While I have touted Atheism now and again, I’ve tended to stick to the sidelines and identify myself as an agnostic. I make that choice for two reasons (in ascending order of importance).
- Because I cannot say with absolute epistemological certainty that a god doesn’t exist.
- Because Atheism has been branded militant.
Not being able to absolutely refute the possible existence of a god does influence my choice to distance myself from an ‘ism’ that theorizes no God exists, and bases everything else off that one fact. But it’s not the deciding factor. In one of his books (I cannot remember which one right now), Dawkins gives us this rubric for identifying how much of an atheist you are. I think it’s a seven point scale; 1 being not an atheist and 7 completely and absolutely stating no God exists. Dawkins himself says he’s ‘technically’ an agnostic for those reasons, but associates himself as an Atheist instead.
It seems to me that Atheism has become this cultural Holy Grail…and the internet the Knights Templar. At the same time, people seem to have no idea what it is exactly, and yet revere it for its mystical powers. Where association by name grants the user an immediate ‘level-up’.
I was looking through my inbox folder on YouTube when I saw someone had replied to a comment I made on a Ricky Gervais video earlier that day. I had replied to a user who I thought was just a perfect personification of this problem that everyone seems to miss and skip over. In the same breath he accosted religions for forcing their beliefs on the masses, and then said that anyone who disagrees with Atheism is severely intellectually challenged.
The problem I find with Atheism directly is that it has aligned itself with this image of the strong bully that won’t take no for an answer. And this has been picked up on. It’s become so popular now that people ‘choose’ to believe it because it’s cool to do so, because it’s in style; they rarely accept it for its intellectual and scientific merit. How many people understand, or even care to understand, the intricacies of genetics and evolutionary theory, or metaphysics and ontology? I would engender to guess only a few.
The real problem (and the real reason I don’t align myself with Atheism) is that by serving up Atheism right now, were just covering up a bruise. It’s like buying a blue ray player for a piece of crap 25 year old T.V. Sure Blue Ray is new. And yeah it is great technology. And sure it’s better than DVD, and certainly better than VHS. But at the end of the day, you’re still stuck with the same piece of crap 25 year old T.V. You’ll be able to play all the latest movies, have all the right, new information and technology, but you’re still going to get a shitty picture out of it. The problem isn’t the way you play the media, it’s what you choose to plug the player into; what you choose to play it through.
Without changing the way people think, their code of ethics and understanding of the true value to morality, eventually were just going to run into the same problems.
Say you teach a child that the earth is only 2 days old, the universe was created by a Giant space lobster and to ingratiate ourselves we must wear only hot-pink, one-piece snow-suits. Word gets around and this picks up. You’ve got some wind in your sails now because your next door neighbor Klavin, a new convert, decides to raise his child in the ‘way of the Crustacean’.
Klavin is kind of an alcoholic dick, so he doesn’t do too great of a job raising his son, Johny Walker. Johny was never hugged, never cradled, and he never felt a mother’s love (Klavin was a single-father). He was never taught any moral lessons or principles, and when he got sick he was all alone to fend for himself; his father was apathetic, showing him virtually no love. Johnny-boy had to walk on egg-shells around his dad. The best he could hope for was that he wouldn’t be yelled at – he never dreamt of actual happiness. The lessons he did learn, he learned watching his father. His father was an angry Drunk; quick to anger, slow to forgive (slow is an under-statement, Klavin was famous for never saying the five-lettered-word). He was constantly the butt of his dad’s jokes. Johnny grew up and went out into the world.
At the same time the founder of the ‘way-of-the-crustacean’, Steven, was raising his own son. Only Dr. Pinker had come from a long-line of good-parents. It was in their pedigree to be nice, genuine and loving people; they raised young William right. He was loved. Every turn Klavin took, William took the opposite. He had everything Klavin wanted, and nothing of what he had. Ol’ Bill was taught moral lessons every day. Inspite of being billionaires, his parents volunteered at the soup kitchen where they taught him never to judge a book by its cover, and the importance of getting to know people… think before you speak. He was constantly on the receiving end of love and affection. William grew up and went out into the world.
They were both raised believing the same wacky things (which they held onto just as strongly today as they did when they had their great boiling baptism at the age of 10). Johnny went out and caused mayhem; anyone who didn’t agree with him, he beat. His father, although an asshole, was a strong man. Somewhere that must have rubbed off on Johnny because he led the great Lobster-claw revival of 2044. He fertilized the church, and it grew. He made life hell for everyone. It was his life’s mission to ensure that everyone abide by the doctrine he set out, based upon his beliefs.
