The argument from certain religious quarters that it’s not possible to live a decent, moral, considerate life without guidance from and belief in a higher, supernatural power has become tiresome. Lacking the tenets and teachings of sacred scripture we faithless heathens are deemed unworthy of respect or trust. Devils made flesh.
Listening to or reading this codswallop you could be forgiven for assuming human qualities such as sagacity and prudence and honesty and empathy are the birthright of only those who believe. And that atheists like myself are malignant, horned heretics. I’m sorry, but this is just the sort of bald, credulous excreta which shows religion in such a bad light. However, unlike many who practice faith, I will acknowledge the right to hold such an opinion (speaking out and defending that right if necessary) and, even though it differs greatly from my own strongly held views, I do not wish to see those with such opinions stoned, burned at the stake, crucified or disfigured by leprosy. However misguided I may think them to be.
Rather than regarding myself as simply an atheist, I would add that I am a humanist, or rationalist. What this means to me is that my beliefs, such as they are, rely on knowing things. Whether that be as a result of scientific proof based on empirical evidence or that which I experience directly through daily life. The contrary position expounded by believers in God, be they Jew, Christian or Muslim, and many others besides, is that this is where faith comes in. This is often also the point at which non-believers are challenged to prove that God does not exist. But unless we return to the playground, how do you prove a negative? I could say that I can prove to anyone present I do not have a crocodile in my pocket and show this – unequivocally – to be the case. But this is not very helpful.
Further, as a humanist, I am connected to every other person on this planet. Not through God, or some hip philosophy induced by an over-indulgence in magic mushrooms, but by the fact we are all members of the same species, with common biology and antecedents. Darwin’s dangerous idea saw him vilified for his theory of evolution. A theory based on keen observation of the world around him. A lack of proof only exacerbated the outrage at the time. But he was a visionary who connected the dots and offered up his deductions despite the consequences. Although his theory was not perfect it explained a great deal of the natural world as we now know it to be. With much of the missing proof since discovered, Darwin’s work was astoundingly accurate and is rightly considered as one of the truly great achievements of science.
Humanism goes deeper than merely acknowledging our origins. It argues that a lack of belief in God does not preclude you from living a good, meaningful life. A life of respect for others, based on reason and truth, compassion and understanding, justice and forbearance. The allegation that we only know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, through the teachings of monotheistic religions is weak and based on a false premise. The premise being that without God we lack the intelligence and grace to determine for ourselves what constitutes acceptable behaviour. Humans have been on this planet for millenia and have developed physically, mentally and emotionally throughout. Paganism is alive and well and whatever you think has been extant far longer than any Our God – Our Rules dogma. People, it seems, need to have something – anything – in which to believe.
Now, you may disagree with everything you have read here, thinking me nothing more than an ignorant existentialist, lacking both the courage and conviction to take the leap of faith required to embrace the superstitious and supernatural. And of course, that is your prerogative. I shall not forgive you – as there is nothing to forgive. It is your conviction and provided no harm is caused as a result of that conviction, you are welcome to express it. I shall not take offence if you print a cartoon of my views, taking the piss and showing me as foolish, or pray for a visitation upon you by a plague of locusts in order that they shit on your head. What is more, if your faith brings you comfort in times of darkness or despair, that is a matter for you.
So, what has the promise of celestial bliss or the fear of eternal damnation got to do with living a good life? Absolutely nothing. Good people sometimes do bad things; and bad people sometimes do worse things. The historical record shows beyond doubt the culpability of the religious and non-religious alike. Our collective past (and present) is littered with examples of such virulent atrocity and inhumanity to our fellows we should hang our heads in shame. We cannot change the past but do we have the will to shape a different future? This can only be achieved by working together, irrespective of beliefs, for common cause and the betterment of all mankind.
And God will have nothing to do with it.