There is a huge thorn in the side of Atheism. It’s had about 2500 years to expunge the world of superstition, and still most people believe in some form of supernatural Grandeur with a very sadistic sense of right and wrong and a peculiar similarity to your everyday dictator.
Diagoras, the so called first of Atheists from the fifth century BC would probably never have bothered pointing out godly absurdities had he known the general lack of progress that was to follow for the next couple of thousands of years or so of humanities’ love affair with deity.
By the time of the Enlightenment some insightful entrepreneurs of reason like Spinoza and Voltaire make good inroads. The world was poised and seemed on its way to supernatural liberation. But of course, the 17th and 18th centuries have come and gone but most of humanity is still firmly trapped in the seemingly omnipotent grip of their gods.
In the last few years there has been a resurgence in atheist proponents; Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens being at the forefront in our latest attempt at pushing rationalism out to the masses. Their work is not in vain, people on the fringes of religious belief benefit and there are pockets of society that are showing signs of ‘liberation’, perhaps due to The Four Horsemen and the likes influence. But the fact of the matter is that by and large these prophets of atheism are preaching to the choir. More often than not, what we have been getting out of all the bickering about gods are ever more vigorous arguing, tempers passionately flaring with atheists swearing more and the religious praying even harder as the two sides are pushed ever further apart.
So what do we do, can we do anything at all? Should we even try? Do we as atheists pushing our doctrine out to the masses have some kind of moral high ground that justifies our godless indoctrination? Do the religious have such moral high ground? And even if atheism is the final answer, can we convince the masses to let go of their beloved gods, considering thousands of years have done relatively little to lessen the effects of religious fervour?
Not entirely void of irony, truth is what we all care about, religious and non-religious alike. God fearing folk fear their gods and their damnations because they believe it to be real, not because they are proud, or want to sound clever or be right. Short tempered atheists really only care about the truth also and on the whole we all believe that what humanity ultimately deserves is an unadulterated version of it. But which side’s fighting for the truth?
Before we can go out and tell the world that their gods are no more than ideas, we need a good argument or more likely, a set of arguments to support our claim. Countless books and plethora of arguments and counter arguments have endlessly circled the abysmal debate. Theist and atheist equally confident that their side wields the truth.
It’s almost impossible not to run over well-worn roads of the same old god vs. no god arguments, there really has not been much new coming out of either side.
What we do know for sure, is that many religions claim many different things about the supernatural. Simply put, they all can't be right, so all we can really do is look for which direction they are all generally pointing in. It comes down to some kind of supernatural power or force, which is ultimately the source of all energy; usually, but not always this source is aware of itself, and has intentions. For the most part of at least Western and middle Eastern religions this supernatural source even has a keen interest in human affairs, many still go so far as to believe that the entire Universe, was put in place just for us to admire from our puny insignificant speck of dust, beautiful planet Earth.
Now, Atheists or naturalists really think that this supernatural power or force is little more than just a cop out with no power of explanation. It is true that we do not have all the natural answers to everything we observe. There are many ideas and theoretical conjurings going on to try and explain things like where all this energy we see comes from, multiverse theory being one such advocate of Steven Hawking for example. But what we have undoubtedly seen throughout the history of mankind is that our collective knowledge, especially lately, grows with time and these days science is explaining new things on a daily basis. The god of the gaps’ gaps have been disappearing consistently. It is not hard to see why the Christians created the God of the Gaps concept to discourage theist arguments relying on scientific gaps. They could see where this was heading, their gods would eventually be pushed out of every gap as we build our knowledge of the world and beyond. We are almost there, the gods are still hiding in a few slithers perhaps, but it is conceivable, even likely that we will see the last godly gaps close within a century.
The factual arguments for supernatural explanations of the world are vague, frail and weak.
It is emotion however, not reasoning that is making people believe in gods. It is only a very small subsection of the religious that show any interest in the conceived ‘science’ behind their gods. Most are simply not interested. None of us wants to die and the gods are there because we just know it, we can feel it. All the science in the world can’t explain the gods away because gods have little to do with science any more. In ancient times, when knowledge was crude and our universe was small they seemed to explain it all, but we have come to realise that we can explain more and more, and probably most of it all ourselves, without invoking the supernatural. We seem to no longer require our gods, but something is making us hang on to them.
