by A. Uiet Bhor
Some of my writings on faith are seen to be a bit harsh, I saw nothing wrong with this, then I read an extract from a book detailing the author’s views on humanism. I disagreed with them, but I decided to re-examine my attitudes, and to set out my new position in this essay.
This is just a brief sketch of my position, as a secular free thinker, and a critic of religion.
Let’s get things strait, I’m not saying atheism or humanism will create utopias, that it is always better than theocracy. Reason and history shoes that you can have an atheistic tyranny, or one based on scientific knowledge, as well as a retarded tyranny, based on hatred of knowledge, and scientific progress, usually mixed in with the current religious dogma. This is not about atheism good, religion bad, I do not look only at the days when multitudes suffered under the shadow of the cross. I don’t conveniently forget, as theists accuse, the horrors of the 20th century, were “humanistic” philosophies of mankind seizing its own destiny and without deference to a deity, created hell on earth. I can’t deny that science made it so much worse than any medieval crusade, however this is confusing the issue. Such problems are of politics and sociology, not faith, I am not denying that humanity is flawed, I am not of a religion that deifies humanity, as the theist does gods, I do not separate man from nature as the highest thing on earth, as does genesis. I try simply to see the truth.
What is truth? For so many truth is whatever they are told it is, for me whatever meets the tests, using the methods that have proven themselves to be consistently reliable, and that a reasonable person must admit have merit. Only a bias due to conflicting theistic dogma would give one reason to continue doubt when scepticism has given way to trust.
I trust science, empirical evidence, and my own scrutiny, if it survives my questions, and few things do, I am willing to trust, for the time being, but I always continue to question. Even when I am convinced something is true, I still question, nothing is 100% certain, nothing is fact, and there is virtue in this uncertainty, life is often sacrificed on the alter of certainty.
Now, there are concepts and values that I find are best to be assumed for the sake of a moral, or philosophical purpose. I choose to work on the assumption that life is more important than anything, because I can think of no reason why it should not be otherwise, if morality is to be taken seriously it must proceed from first principles with life before all else. Everything is to be questioned but that, and I make to apologies for this imperfection in my scrutiny, it may not make sense through the reasoning of a theist wishing to condemn atheism, but it needs no justification.
To question the valuing of life is to forfeit any right to question and criticise from a stance of moral authority. If your god is more important than life, your faith is just that, a faith, not a force of good, or law or peace, or anything that can do mankind any favours, as morality means nothing to you if it’s inherent worth needs to be questioned. Asking an atheist “Why be Moral” is a clear sign that in your understanding, nothing has any worth except in relation to a higher power. If humanity only has value because it is made in the image of your deity, and it doesn’t occur to you that it may be worth more than your deity on its own, then your are a dangerous person. Disbelief would create an inhumane monster, without the capacity to view life as important in itself. This worldview is unstable, I cannot trust one who needs another point of reference to be good to his own species, secular philosophy can make some turn against humanity, which is why the assumption of life’s worth is essential. Morality is not to be found in the theist or non-moral atheist, both are the target of my criticism, as both are the danger we must face.
What I am left with is my questions, and some have been answered, science has explained life, religion and philosophy have not, so in the name of truth I accept evolution. I have no choice, religion has attempted to give me an answer, but I cannot exempt they have made any legitimate claim. I must refute revelation as asking too much, a leap of faith is a step to far. For an honest sceptic it is into the blind unknown, and I wish to know too much to take any religion’s word for it, as they would have to prove they were trustworthy first. For all I know every word may be a lie and they can never prove otherwise. I value the truth too highly to take the risk, as others who have done so seem not to benefit, as no theist I have ever met has had anything I want or need. No mind worth envying no life worth living, what I want I can achieve without any scripture.
