I’ve been an atheist for almost all my life. At least since fourth grade I have positively disbelieved in any god, and I can’t recall any time when I’ve positively believed in one. My reasons for my beliefs can be summarized no more eloquently than by Greta Christina, whose terrific blog I’ve gotten lost on for hours, crying my secular electronic amen. There’s definitely more than one post I could write on this topic; we’ll see how far I get today. I don’t particularly want to spark a debate here about god or atheism, because in truth I’m pretty over it (though I suppose if you really just feel like you have to, and you were kind enough to read my blog in the first place, then do what you feel).
I suppose I should begin by relating my notions, in brief:
- Religion’s explanations for why the universe is the way it is are completely unsatisfactory to me.
- Human motives for inventing religion seem all too clear.
- Religion’s own evidence for its own veracity is dubious (to put it charitably) and only seems to reinforce point #2.
- There are indeed inexplicable phenomena in our world and our human experience that seem to hint at something supernatural or divine, but
- We don’t need to invent explanations for what we don’t yet and might never understand; wonder and inquisitiveness are adequate and satisfying responses;
- also, see point #1;
- these phenomena are often documented only through intense, and highly subjective, personal experience. This does not invalidate the account outright, but many equally credible individuals can have mutually contradictory personal experiences. Thus, I contend that personal experiences, however intense, can only reveal personal truth, not universal truth. To contend that one’s own revelation is more profound than someone else’s is downright solipsistic.
- Most importantly, I believe (as Adam once put it in conversation) that religion has had, and continues to have, a net negative effect on the world.
There are also a number of ways in which I stray from a sort of atheist orthodoxy that exists. For one thing, I do see my atheism as a belief and therefore fallible. This isn’t me wavering, it’s me being intellectual humble, recognizing the limits of my own reason and senses but still feeling quite comfortable drawing a rational conclusion. For another, I do not join in the cry for “the end of faith”, which strikes me as foolishly absolute. A majority of the world’s population continues to believe in some sort of god, even after five hundred years of scientific thought. While I believe this has led more people to embrace atheism bravely, and hope this will continue, I’m not about to rely on winning over believers to solve all our problems stemming from religion, any more than I would advocate abstinence-only sex ed for teens, or ‘defeating evil‘ as a foreign policy.
What strikes me as more realistic, civil and generally more effective is to forge natural alliances with progressive voices in communities of faith, so that they might be empowered to transform their institutions into ones that are less oppressive, divisive, exclusionary and/or destructive. My progressive Christian friend Tom Ryberg argued quite persuasively that he didn’t feel that his ilk should concede the entirety of Christian tradition and legacy to its ugliest elements, which I found very valid; I felt similarly about this country when Bush was in office.
Just as Point #5 above is the most important guiding principle in my own search for truth, it’s also critical to my politics in regards to believers and other atheists. I am an opponent of religion because of the harm it’s caused, which I believe (not without sadness) outweighs the positive effects (while still being grateful for those cases). But aside from preventing or relieving suffering and serving justice, I really couldn’t care less what you believe about the universe. This will come back when I write about the intersection of atheism activism and anti-Muslim/anti-Arab racism and oppression.
But I think I’m about done for the day. Eventually I’m going to write something about the role of god and religion in songwriting (tying this whole discourse into this blog’s theme a little better); how and why I still enjoy religious art and music; the false dichotomy between the natural and the supernatural; and the intersection of atheism activism and anti-Muslim/anti-Arab racism and oppression.
My first non-music related blog post! That was kind of fun.