On Atheism
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29-03-2010, 12:15 PM
On Atheism
I came upon this piece today by "ThosPayne" and published in the "Auburn Journal" California. Most of what it contains I've read before in one form or another, but I am pleased to see such article published in any US paper. I thought I might share this as the words could have been my own.


On Atheism

Atheism is not a philosophy or belief system. It is not even a view of the world. It is simply a refusal to deny that which is obvious.

It's sometimes said that Atheism is a faith. That would be like calling bald a hair color. The atheist does not believe there is no God; the atheist simply says evidence for the existence of gods is inconclusive. We live in a country in which this obvious fact is routinely ignored as a matter of political correctness.

Atheism is nothing more than the sound rational people make when in the presence of irrational dogma. The atheist is a person who thinks that those who insist on the existence of God should be obliged to prove it.

Because most religions offer no valid mechanism by which their core beliefs can be tested, evaluated and revised, each new generation of Believers is condemned to inherit the superstitions and tribal hatreds of its predecessors.

Only the atheist appreciates just how unbelievable this whole situation really is. Most people believe in a God that is every bit as unlikely as the gods of ancient Egypt or Mount Olympus. Yet no person, whatever his or her job qualifications, can seek high public office in the United States without pretending that the Hebrew God exists. And much of what passes for public policy in our country conforms to religious taboos and superstitions more appropriate to a medieval theocracy than to the mightiest nation in the history of this planet. It would all be amusing if the stakes weren't so high.

We live in a world where all things - good and bad - are, in the end, destroyed by time. Parents lose their children and children their parents. Husbands and wives are separated in an instant never to meet again. Friends part company in haste not knowing that it is for the last time.
Most people across this nation imagine that there is a cure for this obsolescence; a way to cheat death. They feel that if we live correctly (but not necessarily ethically) within the framework of certain ancient beliefs and stereotyped behaviors according to the manual, we shall get everything we want after we are dead. When our bodies finally begin to decompose, "we" can travel to a magical place where we are reunited with everyone we loved and everything we desired in life.

Of course, rational people and other assorted infidels will be denied access to the Happiest Place, while those who managed to stifle their disbelief during life will be free to enjoy themselves for eternity.

Oddly, this heavenly paradise conforms to our most superficial desires with all the fidelity of a Caribbean cruise. This is so exceedingly strange that if one didn’t know better, one would think that man, fearing his own death, had created God and Heaven in his own image.
Consider the destruction that Hurricane Katrina wrought on New Orleans. More than a thousand people died, tens of thousands lost all their earthly possessions and nearly a million were displaced. It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Katrina struck believed in an omnipotent, omniscient and compassionate God.

But what was this God doing while his hurricane laid waste to their city? Surely, he knew of the prayers of the elderly men and women who fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there. These were people of faith. These were truly good men and women who had prayed throughout their lives. Yet only the atheist has the courage to admit the obvious; that these poor people died screaming for mercy to an imaginary friend.

True, there had been ample warning that a storm of biblical proportions would strike New Orleans, and the human response to the ensuing disaster was tragically inept. But it was inept only by the light of science. Advance warning of Katrina’s path was wrested from mute Nature by meteorological calculations and satellite imagery. God told no one of his destructive plans.

Had the residents of New Orleans been content to rely solely on the beneficence of the Lord, they wouldn’t have known that a killer hurricane was bearing down upon them until they felt the first blasts of wind on their faces. And many, many more of them would have died.

Nevertheless, a poll conducted by The Washington Post found that 80% of Katrina’s survivors claim that Katrina strengthened their faith in God. It's difficult to imagine another business where the consumer always blames himself for a product failure like this.

As Hurricane Katrina was devouring New Orleans, nearly a thousand Shiite pilgrims were trampled to death on a bridge in Iraq. There can be no doubt that these pilgrims believed with all their hearts in God. Their lives were organized around the indisputable fact of God's existence; their men regularly murdered one another over rival interpretations of God's Word. Yet it would be remarkable if a single survivor of this awful tragedy lost his faith. More likely, the survivors imagine that they were spared by God’s compassion and mercy.