Perhaps people are not ready yet for a world with no after life, a world that ends, a world of being responsible for yourself without the safety net of an omnibenevolent god of some sorts. But this is not likely the case as there are many societies showing healthy levels of atheism with some movement away from traditional institutionalized religion. Millions of people are living perfectly happy and fulfilling lives being fully aware of the realities of gods and death. This is a giant leap up from fearing eternal damnation in a fiery pit of hell for coveting your neighbour’s arse, for example. Just like a child learning to ride a bike, whilst daddy is holding on to the bike things are fine, if daddy lets go, things are still fine...until cycle boy looks back and realises daddy has let go. Panic ensues and a crash is all but inevitable. We have to find a way to show our theist kin that they have been cycling alone for - at least - hundreds of years without ever looking back. There might be a crash but the liberation that comes once realisation kicks in makes the crash seem insignificant or worthwhile. The old needs breaking, to make place for the new.
It is worth it for humanity to let go of their gods and focus on what is real and to grow out of superstition simply because we can use that time much better. There is no need to spend time thinking about the gods, all they have been trying to teach us is to be nice to each other and show some mutual respect and they haven’t even done such a great job with that. But abandoning the god part does not mean we have to abandon the good parts however, which is why jails aren’t filled with atheists.
But religious institution is a major obstacle to global naturalisation. They are organised, some as powerful as countries. When the Pope says fart, a billion people squeeze one out. The Roman Catholic institution is a juggernaut of organised indoctrination, selling eternal life as a buy out of their hellish alternative. And they are not alone, there are disturbing amounts of charlatans preying on the religious. But these ideas and institutions have momentum and resources and they market incessantly. People have little chance against this and the Four Horsemen are picking off only the lucky few from the fringes.
What needs to happen is for the momentum to start pulling away from institutionalised religion towards individualised, institution free versions of personal belief. The natural progression from institution free religion is likely to gradually lead to less and less solid religious beliefs and religious indoctrination flowing between institution, parent and child. Such an approach is far less antagonising, and is not directly attacking the believer or the beliefs of which many hold so dear. Tell somebody their god is a myth and they will shut the door in your face. Tell them to take their church time to volunteer at a shelter and to give their regular church donations to a charity and you are no longer advocating Satanism and you might just get a little bit further. If it could work it would still take generations. There is no silver bullet, the fact of the matter is that currently most religious people will stay religious throughout their lives. Realistically, we have to aim a few generations into the future.
If we could conjure up an atheist institution with the resources of the Vatican then one might imagine a world swinging towards a natural outlook a bit faster. Many are attempting something like this, The Brights and the prolific atheist superstar writers are all trying to herd the godless but again, just like most of the religious are not running around speaking of their gods, even less so does your everyday atheist speak of their non-gods. So we are left with an atheist ideal with no structured or recognisable organization indifferently making its way while the gears of religious indoctrination steadily keep working their ideas out to the masses.
Will atheists and naturalists ever be organized enough or care enough about people’s beliefs in deity to actually do something about it? I suspect the answer is on the whole no. The problem is that atheism is not really a belief in the same sense as a belief in a god is. It is simply a lack of belief in a certain idea, the idea of gods. We do not generally go around speaking of our lack of belief in Santa, or our lack of belief in Harry Potter. It might be interesting to note that you believe in fairies, but it is utterly insignificant if you don’t. That's how your everyday atheist feels about gods, they are simply uninteresting beyond the history channel.
It is very hard to see a way in which to get such a grand scale of atheists and naturalists involved in essentially a social engineering project that will take generations. Or maybe the prophets of atheism can turn their followers into disciples, spreading the word of naturalism subtly enough to avoid offending the believers and for the sake of future generations. But the forces of religion are widespread, strong socially, - psychologically even strong financially and the army of atheists or naturalists (Brights?) are spread thin, disorganised and uninterested. Unless something drastic happens - and god only knows what that might be - the tide of atheism is likely to keep trickling slowly through the floodgates of religion.
Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.