We are from nature, we are capable of all imaginable evils, regardless of faith, or science, but it is politics that the 20th century demonstrated was the great weakness of the race. Faith, of one sort or another will always be with us, I cannot deny mankind’s need for it, so few learn to live without, I hope all will one day, but I am under no illusions. No, to create a better world, religion is not the deciding factor as the theist and the militant atheist would believe. Both the humanist and the xtian have to acknowledge the world is not becoming a better place for the increase of either positions, faith is only a factor that plays a part but is not always the deciding one. It has done terrible things, but so has greed, power, corruption, indifference, ignorance, and the basic human condition, which renders all of us susceptible to these undesirable traits. The reason some get so irritated with theists is because the faithful do not recognise these flaws as being intrinsic to their religion and those within it. It mentions plenty of them in the bible, but it never occurs to most that their church or denomination might or already has fallen prey to such things.
The bible has David and Solomon becoming corrupted yet the bible was used to justify divine kingship for over a thousand years. It warns against greed, yet see the opulent churches, and over-fed evangelists. It gives laws such as execution for blasphemy, that all denominations ignore yet they berate people who break such commandments relating to homosexuality, or pre marital relations. It teaches tolerance yet see the rabid bigots in every faith. Love thy neighbour yet see the denominations attack each other as well as everyone else.
As if faith could in anyway render its followers more, if not completely, impervious to the things atheists see as being the very factors that make religion such a hypocrite producer.
Yet it gets worse when extreme xtians do follow the bible to the letter, and start beating their children and subjugating women. It seems the bible is both good and bad, as such the chances of producing a decent person are very slim. All interpretations either lead to immorality, or a combination of vices and virtues, why it doesn’t occur to them that it might be better to start from scratch and do without the mixed messages of scripture is beyond me. Only the narrow minded would fail to see the larger problems outside their own little worlds. In order to be what I would consider an enlightened theist you’d have to ignore about 90% of your faith’s past and commands.
To Face Facts…
To better ourselves we need to recognise what we are, not though the eyes of humanism or faith, but though empirical evidence and except the findings no matter what. Some would deny the virtue of truth, seeing only science as a malignant force, giving us false confidence, taking away are much needed humility, that until know was derived from faith. They feel that what science amounts to is the replacing of the faith of god with that of man. The theist is right when they say this, materialistic atheism as major drawbacks, but they are avoidable, as are the ones intrinsic the religion. The difference is that religious institutions are not an unavoidable reality, they are arbitrary, and illegitimate, they can be removed from the equation without much effort. A vacuum remains, but it does not need to be filled with something as equally false, but a realisation that the vacuum must remain empty, or seal itself after we learn to live without. After we acknowledge that what we sought was not to be found, we must learn to live without the succour of religion, utterly. Not transform it, but do without.
This is an atheistic position, but no secular moral judgements are part of it, I don’t despise faith, but regard it as surplus. If it is included, we have yet one more obstacle to utopia. It is a tool like science, both do evil, but science is what we must have if we are to get out of the cave. Without it we live in perpetual fear of the thunder and the predator, and we deserve better than to cower in fear of spirits and forces we cannot understand let alone control. Religion is bitter that science took away many of the things it could credit to god, leaving only the spiritual matters, rather than natural phenomena. Explaining life was the final straw, the planets it could have, as well as thunder, (although it gave that up with a struggle) but science is the new religion in the sense that religion was what we used for science. In gratitude many say it is all we need. The atheist has more than just a philosophy, but facts to back itself up, but those fact cannot help us recover from the loss of a loved one, or give us complete ethical rules, and its certainly an odd way to unite people. No, atheism still lacks something, its right but only a partial truth.
So instead of preaching it as are salvation or doom, except its susceptibility to human flaws and seek to reduce the degree to wish it can be corrupted. If atheism has already failed, as the increase in religion’s power, and the 20th century horrors show then we must acknowledge the cause, human nature.
On The Atheist…
I admit, I love to lock horns with theist, my dislike for all religion is well known, but it is not because I think atheism is intrinsically better, most atheist are as deluded and clueless as the believers, the big difference is they KNOW they are. They except a lot of work need to be done, within themselves, and the journey has always only just begun, but at least they are in the right starting position, even if they don’t know why. Many atheist lose there faith for reasons that I consider trivial, ones most apologists could well deal with very easily, lose of a relative, evil in the world, etc. Such reasons are shallow, and lack true understanding of what faith is, how it’s developed, and how it sustains itself. It is a system, like politics, or economics, a system to control, explain, and generally cope with complex and hazardous substance that is the homo sapian. As such its complexity, is often more than capable of dealing with most of the problems that endanger a persons faith.