Only the atheist recognizes the boundless narcissism and self-deceit of the True Believer. Only the atheist realizes how morally objectionable it is for survivors of a catastrophe to believe themselves spared by a loving and compassionate God, while this same God drowned innocent infants in their cribs and elderly people in their attics.

Of course, people of faith regularly assure one another all the time that God is not responsible for human suffering.

But how then can we understand the claim that God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent? If He were otherwise, He could not be God. There is no other way, and it is high time for human beings to own up to this. This is the age-old problem of theodicy; we should consider it solved.

If God (any god - you pick) exists, either he can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or he does not care to. God is therefore either impotent or He is evil, as Epicurus observed three thousand years ago.
Of course, pious god-fearers will now execute the following pirouette: God cannot be judged by human standards of morality.

But human standards of morality are precisely what the faithful use to establish God’s goodness in the first place. If we are to believe the Bible, God even describes himself in such petty human terms as "jealous." Any God who could concern himself with something as trivial as gay marriage, masturbation, birth control or the name by which he is addressed, is not all that inscrutable. If he actually exists, the God of Abraham is not merely unworthy of the immensity of creation; he is unworthy of the respect of humans.

There is another possibility, of course, and it is at the same time the most reasonable and least odious conclusion; the biblical god is a complete fiction.

As Richard Dawkins has observed, we are all atheists with respect to Zeus and Thor, but the atheist realizes the biblical god is no different. Consequently, only the atheist is compassionate enough to take the profundity of the world’s suffering at face value.

It is terrible that we all die; it is doubly terrible that so many human beings suffer needlessly while alive. That so much of this suffering can be directly attributed to religions; to religious hatreds, religious wars, religious laws, religious ignorance, and religious diversions of scarce resources, is what makes atheism a moral and intellectual necessity.
It is a necessity, however, that places the atheist at the margins of theistic societies. The atheist, by merely being in touch with reality, is accused of being shamefully out of touch with the fantasy life of his neighbors.

Because most religions offer no valid mechanism by which their core beliefs can be tested and revised, each new generation of believers is condemned to inherit the same superstitions, biases, and tribal hatreds as its predecessors.

It is possible to bring reason, spirituality and ethics together in our thinking about the world. This would be the beginning of a conscientious and rational approach to our deepest personal concerns. It would also be the end of religion as we know it.
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29-03-2010, 07:26 PM
RE: On Atheism
Brilliant piece!
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29-03-2010, 09:05 PM
RE: On Atheism
This is amazing!
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30-03-2010, 04:51 AM
RE: On Atheism
Here, here!

I also think it brings together what I have in my head.

Maybe I'll print it out and recite it when the Jehovah's Witnesses come knocking next time! Smile
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01-04-2010, 08:29 AM
RE: On Atheism
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02-04-2010, 07:54 PM
RE: On Atheism
This is something I've been thinking about a lot. My current opinion is that there are two elements of faith required to adopt a non-theistic position. These are sort of the "axioms" of Atheism.
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03-04-2010, 09:57 AM
RE: On Atheism
(02-04-2010 07:54 PM)Kilgore Trout Wrote:  This is something I've been thinking about a lot. My current opinion is that there are two elements of faith required to adopt a non-theistic position. These are sort of the "axioms" of Atheism.

While I agree with your conclusion, I would disagree that these are two axioms that must be taken on faith. One is more of a conclusion (the bit about the laws), which we draw from direct observation, while the other is simply a logical tool. Neither really requires any faith.

"Owl," said Rabbit shortly, "you and I have brains. The others have fluff. If there is any thinking to be done in this Forest - and when I say thinking I mean thinking - you and I must do it."
- A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
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