Getting Over Jesus: Finding Meaning and Morals without God is now available in paperback and Kindle.
About the Book
Does Christianity offer the pathway to a meaningful life, a glorious afterlife, and objective morality?
In this reflective critique rooted in personal experience, Ari Armstrong counters that we best find meaning through value-focused pursuits and loving relationships. Although Heaven and Hell are myths, we can and should focus on making the most of our lives on Earth. While religious faith delivers moral subjectivism, we can through reason discover a reality-based and genuinely objective morality.
Speaking primarily to young adults questioning their faith, Armstrong explores Christianity’s defense mechanisms, the finality of death, the dangers of faith, the incoherence of supernaturalism, and other topics. He shows how people can live their best lives by rejecting faith and the supernatural in favor of reason and reality.
Ari Armstrong is the author of What’s Wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics and Values of Harry Potter. He blogs at Self in Society and Colorado Pickaxe. Ari lives with his family in Colorado, where he writes a political column and enjoys the outdoors.
The book and the cover photo are copyright © 2023 by Ari Armstrong. All rights reserved. The book is published by Self in Society, which is a trademark of Ari Armstrong.
November 16, 2023: Jason Salzman reviewed the book for the Colorado Times Recorder. He writes: “This is exactly the book much of America needs. Armstrong . . . argues that if America were filled with atheists, who rely on a bedrock of reason and secularism to guide their lives, we’d have a better shot at getting along with each other in politics and being happy ourselves. . . . Armstrong’s detailed argument for atheism is convincing. Of course, I’m an atheist, but even if I weren’t, Armstrong’s plain writing about heavy concepts makes the book highly readable—and provides an unexpected philosophical haven from the graphic onslaught of crises surrounding us. . . . As he says, the joys and benefits of life—individually and communally—are best found through reason, which is the basis for atheism and secularism.”
- My Journey to Secularism 11
- Christianity’s Defense Mechanisms 20
The Devil Made Me Do It 20
Reason as Foolishness 23
Alleged Hatred of God 25
The Threat of Hell 26
The Ultimate Guilt Trip 27
- Death without God 32
Religion Can Make Death Worse 34
A Healthy Approach to Death 38
Get to Living 39
Appreciate Loved Ones 41
- Meaning in the Natural World 43
God and Meaning 45
Surrender Versus Meaning 49
The Value of Self-Talk 52
Pascal’s Hole 53
Universal Gratitude 55
Made of Star Stuff 57
Ad Astra 60
Social Beings 62
The Meaning of Work 64
Making the World a Better Place 67
- Morals without God 73
The Possibility of Moral Progress 74
Conscious Caring Creatures 76
The Problem of Conflicting Interests 78
Moral Reasoning and Value Integration 81
Social Morality 86
A Life-Based Standard 89
Ethical Intuitionism 92
Natural Goodness 97
- The Dangers of Faith 100
Blind Faith Versus Deserved Loyalty 101
Faith as Parasitical on Reason 102
The Moral Imperative of Reason 107
Pascal’s Wager 109
- Societal Hazards of Christian Morality 113
The Bible Tells Me So 113
Death and Torture for Jesus 119
Christian Toleration 121
Authoritarians for Jesus 124
Christianity and Individualism 128
Christian Apocalypse 130
- Individual Hazards of Christian Morality 134
Christian Passivity 135
Christian Excuse-Making 137
Christian Abuse and Dominance 141
Heavenly Eunuchs 144
The Eye in the Sky 147
The Benefits of Christian Sociality 148
Morals Grounded in Reality 151
- The Incoherence of Supernaturalism 155
God as Space Alien 155
Imagining God 160
The Realm of Perfection 164
Dualism as Incoherent 165
Movement and Movers 169
Natural Free Will 171
Experiential Dualism 176
- The Religious Animal? 181
The Hamer Gene 181
The Self-Transcendence Scale 184
The Rational Animal 188
1. My Journey to Secularism
Armstrong recounts his personal journey from Christian faith to secular atheism: “I came to realize that the promises of Christianity are an illusion. Christianity is myth, not literal truth. Jesus was a person who lived and died—and who became the basis of an elaborate mythology— not a supernatural being whose sacrifice allows people to live forever. Although people can create better or worse lives for themselves on Earth, there is no supernatural Heaven or Hell where souls dwell after the death of the body. We should be honest with ourselves about the nature of reality. Moreover, I came to see that countless Christians have needlessly tormented themselves or others because of their religious faith.”
