Atheism simple in concept difficult in practice.by Don Lacey on Jul. 02, 2012, under Atheism, Biblical Inerrancy, Christian Self-Righteous Arrogance, Christianity, Critical Thinking, Ethics, Faith, Freethought, Fundamentalism, Gay Marriage, God & Bible, Islam, Logic, Question of the Day!, Reason, Religion, Science, Separation of Church & State, That's Life!, Willful Ignorance
Editor’s note: Once again I get to introduce a new writer to the FreeThought Arizona blog readers. Gregory Walter Chmara is a former investigative reporter and a long time Tucsonan. He is finishing editing his latest book “Questioning Faith – A workbook” and, by some, is considered a curmudgeon.
There is a fundamental, sometimes disastrous problem with atheism when compared with religion. Atheism requires individual thought, while religion requires organization, rules and believers. Atheism is too simple, too easy to understand and too accepting of various hypotheses, opinions, and theories on a wide variety of topics. Atheism has no organized doctrine, dogma, ritual or list of sins. Religion supplies organized pre-made decisions and life-styles and is a system of control. Atheism is not.
Atheism is too easy, too simple and too direct. It offers no rules, no dogma, few, if any, pre-made decisions. It depends upon reason. Atheism offers anyone an ability to enquire and explore on a whole range of subjects. Very often those subjects are not open to discussion with those persons hidebound by religious tradition, “standards” and teachings.
I maintain that it is much harder to practice simple atheism than any religion. It requires individual thought and responsibility that goes well beyond that of membership, subscription to, adherence to the rules of any group, theistic organization, or religion.
The best definition of atheism is essentially “no belief in a god or gods.” Atheists believe there is no eternal higher power or creator, no personal god. There is no afterlife, pre-life, heaven, nor hell. There is the world as we know it and limited time available to each member of our species on the world as an intelligent being.
Some atheists add that their definition includes the idea that evidence is required to prove that the supernatural is not just the unexplained. They require evidence that miraculous events are caused by a deity, and not just a claim the event is divine while based upon lack of evidence or knowledge of causation. They believe God cannot be proven without evidence.
Most simply put, atheists believe there are no gods and never were or will be outside human superstition and imagination.
But, some may ask, why should this simplicity considered disastrous?
I contend it is because without gods or religion, each person must take responsibility for themself, particularly in creating meaning and purpose for their existence, thought, and a way of getting along with others. Avowed atheism makes them responsible for themselves in a world of people who may not think as they do, dress as they will, or even worse, might not, in their opinion, have proper morals and belong to a religion.
Atheism requires tolerance of other opinions, lifestyles and flexibility in thinking. These must be demonstrated in recognizing that change may be neither good nor evil, but just is change. Atheism brooks no alignment with totalitarian dogma, imposed, unexplained, stultifyingly rigid, and inhumane over-generalized standards. This is particularly true if people of ecclesiastical credential offer no hard evidence of who set the standard, and the standard’s worth when applied to all of humanity in today’s world and our species effect on the planet.
Now look at a general religious approach. Most religions are filled with complexities that require adherents to be taught, controlled, cajoled, and subjugated in thought and deed from cradle to grave by conforming to a doctrine driven system. They must believe in God and/or Jesus or Mohammed as a prophet. Their stories do not jibe with reality and science. Matters of doctrine may exclude those with similar beliefs.
Religious systems most often contain punishments (some for an eternity) rather than thoughtful reasoning. Religion offers guidance in these systems based upon clerical interpretation of ancient documents translated from languages of arcane societies that had no vision of today’s world of discovery and knowledge. Those ancient societies had no more vision than we have of what the human race might be or might become in the next two millennia.
The societies upon which religions today are based were parochial, isolated, tribal, and primitive. They were scientifically, and technologically illiterate, if not just plain illiterate. Almost all were accepting or promoting the death or enslavement of other cultures or tribes.
Yet their customs and beliefs meant to govern small areas of land where there existed an amalgamation or subjugation of individuals. Smaller groups were the only way to survive. These ancient customs and beliefs are held forth as lanterns of rectitude in a world full of instantaneous communication, rapid transportation, and extensive knowledge of the universe, physics, space, chemistry, medicine. They are continued in a world where technological advances were undreamt of in ancient days – or even 300 years ago where they are no longer valid.
But, many suppose these scriptures and their religiously interpreted rules are to be intrinsically woven into the governance of modern life for all human beings. It is because the rules were handed down from some all knowing deity through holy men who wrote only in the language of their time and area. Religion requires that the rules and conjectures offered in these documents, and their interpretations, are not be challenged or questioned, and by extension, neither are the authorities and clerics who do the interpretations for those of us who are not trained or “received the calling” as authorities and clerics.
Becoming a religious adherent is a slowly applied, complicated, and long process. It is difficult time consuming use of brain power. It requires the shedding of individual thought in areas of morals, justice, and inquiry. Long periods of time are consumed in ritual and commemorative events founded in centuries of myth. Time is used in the teaching and learning of doctrinal apologetics’ that usually have no evidence or realistic justification other than ascribing them to the unknowability of a supernatural God’s will and ways. Often these explanations are rejected by a similar religion or sect as contrary to God’s will as they see things. The phrase “God’s ways are not mans ways” comes to mind” as an oft used cop-out for a lack of understanding, knowledge or lack of evidence.
