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Ask an atheist

05 December 2011, 14:14

There is a great deal of misconception about atheism from many believers. These believers, sometimes with an understandable but with overly hostile reaction, seem threatened when their religious loyalty is not taken seriously.

I can see how a believer might take someone dismissing something the believer puts personal value into but the reactions can be and unfortunately, misguided.

I suppose this believer hostility also includes fervent antitheist atheists who also angrily and, with equal irrationality, proselytise against religion and faith.

Rather than trying to point out problems with believers and religion, it might be better to let believers and others ask reasonable questions about what I can answer about atheism.

But, in order to slow redundancy, I’ll put up a personal explanation of atheism, religion and belief so there is less misunderstanding.

What is atheism?
Atheism is the lack of belief in gods, spirits and magic. Atheism is when the faith meter is not only at zero but it is disconnected. Atheism is NOT another form of faith.

So atheists have no faith?
No, atheists have no faith in gods, spirits and magic. Atheists do have faith. They have faith that certain laws of nature will continue unchanged most of the time. They trust facts without needing to be constantly reinforced with neurotic fear. The earth will continue to spin around the sun; the sun will continue to fuse hydrogen into higher elements; the light released by the sun will continue to be both wavelengths and particles.

Atheists will have faith that their friends aren’t treacherous and that their lovers and spouses will not cheat on them.

Atheists have faith that religious people have difficulty understanding that atheists have no belief in gods, spirits and magic.

Aren’t you agnostic?
No, in my understanding, agnostics admit they do not know if gods, spirits or magic exist or not but since these entities and forces do not directly affect them, agnostics do not directly acknowledge them. If religiosity was plotted as a spectrum I reckon agnostics fall between believers and atheists. Most atheists spent time as agnostics before ending up as atheists.

To say atheists don’t believe in religion is absurd. Religion exists – that is a fact, no faith required for that – but, as I understand it, religion is no more than a performance art theatre that requires its audience of subscribers to obediently conform to a rigid system of social behaviours based on legal systems derived from syncretised mythology. This could be mid to late Bronze Age mythology, like with Christianity and Islam or even 20th Century mythology like Scientology or Wicca.

Sure, some religious believers will cry heresy and damnation – because they like to think their personal beliefs are exceptional to the other available choices – but that is just a reaction from people who are thinking what their religious managers have taught them to think. It is an understandable reaction. No believer likes to be told they are not special individuals who have been granted special exceptions as listed in their choice of scripture. But there is also fear that, if they start doubting and disbelieving what has be ordained as correct social protocols, the face potential expulsion from their social group – or even abuse or death.

Without following my religion you do not have any morals!
As with most humans I am a moral animal. I was born with a complicated set of genetically inherited set of instructions that govern social behaviour of packs no larger than about 150 individuals.

There are exceptions, perhaps through inherited germ line traits, in utero developmental problems, or brain damage, some people exhibit – along a spectrum of antisocial disorders, sociopathy and psychopathy – a lack of these primate pack behaviour mechanisms. These are disabilities that no amount of religious programming will cure.

We were moral animals two million years ago and we remain the same moral animals today. The big difference between me, as an atheist, and religious believers, is that I have no religious excuses to justify antisocial behaviour. I know I have no religious clause to exclude myself from the legal or emotional consequences from, say, planting bombs in schools or shooting doctors outside abortion clinics. I have no scriptural justification for harming someone because they do not follow the scripture’s code of conduct. I do not need scriptural instruction to dictate to me how to act to avoid causing unnecessarily trauma to others.

But, then, as an atheist, I see through the deceptive manipulation of equating sin and crime. Without religious scripture demanding that I accept the consequences of sins – a multitude of mostly contradictory instructions whose main purpose, ultimately, is to protect the authoritarian power base of a bureaucracy of priests – I am free of unwanted and pointless, paralysing neurotic anxiety.

I do agree that many secular legal laws are the descendants of religious laws but that does not still mean a sin is a crime. The two are mutually exclusive.

Atheism is just another religion
What religious believers have trouble accepting is that atheists have NO belief. We did not simply swap one set of gods, spirits or magic with another set. We do not worship. I do admit that there are atheists who preach atheism with irrational enthusiasm but I believe this is part of the process many atheists go through to mentally acclimatise to atheism.

Also, considering the cruelty and abuse atheists have to endure from religious family, friends, colleagues and associates plays a large part in their hostility.

Finally, some people are just horrible... Atheists are just as capable as believers at being arseholes. My advice is, when faced with an arsehole, or a difficult encounter, rather do your best to be the nicer person.

You worship science and Darwin!
As an atheist I do not worship. Religious people, depending on their own personal belief in their scripture, have an understandable difficulty in viewing the world outside the mode of belief and scripture. Belief and scripture are their own filters and categories on how they interpret the universe. It is an instinctive and automatic response, one the religious believer has little control over. They will naturally identify and parse data according to their personal set of religious categories.

Also, because religious people find it uncomfortable to perceive of frailty of their scripture’s instructions, they react with hostility when they feel it being threatened. Change is always traumatic and not always necessary.

Science is as far from a religion as anything is. Basically, science is the greatest technological achievement humans have made. It is a perpetually changing, upgrading and self-correcting and expanding mechanism that exponentially generates and improves knowledge which is freely available to everyone.

Just because religious people make the fallacious assumption that because scientists use arcane mathematics, have an occult understanding of the universe, wear white laboratory coats and stand to attention in front of incomprehensible almost idolised apparatus does not make this assumption true. Religious people are still filtering the world through a lens of religious pareidolia. This is the same perceptive error that attributes spontaneous remission of disease as miraculous and sees the face of demigods in toasted cheese sandwiches.

Science is not a religion. A pocket calculator is not a sacred artefact. A text book is not religious scripture. Scientists are not priests.

Darwin helped codify and start the biological science of evolutionary theory but he wasn’t the first to come up with natural selection or the idea of organisms evolving into other organisms. He started what would become whole new branches of science out of pseudosciences like racial hygiene. In fact, without Darwin, the idea that races would never have been discarded. Darwin’s work directly forced science out of biased, stereotype-based, and very popular prejudicial superstition and into the powerful system of knowledge it is today.  

Do you really believe there is no God?
The lack of evidence of gods, spirits and magic indicates they do not exist in any form other than concepts and characters found in fiction. Because it is impossible to prove that something does not exist, I do not try.

If independently verifiable evidence that proves the existence of gods, spirits and magic then I will accept that gods, spirits and magic exist without needing faith.

You’re evil! I hope my belief in gods or spirits or magic kills you!
I know that, even though I’ve tried explaining to the best of my ability, some people will refuse to accept that they are capable of seeing the world without the distortions of their religious filter. I accept this but, even more importantly, I don’t care.

Atheists have been compared to murderers and rapists and child molesters and terrorists and genocidal war criminals and everything demonstrably vile about the human species.

You may prejudice atheists but atheists just become part of whole groups of people who have been unjustly and violently persecuted for political expedience. Groups of people like the Christians and Muslims and Buddhists and Jews and Cathars and Canaanites… well, the list is pretty long. You are welcome to do some research to find out how long the list is.

Sorry this took so long but I wanted to cover all my bases. There is more but I covered what I needed. If you have anything more to ask, ask away.

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