I got a phone call this morning from one of my husband’s good friends. He and Lee had had a conversation about religion a week ago, and the friend – a solid believer in Christianity – had told Lee (who, like me, is atheist) that he felt it was the height of arrogance to ‘choose’ to be atheist. Well, this am, he called to say he’d realized the arrogance of his own statement- a truly wonderful and appreciated realization. Of course, he’s still a believer and still wishes we’d get ‘saved’ too. So we had a little chat. He’s a lovely man, and I quite like him, even though we disagree on religion.
First, I tackled his idea that being atheist is a choice – (specifically, a choice NOT to take a leap of faith). That’s two sided right there. It’s NOT a choice about belief – either you do, or like us, you do not. We didn’t just up and arbitrarily choose to abandon god one day. Atheists, almost all of them in my experience, (and I do know a lot of them!) always come to their atheism by rational thought. If you step back from any one religion and begin to compare it to all religions with belief in deities, you can see pretty easily where these ideas came from. And they came from humans trying to explain away phenomena they were otherwise incapable of explaining. As we progressed with science and philosophy and have the ability to do serious comparisons among the myths of all religions, we see repeated patterns of the ‘tales’ of the individual gods. The Moses in a Basket story, for example, is repeated in several religions with the names and locations changed. The virgin birth story is repeated in multiple faiths. The list goes on and on. (A wonderful resource for these comparisons, and a truly fascinating read is “The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets“, by Barbara G Walker, is a book I received as a gift years ago, and return to frequently.)
When you DO investigate, and you DO find real evidence for the genesis of supreme beings in the minds of our ancestors, it’s pretty hard to continue to accept these ideas as valid for many of us. Just as we know the earth is not flat, and we know the universe is huge and we are barely a speck in it, we can know that primitive ideas our species developed can be abandoned as knowledge prevails.
I must also briefly address the harm done by religions… almost every war in human history has been over different gods. The losses, the destruction, the pain and death perpetrated in the names of gods is staggering. The knowledge civilization possessed before being destroyed in the dark ages is nothing short of heartbreaking. All in the names of gods. From the FEAR of rational thought and discourse. But I digress…
My point here is that there is no real choice. It’s pretty easy to KNOW there are no gods, either. (The arguments “Well maybe there are no gods as any humans have described could be true but you can’t know there are no gods we don’t know about!” or “Well Everything is God, so there!” are beyond absurd. HUH? WE invented the idea and concept – the WORD - god(s). So we cannot make the word then have alternative meanings and associations we don’t yet know about. The invention does NOT take on a life above and beyond that of the inventor. I am simply, totally incapable of saying “I know there is no god but I am going to choose to believe there is a god.” I asked our friend if he could be an atheist for a day. He said, “I could but I choose not to do that.” Uh huh. So that’s the ‘choice’ part…
The arrogance. Wow. Ok. Every atheist I know has approached their own beliefs with as open a mind as is possible. Like a serious scientist with integrity, you do NOT state your conclusion until you do the work. And the answer is a RESULT of the work. Sure you begin with a hypothesis, either I think that ”There is a god”, or “There is not a god”. But serious research will NOT permit any ‘givens’ other than what is, in fact, there. You can NOT state that you KNOW there is a god when the WAY you know is that you took a LEAP OF FAITH. Well, you can state it, but you shouldn’t seriously expect anyone else to buy it, should you? What if I told you that I have the obligation to kill anyone who disagrees with me because Jojo the Great told me, and I HEARD him say it in my head and heart, that I was entrusted with carrying out this mission. Exchange ‘Jojo’ with ‘GOD’ and you have exactly the situation in the conflict between the Shia and Sunni in Iraq… – that one is too primitive for you? Ok, the English and the Irish. How’s THAT for unbelieveable in today’s world, in the most advanced societies on earth we STILL have religious wars.
Oh, yes… well you’re right – Stalin WAS atheist. But Hitler was a Catholic. ANY belief structure, theist or atheist, will have both good and bad people. FAITH does not make you GOOD, and no religious faith does not, by default, make you BAD. Ethics and morals EVOLVED with the growth of civilization. What worked is ethical and “Good”, what does not work is ”Wrong”. I know many people of assorted faiths who are GOOD, loving, caring and for the most part, not particularly judgemental. Until it comes to issues which conflict with their beliefs. Such as rights for homosexuals. They can live together, but they can’t use the word MARRIAGE because WE own it. Good grief. It’s a WORD. You do not own it, nor can you legislate love. You know, approximately one in ten people throughout the world (and in many animal species, too!) is born with the genetic makeup to be homosexual. One in TEN, folks. The ancients knew this, and it was accepted as normal. Only when modern religions entered the picture did we begin to remove rights from folks who are in the minority due to the accident of birth. And here again the list goes on, of peoples who are treated badly in one way or another simply because they hold a different belief or live a different way than we do.
So you wonder, does Ms. Caraleisa see any good at all in religions? Yes, actually, I do. Just as religion has its overwhelming dark side, it also has a beautiful, good side. It’s inspired some GREAT music! There is much GOOD done in the names of the assorted dieties, albeit along with the good is a strong ‘suggestion’ that the recipient should, in abject gratefulness, adopt the beliefs of the givers (which is a gift with strings… Ugh.).
There is the mental COMFORT embraced by the ‘faithful’ in prayer and acceptance. The social benefits of being together with others. I know that on her deathbed, it gave my grandmother tremendous comfort to pray the rosary. I even ‘donated’ a priest friend of mine to the assortment of priests who celebrated her funeral mass. I did it for her, because I loved her so much, and knew that would have given her comfort to know in advance, as well as comforting her children and grandchildren who were still Catholic. (I admit the idea of eternal life scares the crap out of me. . . visit www.philosoraptor.com and read the essay by Lee on eternal life.)
Which means I do NOT have any intention of telling YOU that you cannot believe whatever it is that boils your water or freezes your fears. That is, UNLESS and UNTIL you presume to tell ME that I must also follow in your footsteps. I will not – I CANNOT!, and I will never tell you you must follow in mine. This country was founded BECAUSE religion had so mucked up the world that many fled to the ‘new’ world for the freedom to believe as they will. Now, some obsessive Christians want to change that, to make Christianity the religion of the state, and worse, the tenets of Christianity the LAW OF THE LAND.
No, NO. No. It is not now, and it must never be mixed with the state. Neither your gods nor my atheism. There is NO NEED for any type of belief in this category to have any place in a government which should be by and for ALL the people of the land, be they the majority or any minority. I’ll fight for equality for all with everything I have in me. For YOU and your right to believe, and for those of us who differ from you in so many ways, so that we ALL can enjoy a life of freedom and conscience. (Thankfully, there are many theists who realize this is not appropriate -for excellent explanations visit and join www.au.org)
And so on this Christmas (or, insert your religious event of choice), 2008, I wish you joy, peace, health, understanding and compassion for all – no matter what you believe. And I wish you … perhaps .. a little comforting common sense, too.