I’ve been reading some arguments for Atheism lately, and I’ve had some thoughts in response. One common argument against Christianity and organized religion in general is the horrors they’ve inflicted upon the world over time. In the Crusades, for example, how many innocent people were murdered in the name of Jesus? Religion has been used for centuries as a widespread means for dominance and abuse.
Who can contest that? However ironic, it’s true. But does it prove anything? Well, Jesus said “ye shall know them by their fruits”. It appears, thus, that the fruit of religion is dominance and abuse. This, however, is a gross over simplification. It begs the question, “Which organized religions? Can the medieval Christians who massacred Muslims rightfully be compared with nineteenth century American Quakers? The argument overlooks the influence of state in religion, excluding the plausibility that most of the massacres done in the name of religion were in reality the fruits of nationalism. It completely overlooks all the good that has been done by religion.
Tell me all the murders that were committed in the name or religion in the twentieth century, and I’ll tell you all the murders that were committed in the name of Atheism, adding three or four zeros. To an overwhelming degree, it was godlessness, not religion, that brought us the bloodiest century in human history. But do twentieth century communists and Nazis represent the modern Atheist? Of course not. Neither does the Spanish Inquisition represent modern Christianity.
It’s been said, “There’s no Atheists in the battlefield.” I say we’re all in the battlefield. That sharp-shooting sniper known as Death could take anyone of us out at any time. We are biological machines that inevitably break down beyond repair. And, supposing my brain is all there is to my consciousness, what happens when I get a head injury? So much for my personality. So much for me. In most cases, we break down over a period of decades, losing our sense and dignity until we’re hardly even ourselves any more, slipping, slipping away into nothingness. Where can we look for hope? The religionist will say God. The Atheist will say science.
Can science save the world? It certainly appears that way. We’re living longer. We’re curing diseases. We’ve learned how to fly. We’ve been to the moon. We can communicate with anyone, anywhere, in less than a second. Science is turning the earth back into the Garden of Eden. And science is getting better and better, but it’s not perfect yet. The trick, therefore, is to not die until science is perfected, and the secrets of immortality are unlocked.
Will this happen in our lifetimes? Probably not. We’ll probably miss out like the billions before us, sentenced, as it would appear, to eternal death for no fault other than our misfortune of being born before mankind became gods. For those who die in car accidents before an ambulance could have revived them at a hospital, we can only say, “Too bad.” To the handicapped person who could never walk or never think, we can only say, “What you see is what you get.” To those who were wronged, tortured, and murdered, we can only say, “Our condolences.” To Adolph Hitler, we can only say, “You got away from us, you scoundrel, but next time … oh wait, there will be no next time.” In Atheism, therefore, there is no real justice in the universe.
An argument for Atheism is that religion, by its very nature, is founded on paradox. I agree. I believe in God, and yet I have no scientific evidence to support this belief. I pray to a being that, as far as my physical senses can observe, is nothing more than an imaginary friend. Religion is not rational. It is not logical. It’s founded on the belief that God has purposely hidden himself from the boundaries of logic, that the real world is beyond the scope of our instruments, and that this world is, in essence, a simulation in which all the science we conduct is analogous to children discovering artefacts in a sandbox.
I’ve just made a huge generalization that I don’t entirely believe, but I will say that it’s generally true. Religion is Platonic in nature. That being said, I consider myself more Aristotelian. I believe in science and the reality of the world around us, and I think that our time and development here has everything to do with the progress of humanity. But when it comes down to the line between religion and Atheism, we must ask ourselves the question, “What’s it all about?” Are we, like the citizens of the People’s Republic of France, mere nodes of the collective good, a humanity that, with many casualties along the way, will ultimately reach a divine destiny, a destiny that (as I’ve pointed out) we, the people of the twenty-first century, will never quite realize? In other words, from an Atheistic point of view, we can have no divine destinies, at least not beyond a hundred years or so in the future (being optimistic), but we at least we can believe that our children will, someday, become more or less divine. Our individual lives, then, are limited in their meaning, purpose, and worth. We can choose to live hedonistically before we cease to exist, or we can choose to live altruistically. The choice depends on a person’s strategy for maximising the experience of his flickering life before, like a match, it burns out forever. I dare say, most would lean a little more toward hedonism, perhaps, with a philosophy that’s open to a general sense of altruism. “Eat, drink, be merry, and be nice to your neighbors.”
Or do we take the stance that our lives have purposes and destinies that transcend the here and now, that justice is a real concept that transcends the boundaries of this earth, that love, life, sensation, experience, and joy don’t all end in tragedy but, as our hearts universally desire, go on … and on … that the universe isn’t hopelessly bleak and horrible, but that the spark within us, longing and screaming for immortality is, in fact, truth? At the most fundamental level of my being, I cannot believe anything short of this.
Some would call this wishful thinking. But it’s no less wishful thinking than Atheism, for no one can prove the non-existence of the soul or of God. If God does indeed exist, and the world is, in essence, a simulation, then many of the current “facts” of science are lacking in dimension. If God is a fabrication, and the soul is not immortal, then religion is similarly lacking in dimension. But at one point, all of us have to put our faith in something, be it the theories of science or the tenets of religion … or both. Can we, with our scientific minds, say, “Evidence bids me to believe that there is no God,” and yet with our religious hearts, declare, “I know there is a God”? To me there is no contradiction in this. Perhaps many, being full honest with themselves, believe this.
The bottom line is that each of us have to choose which universe we believe in, between a universe that is fundamentally horrible and a universe that is fundamentally good. For the arguments I’ve put forth, a universe without deity and immortality is, to me, horrible, if not evil. And I’m not alone in this opinion. What Atheist, rejecting a belief in immortality, would not, nevertheless choose it? What Atheist could look at this world and all of its injustices, seeing death as the end all, and not say to himself, “This place is horrible”? I choose the happy universe, the universe in which my life matters, in which we were are not alone, and in which the weight of a virtuous and altruistic life is much more than an arbitrary choice. If, in the end, I turn out to be wrong, at least I know for myself that the tenets of my religion will bring me a fulfilling life, even if it’s only for a limited amount of time. But that’s another discussion for another time.
Which universe do you choose?
As one more thought, isn’t it hard to believe that for the billions of stars and galaxies out there in which any number of planets like our own could exist, in which, over a relatively infinite amount of time, any number of other civilizations could have evolved, and from which any number of radio transmissions could have been sent, that we haven’t yet picked up a single signal, from any direction, from any star? To me this is actually an evidence that we’re not alone in the universe, firstly because the thought of an entire universe with no life other than us is an incredible waste of space and resources and is flat-out bizarre, and therefore, secondly, of course we should be picking up some sort of signal from somewhere, UNLESS these signals were purposely being blocked from our view. In other words, I think it only appears that we’re alone in the universe because God wants us to think that, because thinking that has everything to do with the test, experience, and school of planet Earth.
Which leads to an odd sort of relationship between Atheism and religion. To an extent, the Atheist who lives his life as if he doesn’t need a god to solve his problems, as if he doesn’t need a heaven to justify his life, as if the word around him is all he gets, and thus he’s going to make the most of it … such a man is the most godlike of all. So perhaps we can agree to disagree.