American Atheists is a nonprofit organization that supports the rights of atheists and is well know for their outspoken, unapologetic, and sometimes controversial billboard campaigns—one of which gave Bill O’Reilly a reason to invite the president of the organization to The Bill O’Reilly Factor. Religio Magazine got a chance to converse with David Silverman, the current president of American Atheists, who tells us about the question he gets asked the most and what his beliefs are regarding religion and other beliefs.
Religio Magazine: As president of American Atheists, what is the #1 question you get asked the most?
David Silverman: “It’s OK to be an atheist, but why push it on other people?”—but I don’t see campaigning for equality as pushing atheism on people—I see it as pushing back against the religion that is pushed on us by religionists.
RM: A majority of the world’s population believes in a deity and attempts to live by that belief. Do you believe in an evil force? If so, what would you say is your standard on what is good or evil?
DS: There is no conscious “force” for either good or evil. Both are relative, up for perception, and free of objective standard.
RM: If a religious person made the following statement, how would you respond? “If there is a God, a human’s capacity to fully comprehend the universe is limited since we are only creation and he is the creator.”
DS: Double talk. We would prove something that breaks all known laws of physics with proof, not with a supposition that such proof may be invisible or imperceptible. The possibility that something may look exactly like nothing is not support that the something is real. We need proof, of which there is none, to take seriously the notion that gods exist.
RM: Blaise Pascal said the following: “Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that he exists.” How would you respond to his statement?
DS: 1) If your god is real, he can read your mind, know you are faking for selfish reasons and that your faith is not true, and send you to hell. 2) If any of the other gods ever were invented by man turn out to be true, we are all screwed. Pascal posits a boolean proposition—but the possible gods are huge in number. 3) Belief is not a wager. ” Pretending to believe” is actually what Pascal is proposing. He wants you to lie, to say that you believe a lie, out of fear and greed. This is not belief—it’s fear. This is the true basis of Christianity.
RM: Pop-up churches are just starting to sprout for atheism. Where do you see this trend going in the future?
DS: As the country continues to secularize people will leave their churches that lie and flock instead to churches that tell the truth, providing social networks and structure without yesteryear’s dogma. This segment of the movement has nowhere to go but up.
RM: Do you think peace in this world is possible? If so, what is your idea on how that can happen?
DS: Peace is relative because everyone cannot be happy at the same time. As long as there is greed there will not be peace, and as long as there is religion there will be religious war.
RM: What fascinates you most about life?
DS: The sheer immensity of time and space.
RM: Which figure do you look up to and respect the most?
DS: Madalyn Murray O’Hair, Malcolm X, Robert Green Ingersol.
RM: What is your favorite quote or saying?
DS: “To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson