I’ve always considered myself a spiritual person. But I suppose if I’m going to write about this properly, I need to define that at least a little. I’ve always looked at myself and my life as a palette by which I can express my existence in more than just a purely utilitarian way. I view myself as more than the sum of my parts. This, to me, defines spiritualism.
However, I have absolutely no belief in any god or gods, nor do I believe in miracles or magic. I have no hope of heaven, nor a fear of hell. I believe that when I die, as with all living things, I am dead. I do not believe that my soul, which I view as a sense of self, lives on after the death of my body.
I am an atheist.
A couple months back I changed my about page to include a section on my “beliefs”, and inserted the atheist graphic (above) in my sidebar. I had decided it was time to put a bit more of a voice behind what had been my, mostly quiet, thoughts on the world for a long time.
Maybe there is no need for such a declaration. Maybe the fearsome bulk of irrational religious-based actions portrayed daily by the media is grossly overstated. Maybe the lunacy of creationism is not on the verge of being taught in science classes around the world. Maybe the complete denial of proven scientific facts is only really practiced by a small, but vocal, minority of religious zealots.
Maybe, but I doubt it.
Something in me feels that we, the silent non-believing minority, need to speak up. We need to make a stand not for what we believe in or what we have faith in, but for what is fact and what is truth to the limits of our current understanding. We cannot allow this back-stepping in the grand evolution of human knowledge to continue.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating any sort of persecution. I believe, fundamentally, that every person should be allowed to believe whatever they like. This is personal freedom and personal liberty. However, to say that religion is a matter of personal liberty is a bit of an oversimplification, and ignores or denies what religion, at its foundation, is. Religion is a large and powerful method of control which indoctrinates the young, the poor and the sick. It works to evangelize a specific (and often archaic) set of values and hide or destroy knowledge that conflicts with its tenets. That is exactly the opposite of liberty.
In writing this I understand that the religious among you are just itching to drop to the bottom of the page and leave heated comments calling me all sorts of ungodly names and explain to me how I’ve got the path to god all wrong. And such is your right to have your own opinions, I’ll not remove them. However, before you do, please stop and ask yourself how it is you came to believe what you believe.
Can you honestly say you came to your unquestioning belief in a supreme being, or beings, without the overt influences of your family or the culture you grew up in? I’m sure there are some of you that are “born again”, or have come to your faith as an adult in some way, but the vast majority of religious people blindly follow the faith of their parents or forefathers. How then can anyone who has spent their entire life surrounded by a specific set of ideas possibly have an objective view about their religion?
We must stand up to the enemies of reason
“We must favour verifiable evidence over private feeling – otherwise we leave ourselves vulnerable to those who would obscure the truth.” – Richard Dawkins, “The Enemies of Reason”
Here’s the thing. I understand the pull of believing in something greater than ourselves. The desire to believe in some master plan for our existence. Numerous times throughout my life I’ve felt that pull – whether because of tragedy or trepidation. Despite seeing all signs of rationality point towards atheism, I was drawn to the colourful and imaginative world of religion.
But it never sat right. Sort of like, as a child, you go to slay dragons in the forest behind your house and only find trees.
I resigned myself to the cold, but truthful, reality of a world without god and the supernatural. And then I began to realize something: the workings of nature are much more fantastic and amazing than anything dreamed up millenniums ago as a means for explaining what we could not then possibly understand.
The blind belief in anything, anything, is flawed. And this is why science, and its methods of proof, is so brilliant. Science holds the answers not because it has all the answers, but because it wants to find them. At its core, science has no allegiance. It will quite happily do away with what it thought it knew, and replace it with a new set of understanding. In short, it learns. It grows. It evolves.
“Relativism – the quaint notion that there are many truths all equally deserving of respect, even if they contradict each other – is rife today. It sounds like a respectful gesture towards multiculturalism. Actually it’s a pretentious cop-out.
“There really is something special about scientific evidence. Science works. Planes fly – magic carpets and broomsticks don’t. Gravity is not a version of the truth – it is the truth. Anybody who doubts it is invited to jump out of a 10th floor window.
“Evolution, too, is reality. You don’t believe it or not believe it on the basis of whom or culture – the evidence supports it. Evolution is the plain truth.” – Richard Dawkins, “The Genius of Charles Darwin”
I think what Dawkins is saying is that moderates, whether religious or atheist, tend to hide in relativism. There is nothing wrong with being a moderate, if (and that’s a big ‘if’) doing so does not allow extremists to push forward their agenda. There are numerous places around the world where this is being done, that it’s in my own backyard is more than a little disturbing to me. By allowing religious fundamentalists to elevate creationism to the level of being considered a “scientific theory” and pushing for it to be included in science class is nothing more than pure insanity.
We live in a scientific world, where the direct results of scientific methodology can be seen absolutely everywhere. The extent of human knowledge is in a golden age. Whereby past centuries were lucky to be graced with one or two major scientific marvels, we experience them weekly – so much so that we’re hardly phased or amazed by them anymore.
We take for granted the fact that the life expectancy of the average human being living in a (scientifically) developed country has nearly doubled in the past hundred years – and infant mortality rates have dropped even more drastically. This isn’t from an increased belief in religion; this is because people, largely non-believers in a god, dedicated their lives to improving and understanding the world.
Because of science playing such a huge role in the comforts we all now benefit from, churches can’t but add science to the conversation. History has repeatedly shown how the church first denies, then covers up, and finally adapts/adopts scientific discoveries that conflict with religious belief. The most shining example, of course, is the belief the sun revolved around the world. Or, just as relevant, that the world was flat.
Now, of course, these are considered undeniable facts as proven by (not even all that) modern science. So, how then can there still be an argument, any argument, that teaching our children the world is less than 10,000 years old is anything but wrong? How can the fiction that God created two humans before all other animals be elevated to the same “scientific” level as the undeniable and proven fact of evolution by natural selection?
But this is exactly what is being done when people subscribe to a literal belief in the Bible, Torah, or Qur’an. By its very nature religion asks its followers to suspend their rationality and blindly believe, via “faith”, that what is being said is truth. Nonsense.
Equally nonsensical is the argument by creationists that goes something like: “Evolution isn’t proven because we can’t see it. Why aren’t gorillas still evolving into humans? Why aren’t other animals still evolving if that’s how it happens?”
But that’s not how it happens. We didn’t evolve from gorillas, or chimps. Rather we all evolved from a common ancestor – modern apes went their way and we went ours. And we are still evolving. It’s just that evolution doesn’t happen in a lifetime, or 100 lifetimes, it takes thousands upon thousands of years.
This is not a theory. It is a fact. It is evidenced by a meticulously gathered mountain of research initially through paleontology, and now conclusively by scientific strides in the understanding of DNA. As human evolution deals with times dating back millions of years (at least 4-5 million years since splitting from our closest cousin – the chimpanzee), there are bound to be some fuzzy areas that scientists aren’t certain about. However, it is not a question of whether man originated several million years ago or six thousand years ago. The latter is simply false.
That returns us to the moderates – those who largely agree the young earth theory is nonsense. The religious liberals who don’t look at their holy book as being literal, but rather allegorical. Religion is thus just a set of moral codes or laws to follow to live a healthy and happy life – or else burn in hell for all eternity. And that’s where you lose me. I get living a moral life, and I totally understand wanting some guidance on how to do that. We’re social creatures, and learning from others is how we grow.
Why though must we tack on supernatural ideas to such a moral code? Why do we need the prize or punishment of Heaven and Hell to force us to behave in a proper fashion? The truth, of course, is that we don’t. I am an atheist and I live a happy and fulfilling life that, by most’s standards is completely moral. In fact, I am certain that morality has no connection to religion, and atheists by and large are no less moral than the religious.
And though it could be argued the opposite isn’t true – that much death and immoral actions are done in the name of religion – I’d hazard a guess that even without religion we’d find ways to kill each other.
Where my problem with religion lies is that it infects systems that I both desire and require to stay non-religious. It creeps into and infects education and political policy – two things that should never be marred by a lack of rationality.
It is for this reason that I am standing up and stating, loudly and longly, that I am not a communist, I am not an anarchist, I am not immoral, I am not unethical, I am not non-spiritual, but I am an atheist.