Most atheists just slipped though the gaps, before they received all the many treatments and methods, used to maintain their presence in the flock. As a result I regard them as vulnerable atheists, as they have not received the full dose, not had to suffer the full onslaught of the many incarnations of mind fucking available. Many, through pro atheist books, communities, and free research become armed with the necessary understanding and preparation needed to keep themselves in the "anti fold". So when exposed to new techniques of conversion they are able to resist by seeing strait though them, and understanding and dismissing the otherwise successful effects the method creates. They are lucky, in a age when no such secular culture existed many a person lost their faith, only to have no choice but regain it again. The crisis would be put down to a test or a symptom of some other problem, the horrors of the godless life to terrible to imagine. And the cogs continue to turn in the machine of blind components.
Now things are much better, particularly in the UK were not one gives a sh*t. In backward countries like America, at least there are on-line communities, for the sole atheist for 100 miles. However so few of these unbelievers have been the recipients of all the many sides of faith, before they were prepared, that many will never appreciate its power. They’ll just dismiss such things as the latest tract, or church tactic as mind control, or apologist bull. They may understand it in a detached clinical sense but they’ll be unable to fully grasp what it means to be in there with the believers, and will get frustrated when their logic and reason fail the break the control on others. Only one who has lived though all aspects of all faiths can deal with the minds enslaved by it, to understand mankind you have to be all people. Failing that read Understanding Faith by Pascal Boyer.
Back And Forth…
I will be more charitable of atheism and humanism than its other detractors, I grant it has an uphill clime, to free so many from an overwhelming power that effects all societies, from the individual to the continent. But the free thinker must realise what this is really all about. Take a long hard look at communism, then at the things that the evangelist says are the result of secular influence, crime, tyranny, drugs, prostitution and realise they have a lot of fire power against you. What you must realise is these things are not the believers business! It is not up to faith to make the world a better place, it can’t and neither can the philosophy of doubt, the ammo used on both sides are not theirs to claim. No atheist has the right to blame contemporary theists for the crimes of the past, and no faith can blame atheism or Darwinism for current social propels. You are both just trying to score points for your team, when you should be working together to solve the worlds problems instead of blaming them on each other.
This is petty and short sighted, but I understand it, many a time I have used my knowledge of history to disarm the moral standing of a church leader, and why not? Xtianity needs to be brought down a peg or two, but there’re many things that should also be brought up a peg. Among them is not atheism, it is a blank slate, on which virtues are to be built from the ground up, but always with reference to faith. Most cannot live without some elements of belief, and many atheists will remain the same dogmatic presumptuous preachers they were before, but with science instead of scripture as their creed.
All Together Now…
It is time to stop focusing on the whole faith thing and get to work on the goals we need to achieve. Tyranny is the enemy to both the theist and atheist, both views have created tyrants, and wars, both need to except that there is nothing within themselves that renders them impervious to these flaws and both need to face up to them. The free thinker may see these flaws as tragic aspects of humanity, the xtian as evidence of mans finite, cursed subservience to god. Both are fooling themselves, they are factors that need to be considered in the foundation of any new way, as man should be neither raised up nor pushed down, it were it is, a simian that talks, and fucks up a lot.
The humanist needs to stop having faith in mankind’s innate goodness, and the theist, in a god that will save mankind from itself. Like it or not we’re on our own, and poorly equipped at that. There may be nothing the human mind cannot accomplish, but it is a curse as well as a blessing, for we surround ourselves with allusions, and it is virtually impossible to work are way though them. No one is without delusions of some sought, just some more than others. As a sceptic I distrust all methods to find the truth, but I am forced to admit that science’s empirical method, although unable to explain many things, can at least be trusted to get right what it does explain. In a way I love it, for it is based around the principle that mankind’s efforts are replete with error, that we see imperfectly, are senses deceive, and we are biased, and often liars. The whole structure of science is designed to minimalise the chances for human weakness to effect the accumulated pieces of data we choose to call facts, as well as what we infer from them. Many criticise the theory, or hypothesis, but there is no better way, as we are finite, and reality is practically infinite.
