Atheism Isn’t the Answer

We don’t need a word for people who don’t believe in gods just as we don’t need a word for people who don’t believe that the world is flat.  We don’t label people as non-astrologers or non-racists.  Theists often depict atheism as a belief system.  Atheism is not a thing in of itself.  A lack of belief is simply a lack of belief.

A war between two equivalent ideological systems is doomed to a bitter deadlock with each side only digging in deeper.  Instead, we have to fight a war of ideas.  We can’t topple an entire belief system, but we can change a person’s views one idea at a time.  By focusing our efforts on a particular idea rather than an entire belief system, we can gain ground.  For instance, trying to convince a fundamentalist Christian that the universe is older than 6,000 years old will generally be easier than trying to convince a fundamentalist Christian that all of Christianity is false.  A better strategy would be to convince them that the universe is older than Christian texts indicate.  Then we would transition into evidence for the natural processes which have made the universe the way it is today, such as celestial body formation, chemical reactions which could create organic compounds, and, of course, evolution.

By accepting the label of “Atheist”, we allow our ideas to be dismissed arbitrarily because our ideas are lumped in with those of all our fellow atheists.  Atheism is not powerful.  Conversation is powerful.  Our strategy in this war of ideas has to be one that cultivates open, honest conversation.  To make real progress, people on both sides have to stop viewing each other as ideological opponents and start seeing them only as other people.  Labeling and identifying with particular groups only hinders progress by creating unnecessary division.

I am not an atheist.  I am just a person who thinks as an individual.  I believe what I believe for good reasons.  And I’m wrong about some things.  But I’m probably right about the nonexistence of gods, and if asked, I can show you why.  Not because I’m an atheist, but because I am a rational human being who has looked at the evidence for himself. That’s it.

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Religion as an Abusive Relationship

Religion is dehumanizing.  It takes the best qualities of humanity and attributes them to divinity. Love is not divine. Love is human. Kindness is human. Strength is human. Consciousness is human. Creativity is human. By attributing these qualities to something inhuman, religions steal the best aspects of humanity and leave us with only our worst aspects.

Religions use human attributes to describe gods because they cannot invent new attributes which are unique to their gods.  They’re like paintings with magical new colors, except instead of a completely new color, say color X, the painting is just extra blue.  This doesn’t make any sense.  If all of a god’s attributes are just natural human attributes, then what makes it a god?

In order to pull off this charade, most religions resort to teaching followers that people cannot experience the best aspects of human consciousness without divine assistance.  In this respect, religion is a large-scale abusive relationship.  It erodes a believer’s self-esteem and teaches the believer that he or she needs a god.  Victims of abusive relationships often stay with their abusive partners do not feel inherently valuable and seek value by giving themselves up in submission.  A victim will tolerate any level of abuse, as long as he or she has a corresponding level of fear that they are unworthy of love.

The same dynamic is common in religion, with the victim being the believer and the abuser being the doctrine itself.  Many religions emphasize the flaws of humanity while diminishing human triumphs by attributing them to gods, giving believers the sense that they can only be righteous, worthy, love-deserving people through gods.

The truth is that our personal value is only dependent on ourselves.  We do not  need gods to make us worthy.  We don’t need gods for strength.  We don’t need gods for love.  We don’t need gods for anything.

The feelings of strength, love, and inspiration that religious believer repeatedly describe are completely legitimate.  They should have strengths.  They should have love.  They should have inspired, joyful, and even transcendent experiences.  All people should have these things, because these things do not come from divinity.  They come from humanity.

Godless Morality

At best, religion gives people bad reasons to be good.  At worst, it leads them to commit senseless atrocities in the name of divinity.  Many religious believers assert that morality cannot exist without gods.  They view morality as divine, rather than human.  In reality, morality is at the core of what it means to be human.

We know that consciousness arises from a series of chain reactions which occur within the nervous system.  Our subjective experiences are part of consciousness.  These subjective experiences are the basis of morality.  Moral actions are those which promote general well-being and immoral actions are those which spread suffering or diminish well-being.  This view of morality is so simple that it’s often dismissed without much consideration.

Intuitively, we know that it’s wrong to cause suffering.  Mirror neurons allow us to share the experiences of those around us, which causes empathy.  Empathy uses the basic principles of experiential morality to influence our behaviors.  We really want to help other people.  We really want to make their lives better.  Our altruism comes from our consideration for the experiences of others.  Altruism is a “good” reason act morally.

