I wound up writing quite a lot for the answers so I’m breaking this into two parts. Questions 1 through 5:
1. How Did You Become an Atheist?
I was born one, same as everyone else. Religion and belief is taught later, either actively or passively.
My mother donates to the local church sales but doesn’t go to any services. I don’t know where she stands on belief overall but considering the flack she once gave my religious aunt for trying to convert us… Dad’s completely atheist.
I went to a Catholic elementary school because nearby relatives were attending already and it made sense for me to start school where I already knew people. I wasn’t baptized. They gave me free bibles and I went to the Religion classes because everyone did I didn’t have to do any follow through in terms of ceremonies and whatever. I seem to recall we read parables and that’s all I recall. It wasn’t worth remembering, even then.
A lot of my friends were church-goers from junior high and into university. I’d go to the odd youth group thing with them for something to do on a weekend, and did do a youth retreat once where I accepted Christ as my personal savior. I got a free bible.
Looking back, I blame the peer pressure of being around so many devout people led to that response, not because I actually felt any connection to a higher power. I also signed up for the Naval Reserves because of peer pressure. They gave me a free bible there, too. I don’t recall finding a reason to open it but it never occurred to me to decline the offer either.
I stuck to the military life as well as I did a church life. As in, not at all.
2. What happens when we die?
Our bodies cease functioning and whatever neuron firings create our consciousness stop firing. The idea of heaven is a pleasant one but it’s not a provable thing and a lot of research has gone into how our brains handle lack of oxygen in near death situations. The “light at the end of the tunnel” thing is pretty explanatory when you look at the science behind it.
In terms of heaven as an idea, our species gets a lot of great ideas. We’re great storytellers, too, but we’re also incredibly gullible and easily fooled. Whether it’s a Ponzi scheme or a search for cryptids, we’re always at risk of being tricked by our brains. Sometimes getting “tricked” saves our lives – I tire of the example of a rustle in the grass either being the wind or the tiger but it serves its purpose. We trick ourselves into reacting in case it’s the tiger. If it’s just the wind, we feel a little foolish maybe, but at least we’re still alive to feel. If we think it’s wind and it’s not.. then we’re dinner.
3. What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!
Whose heaven? Whose hell? Ancient Greeks had ideas of the afterlife. Egyptians did, pre-Christian Romans would have, we know Vikings did. Every culture everywhere has ideas about what happens on the “other side” of life. How do you really, truly know that the ideas and beliefs you’ve been told to hold are the right ones?
4. Without God, where do you get your morality from?
I get it from my sense of belonging to my family and to a much greater extent, society at large. I don’t want people to steal my stuff; I don’t want to steal other people’s stuff. I don’t want someone to kill me; I don’t want to kill someone else.
Most of the rules set down are set down to make it possible for people to live in large groups. Adding religion into it and fear of God or fear of Hell for disobeying maybe made it a little easier for the leaders to keep people in line.
If you really think about it, the general public outnumbers the police by a fair margin but most people aren’t breaking into houses and cars and killing at will. Is that because of god-belief and commandments or just a collective sense of “Proper citizens don’t do that kind of thing”?
5. If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?
Like I just noted in #4, do you see that happening? A lot of religious people murder and rape and can pull out a bible verse or chapter from the Koran or whatever literature to justify the ends and means. Belief in a god or gods doesn’t stop that kind of behaviour from happening now. If you look at prison numbers and religious proclivity in inmates, you’ll find very few atheists in there. It’s not a case of no atheists in foxholes; we’re just a minority all over.
I’ll throw a question back – if you need a reward for doing a good deed, what does that say about you? Can’t you just do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing? Motivation is a difficult thing, though. It’s like raffles. Apparently people really do raise more money for charity if they raffle off something. It doesn’t matter if it’s a quilt or a car. You might get rewarded for doing a good thing. It’s certainly better if the rewards happen in this life rather than telling people to wait for the next one…