Science, and what isn’t…
Although doubt is first of virtues, it must not rule us, or we will miss the truth, when on that rarest of occasions it is found. Yes, often by chance or by “guesses”, and when doubt is laid aside, for even the briefest of moments we run the risk of being wrong, or being accused of having faith in a theory, and turning into a religion. But the most important thing is to put aside the centuries when doubt was seen as a sin in the eyes of the church. Religion relies on faith, as it has nothing else to sustain it, no matter how many relics, and sighting of the virgin they desperately cling to. Such things are supposed to be the proof that makes the lie of “it’s just about faith”, and thusly beyond the reach of science, as so many clearly need more, yet will not listen to reason, and deny that science as the right to verify said “events”.
It’s a cycle of double standards. Religions criticise a culture of doubt, saying faith is better, accuse scientist and those who no longer doubt theories such as evolution, saying they have faith in something at that makes it wrong and unscientific. Try to use science methods to give their counter claims cred, while in the same breath slagging of science. Then when science points out that there’s nothing behind the churches claims, all these arks, shrouds, and bleeding statues turn up. They’re sold as evidence, but are only verified by non scientist. Real ones object, and are accused of over stepping their bounds. Its an uneven playing field and religion always as the home advantage, they’re the ones skilled in lying there asses off, and the ones with the pre packaged zombie supporters. A scientist’s lot is not a happy one.
So much is lies, so much is fog, without doubt to protect us we would all be warped like a believer, who’s faith makes him the mindless self destructive martyr of many a holy cause. But to doubt all is not to listen, to doubt just what you are told to, is bigotry. One must have a standard of proof, when doubt can be laid aside. To doubt the findings of science as a sceptic is one thing, and indeed a virtue even to the scientist, but to doubt it while maintaining faith, or lack of doubt in anything else, is stupidity of the highest order, presumption and the death of the quest for truth. Such a person cannot be allowed to claim the title scientist, but only sheep, crook, and outsider to those who consider the lie, something to be actually avoided rather than embraced.
All very well you say, but what is to be done so that humanity can benefit? Well, first all sides must ackowladge life as the highest thing to hand. If one insists on believing in the spiritual, it must never come before the natural world, as a criminal who harms society is taken from it, so the believer should be denied the privilege of shared this planet with others of its kind. No one who denied to importance of the physical world should be allowed to harm it, and so all faith must bow to the material, or be considered criminal, in the eyes of society and the law. In other words, if your faith is so strong that you would forsake this realm of flesh, don’t bother the rest of us. It is when religion places what cannot be seen ahead of what is, in the same way a political ideal, or national concept is placed ahead of life, that all suffer.
This is the problem and it is common to all ideals regardless of whether they are labelled religious or not. Whether the theists are right in labelling atheism or Darwinism a faith, it doesn’t change what is the inevitable result of all creeds if allowed to go unchecked, tyranny and death. Maybe Darwinism or humanism will create a secular world order that wipes us all out. It is not incapable of it, no matter how much I may approve of science in general, or how much I may relate to humanism, I am not blind to their flaws. There potential evils are not inevitable as theists would claim however, but actual, innate, and to be found in all religions, as much as any other idea. If the theist refuses to acknowledge this, they cannot ever assist mankind, as the acknowledgement of the corruptibility of a creed is the first and most important step that every responsible group, party, faith, or nation must take.
Safeguards, that is what it boils down to, the atheistic despotisms of the 20th century had non, so regardless of the fact that they lacked the shortcomings of theism, they still turned to sh*t. I see this not as an embarrassment for the atheist but a wake up call. Just because you have kicked out the priests doesn’t mean you will not create another religion it their place. Animal farm showed it best, society is the farm, we have to decide what to do about the problems that derive not necessarily from the leaders in charge, but from are own natures. If a regime is overthrown in the name of another regime, it will be back to square one.
An atheistic community lacks most of the unmerited and unrepresentative authorities of a religious one, as it is based on individual freedoms to explore the truth, and naturally democratic leanings. As soon as that exploration leads to a faith for someone however, problems can occur, the new theist may have to enter a religious group instead. The error is in assuming just because we get together as freethinkers; we as a group do not suffer the same shortcomings as other groups, all are in some way excluding.
