Why I do not Believe In God
... et idem
indignor quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus...
I spent less than half of my life as a Roman Catholic, and while I look back on those years, I can only do so from an admittedly biased point of view. The whole experience was not terribly unpleasant, I rather miss some of the artwork and the sense of community. Some of the priests were very well educated, and charming, and friendly; I even still remember (and miss) some of the hymns.
While I regret that I cannot relive those years, I am not so much sure that I would like to now, with the experiences that I have today I cannot go back and re-convert as it were, it is too late. There is perhaps at least some small compensation in the fact that by my formally abandoning religion it was one of the most singularly liberating and enjoyable experiences of my life, and while I was once a hypocritical follower of a system I fundamentally did not believe in I am now no longer under such...persuasions.
Most of my education was spent attending private Catholic schools (grades second to twelve), I was to later find out that the main reason behind the decision to send me to parochial school was not for reasons of religious observation but because they were thought to be superior to the public schools in the area in which we were residing (in that regard I agree wholeheartedly and feel very privileged for the opportunity). By that time of course I was far from devout, and just about everyone around me seemed to regard all of religiosity with the same air of suspicion, or at least a dull and almost stoic lack of enthusiasm (which was by High School of course, teenagers are rebellious by nature).
That realization was accompanied, in my adolescence, by a number of epiphanies; some small and some significantly large. These realizations shattered my faith or as I prefer to think of it, my nearly lifelong pedagogical indoctrination) and ultimately lead to my abandonment of adherence not only to Roman Catholicism, but any organized religion and indeed any notion of any god. The epiphanies and resulting deductions lead me to assume skeptical standpoints of most matters, including the occult, pseudosciences, and UFO-ology among other things. As some would say, I can be open-minded, but not so open-minded that my brain should fall out of my head.
In that sense I am no more biased against religion and God than I am to the Sasquatch, the Yeti, and the Abominable snowman, although I can agree that those are two arguments of a slightly different nature, in the case of Bigfoot most claimants at least display hoaky evidence, most people of faith resign their beliefs to faith and not evidence. I regard them all as somewhat charming, often entertaining, but approach them all with what I believe to be a very well warranted sense of cautious skepticism. As Carl Sagan was fond of saying, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
With that lengthy background and introduction behind me I can address the topic mentioned in the title. As you can imagine; when it comes up, or it is determined, or when I freely admit that I am an atheist a number of things might occur. In a group it may acquire a queer look or two, or an approving nod or grunt, but far too often I'm afraid, there is also a kind of gasp and physical withdrawal, usually accompanied with a frown or a shake of the head, as if I had just admitted to being the son of Satan himself.
I can attribute this apprehension primarily to misinformation (sometimes deliberately circulated, such sophistry in my opinion qualifies as defamatory hate speech, in this case a discriminatory targetting of atheists by theists) of the atheist position or misconceptions of what being an atheist means.
As a definition, it can vary from person to person and dictionary to dictionary, however among the more progressive of descriptions I agree wholeheartedly with and now use for myself: "someone who lacks a belief in a god or gods". Rather than attempting to describe atheism as a belief or a philosophy I belief that it is prudent and intellectually honest to instead treat it as an absence of a very particular kind of belief.
As far as viewpoints go it is hardly a controversial issue, although some people treat it as such. In the long history of debatable topics and philosophies I can certainly think of things much more divisive and controversial. There is, I suspect, a very long list of grievances and offenses that most people would find highly objectionable to say the least, and to me atheism does not and should not belong among them.
For one, no atheist has ever advocated setting themselves on fire for an atheist based anti-war demonstration, nor do we promote corporal mortification to simulate the pain felt by Isaac Newton when an apple fell on his head. We generally do not advocate the mutilation of an infant's genitalia, or the trial, torture, and murder of unbelievers in the laws of gravity. However, I digress.
Much of the misconceptions arrive from the erroneous perception that atheists are godless sinning heathens, hedonists, lustful malcontents intent on perverting societies and overthrowing religions. While there are, to be sure, some atheists who are very much against religion, outspoken in that respect, and opposed to all organized religions (I was once among them), that is not a valid representation of all atheists.
In the same sense that not all religious people are zealots and extremists, the average atheist is probably not only non-militant in their lack of belief but reserved for fear of persecution (most Americans when polled freely admit that they would not vote for a presidential candidate who happened to be an atheist - for a secular nation where church and state is separated by law that is a stunning revelation).
Interestingly, atheists are the fastest growing minority in the United States, ahead of Jews and homosexuals, and at around 10%, close to African-Americans. Far from a fringe group we total more people than the populations of dozens of European countries, and in the case of the smallest among them, more than their total populations combined.
Whenever my dirty secret is revealed, usually in groups of three or more where I have taken the position of defending the atheist position ( I half-jokingly say with my back against the wall) the others often either because of the peer pressure of the cultural norm or curiosity probe my intents and rationale, a number of questions come up. They all dig down at the matter of why I do not belief in a god, but they often can and do take different approaches.
As a method of critically analyzing a topic that is an area of debate as old as civilization itself, and one of the gravest of imports to many people of all proclivities, I assume the apologetic standpoint and use Socratic questioning to soften up the blows of the questions.
I prefer, whenever possible, to address the questions one by one because there are actually many clarifications that need to be made and many misconceptions to address along the way. The many layered onion of theist conceits (not used as a pejorative in this context I assure you, conceit is simply a word to denote a hardened position in this usage) go to the heart of modern culture.
Among the most persistent of these misconceptions is the idea that without a God there can be no morality and no reason to do good. I always find that as ironic because some of the greatest moral and ethical teachers, champions of the very idea of human goodness itself, made their cases for secular reasons and in the absence of a requirement for a belief in a god (but we shall cross that bridge when we come to it).
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