Penn Jillette doesn’t believe in any gods, but at the same time he believes in many other things:
Having taken that step, it informs every moment of my life. I'm not greedy. I have love, blue skies, rainbows and Hallmark cards, and that has to be enough. It has to be enough, but it's everything in the world and everything in the world is plenty for me. It seems just rude to beg the invisible for more. Just the love of my family that raised me and the family I'm raising now is enough that I don't need heaven. I won the huge genetic lottery and I get joy every day.
Source: National Public Radio
It's common for religious theists to ask me and other atheists why we bother living if we don't believe in a god and heaven. For some reason, they don't understand how anyone could enjoy this life enough to want to live it — if there isn't something much better coming along later, they don’t see what's so great about living now. I find that particularly sad and wonder what's so awful about their lives that they can't appreciate them for what they have here and now. I wonder if perhaps their religious theism is at least partially motivated by a desire to escape the terrible loneliness or suffering which causes them to denigrate living today.
Of course, exactly that is what suggests that the religious theists' question is aimed in the wrong direction. As an atheist who doesn't believe in an afterlife, I know that I only get this one chance — if I don't live now and make the most of it now, that's it for me. Killing myself won't lead to any improvements in my current situation. For the religious theist, however, their belief in a heaven has to make suicide a bit more appealing because at least there's a chance they will go on to something better.
It's no wonder that religions typically treat suicide as a sin: after having set up the conditions for making death especially attractive, they have to do something to ensure that believers stick around for at least a little while. You can't have powerful religious institutions ruling over society when all of your most devout members knock themselves off the first chance they get.
Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That's good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around.
People who believe in a god that has everything planned and that will make everything turn out OK in the end have little reason to be too worried about how things are going at the present moment. After all, no matter how bad it may look it must still be part of the "plan" and there's no way that we can irrevocably mess things up. God will ensure that we're taken care of.
People who don't believe in gods know that there is no one who has the course of the universe planned out and that no will make everything better in the end. No matter how bad it looks right now, it could get worse and if we don't do something, it may indeed get worse. We are more than capable of irrevocably messing things up for good and we have nearly done so on more than one occasion. If things are going to go well, it's because we put in the effort to make them go well — no one is going to do it for us.
Believing there's no God stops me from being solipsistic. I can read ideas from all different people from all different cultures. Without God, we can agree on reality, and I can keep learning where I'm wrong. We can all keep adjusting, so we can really communicate. I don't travel in circles where people say, "I have faith, I believe this in my heart and nothing you can say or do can shake my faith."
That's just a long-winded religious way to say, "shut up," or another two words that the FCC likes less. But all obscenity is less insulting than, "How I was brought up and my imaginary friend means more to me than anything you can ever say or do." So, believing there is no God lets me be proven wrong and that's always fun. It means I'm learning something.
It's often my experience that when a person believes that they have a god on their side, they really don't have to listen to or seriously consider the viewpoints and ideas expressed by others. Not every religious theist is like this, obviously, and it's also not a simple either/or, black and white matter. Some are more willing to listen and some are less willing to listen.
There is a strong trend against listening, however, and I think that this is because there is a strong connection between the two positions. When you believe that there is a god on your side, that this god has communicated to you (and/or to humanity in general), that this god has made known its wishes, and that you understand what these wishes are (at least generally), then many will conclude from this that they don't have much or anything to learn — at least when it comes to those areas where they believe god has spoken.
If you know that your god is opposed to abortion, then why listen to those who believe abortion should be legal or give serious consideration to young, unwed, pregnant teens who sincerely think that an abortion is best for them right now? If you know your god is opposed to stem-cell research, then why listen to scientists who think that it will help cure diseases or seriously consider the perspectives of people who suffer from potentially curable conditions? If you think your god is a necessary force for morality, then why listen to atheists who manage to be moral without your god?
Sometimes, belief in a god will cause a person to believe that the universe is comprehensible and this inspires them to try to learn about it. Many other times, however, belief in a god causes a person to think that they already know what they need and dismiss attempts to learn more. At best, the two balance each other out in the long run.
Believing there is no God means the suffering I've seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn't caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn't bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.
People who believe in God and who reject the idea that the existence of suffering and evil in the world suggests that there is no god often do by arguing that this is the "best of all possible worlds." Either God is unable to reduce suffering because they would take away some good like free will, or God is able but this would lead to even worse things down the road. Take a look around at all the suffering and evil in the world: according to many religious theists, this is as good as it gets and as good as their all-powerful, perfectly loving god can make it.
Without their god, though, there's at least the chance that things could be better and, therefore, that we can make things better. We might fail. We might even make things worse. At least we have a chance, though, and we can take personal responsibility for our own fates. Take a look around at all the suffering and evil in the world: according to atheists, this isn't as good as it can get and we should work to make things better.