Oftentimes, when considering an important decision, I make a chart to analyze the cost and benefit of each choice. Since belief is a choice, I think it is wise to list the cost and benefits of atheism vs. Christianity on an individual basis. You can draw up a similar chart for society and thus make your decision on what kind of society you advocate.
The thing about atheism is it is really hard to define. If I were to say atheism is the belief that there is no God, atheists would retort that it is the absence of a belief in God, and not a belief that there is no God. Despite the fact that these two things are logically the same statements, let us stick to the definition atheists like to use: the lack of belief in a God.
So, the question is the following: Should I believe in no God, or should I believe in the Christian God of the Bible? I will analyze this question purely on the cost and benefit of believing either way.
On atheism’s side, there is literally no benefit. There is no cost as well, except the opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the cost of *not* doing something. For instance, buying a stick of gum means you can’t buy a gumball with the same money. When doing cost-benefit analysis, you can ignore opportunity cost since it will show up as a benefit for the other choices you are looking. So my final analysis of atheism is it gives me nothing but it costs me nothing. It is simply nothing.
On Christianity’s side, if I choose to believe in the Christian God of the Bible, then I have severe costs. For starters, I must believe that there is a God, and that God did certain things. Among the most important things God has done is he has created this world we live in, given us our very lives, and given us a Savior. He has also given us positive and negative commandments out of love. If we choose to believe in this God, then we will feel a pressure to obey these commandments. All of the commandments can be summed up in the simple statements, “Love God” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In fact, since this is the sum of all the commandments, we can ignore any commandments which we interpret such that it would contradict the first two great commandment. For instance, if we feel our church attendance would somehow deny someone love, then we can abstain until we can resolve the conflict. This is something Jesus taught by example. For instance, he threshed wheat with his hands on the Sabbath, and healed the sick on the Sabbath, and even told us to pull our oxen out of the mires on the Sabbath.
However, there are a few beliefs I must also take along with the entire package. I must believe that God is in charge and that he is defined by love and good, or rather, good and love are defined by Him. I must believe that God loves us so much he gave his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as a sacrifice for our weakness and incompetence, so that we won’t die but that we can live forever. I must believe that the ultimate destination of this world is a heavenly realm where sickness, disease, discomfort, and evil are completely abolished and replaced with rejoicing and pure bliss. I must believe that good will always overcome evil. I must believe, especially, that people can and will change for the better.
What are the benefits of Christianity?
First, we add structure and meaning to our lives. Events are not random — they are given to us by God for a purpose. And so we can search out what purpose every event has. Tragedies are rewritten to become blessings. We find that suffering is not pointless but part of the refiner’s fire of our lives. This alone is enough to make the intolerable condition of human suffering tolerable. In short, God can swallow up our suffering.
Second, we live peaceful lives. Because the two great commandments command us to love each other live we would want to be loved, we obviously treat others the way we want to be treated. This is the foundation for the idea of natural human rights, such as the right to life, the right to speak, etc… We simply afford others something we would like to have for ourselves.
Third, many Christians report feeling their guilt and sorrow washed away as they embrace the gospel that Christ taught us. We can also obtain a similar relief to our conscience, and be an instrument in helping others find such relief.
Fourth, we find the foundation of modern science. Christianity teaches us that God is unchanging, that he governs by law, and most especially, that we can understand that law because we can become like God. In fact, Christianity teaches us to search, knock, and ask, and promises us that we will find, the way will be opened, and we will be answered. This is the foundation of modern science: an irrational hope that the universe does conform to law and that we can not only understand that law, but discover it through searching. Do I need to list the blessings and conveniences that our Christian pursuit of knowledge has given us?
Fifth, we have hope. We have hope for a better world. We have hope that we can change. We have hope that others can change. We have hope that God will perform a miracle in our lives or the lives of our friends or enemies. In the face of absolute despair, the true Christian can say, “Perhaps, perhaps, God can change things and make it better. If not today, then tomorrow.”
I think it is fairly obvious which way I choose to believe.