Sumeet Khanna & Amanda Mihoub Wright
McMaster Debating Society
Sumeet: I would destroy that proof. Why? Because this information has the potential to incredibly damage the lives of religious individuals, for a number of reasons. First, it would throw individuals into torturous doubt. If I have spent my life ordering my actions around the commandments of a God that I now know does not exist, I enter existential despair in lieu of my sudden abandonment. I go from a person touched by the divine to a material creature destined to wither to dust. From this, I become racked by the fear of death. Before, I lived with the expectation that heaven, reincarnation or spiritual peace awaited me in the afterlife, and when that comfort is suddenly stripped away, I encounter an angst that I never before believed existed – without God, death becomes my absolute end. I can think of nothing that could be more terrifying than to be unwillingly and unexpectedly thrown into this frame of mind. So the issue is not whether one can live without God. Instead, the issue is rooted in the excruciating act of removing God from the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world who have lived their lives under the assumption of God’s presence. If I reveal this truth, I risk bearing their suffering on my conscience. Destroy it, and let people live their lives in ignorance. There are truths that are worth not telling.
Amanda: Sumeet has a point. There are definite harms that will be caused initially by revealing the proof that God does not exist. However, these initial harms are necessary in the long run in order to allow people to live their best possible lives – to self-actualize. The truth needs to be revealed in order to maximize people’s quality of life. It is better to live our lives to their own ends rather than in the hopes that there is something that awaits us in the “beyond”, after our material lives end. If there is no heaven, all of the sacrifices made by people who are religious, for the greater good and in order to one day end up in heaven, are unnecessary and restrictive. Take, for example, people who abstain from pre-marital sex purely for religious reasons, even though they would enjoy it otherwise. It is morally wrong to hide the fact that God does not exist from these people. If people only have one life to live, as an afterlife does not exist, then they should be aware of it in order to best live their one life and to achieve their true potential.
S: Amanda claims that, without the repressive nature of religion, individuals will find comfort in their liberation. Let’s take this to its logical conclusion, though. Under Amanda’s model, people should be forced to become hedonistic, “living life for the sake of life.” I’m not convinced that this is an absolute good. Indeed, contrast this with a world that has God and religion. Atheists can continue to live “free, unsuppressed” lives. For religious individuals, though, the idea of God and religious order allows for humility – followers accept that they are limited and finite, and that there is an infinite, transcendent being that has the capacity to judge the actions of human kind. In this sense, perhaps a restraint on complete hedonism is necessary. Further, although I think it is possible to conceive of a moral code without religion, I recognize that religious individuals rely on God to frame moral issues. Without God, their conception of morality is completely undermined, and I think that it’s extraordinarily unfair and bearing to ask these people to undergo the reconstruction of these moral understanding.
A: Sumeet argues that without religion, many religious people will live hedonistic lives absent of a moral code because their conception of morality has been undermined. All humans have an inherent set of morals and much of our society in particular is not underpinned by religious morality, but rather by a set of secular, shared moral understandings. Many religious people would be good people with or without religion. They will not necessarily become hedonistic after losing their belief in God. Hedonistic behaviour also does not necessarily lead to immoral action. If it did, atheists would be disdained in society for their immoral behaviour, which they are not. They are not, by nature of their beliefs, or lack thereof, more averse to deviant behaviour or crime. There are people who do not need religion to be moral. We should still strive to live our lives in the absence of a divine presence. We can still find purpose and utility as human beings.
S: “All human beings are born with the ability to be good.” I agree, Amanda, but you’re missing the important comparative in this debate. I’m not arguing that all religious individuals, without God, will become immoral actors. Rather, I’m arguing, first, that living a life in purely material terms is not necessarily good, and further, that the act of forcing religious individuals to re-constitute the way they view their lives is an undue harm. Many religious individuals become, on their own accord, agnostic/atheist and do quite fine afterwards. But recognize the issue here. This information actively strips religious individuals of the comfort that religion provides, and I think it’s misguided to claim that their lives will be “better”. Why do people turn to God? To alleviate suffering. To tell them that amongst the chaos of this universe, there is meaning that can be found through worshipping the divine and thus entering a spiritual kingdom that transcends their material existence. Religion gives people hope that their lives mean something; God gives them a reason to care about their lives and the lives of others. Indeed, to take this away would be to commit treason against humankind.
A: The decision of whether or not to reveal proof that God does not exist is a difficult one, rife with complexities. Religion and the belief in God does benefit millions of people throughout the world. However, even if irrefutable proof that God does not exist is found, people who are extremely religious, who turn to God to alleviate their suffering, will most likely not believe this proof anyways. Finding proof that God does not exist and not destroying it does not “force” religious individuals to reconstitute their lives. Instead, it would be revealing to them a truth that they deserve to have presented to them, all the while allowing them to make a choice about their lives by retaining their own autonomy and freedom of choice.