By Justin Baragona
Religion is a very important element in the lives of the majority of people in this world, whether it is Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism. The level of belief that one person feels to his or her religion varies, from casual recognition of your religion on major religious holidays all the way towards full blown extremism. However, it would be safe to say that the majority of people, at least in this nation, believe in a god and feel that there is a deeper meaning to their existence, that there is a heaven or some form of an afterlife, and that through worship of the god that they can attain everlasting happiness in the afterlife.
Then, you have the flip side of the equation, the atheist. The atheist came to a conclusion sometime in his life that there was no such thing as a higher being, that there is not an afterlife and that once you die that is all. Most likely, this happened while he was a teenager or a young adult, when his religious teachings stopped making sense to him and what he learned in school just could not be reconciled with what the church was telling him. Or maybe the concept of blind faith in a deity that he could find no proof of did not sit well with him. The atheist was able to find it easier to not believe than to believe. It was at this point that the atheist looks back at the history of religion, and not just necessarily the one that he stopped believing in, but the belief in god(s) in general.
He sits back and sees that early man used an unseen god to explain away the things he did not, or could not, understand. The wind, the sun, the stars, the rain…all of this was done by a god. And this god, or gods, should be worshipped and paid tribute to, especially if it was felt that the god affected their way of life. As man progressed through history, religion would be used as a tool of power to maintain order amongst the masses. Civilizations were built, in part or wholly, through the belief and fear of gods. Men of power would typically use the belief in the god to keep their position and to instill fear in the population. Sometimes, religion was used to stifle scientific and academic progress. The atheist looks back and bemoans the destructive tendency of religion and feels self-satisfied for knowing that he is above it all.
The atheist, however, sometimes concentrates on the negative impact of religion and forgets some of the positive contributions to mankind. Mostly, he tends to gloss over the development of a moral code that came from religion that would thus be the framework for a government and legal system. It was most likely necessary in the beginnings of civilization to have our laws be given to us by a higher power, to help create order and try to ensure that people would follow for fear of a greater retribution. Then there is another huge factor of religion that the atheist tries to ignore, but inevitably can't: It gives people hope and meaning in their lives. While the atheist might have been able to come to grips with the fact that we only have one life and there is nothing afterwards, it is still a depressing thought to think that this is all there is. The atheist's dilemma with life is to acknowledge that it has no greater meaning, that it is all just a chance occurrence.
Some of the wind goes out of the atheist's sails at this point. Not necessarily because he is depressed when he comes back to the acknowledgement that life has no meaning , but in knowing that it would be impossible to expect that most people would be able to accept this. He knows that people need a reason to go on with their lives. They need something to believe in and something to hope for. They need to feel that there is a greater power than them and that life is not the end all. So, the atheist must accept this, because most people need to believe in a god to get through their lives, to give them a sense of purpose. In the end, though, this should be fine with the atheist, as he is not looking to convert believers, as he does not belong to a religion and does not believe in any deity that he feels must be worshipped.
OK, it should be obvious to anyone reading now that I am an atheist. Personally, I feel that religion is a waste of time and prevents mankind from moving forward. However, as I seem to acknowledge in the paragraphs above, I also realize the necessity for religion, for the belief in God and an afterlife. For many people, it can be downright depressing to think that we do not have a higher purpose in life. I do not have a problem with anyone's personal beliefs, and do not care that they congregate to worship or celebrate religious holidays or anything else of that nature. What I do have a problem with is groups of people who feel that the laws and policies of this nation and its government should be dictated by their own personal religious beliefs. I do have a problem with people railing against science because it conflicts with text that was written thousands of years ago. I do have a problem with how people feel it is necessary that we can only elect someone to office once we know that they are a person of faith. I do have a problem with people who feel that their religion needs to constantly be reinforced and recognized publicly. I do have a problem with people using religion as an excuse for intolerance.
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)