You don’t need God—to hope, to care, to love, to live.

March 1, 2011

We at CFI hope that you will be seeing and hearing these words a lot.  It is the core message of an advertising campaign we are launching today .

Another bus/billboard campaign by a secular organization?  Is there really a need for it? 

CFI thinks so.  Although campaigns by other secular groups have received some well-deserved attention, advertising by secular groups is still swamped by the promotional efforts of religious organizations.

Moreover, our message has very little overlap with previous secular campaigns.  Those campaigns emphasized that nonbelievers are morally good people and questioned the truth of religious claims.  Our campaign does not focus on morality per se or evidence for God. 

Our message is about the lives of the nonreligious, or, put another way, we’re addressing God’s relevance, not God’s existence. 

CFI maintains we can have fulfilling lives without religion.  The proof is right in front of us—in the lives of millions of people who have rich, rewarding lives—lives with hope, care, and love—without resort to religion.

We’re not trying to convert anyone by this campaign, if conversion implies persuading people there is no God. We are trying to prompt people to consider and converse about some of the myths surrounding the nonreligious, in particular the myth that life without God means a joyless, meaningless, selfish, self-centered life. That’s false, and we hope (there’s that word again) that a not insignificant number of people will come to realize how ridiculous such a view is.

That such a myth is all too common is probably not something that I need to remind my fellow nonbelievers about.  We see evidence of this attitude everywhere, not just in Sunday morning televangelist diatribes.  But let me cite one example that brings home the persistence and pervasiveness of this myth. 

Last year, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a highly respected institution, hosted a debate between Christopher Hitchens and his brother, Peter, on the topic “Can Civilization Survive without God?”  Undoubtedly, part of the motivation for staging this event was the interest in seeing siblings, both of them are skilled polemicists, go at each other. But, presumably, this was not the sole motivation.  Rather, those who held this event must have thought this is a serious question—do we need God to remain civilized?  Or put less delicately, can you expect atheists to do anything other than gratify their own immediate selfish desires, with the result that a godless world will begin to resemble some of the more horrifying scenes from The Road

I do not fault the Pew Forum for holding this debate.  To the contrary, I would rather have such questions brought into the open and discussed.  But it is discouraging to see such a topic being taken seriously.  Would the Pew Forum hold a debate on whether civilization can survive without acceptance of Jesus as our savior? 

As Daniel Dennett argued in his excellent book, Breaking the Spell , a number of people don’t accept God at an intellectual level, but they refuse to give up or criticize religion because they “believe in belief.” That is, they maintain that religious belief is necessary to give people something to live for and to help ensure a just and stable society. This is a poor excuse for clinging to religion; it is based on prejudice, not evidence. Belief in God is no more necessary for a good life and a just society than belief in the divine right of kings was necessary to secure acceptance of government authority or a peaceful transition between heads of state.

People can live without God. Millions of us do so already. We need to discard once and for all the myth that one needs God in one’s life to be a caring, loving person.