Is Atheism the Answer?
Is Atheism the Answer?
by D.M. Murdock (Acharya S)
August 17, 2009
from Examiner Website
There has been a great deal of debate in the media lately concerning the “New Atheism” as led by “atheist gods” such as Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens.
This notoriety has been enhanced by Dawkins & Co.’s infamous “bus ads,” as well as the “Imagine No Religion” billboards by the Freedom from Religion Foundation headed by Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor. Then there is the little chat between famous atheists Bill Maher and Brad Pitt that is kicking up controversy, along with a number of other “stars” expressing their unbelief.
We also read reports that atheism is on the rise in the United States, reaching percentages never recorded before.
Richard Dawkins & London Bus Campaign
Photo by Zoe Margolis
Truly, atheism is out of the closet.
For many people the heart of this atheist surge is that organized religion has caused a tremendous amount of turmoil, including the suffering and deaths of hundreds of millions worldwide for thousands of years.
This fact alone is enough to create atheists. When we read stories about horrible things happening to innocent people and animals or – God forbid – see these atrocities with our own eyes, who with any honesty and a conscience is not inclined to ask, how can there be any good god in charge of this mess?
Indeed, if we have been raised to think for ourselves and to question reality, as well as to make honest observations, under such atrocious circumstances we cannot fail to conclude that there certainly could not be a good god omnipotently in charge of the cosmos. Too many awful things happen on too regular a basis, and the platitudes that “God works in mysterious ways” and “the Devil did it” just do not suffice for a thinking person.
If God is all powerful, how can the Devil constantly be getting the better of him? And God acting mysteriously without letting us – his purported “children” – in on the secret hardly speaks of a good character we should all admire, especially when his mysterious ways are causing misery and suffering. Would a terrestrial father who behaved in such a manner deserve any kind of respect and admiration? No!
So, it is easy for scientifically minded people to sympathizes with and engage in atheistic thinking. But is atheism really the answer to the world’s problems? If we junk the concept of God altogether, will we truly have a better life on planet Earth?
Nothing new under the sun
Although such thinking seems like a new fad, many philosophers over the centuries have struggled with these important issues of whether or not God exists and what is the value of religion. Like the questions, the answers have remained the same and have done little good in resolving the dilemmas, except by the very fact that questioning these profound subjects is in itself extremely healthy for the human mind.
To not be able to question accepted beliefs such as a giant all-knowing, all-powerful and ever-present being in the sky – as we find especially in monotheistic religious ideologies – represents utter dishonesty and should serve as an example of the exact opposite of a real “religious” experience.
Honesty and integrity – these should be the earmarks of a truly religious system. But they often are not, as they are swept under the rug and hidden away from sight, frequently under threat of force, violence and damnation.
Michelangelo’s Anthropomorphic God
In this regard, atheism certainly provides the answer to the dishonesty and depravity of organized religion that does not allow human beings to think for themselves, to reason out difficult issues and to not believe in the thousands of gods – including the monotheist god of the Abrahamic faiths – that man has created in his own image.
And, in consideration of how frantic has been the need to keep unbelief at bay and how poor has been the treatment of people engaging in such disbelief and rational scientific inquiry – the torture of the Inquisition comes to mind immediately – the increasing emergence of the atheistically inclined is a great relief.
The protection and rehabilitation of atheistic inclinations can only improve the human lot. In this regard, atheism clearly provides a much needed aspect of the human experience.
The resentment towards organized religion as a cause of trauma and terror is so pent up that it is understandable why certain factions of the human psyche are now being expressed in outrage and disdain towards religious fanaticism. In examining this issue, it seems all too easy for many to forget that a relatively short while ago even in secular countries one could be imprisoned, tortured or killed for doubting the Holy Church – and that this sort of inquisition still goes on in a number of Muslim countries.
Not long ago, fear of being physically assaulted or losing one’s occupation was enough to prevent this expression of the atheistic aspect of the human mind. With the advent of truly free communication via the internet, the repressed atheistic thinking is now bursting forth and using its voice with a vengeance. Again, entirely understandable – and necessary. In that regard, our society is much improved by the ability to enunciate unbelief in safety.
But, also again, is atheism in and by itself the ultimate answer to the world’s psychological, spiritual and emotional concerns?
August 24, 2009
Last week in the first part of this series, I made the case for atheistic thinking as a natural part of the healthy human mind. I did not, however, draw any firm conclusions as to whether or not atheism as a worldview is a solution to many of society’s ills, including and especially religious fanaticism.
Indeed, the question remains, is atheism even a worldview?
An atheist agenda?
I have sifted through some 200-300 comments on my article both here and elsewhere, remarks running the gamut from glorious to grotesque, encouraging to insulting.
Mostly, however, these comments have been thoughtful, rational and profound. The most evident concern from these remarks is the need for a clear definition of “atheism” in the first place.
Part 1 did not define atheism per se but, rather, hinted at a proper definition by using carefully chosen words and phrases, such as “unbelief/disbelief in a god,” rather than “belief in no god” or “doesn’t believe in God.” The distinction appears slight, but it is at the heart of a fierce debate concerning atheism, which is whether or not it in itself is a belief system or “religion,” as some have ironically claimed.
In view of the seemingly monolithic and frequently fanatical “New Atheist” movement we see all over the place, it is easy to perceive atheism as a belief system or worldview, complete with dogma and doctrine.
This perceived atheistic agenda has too often been expressed as rabidly skeptical and obnoxiously derogatory towards everything beyond the three dimensions and five senses.
It is precisely this rabidly skeptical and obnoxiously derogatory attitude that has created a great deal of resentment towards atheism and that has caused it to be viewed as a “religion” or “cult” in itself.
While it is clear why devout theists would not want to be in the atheist camp, club, clique or gang – and all of these things atheism has unfortunately become – there are many millions globally who wish neither to believe in the fantastic fairytales and fabulous cultural artifacts of the organized religions nor to adhere to a rigidly materialistic and unspiritual perspective of reality, such as too frequently is exemplified by those who call themselves atheists.
In this regard, a clear definition of “atheism” needs to be put forth and reiterated in order to prevent the fervency that in actuality represents the other side of the same coin as religious fanaticism.
What is atheism?
In a nutshell, atheism is not a (dis)belief system, “religion” or worldview – or, at least, it should not be defined as such, as in certain dictionaries that call atheism a “doctrine.” The word “atheism” comes from the Greek atheos, which means “without (a) god.”
In fact, in ancient Greece to be atheos could mean not only “atheist” but also “abandoned by the gods,” with the presumption that such gods exist. In any event, “atheism” can be defined simply as a lack of belief in a god, whatever god, goddess, daemon or deity in question.
For example, when it comes to the Pagan gods, all Christians are atheists, as they were deemed in ancient times as well, and so on as applies to other faiths.
Concerning atheism and its currently conceived definition, one of my readers, Ben Wilson, summed up the debate nicely:
“Saying Atheism is the answer implies ‘atheism’ is some kind of consolidating alternative. This is dangerous because it plays into the hands of anti-atheists, and it makes the presumption that Atheism is some kind of anti/alternate-religious organization…
Atheism is not any kind of answer, because atheism is not in any way some kind of organized establishment. If it were, it would be in its own rights a religion.
So I guess NO, atheism is not the answer. It is simply a conclusion.”
While atheistic thinking rates as a vital part of the human psyche, atheism by itself can only go so far in solving the world’s problems stemming from religious fanaticism, because it is in fact not a worldview.
Along with atheism is needed additional understanding, but what would that be?
Just secularism in general?
Or do these “isms” carry with them the same difficulties?
September 17, 2009
In continuing this series, I decided to let the dust settle a bit, as I took a break to work on other projects.
To recap my previous essays on this subject, Part 1 of “Is atheism the answer?” made the case that atheism is a necessary aspect of the healthy human thought process and that such atheistic thinking is logical under various circumstances.
In Part 2 of this series, I provided a basic definition of atheism as “without a god,” which in essence means that atheism is not precisely a worldview or ideology in and of itself, and thus does not serve – as many people opine – as a belief system that is against God. From the comments here and elsewhere, proceeding with this series requires me to address the oft-heard contention that atheism contributes to immorality and has allowed for tremendous atrocity, including genocide.
I have already briefly explored in another article the claim that religion causes immorality, but,
Does its apparent opposite, atheism, do the same?
Are certain wars and criminal actions the direct result of not believing in God?
Abused by religion?
In my work exploring the origins of religion and exposing its deleterious aspects, I have come across the suggestion many times that I and other critics are “just reacting” against religion because we have been “hurt” or “abused” by it. In my case, I have always been quite fascinated by religion and was never in an abusive situation personally, because I was raised in a very mild form of Protestantism.
That being said, although my church and family did not engage in them directly or abuse me specifically with them, general attitudes in the public at large produced by the religion du jour in my location – Christianity – definitely did affect me.