2. Christianity’s Defense Mechanisms
“Christianity contains strands of doctrine that developed in order to protect the faith from outside criticism. These ideas act as the religion’s immune system by blocking or destroying invading ideas,” Armstrong writes. These include the notion that Satan causes doubts, the presumption that reasonable critiques of the faith may be dismissed as foolishness, the claim that atheists hate God, the threat of Hell, and the “ultimate guilt trip” of Jesus’s crucifixion.
3. Death without God
“The belief in life after death is not the cure for terror in the face of death—it is a major cause of it,” Armstrong writes. He advises, “Focus on the glorious wonder of life, not the fact that your life will end. . . . Of all the matter in the universe, only an infinitesimal amount is organized into living beings. Approaching life with a profound sense of gratitude . . . is the key to focusing on your current life rather than your eventual death. Do not say, ‘I will die someday,’ without also saying, ‘That means I am alive today.’ Think about all the wonderful things you are able to do while you are alive: commune with friends, pursue interesting work, read novels and philosophy, watch your child develop (if you have a child), reach out to others with aid or kindness, rekindle a romance, wonder at the trees and the clouds and the stars, contribute in some small way to humanity’s betterment.”
4. Meaning in the Natural World
“The meaning of life is not something fundamentally ‘out there,’ originating apart from us. It is something we create in our own lives by pursuing our values, including those oriented to developing our minds, and by using our minds to plan the long-range scope of our lives. We build meaningful lives by pursuing a career and other major goals, by forming tight social bonds, by taking interest in hobbies and recreation, by discovering our place in the universe, by contributing your verse to the human pageant.”
5. Morals without God
Conscious living beings naturally experience certain things as good or bad, Armstrong observes; “The roots of normativity are biological.” Moral reasoning arises from the human need to rationally integrate values. “Our ability to reason with others is the basis of voluntary exchange and of positive-sum relationships, especially in large societies.” Because of the centrality of reason in integrating values, “ethics can be objective—something can be good or bad independently of how a person happens to feel about it.” Faith-based ethics, by contrast, is inherently subjective.
6. The Dangers of Faith
“The fundamental problem with Christianity (and with religion generally) is that it encourages people to believe (certain) things on faith—without adequate evidence or rational argument—rather than by reason,” Armstrong writes. Going by reason is a moral imperative.
7. Societal Hazards of Christian Morality
Although the Bible offers many excellent passages, it “fails to lay out an adequate theory of morality” and “in many ways it recommends or at least excuses horrifically immoral acts,” Armstrong reviews. Further, because the “disagreements of faith are not . . . negotiable by reason,” and because the alleged stakes of religious belief are eternal life or damnation, religious conflicts often erupt in violence. This explains centuries of Christian warfare and persecution of heretics and others. Yes, Christianity has its tolerationist and individualist strains; it also has its dangerous authoritarian and apocalyptical elements.
8. Individual Hazards of Christian Morality
Christianity often encourages passivity, moral excuse-making, various forms of abuse and dominance, and unhealthy attitudes toward sex. True, Christianity also often encourages beneficial sociality, yet secularists too pursue such values. Armstrong summarizes, “Where Christianity entails, embraces, or promotes faith-based beliefs and self-undermining habits, people should leave it behind to pursue a secular life of reason, meaning, virtue, and strong social ties.”
9. The Incoherence of Supernaturalism
Many believe in a supernatural realm because people tend to attribute agency to natural forces; confuse states of dreaming and hallucination with leaving the body; imagine the soul outliving the body; and reify abstractions. But supernaturalism is incoherent. Only the natural can affect the natural. There can be no unnatural soul that separates from the body. Because knowledge requires natural forms of perception and action requires physical implements, a supernatural God would not have the means to know or to do anything. Armstrong also discusses natural free will and phenomena of consciousness.
10. The Religious Animal?
Armstrong rejects the claim that people have a “God gene.” We do have a capacity to experience awe and self-transcendence, feeling at one with others and the broader universe. Secularists too can experience awe, as when admiring nature and contemplating our place among the stars and the web of life. You have “one life to live and . . . it is your responsibility to live it,” Armstrong concludes. “That realization can be the spark for an authentic, non-supernaturalist spirituality as a conscious person finding joy in reality. We have a potentially wondrous home on Earth. Go live.”
October 11, 2023: In the book I have a short review of Philippa Foot’s Natural Goodness. I’ve written a longer treatment of that work: “Reading Philippa Foot’s ‘Natural Goodness.’“
October 24, 2023: I briefly discuss the ontological and cosmological arguments for the existence of God, plus the story of Lot’s daughters, in “Self in Society Roundup 34.”