“And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee”
(F. Nietzsche 1886).
A common assertion made by evangelists, such as Pat Robertson and Ray Comfort, is that Atheists are miserable people. Our apparent melancholy is hypothetically derived from being overly dependent on science which, the evangelists continually claim, offers none of the hope that religion offers. Coming face to face with the harsh realities of a world without a divine parent do not offer any solution to the problems of human life; however it does invite humanity to unravel its own problems for itself. Many of the terrifying aspects of life, such as death and suffering, can be overwhelming. For a religious person God is the impervious rock upon which everything else in their lives is founded. When compared to the promise of a second existence in paradise, the troubles of the human world are seen as a mere precursor. While it is true that Atheism does not supply humanity with the same extraordinary assurances that religion promises, it does offer something a little more realistic. Atheists do indeed rely on science in order to understand the natural world, and its painful realities. Understanding the interrelationships of nature as they truly exist teaches humanity some very profound things about itself. Science teaches us that we are not fallen from grace, but raised from the very stars themselves. Atheism does not promise a solution to human misery, what it does do is release us from much of the suffering that we have created for ourselves, largely through devotion to tradition and religion, simply because of the consolation that they offers.
The reassurance that people derive from God is based entirely on their belief in the power of that God over the natural world. The faithful believe that God supersedes nature and therefore can free them from certain frightening natural inevitabilities. Christianity teaches that the faithful will not die, and that they will experience an eternal second after-life. Buddhism and Hinduism teach that life can be lived a multitude of times. None of these doctrines acknowledge the reality, which is, that as far as we can tell there is no consciousness after death. The precious fragility of this singular human existence unfortunately gets marginalized in favor of what amounts to fantastical lies for which there is not one shred of evidence. Unlike Theism, Atheism embraces both life and death as natural processes that occur as part of a larger infinitely complex system of energy exchange. Both theism and atheism have ideas that are able to make death appear much less intimidating; however only one of these ideas requires supernatural belief, and only one of them excludes people who don’t follow a very complicated system of contradictory moral rules.
True of many religions, especially Christianity, is the idea that belief in God is required in order to be a good person. A common theme of Christian sermons is that: being good is not enough. There is continual premise that human beings are lacking and in of need moral guidance from God. Obedience of God’s laws is paramount in order to be saved from the problems of this life and be granted a suffering-free existence in the next. However God’s laws are ethically insolvent. A rational person, unobstructed by the pursuit of the afterlife, can easily comprehend that the Bible is a litany of murder, misogyny, subjugation and slavery. Religion allows perfectly moral, upright people to rationalize acts of deep evil and even come to see those acts as ‘good works’ When blind allegiance to obviously horrifying ideas is seen as correct-thinking, Atheists have no choice but to reject the inhumanity of religion, as it commands people to be inhumane to one other.
In his book, The Portable Atheist, the late author Christopher Hitchens writes, “The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely.”
(Hitchens) While the notion of making only one
life count might be daunting, and the finality of death is very frightening, it
seems like a tragedy to squander this life in the fanatical hope that there
will be another better life to come. For the atheist, this life is
extraordinarily precious, and not to be trivialized or handed over.
To scientifically comprehend an individual’s place in the cosmos is to almost vanish completely. The universe cares nothing for the self-importance of human concerns. One of the most important aspects of atheism is that it offers no meaning at all and asks that people give their own lives significance. When presented with this notion many religious people will often ask what would become of the world without the necessary moral requirements of religious doctrines: such as the charity, compassion, and humility. In a Godless world, upon which we can only speculate, there would no doubt be many of the same problems and needs. Altruisms would no longer be a currency with which one would earn their place in the next life. Instead, a person would simply be compassionate because it in their nature to do so. What would be most notably absent in the secular world is the decision to withhold empathy or be indifferent to suffering simply because those people did not worship your same God or maybe any gods at all.
The prominent evolutionary biologist Dr. Richard Dawkins wrote, “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world”
Dr. Dawkins is an avid voice against the
diluting of the public education system with fundamentalist Christian faith
doctrines and creation tales, and uses his considerable celebrity to speak out
publically against the harm being done by religion. His is only one voice in the
growing ranks of Godless people who recognize the hypocrisy of religion and its
monopolistic claim on morality. If history itself doesn’t serve as a good
enough example of the intrinsic failure of religion, perhaps understanding that
the origin of morality is not a religious or philosophical one does. Morality
developed through human social and cultural evolution. As humanity has evolved
it was cooperation with one another that has favored our survival. Complex,
highly evolved systems of cooperation are what codes of ethics are derived
from. Religion comes from morality not the other way around. The Religious
person need not fear a secular world; at least, they need not fear it anymore
than one where religious tradition is predominate. Clearly Secularists have
historically had much more to fear from religious institutions than the other
Although there are, and always will be, fanatical people in every sector of society who can only envision their world with one single ideology, coexistence is not unattainable. Atheism is rising as a viable life choice in mainstream culture as it becomes more accepted. Many atheists no longer feel the need to hide in the shadows. The growing numbers of Atheists who are out in the open challenge conventional ideas about Godlessness. Atheists will come to be recognized as separate from the propaganda that church leaders would disseminate about them. Rapidly changing modern ethics and contemporary world views are becoming insolvent with religious ideology. Old-world religion will be forced to loosen its restrictions on its followers or risk losing them. Eventually the fear of death, which has been a cornerstone of religious recruitment, will not over power the way in which educated free people must live their lives. It has become the imperative of many people to value skeptical inquiry and ultimate freedom over comforting promises.
As our scientific understanding has deepened we have been able to answer some of the most fundamental questions about our origins that religion had once poorly attempted to answer. We have also opened new doors of inquiry where the spiritualists will fear to tread. Staring into the abyss of the cosmos has revealed both our precious rarity and our astronomical insignificance. If you are told from birth that you are the special creation of a supreme being at the center of a specially built universe, there may be a lingering sense of disillusionment when confronted with facts that say otherwise. While religion has undeniably had an important role in our social and cultural evolution humanity may find that, like the appendix, we no longer need it to function and may choose to remove it from our lives if it becomes enlarged and is threatening to our existence.
Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Great Britain: Bantam Press Transworld Publishing, 2006. Hardcover.
Hitchens, Christopher. The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever. Philadelphia: De Capo Press Perseus Books, 2007. Paperback.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Wilder Publications, 1886.