These negative, religiously produced attitudes include that human beings are “bad” because they are “born in sin,” that they are only redeemable through Jesus Christ, and that females in particular are inferior, especially because Eve ate the “apple” in the Garden of Eden. We were also permeated with the notion that our human bodies are “naughty” and “nasty” – especially the female body – because sex is “dirty,” and people always want to have it, and so on.
Again, this negative mentality born of religious dogma certainly did affect me, as it did practically everyone I knew in my area growing up. Also again, my formative years were spent in a very secular time and place, when and where people hardly spoke about religion, church, Jesus, God, etc.
These attitudes nevertheless pervaded writings and populated the airwaves, especially TV and radio, even though there were very few stations and no one I knew was listening specifically to Christian programming, which we barely heard of at that time.
On TV, there were the Big 3 networks and PBS, and on radio, Rock and Roll.
Thus, I was never hurt directly by the particular church I attended, and my critique of religion is not based on any personal abuse in that regard. However, my criticism does address the abusive attitude of religion towards humanity as a whole, and this mistreatment must be evident even to defenders of faith, as it is they who most vocally point to it as a cause of complaints about religion in the first place.
Atheists too like to hold up the clever assessment by non-believing writer and scientist Isaac Asimov that reading the Bible itself creates atheists, for example.
Atheism as the result of abuse?
Is atheism often the result of a reaction against human abuse by religion? So it seems to be, at least in significant part, as opined by both theists and atheists.
Therefore, it is to this debasement of humanity in general by religion that we may look for the cause of much turmoil, including that of the past century, which is held up as a black mark against atheism because of such figures as Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot. A common argument against atheism is that these individuals were all atheists who wrought horrendous atrocities against vast numbers of people.
While this latter contention of these individuals committing infamy is certainly true and should never be forgotten or whitewashed,
Is it accurate to say they were all atheists or were motivated by atheism, such that it is to be blamed?
Was their lack of belief in a God behind their actions, which led to the deaths many millions?
As I write in my book The Gospel According to Acharya S (a tongue-in-cheek title):
Theists hold up Communism and Nazism, along with the regime of the Cambodian tyrant Pol Pot, as evidence of murderous “atheist” tyrannies that have caused the deaths of tens of millions. While it may be true that Communism portrayed itself as “godless,” it did not wage war in the name of atheism, nor were its founders and leaders raised as atheists.
They were, in fact, preponderantly Jewish and Christian.
Communist Manifesto writer Karl Marx was born a Jew, the grandson of two rabbis, and was converted to Christianity at age 6. Leon Trotsky, whose real name was Lev Bronstein, was born and raised a Jew but later declared himself “an internationalist.”
Josef Stalin and his daughter Svetlana (1935)
Josef Stalin’s “very religious” mother named him after St. Joseph, and wanted him to become a priest.
Stalin himself supposedly claimed that his father had been a priest, and he was purportedly “damaged by violence” while being “raised in a poor priest-ridden household.” As a youth, Stalin spent five years in a Greek Orthodox seminary, after which he purportedly renounced his religion. In his later years, Stalin apparently embraced Christianity once more.
As Stalin biographer Edvard Radinsky remarks,
“During his mysterious retreat [of June 1941] the ex-seminarist had decided to involve the aid of the God he had rejected.”
Radinsky likewise chronicles a number of religious comrades in Stalin’s immediate circle. It is evident that, whether for good or bad, religion played a significant role in Stalin’s life.
Adolf Hitler was raised a Catholic, and in a speech in 1922 he remarked,
“My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Saviour as a fighter…”
In his autobiography Mein Kampf (1.2), Hitler stated:
Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.
Throughout his life, Hitler invoked God and “the Lord,” demonstrating his religious, not atheistic, nature.
Pol Pot was raised a Buddhist and Catholic.
In this regard, Dr. Ian Harris, a Reader in Religious Studies at the University College of St. Martin, relates:
“In one of his early writings Pol Pot wrote approvingly that the ‘democratic regime will bring back the Buddhist moralism because our great leader Buddha was the first to have taught [democracy].'”
Although in comparison to the Abrahamic religions its history is far less violent, Buddhism has not been entirely devoid of atrocity in its spread and practice.
If we are to insist – as many people have done, including numerous theists and atheists alike – that religious human abuse is the cause of atheistic reaction against religion, we need look no further, it would seem, than to Josef Stalin’s religiously abusive childhood to discover from where much of his rage appeared to emanate. His atheistic reaction therefore would be caused by religion.
