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Last week, this comment was left on an older post. I wouldn’t normally approve proselytizing like this, but since the author identifies himself as an 11-year-old homeschooler, I decided to give it a pass and write him a reply. We may be familiar with these arguments, but it’s likely that he’s never encountered a real live atheist before, and this may be the first chance he has to hear them. I’ll post the full text of the comment first.

If there is no God, there cannot be any sort of morality. If there is no morality, then you shouldn’t even CARE if someone is having troubles in they’re life. If all that matters is happiness, then everyone should be able to do anything they want. But that means that people can believe in God, and you can argue against it because you aren’t happy about it. OH MY GOSH WOULD THAT BE A HATEFUL WORLD. NO ONE WOULD CARE ABOUT ANYONE UNLESS THEY FELT LIKE IT. PEOPLE COULD RAPE EACH OTHER WHILE OTHERS MADE THAT ILEGAL BECAUSE THEY DIDNT LIKE IT. PEOPLE COULD DENY STUFF EVEN THOUGH IT WAS TRUE. Wait, that sounds like our world, doesn’t it. Well some of it may be, but it doesn’t have to be that way, a world of greed and hate. Catholicism frees you by making rules. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Well if everyone could do anything, NO one would be happy. You know how people hate people who hate? It would likely be that way about everything. I’ll bet almost no one would get along, and the world would be filled with hate. But if there is a God, if there is morality, people would treat each other properly, and wouldn’t be in it for themselves. Or at least that’s MY point of view on the subject. Well, I guess that you’ll see on judgement day…

Mercy be upon you,
Signed by an 11 yr old kid

And here’s my answer to it:

If there is no God, there cannot be any sort of morality.

Nope, that isn’t true. Whether or not God exists, it makes no difference to whether morality exists. An ancient Greek thinker named Plato explained why: if God exists, does he command things because they’re good, or are things good because God commands them?

If God commands things because they’re good, then those things are good whether or not he commands them. In that case, even if God doesn’t exist, we can use our own minds and come to that same conclusion for ourselves.

On the other hand, if things are good only because God commands them, then morality is just whatever God makes up. He may say that kindness is good and stealing is bad, but he could change his mind tomorrow and say that kindness is bad and stealing is good.

I think we both know this doesn’t make sense. Something that’s right is really right, and something that’s wrong is really wrong, and not even the most powerful person in the world can change this just by saying so. Even the most powerful person has to be able to give reasons for their decisions, and not just say, “I’m right because I’m bigger than you and I can make you do what I say.”

If all that matters is happiness, then everyone should be able to do anything they want.

Nope, that’s not true either. And the funny thing is that you gave an excellent reason why it isn’t true in your own comment. Keep reading:

Catholicism frees you by making rules. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Well if everyone could do anything, NO one would be happy.

No, it doesn’t sound weird at all. In fact, it’s the same thing I think. You may not realize it, but you’ve just given an excellent explanation of how an atheist can be a moral person!

If anyone could do anything they wanted at any time, the world would be in chaos, and no one would be happy. Why would anyone build houses if someone else could move in and kick you out? How could you enjoy going for a walk if someone else could attack you and beat you up at any time?

For people to be happy, there has to be fairness, peace and safety, and those things can only exist if there are rules about what we can and can’t do. Morality is the name we give to using our own minds to figure out what are the best rules, the ones that make it possible for the most people to enjoy their lives.

You know how people hate people who hate? It would likely be that way about everything. I’ll bet almost no one would get along, and the world would be filled with hate. But if there is a God, if there is morality, people would treat each other properly, and wouldn’t be in it for themselves.

It would be nice if things were as easy as that. The problem is that there have been people throughout history who say that what’s important isn’t what makes people happy, but doing what God wants – and the people who say this also say that they’re the only ones who know what God wants, so we all have to listen to them and do what they tell us.

For a long time, the men in charge of the Catholic church said that they were the only ones who knew what God wanted, and because of that, they should be able to tell everyone else what to do. Because of their religious beliefs, they were very cruel to people who had different ideas. They put them in prison and even killed some of them, just because those people asked questions that the men in charge of the church didn’t like. (One of them was named Giordano Bruno. Maybe you’ll learn about him one day.)

The men who ran the church believed in God, but it didn’t cause them to treat others properly. The same is true of many, many other groups of people who’ve fought with each other and done terrible things to each other, all because they disagreed over who had the right beliefs about God.

Well, I guess that you’ll see on judgement day…

When grown-ups tell you that judgment day is coming very soon, it probably sounds like a very scary and serious thing. But what you may not know is that people have been saying this for a long time. For almost two thousand years, Christians have been saying that judgment day is right around the corner, and they’ve been wrong about it every time. Every time they predict it, that day comes and goes and nothing strange or scary happens.

The most important thing is that you use your own mind and don’t just believe whatever other people tell you. Ask questions, if you don’t understand something or it doesn’t make sense. You may be surprised to find out how powerful your own mind can be.

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DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...