Religion as a way of life is taught in doses over a long time from infancy and continues well after most individuals develop the intellectual ability to think for themselves. It is insidiously woven so deeply in early life that most cannot differentiate the facts of life from the unquestioned religious beliefs taught them as a child.
It takes an atheist a lot of effort to shed those early inculcated beliefs to sort out the realistic social and justice rules from those of ancient superstition. An budding atheist receives a lot of religio-social battering from friends and family if he or she goes against the grain of their unquestioned doctrinal beliefs.
But becoming an atheist is simple when compared with the years some invest in preparing for the next religious event. After infant baptism, Catholics prepare children for first Communion and confirmation. Mormons prepare their children for baptism by emersion at age 8. The boys prepare to receive the lower priesthood when they are 12 years of age. Jews impose a Bris upon the infant, a tribal-sexual mutilation to identify males as tribe members. Then for years, Jews prepare the child for the Bar-Mitzvah when a child declares “Today I am a Man,” able to read and speak Hebrew, an ancient unpunctuated run together language derived from the Aramaic of 2000 years ago.
This period of preparation or indoctrination is spread-out over years, and doctrine is added to the child’s mind a little at a time. The intellect is not encouraged to question and seek critical truth based answers derived from evidence. It is a slow process.
The usual atheist has no long learning curve and no time devoted to learning any ritual, dogma, tribal custom, or celebration associated with atheism. He or she just has to question, to learn to be human, and learn to use his or her own brain. This most often comes naturally. They should be civilized and thoughtful. It IS that simple.
Where do atheists’ morals come from? The same place as the religious, to wit: the society around them. Parents usually reflect the society around them, one learned from their parents.
Think of this:
In today’s world there are societies and individuals who believe and practice honor killings and feel justified. Some believe the stoning women who are suspected illicit affairs, or even meet with men outside their family, is justified by God. Did they learn that directly from God – or the society and family around them?
In today’s world, Orthodox Jews “sit shiva” for adult children who marry outside their faith. Shiva is a funeral ceremony – and the children are considered dead by the family and are shunned. The offenders are no longer members of the family. There is a movement among the ultra-orthodox Jewish men to have women banned from using the internet, because they are exposed to immorality.
In today’s world how do you explain the deadly fracture between Shiite and Sunni in the world of Islam? It would seem that god told the two different sects they each were right. Not only must they kill or tax the infidel but also the members of the other Islamic belief. The rift started in determining who should speak for the prophet, who spoke for God, although the prophet is now dead.
The question of how morals come to be really does have a simple answer – and it is not “from God.” It is from the way a person is raised in a society and taught to interact with that society. Only when that set of beliefs is finally confronted by “other” people’s religions, morals and beliefs, is choice of how to act presented to the strictly parochial religious. By the way, those parochial religious are becoming an ever shrinking minority in today’s world of instantaneous communication and rapid travel in spite of all the noise they make over how correct and righteous they are.
To the atheist, it is simple to realize that every day every human contact and action reflects upon him or her as an individual and as a member of society. It is simple to seek truth – even though you know your truth may be colored by your experience and knowledge of facts and principles. These ideas have nothing to do with the superstitious belief in an over-arching, invisible but personal deity who tallies your sins, keeps score of who belongs to a “true religion,” and a god who counts who pays him the most compliments in performing daily prayer.
To an atheist, it is simple to realize that actions speak louder than words. Even though his or her single voice may not be presented by an orchestrated religion or may not be loud enough to have an effect on things closest to his or her heart. Accepting an invisible, unreasoning god-ruler is impossible.
That is the disastrous simple difficulty that faces atheism. Atheists have no organized voice. They need a meaningfully orchestrated approach, collaboration, and compromise. They need to ignore certain “warts” or minor philosophical disagreements. Religion provides doctrinal and dogmatic agreements with pre-made decisions that members do not have to think about. It’s not as easy with a collection of freethinking atheists.
A simple atheist has to think, judge, AND act on their conscience, belief, and understandings. An individual atheist may find no support or great support for their cause – but must also be careful their cause is not discounted because it was advance by an atheist. And, an atheist must, as Sean Faircloth has said, “avoid the seductive simplicity of certainty.”
That disastrous responsibility may be painful to the individual socially and economically. It was not too long ago that atheists and dissenters were literally burned at the stake. In some areas of today’s world, they are still beheaded or stoned to death. Some dissenters or are destroyed by machete and machine gun. Some are banished, suffer genocide, and are shunned or other ways marginalized because they do not believe in God.
It’s simple to be an atheist. Just don’t believe in god or gods and you’re there. You can live in a small town or section of the city keep to yourself and avoid most of the proselytizing. The simplicity vanishes when you decide to become an active atheist. Then things are not so simple. You have to think and act wisely to assure your life does not become disastrous to you personally. You must seek allies for like-mindedness in issues. You must act. Acting often leads to progress, but sometimes disaster too. In disaster, you realize there is no great, invisible personal god in the sky who will relieve your condition. It is up to you.