Home > background > A lot can happen in 20 years – Part 8

A lot can happen in 20 years – Part 8

January 30, 2009

This follows on from Part 7.

As mentioned in Part 1, I realised that it’s exactly 20 years since I entered the full-time workforce, and a lot can happen in that time, so thought I’d share my road to reason. This is the final part.

While I can understand how religion appeals to those seeking absolute certainty, there is no proof of any given religion’s validity beyond its own self-referential written text and its adherents. And there are countless religions with their own texts and followers, each claiming to be the truth, and many of them damn non-followers to their own version of hell as punishment for not making a choice in their favour. So a failure to choose correctly, when there is so much confusion and noise all around, religiously speaking, will result in an eternity of torture and brutality. And you call that a caring, just god? I don’t think so.

A book that has “This is the truth” written in it doesn’t make it true. Billions of people claiming that a book is true doesn’t make it true. Even if we might want them to be true.

That’s not to say that all religions are definitely false and that there are definitely no gods — that would be both hubris and an unsubstantiatable belief — but rather there is no irrefutable evidence in favour of them. Welcome to uncertainty: mind your step…

In case someone wishes to raise the question of whether I can afford to take the risk where eternal damnation is the cost, I would simply point to Bertrand Russell’s famous teapot. Just because something can be imagined and the concept of an after-life (with eternal punishment) can also be conceived for it, it doesn’t mean that it exists or that is should be followed. Otherwise, where would it end? Roman pantheism – haven’t we already tried that…?

As I see it, there is no proof or evidence of a god that doesn’t include something like:

These are all logical fallacies that prove nothing. Not a sausage. Nada. Zip.

It is for these reasons, founded in actual experience and investigation, that I confidently and unequivocally declare… that nothing is certain. (Anticlimax?) After all, it’s the only truly neutral judgement. All the odds (and evidence so far) are that we created all these gods in our own image and they are mere fantasy or perhaps projections of our own desires, hopes, prejudices, greed, or possibly a coping mechanism for the fears we had when cowering in the caves while thunderstorms raged outside or volcanoes erupted. But perhaps not. To state otherwise would be belief, and that’s a voluntary shackle I’ve chosen to undo.

It brings me to the definition of atheist (with a little ‘a’) from my first post. As I see it, the only neutral position is one that mirrors that point in our lives before our family, friends or teachers impressed (cynics might say infected) the unseen and unempirical upon us. So a-theism means the absence of theism (supernatural belief). Simpler days indeed.

For many atheists like myself, however, it is not enough simply to eschew supernatural thoughts and superstitions, but also the millennia of religiously-inspired rules, laws, beliefs, restrictions and horrors forced upon mankind for no other reason than they appear in one or another translations of that nation’s or continent’s holy book, and they kept its leaders in the lap of luxury. It’s very easy to point to things such as schools, hospitals and charities run in the name of a god, but it’s more distasteful pointing to the slavery, torture, rape, genital mutilation, oppression (race, class and gender), genocide, conquests, and wars that are all happening this very day in the name of any given god and his book. It’s deplorable and shameful.

So a step beyond simply divorcing oneself from such… taint is to look at ways of living that do not involve Stone Age edicts meant to keep superstitious nomadic desert tribes alive in this scientific, largely urban, modern world.

Enter Secular Humanism, a non-theistic system or philosophy of looking at and living in the world with reason, ethics and morality foremost, and without the irrelevant encumbrances of religious or supernatural thoughts or beliefs. It’s about being good and striving for goodness, justness, and morality for its own sake and for your fellow human, not because your fear hellfire or damnation. (Would you really do awful things if you weren’t afraid of a god or eternal punishment? What kind of person does that make you?) And it’s beautifully liberating — you can be a good person and knowing you’re doing it because you can and want to, not because it’ll go into some imaginary ledger for use against you in some Miltonian judgement.

There is enough beauty and majesty, cruelty and suffering in the world. Why do we insist on wishing for more of the former by creating more of the latter?

Instead, perhaps we should marvel in what we have with those we love for whatever time we may have.

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