Hitler, who was also fascinated by mysticism, could not be deemed an “atheist” by any scientific standard, and Pol Pot also was not raised an atheist in a vacuum devoid of religion but was obviously affected and motivated by it.
If atheism is frequently but a reaction against human abuse by religion, then in itself such disbelief may not be the cause of malfeasance. But, we must ask again,
Is atheism the answer to the world’s problems?
And if not, what is?
Is there a perspective that does not blindly believe yet also does not merely dismiss religious beliefs and spirituality, but accepts and approaches them as part of the human experience?
October 10, 2009
It’s been a couple of months since I began this series, and I’ve been putting off concluding it because it’s such a huge subject and there’s just too much to discuss. Yet, at the same time, in my own mind the whole theism-vs-atheism debate is entirely reconciled.
And that is precisely the reason I am writing this series, which I thought might end with this entry but which may be continued…
As others may have surmised, I am also doing research for a new book on the subject; hence, the many comments have been useful. One of the main points of my book and my work as a whole is to explore these important issues from a free-thought perspective, which means a relatively unattached view, as would be done in an anthropological study.
What I have really been expressing in this series, then, is my perspective of reality, the one I have been living my entire life, which is quickly becoming substantial in longevity, experience and interpretation.
In other words, I’ve been around a while now, and I know who I am.
God v. No God is never-ending
I have often described myself as neither a theist nor an atheist. I also do not particularly use the terms “pantheist” or “secular humanist” in describing myself. Nor do I take the label of “agnostic,” which means “one who does not know,” because I do know many things.
In some subjects, such as brain surgery, I am agnostic, while in others I am gnostic, which means “one who knows.”
Thus, I neither automatically believe nor dismiss in any given moment, but I do engage in what I aver is logical thinking at the appropriate time. For example, if I am on a mountaintop viewing an astounding sunset and rolling, misty hills in front of me, I may wish to think (and exclaim), “There is a god!” I know very well what that statement means to me, and I have absolutely no problem with its veracity based on my definition of the word “god.”
If, on the other hand, some atrocity occurs, such as the rape and murder of an innocent person of any age and either gender, I reserve the right to exclaim equally loudly,
“There is no good god in charge of everything!”
That is how my mind works – that is how I define free-thought. I know myself, and it is futile to tell me otherwise, which some have tried to do, including using invectives and mind-games.
And that kneejerk reaction is exactly the problem with the rabid members of both the theist and atheist camps – they seem not to be able to control their impulses when they encounter someone who does not see reality exactly as they do.
They must make disparaging comments, essentially attempting to insult others into their viewpoints. If you peruse this series of articles as well as others I have written here on atheism, you will see that there are a number in which both theists and atheists feel the need to inform me that my perspective is lacking in some manner, to put it mildly, because I do not see things their way.
I would wager that I am not alone, but we do not hear as much from this “excluded middle.”
What is free-thought?
To me, the word “free-thought” conveys the ability to think freely, period. I have defined it on my Free-thought Gear also as:
“the liberty to question and doubt unscientific and uncritical beliefs, especially as concerns religion”
Each human being is endowed from birth, hopefully, with the ability to think freely.
However, external factors constantly shape the way he or she does think eventually – and here, of course, is where religion comes in very heavily, as religion is a brainwashing, mind-control tool par excellence, and its purveyors know that fact very well. In order truly to be freethinkers, then, we need to break through the religious conditioning to determine whether or not any of it represents the truth.
Our exploration of religious ideation, however, need not lead to the complete dismissal of it, as in a remark oft-heard in atheist circles:
“Religion is all bunk.”
While I as a freethinker do not find myself subscribing to much religious ideology, I absolutely disagree with the contention that “religion is all bunk.”
That statement is completely inaccurate, and here is where I do not find myself in that particular unbelieving camp. My free-thinking perspective allows me to enjoy religion – when I know its true roots, of which too many people are unaware – without being a subscriber to it or a believer in its gods.
Here is the bottom line:
Whether or not the entire worldview is correct, or whether or not there are details here and there that are not exactly precise or accurate, neither theism nor atheism is desirable if its adherents or spokespeople are not pleasant and constructive participants in society.
In other words, while atheists complain that powerful theists such as clergy and politicians are nasty and despotic, and hence theism must be destroyed, we do not want to replace one unpleasant and tyrannical mind-control agency with another.
If your perspective of reality as manifested on a daily basis in your interactions with others is hostile, aggressive and selfish, whether you are a theist or an atheist, your mindset is not an improvement over what we already find dominant.
Fanaticism and extremism in any ideology is not the answer.