I am an atheist. I do not believe in any form of god, higher being, spirits, ghosts, karma(In the spiritual sense), reincarnation, fairies, pixies, elves, leprechauns , trolls, mermaids, bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. Some of them are characters in great stories and even better books that are very interesting and enjoyable. This does not make them real. No matter how much you want them to be.
For me, the biggest problem is a complete lack of real, credible and testable evidence for any of them. Before anyone starts shouting and screaming at me about their religious book being a credible source of evidence I suggest this. Go away; find out the dates that the earliest surviving copies were written down. Now, ask yourself, “Would I trust someone recounting events that happened that long ago (Time between supposed events and when they were written down) and expect me to take their version as 100% correct?” Then ask yourself. “Is there any contemporary, physical evidence?” The thing I don’t understand is why events and stories like the Battle of Thermoplyae, the siege at Troy, Robin Hood etc are given full balanced review and exploration. Using evidence based facts and theories whose credibility are acknowledged based on the quality of the evidence available. However, when it religious “history”, everyone is expected to take large swathes of “fact” based on hearsay and second hand accounts without any form of primary or contemporary evidence. Whenever I discuss this with anyone (Internet or in person, which I prefer) or I watch it being discussed, there always comes a point in the discussion when someone says something akin to “It’s called faith for a reason” For me this is a nonsense statement. To me what this means is this: I have no evidence to back up what I’m saying or believe and rather than acknowledge the consequences of this I’m going to carry on regardless. It seems to me that a lot of religious and spiritual belief relies on people doing this rather than questioning the accepted version of the “truth”. I think that you need reliable and testable evidence, data, call it what you will. Without that how can one start to use these facts or knowledge to inform the way they behave or the things that they do. Think about it.
When it comes to why people believe what they believe I think that several factors come into play. They are not the same for everyone and I think they work on a social level as well as a personal one. I am also sure that people could add to this list. In no particular order.
1. Peace of mind. It is nice to think that everything is happening for a reason. Someone is looking out for us. It’s all part of God/Thor/Allah/Jehovah’s plan. It also gives a nice easy answer to “Why are we here?” This way we don’t have to face up to the reality that things just happen. Not because they’re preordained. Not because it’s fate. But simply because they do. This means that when life is rubbish or going badly, it just is. It’s not a test or a punishment. The same when it’s going well. It’s just life.
2. Devolution of responsibility. This is sort of the same thing as peace of mind but I extend it to ideas such confession, crusades or Jihad. The idea that one can behave in certain way but it’s OK because it’s sanctioned or forgiven by a god of some description. Continuing belief allows people to continue to behave in, quite frankly, at times an appalling way and all because it’s done under the banner of belief.
3. Habit and community. I know lots of people who follow a spiritual path simply because their parents or the society they grew up in do. Again it’s nice to be in a place where everyone agrees and believes in the same thing. To some people it never occurs to them or they are afraid (That’s a whole other blog!) of choosing something different. I’ve read some great stories of people who have led their entire lives simply following what path their parents and the people around them do who one day suddenly realise. I can choose this for myself.
Now, on one hand I don’t have a problem with someone having belief. It makes some people very happy. I don’t agree with it. But, we don’t have to agree. I personally don’t understand why people in this day and age do but, there it is. My big problem with religion comes in three parts.
1. Pushing those beliefs on to others. I include in this, forcing religion on youngsters(I have to agree with Richard Dawkins here and say they way it is done in certain sectors of society is tantamount to child abuse) , pushing religious agendas into public sector and government policies (I believe all government, schools and public sector industries should be secular), using guilt to get people to behave in a certain way or do certain things and everybody’s favourite, knocking on peoples doors and lecturing them in their own homes. There are more examples but I think you get the picture
2. Using people’s beliefs and subsequent fears to afford you some form of power. Be it power over people, money, politics, the law power comes in many forms. As an example of this I highlight the behaviour of the Catholic Church in Europe over the last 1,500 years or so. Not because I have anything more against them than anyone else, and plenty of other religions behave in a similar way, but because they demonstrate this point quite well and it’s an area (European history) that I have a great interest in. Wars, crusades (including against other Christian groups simply because their version of Christianity differs to theirs, for example the Cathars), policy of silence during the holocaust, the Inquisition, killing, imprisoning and torturing those who disprove parts of the bible, hushing up of child sex abuse cases involving priests, persecution of homosexuals, pushing the non contraception agenda in a continent with a huge AIDS problem, the list goes on. The sad fact is that most religious groups have their history littered with such crimes against humanity. It’s all done under the banner of religion so apparently that makes it OK. Unless of course the religion doing it is different to yours, then it’s not OK.
3. Enforced respect. For some reason religious belief comes under some odd social etiquette that states that it’s rude to question it. Yet my “belief” as an atheist seems fair game. As an example, when I got married I did so at a registry office, then we had a big party at a 15C coaching inn. It was very nice. The ale was great, my wife was beautiful, and everyone had a good time. However, more than once I have been told by some religious people things like “It’s a shame you didn’t do it at a church” or “I would have preferred it if you’d got married at a church” and for some reason I am expected to keep quiet about this criticism of my wife and I’s big day. Actually, I didn’t, but that’s another story! However, if I was to tell someone that they shouldn’t have gotten married in a church because it’s all rubbish..........can you imagine the response? Why? If you use your belief to question someone’s moral judgement or decisions then in my eyes you open yourself up to the same scrutiny, so deal with it. But some reason when it’s done under the guise of religion we’re supposed to accept it and smile sweetly.
So, I am an atheist. I’m proud to be an atheist. I think that the idea of belief in the supernatural in this day and age is not in keeping with the progress made by the human race in areas such as technology, science and medicine. I believe that the world would be a better place without religion in it. If you need religion to be good, it’s time to question yourself and your morals rather than those of others. I’m going to quote John Lennon. “Imagine there’s no heaven........... no hell below us.....no religion too, imagine all the people living life in peace” Imagine a world with no crusades, no Jihads, no 9/11, no war in the Baltics, equal rights for women across the world, gay marriage, every child receiving a fair and well rounded education, no cults, no Waco massacre, no people protesting at soldiers funerals. I call for an end to mysticism and superstition, guilt and control. Take control of your lives because no one else is. The human race will be better for it. We have been held back for thousands of years when it comes to understanding ourselves, science and the universe by enforced doctrine. Let go. It is time to move on.