Will led a quiet life, slowly widdling down that trillion dollar family fortune. He took a wife and had kids of his own. He still volunteers at the same soup kitchen; he is a man of works.
Condescending stupid story aside, the point I’m trying to make is clear. The problems facing our world today are far more varied and far more insidious than we pretend. We can’t label one people or one religion as the prime cause of suffering; or even the impetus. America is having a similar discussion about gun laws right now. The point here is that it’s the character of the person that determines the outcome, not what that person believes. Only a few of us will know the two extremes pictured in the story above. But most of us will fall in-between; a mixture of good and bad experiences.
We all know in the history of religion you’ll find an abundance of death and war. But I’d wager Atheists are responsible for just as many crimes against humanity. Atheists can’t possibly solve bigotry by simply replacing a system of beliefs. If it’s the system of beliefs that cause the man to act the way he does and to do the things he does, than we should all run and hide from Atheism too. But well, we all know it’s not. It’s the actions of the man that cause this suffering.
“How needing of compassion are those who engage in actions conducive to suffering”
We have to teach our children virtue and ethic. All of the great people of this world, almost without exception, have come from great families. They’ve had strong parents or guardians who taught them love, empathy, compassion, honesty and humility. It’s the angry, apathetic, cowardly, dishonest and egoistical that cause suffering, not the ‘Christian’, or the ‘Muslim’; it’s the man. The subject, not the object. A gun doesn’t shoot a person and all that.
The self-proclaimed Atheist that replied to my comment on YouTube told me that “the negative impact on… the others sense of well being” has zero impact on the matter at hand. He was telling me that being right was not only more important than being decent, but the only thing that really is important.
Daniel Dennet said that anyone who disagrees with evolution is a little slow, or at least emotionally disturbed. An introductory Philosophy student is able to point out, on average, at least three logical fallacies every-time Dawkins addresses the topic of ‘religion’ (I know, we tested it in an intro class). The great figureheads of Atheism tell us that thinking things through isn’t really all that important, as long as we think we’re right. And that we should put our energy towards science and atheism, not morality, ethics and compassion. That it’s the archaic traditions of religion that cause suffering in this world, not the small every day actions (and in-actions) of men.
What happens if we reach the singularity, creating the worlds first self-sustaining A.I.; a gun really can shoot a person. There are a few videos online where the guys working on these projects openly talk about the potential dangers involved in this type of discovery. They say we’re competing in a world-wide arms-race; every major developed country is racing towards the same goal. One possibility is that a matrix like scenario could unfold; the machines we create see that our race does more harm than good and wipe us clean off the face the earth. So long as things go as planned, there’s no guarantee this type of thing won’t happen. All we can really do is hope that by instilling human morals (Asimov’s ‘Three Laws of Robotics’ ) we can filter those genocidal impulses.
It happens to be that it’s not the large actions committed at longer intervals and on larger scales that are the real threat. And it’s not the threat far off in the distant future that we should be worried about. It’s the small, seemingly insignificant, things; the causes behind the causes. The little suffering that happen thousands of times every day; a rude look, a cold shoulder, a rejection . Why we do the things we do. Christians literally have a code of ethics spelled out for them, and still for the most part are no better than their counterparts; they have only their vices left. I mean, the ten commandments are pretty basic, pretty easy to remember and genuinely easy to follow. If millions of otherwise normal people find it too taxing to follow ten rules, we know that the problem is bigger and far more complicated than we think.
This is why I am so attracted to Buddhism. While I remain a skeptic/naturalist at heart, the teachings of the Buddha have had a tremendous impact on my life. Cause and effect don’t match up in a clean-cut 1:1 kind of way. The universe is messy; nothingness and chaos. The objects of suffering, the negative actions done by the Christian, or the Muslim, have more than one cause. And we know that a negative cause always has more than one effect. Physical Abuse doesn’t just cause a bruise. Why should we think any different about the rest of the phenomena in the rest of our world?
We need to address the underlying pathology which has infected our societies; we can’t keep bandaging our wounds then complaining of an infection. If there’s one over-arching generalization I feel tempted to define the west with (specifically my generation, and my generation as seen in Canada and the U.S.), it’s laziness.