Monday, August 24, 2009
At some point it happens to every secularist. The discussion of faith arises and you are feeling particularly comfortable or maybe a bit confrontational or defensive. You decide to hell with it, I'm going to share my opinion. So you let it go that you don't believe in god. And then the fighting begins. It is in my experience at least that an atheist or, as I think of myself, an apatheist draws scorn and criticism from religious folk (specifically Christians for me because I simply haven't had the opportunity to interact with members of other faiths on a regular basis) to the point that a debate becomes inevitable. And the debate is always a stalemate. That's because the two sides of the debate play by different rules. The secularists formulate an argument on logic and deductive reasoning. The believers form an argument on faith and emotion. Its like playing football with a kid from Peru; you just aren't talking about the same game.
I personally decided to stop actively believing in a higher power, or at least stop believing in any of the ones specifically laid out by mankind, when I reached a point where logic and faith could no longer work together. I found that I had to choose one over the other. To me, it was a natural choice. Faith was all about ignoring the gifts we were given as human beings (physics, math, biology) despite the overwhelming level of support for their accuracy to believe in something we would never have proof of and which, more importantly, didn't really matter when considered from outside of the boundaries of said faith. Science was about accepting what my senses were telling me was true. The choice came down to whether or not I could trust myself, and if I can't trust myself how can I trust a being I could not possibly meet until after my life was spent? I came to realize that I didn't need an imaginary friend of endless power to inspire me to lead a good life.
Religious people don't seem to understand this idea. The closest thing to a logical argument against not believing is the insistence that there is no incentive to act in a morally upright way without the influence of faith. I would counter that faith is one of the easiest devices for justifying morally inept behavior. Wars, murders, the slaughter of children and animals; all have been committed and justified in the eyes of a silent lord. From a strictly logical view point, there may be no incentive to behave in a good way but there is none to behave in a bad way either. Atheism is a clean slate, inspired strictly by the internal emotions of the non-believer and with absolutely no interference from outside and often archaic moral codes. As a non-believer, I am free to adapt my moral code to the time I live in and to the things that society has learned in the past so that it is as relevant as it can be. Religious morals too often apply strict and inadequate ethical standards; organized religion is the status quo and the status quo is a road block on the way to growth and evolution as a race.
As an apatheist, I do not wish to deny people the right to believe in something that may bring them comfort that they cannot find in the material world. What right do I have to tell someone else what they should believe? I do feel sorrow for the level of influence faith tends to have on decisions that should be free from its influence. Gay marriage is the easiest one to cite. But I would not actively seek to eliminate faith because I personally believe it will fade away to a minimal level on its own. It will never truly cease to exist altogether—there would always be pockets of believers here and there—but the current trend suggests that as peoples' education in general increases, so too does their tendency to fall back on dogma to explain what they do not understand. In other words, as science fills in the gaps, religion loses its luster.
But the big problem for me now is also the impetus for this blog post. Believers tend to draw atheists into debates over faith and then, when it becomes clear that a conclusion to the debate cannot be reached because a consensus was never reached on the rules of the debate (reason vs. faith), the believers tend to fall back on claims of victimization. "Why are atheists trying to destroy Christianity?" I've heard it a lot of times. Most Christians are actually pretty good at keeping to themselves anymore, but the ones that start the debates are also the ones that play the victim card in the end. But they are the ones seeking out atheists and trying to convert them! If you don't want a fight, don't get in the ring.
I'm not saying there isn't a god, I'm just saying that god isn't anything like what people think who believe in him. If there is a creator, chances are he's a being that physically exists or physically existed somewhere in the material universe. His biology is probably scientifically explainable and his relationship with us is clearly one of apathy at best. There is absolutely no reason to assume a deity that cared about us would not interact with us in some way. And there is no reason to assume that the existence of a god and an afterlife go hand in hand.
Faith is nice if you need answers that bear emotional happiness; if this brings you comfort then enjoy it. Sometimes I wish I could believe in such things to bring myself peace of mind. But atheism is not really a choice and this is what most believers don't understand. Certainly there are some who claim to be atheists out of anger or sorrow or fear, and then coincidences in life cause them to gain faith, but a true atheist has seen something he or she cannot unsee. Once an atheist knows god does not exist, there is no pretending. One too many times I have been told that I better shape up or my immortal soul will be cursed forever. If god exists, I don't think pretending real hard that I believe that is going to cut it. If he does exist, he's clearly intended for me to not believe in him because he's created me in his own image and that includes endowing me with the ability to see that the sciences explain everything I need to know. Thus, if god exists, I was destined for hell the moment he created me. This does not jive with the benevolent god theory. Since god is infallible, this logical fallacy disproves god to me. This is not something I can change no matter how badly I would want to. This is what believers do not and seemingly cannot understand. I cannot believe in god. I am incapable.
The Bible, the Quran, the Torah...these are all books, penned by the hands of men which use the possibility of an omnipotent power as a means to an end. Arguments can be made that these faiths were built to set forth rules for the good of mankind that could not be enforced without instilling a certain amount of fear in them (sin and you will burn in hell). It could be argued that they are systems of control (the opiate of the masses) designed to bring disparate people together into a coherent and manageable group. Or they could simply be philosophical attempts at explaining the existence and function of the natural world in a time when science was in its infancy and when people began to question their reason for living and to fear what came after death. But again, from the playing field of secularism where we can only operate on the rules of logic and reason, the very gifts that were so graciously imparted upon us by a god if she or he or it exists, the most unbelievable possibility is that these words are an unfiltered manual from a supreme being sent down to define our existence for all of eternity without so much as an undergraduate class to help us absorb the material. The books impart many important life lessons and should be studied in history and philosophy classes for all of eternity. But at least in my personal library, they are filed in the fiction section. Sphere: Related Content