I didn’t immediately report on prominent Atheist Richard Dawkins’ ‘OUT’ Campaign, because I’ll admit my reactions were mixed. On the one hand, there seems to be something comical about Atheists coming out of the closet – labeling themselves Atheist on paper, confessing to their friends and family that they don’t believe in God; but I understand now that the stigmata against being Atheist in America is as bad or worse as being Gay – and in the beginning there was less support for the movement.
Admitting to Atheism sends a very strong, anti social message to a society where most people who don’t believe in religion still blithely call themselves Christian, or ‘spiritual’, without really thinking about their beliefs. Being Atheist is anti-conciliatory; it says “I’m smarter than you, and you are wrong”.
Considering that Atheism as a movement and belief makes more logical/scientific sense than the mythological fables clung on to by organized religions, I can see how Atheists would get sick of being a misunderstood and disliked minority. Why should anyone be ashamed to say they believe in Evolution, Science, or the free use of Reason? Not only do they have the (religious) freedom to believe what they want about God, they also have the logical and very possibly the moral upper ground – what’s wrong with being Atheist? Nothing.
And though it may seem a little ‘In Your Face’ to brand yourself as an Atheist, Dawkins has created an identifiable community where previously there was not one – and this is massively important. I’ve said for years that Christians will be the winners of history, not because they’re right, but because they are a strong community with identifiable beliefs in common. They will support each other, vote with each other, and there are lots of them. Everybody else is kind of wishy washy, or ‘tolerant’ of religion.
Christians gained their power by being fundamentalist and ready to die for their beliefs; they beat out the Gnostics precisely for this reason (Gnostics had no such lust for death or martyrdom). Christianity will continue to thrive without an equally powerful opponent.
That’s why I’m so impressed that Atheism has suddenly become a strong cohesive movement with a direct agenda; bus advertisements and public billboards urging people to use reason instead of religion is helping to change the common preconception that having religion is somehow more moral or righteous than not having one.
Why I’m not an Atheist
Given my praise and support for Dawkins’ movement, you might wonder why you don’t find the following sign on my own website.
There are several reasons. First, although anti-religious, and definitely not believing in the personal God of the Christians, Atheism makes too sharp a cut between spiritualism and reason. There is a common, shared human experience in reaction to certain stimuli that develops in us a reaction. It can be ‘awe’ in the face of the grandness of nature, the appreciation of beauty, or even more mystical events felt during deep meditation, or half way to sleep. It doesn’t matter if these are ‘real’ – I personally believe them to be innate brain conditions, putting them in the realm of biology; however they are powerful experiences and rejecting them outright as tricks of the mind is not a tolerable solution.
If it is natural, or comforting for people to believe in some kind of God, or leave the question open to make room for the unexplained facets of human existence, as long as it doesn’t interfere with progress, reason, science and education, I see no harm.
Moreover, although I know it is possible for Atheists to be more moral than Christians – especially as they are more in control of their passions and thus their actions – I have seen no evidence for this. I think it is true that most people – even very intelligent people – need to find a reason to live a good live, to get better and improve themselves. Modern society is exceptionally lazy. We have nothing like the Greek quest for the well lived, well examined life. Rarely do people fast or meditate for ‘enlightenment’. Few people improve their shortcomings as rigorously as Benjamin Franklin.
Having a very simple conception of a life with meaning, a framework that gives validity to the idea that self-improvement is worthwhile in itself and not just for profit, is crucial for excellence in living. Atheism takes away such purpose. Why should men be good? Why should I become a better person? I don’t need to, Atheism says; I can if I want to and if it benefits me. For me, this isn’t enough. I’m not saying life has purpose or design, but concluding absolutely that it does not, robs me of many facets of life that I wish to hold on to. (Ok – life is a cold, dark room, and I’m clutching a security blanket that gives me no warmth, but a little bit of comfort. Will you take it away from me because it doesn’t have a functional purpose?
Secondly, Atheism today is mostly a rejection of Christianity and organized religion, and the ridicule of superstition. I see no problem with this – I also don’t believe in Christianity. But the leap Atheists make from “Christianity is dumb” and “The church has done bad things in the name of God” to “therefore God doesn’t exist” is much too swift. People who don’t like Christians are finding refuge in the movement of Atheism as a place to vent their anger and frustration; this turns a community of intelligence into a community of bickering, pride and snide remarks – there is absolutely no dialogue between Atheism and Christianity; it’s a trench war, each side hurling abuse.
Choosing a side and waving a banner effectively kills the possibility of communication or dialogue; and as I’ve mentioned, I’m a mediator. A strategist, not a warrior. Mostly, I can’t see anything to be gained by the argument, whereas there may be something to gain by respectful, informed communication.
Anyway, I’m rambling, it’s raining, and I’m hungry.