If an individual can be a monster regardless of faith, then so can the group, as we are all still human. The atheist is free in many ways, but should still restrained by a common law. Theists may break the law in the name of god, the atheist in the name of revolution, or freedom, anarchy, or whatever. Both must be made to understand, neither views must compel them to break said laws, and so neither must get too cared away.
Fears And Understanding…
The believer is scared of a godless tyranny and the atheist scared of a theocratic one. Both have a point, some atheist in the forums may have the potential to forge a secular state, many would like to, out of fear, the same fear that drives many theists on those same forums to preach the “virtues” of one nation under god. And so they are driven apart, each fearing what both can do, none realising that both are right. The theist dismisses the fears of a new Dark Age, seeing only a perfect society of god-fearing church going pilgrims, preparing the way for god’s return. The atheist regards the communist tyranny as a glitch, one that hardly represents the modern more enlightened atheist, no, they will create a new world, one dedicated to progress, truth, free thought, humane values without a deity to diminish us.
I’m not saying atheist are out to create a atheist commie dictatorship, but that’s how it appears to a paranoid fundie mind. You need to be more empathic, much as I hate getting into their minds, it is important to know your opponent, and understand him/her. And I know many theist are not after a theocracy, but given our knowledge of history, you can’t blame us for being a little worried. I think we need to build some bridges, not an inter-faith thing but simply an understanding, that we all want to preserve our inclusive democratic institutions, and not take over the world with our ideas/beliefs. Then we can agree on were faith belongs and were it doesn’t, the moderate theists and almost all atheists have the best interest of humanity at heart and need to unite against the fundies who ARE after a theocracy. As well as the few atheists who would like a faith free secular state, they give both sides a bad name. Group the moderates together and squeeze the extremists out, so we can remain civilised. I understand when a theist starts proselytising in the middle of a serious debate, and you just feel like swearing at him, but they’ll use your reaction against you. Xtians in particular have the ability to bring out the worst in us, especially those who have extensive experience with what it can lead to.
Advice to Atheists…
Emotion is the enemy of reason, it is their weakness it must not be ours. Yes, they are the most annoying people on earth at times, but I would much rather have an intelligent theists giving a good explanation for a bible error, than someone taking up all the forums with tracts. I think we need to up the quality of the debate sometimes, when a fundie resorts to personal attack, or quoting debunked creationist material or whatever, just respond calmly with a minimum of effort, point out their mistakes, and move on. Some x-xians here can be quite immature, almost as much as the young, brainwashed, smug, self-righteous, ignorant little preachers we get here. It’s understandable if you’re young, or newly liberated, but we have to set example. Someone as to be the voice of reason, value intelligence, and demonstrate detached understanding, that is what being a freethinker is all about.
Advice to them…
Oh and the theists out there, you’ll have to forgive some of the ignorant outbursts here, many ex-xtians are still recovering from their bad experiences. Look at it from their point of view, they see faiths a lie that they have wasted many years of their lives on, years they will never get back. Whether they were ever “real” xtians or not, those were real years, and the institutions they wasted them with are also real, and they sometimes fell bitter. Plus you are really annoying sometimes.
Wake up all of you, you need to stop polarising our nations and work together under a flag, not of truce, but co-operation. We need every hand we can get, if this planet is to be sorted out, both must acknowledge that neither can gain ascendancy, and must respect the restrains of democracy, accountability, and the freedoms that both the theists and the non theist fought for. All moderates united to make sure extremists from either side are restrained as much as possible, and not seen as a lesser of two evils. Such as when, to fight communism America encourage fascist dictatorships in the 60s-80s, or when extremist Muslims are regarded with respect by moderates, who invent theistic rationalisations for their behaviour, as they are at least only attacking the bad old west.
This is not about then and us, but good an evil, moderate and extreme, as a moderate of even a religion can do good, and believe it or not believers, so can atheists.
Love live all (moderate) democratic nations. The scaffold is in place, time to build us a better world.
Both of us.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)