2nd place (tie) — Mike Meo: Hell and God are useless ideas
FFRF awarded Mike $2,000.
By Mike Meo
There is but one useful way of understanding and interpreting the universe, and that way is the scientific method. The slow and steady amassing of truth can only be done by the insistence that evidence must support a claim, and that conclusions rest solely on fact.
Every human being is already familiar with the process of making logical deductions based on evidence. The mouse that retreats from an electric shock and over time learns not to make contact with the live wire is engaging in a logical way of thinking. Yet, in some ways, the humble pain-averse mouse understands its universe better than the theist afraid of the unsubstantiated. The wire in question either has an electric current running through it or it doesn’t. A claim made without any test is empty and without meaning.
The existence of a life after death, potentially full of an eternity of torture, is, at its core, a claim without evidence. It is as useful in revealing the truth of the universe as any other unsubstantiated claim. To view it as anything else is either dishonest or delusional. To believe it fact, to use it to determine the course of life decisions — building an entire ethic with this claim at its core and dedicating a religion on its veracity — is dangerous.
When one lives life forever afraid of hell, suddenly the whole point of life is made crystal clear — hell must be avoided at all costs. What are a few decades on Earth when compared to an eternity of torture? Living by the rules set by the faith is then the greatest task achievable. But if hell doesn’t exist, wouldn’t a life centered on its avoidance be rather empty and devoid of meaning? Would it not be a life wasted? And since belief in hell has the power to define the purpose of a life, wouldn’t it be extremely important to make sure that it’s actually real? A fear of hell takes that which stands unproven without any supporting evidence as fact and then leads one to throw away precious time alive on a whim. Just as a phobia can debilitate someone irrationally afraid of something harmless, so too can the irrational fear of hell transform one’s life in a futile attempt to avoid the nonexistent.
Faith — and the intentional ignoring of reason — is a mainstay of religion. Society is unfortunately resigned to this fact. In no other realm is this type of thinking acceptable. Imagine a world where public policy was put into place simply on faith, or bridges were designed by prayer or new medicine was administered on the authority of scripture. Religion is totally unconcerned with honestly examining reality.
I’m an unabashed atheist not afraid of going to hell because I care about living as I see fit instead of according to someone else’s rules. The truth is important to me, and in order to be convinced of something, I’d like to find reasons that support it. Not only do I want to enjoy a pursuit of personal excellence, but I want others to have that opportunity, as well. And when others are shackled by their fear or by their belief, I seek to convince them to think critically about all ideas presented to them. As an unabashed atheist not afraid of going to hell, I’m positive that eventually the superstition and mysticism that has steadily held back progress will fade away, and the steady introduction of secular values will continue to grow in influence around the world. Just as concepts in science are subjected to intense skepticism and constant critique, so too should religious ideas be scrutinized. When these concepts are placed above scrutiny, then improvements can never be made and we are condemned to live in the past.
Mike, 19, is from Portland, Ore., and attends Portland State University. He is an economics major and plans to become a lawyer. His hobbies include running, singing and acting.