Obedience, longing for selfish pleasures, and fear are all “bad” reasons to act morally.  To be clear, moral actions are still preferable to immoral actions, regardless of the reasons.  However, “good” reasons are both more effective and more reliable.  A person motivated by altruism will always be inclined to behave morally.  A person driven by obedience, longing for selfish pleasures, or fear will only be inclined to behave morally as long as the most moral actions happen to align with his or her main drive.

Religion tends to give people bad reasons to act morally.  They encourage obedient actions by simply commanding followers to behave in certain ways.  This is pretty self-explanatory.

They inspire desirous actions by offering incentives.  These incentives can include blessings and protections in this life, as well as prosperity in future lives or an afterlife.  Heaven is the ultimate bribe for good behavior.  Instead of bribing people to behave morally, why can’t we teach people why certain behaviors are moral and others are immoral?

Finally, religions incite fear.  Firstly, there are very real dangers associated with not conforming in many religious communities.  Think of women in the Muslim world who refuse to cover their head.  Second, most religious doctrines threaten those who behave immorally with suffering both in this life and in future lives or the afterlife.  If Heaven is the ultimate bribe, then Hell is the ultimate punishment.  I can’t think of any threat that could be worse than damnation to eternal suffering.  Is this how we want to operate?  Do we really need to fear eternal suffering in order to help someone?

Morality is a self-supporting concept.  It is complete in itself without positing the  existence of supernatural being to oversee it.  Morality itself explains why we should behave morally.  Essentially, morality is simply the study of how we should behave, and it does not require threats, bribes, or supernatural instructions.  It only requires a mind.  A human mind.

Faith: The Lens of Evil

In religious contexts, faith means believing particular claims with undue conviction.  It often means consciously choosing to believe things which are not entirely consistent with the available evidence.  The choice is sometimes conscious, but it is usually unconscious.  Since the choice is unconscious, the believer cannot consciously see that his or her beliefs are unfounded. Instead of believing without any evidence at all, religious believers usually believe based on bad or insufficient evidence.  This includes evidence without verifiable credibility or evidence which does not fully support the person’s beliefs without flawed reasoning. In order to continue holding his or her beliefs, the religious believer must disregard or even discredit any evidence which conflicts with his or her beliefs.  Religious believers tend to avoid fully exposing themselves to conflicting viewpoints which may have better evidence.  Instead, they only delve deeper into the tree of beliefs which they already hold, serving to cement their belief system and root themselves in place so that they cannot be moved by any kind of new evidence. Most religious believers don’t allow themselves to truly question and doubt their beliefs.  They can’t step away from their beliefs and fully explore new claims. Truly rational thinkers holds new claims as equal to their current beliefs and they go about determining which one is true in the same manner that they go about choosing between two completely new claims.  They say to themselves, “What if I’m completely wrong and Claim X is actually true?  Would that make sense?  What’s the evidence for and against Claim X?  What’s the evidence for and against my current beliefs?  Now which one fits better?  Okay, that’s the one I believe now.” The value of faith has to be replaced by logic, reason, and intellectual honesty.  If we as a society can stop supporting the faith phenomenon of unfounded beliefs and start honestly questioning claims in unrestricted conversation then we can fundamentally elevate the consciousness of our society and create a better future.

Humanity’s Last Hope: Intellectual Honesty

Honesty is a fundamental virtue required for healthy, successful human relationships and collaborations.  Honesty is one of the keys to improving our global society as well as smaller communities.  Our ultimate goal should be nearly complete honesty.  This includes intellectual honesty.

Intellectual honesty means truly examining all information with an open mind.  No claims or sets of claims should be given preferential treatment.  All evidence should be examined critically.  All sources should be checked for credibility.  All the credible evidence should agree.  Any conflicts should be examined because they reveal a lack of understanding in one or more areas.  Again: Pay attention to conflicting evidence.  Areas of conflict are the areas where new truth are found.  That is where intellectual honesty is most important.

After all available evidence has been compared, claims can be evaluated for their relative likelihood.  Key word: likelihood.  Claims are evaluated as “likely” or “unlikely,” not “true” or “false,” because there is always the possibility that the claim is at least slightly wrong in some way.