to name, and women usually end up holding the smelly end of the stick. It may well be that sexism is endemic in human nature (I don’t think it is mind), but when you have religious authority for treating women as chattels, keeping them barefoot and pregnant and generally treating them as second class citizens… Well, it doesn’t help does it? Most of the holy books seems to have a pretty low opinion of men’s ability to keep it in their pants too. Otherwise why all the idiotic strictures about women keeping themselves covered up lest they inflame the uncontrollable desires of men. Come on! Blaming the victim’s so medieval.

Why should I worship you?

So, god made me. Big fucking deal. In the words of every teenager ever: I didn’t ask to be born. I owe god nothing. If I did want to worship my creator then I’d be far more inclined to worship my mother; I know she exists, and she went to a great deal more trouble to bring me into the world than anyone or any thing else that I can think of.

How do we get rid of you?

Seriously. God’s nothing but trouble. The suffering in the world’s dreadful when you stop to think about it. If we can lay the blame at the door of the cold, implacable machine that is Darwinian evolution, then there’s comfort in knowing that it’s nothing personal. It’s just the way the chips have fallen. There’s comfort too in knowing that there’s nothing to stop us as individuals and as a wider community doing everything in our power to make the world a better place for us, our children and the 8 billion other folks we’re sharing the place with. Because this is it. This is our only go on the merry go round. There’s no heaven, no hell, there’s just the world we make for ourselves and pass on to the next lot. It’s in our own best interests to look after it.

But if you have to lay the blame for the bad stuff at the door of some god, some conscious being who deliberately did this… It’s intolerable, frankly. That some being could choose to unleash malaria, TB, bubonic plague, syphilis, AIDS and the common cold on the world that it created is just… When we catch kids pulling the wings off flies, we tell ‘em off. When we catch god doing worse things, we (or a depressingly large fraction of us) worship the bloody thing. And because we buy the promise of a better world to come, we do a crappy job of making the world we’re in a better place. Great.

Does god exist?

I’m an atheist. I doubt anyone could prove, absolutely, the nonexistence of god. However, I fervently hope that there is no god because the alternative is so awful.