Why Fight for Atheism?
I often get asked, and was recently asked by someone close to me “why?” Their question, of course, was referring to why I put together these articles and why I associate myself with an atheist activist group. A number of questions get brought up, and it is often difficult to provide proper information and a context to my response when the question comes up and I only have a couple seconds to provide a sufficient answer. Considering the importance that this question has on how I go about my life, I think it’s one worth responding to.
Common Questions and Comments:1) Canada is not so bad, why do you bother?
2) Everyone has a right to their belief, why should you tell them what to believe?
3) You are just anti-religion and all you do is mock and insult people.
4) There are bad atheists too, look at Stalin.
5) By forming groups and communities, aren’t you basically a religion?
Religion is a source of division
Religion is and always has been a source of segregation and divisiveness between communities, countries, tribes, or even between neighbors. Countless wars have been credited in the name of religion and have been a major contributor in the inability for two sides to make up. Even in fairly advanced countries such as Ireland there has been a split between religious sects of Christianity that has caused a lot of fear, fighting, and hatred. Mormons, and other groups like the Mennonites, exclude themselves from the rest of society. Certain Jewish communities totally cut themselves off from everyone else to protect their traditional views and way of life. In the United States you essentially have to be a Christian to have any chance at winning an election. Religion was a major blocking issue for India until just recently, and it is still a constant battle despite the progress that has been made.
All religions claim to be the source of morals and ethics. Yet all the major religions teach their followers that everyone else in the world is wrong. If you read farther into it, they all teach hatred and exclusion rather than inclusion. The Ten Commandments talk about loving your neighbor, yet many Christians view this as “only if they are Christian”.
There is simply not a good reason for this kind of segregation, separation, divisiveness, prejudice, and hatred. These walls of distrust and hate between the various faiths, and non-faiths, need to be broken down. People need to realize that the teachings that they are receiving are simply dangerous to individuals as well as to larger communities.
There are obviously other sources of division out there but that in no way justifies keeping this one around. Racism, sexism, and other sources of this kind of division are falling and hopefully will continue to fall. That effort is only bolstered by working to reduce the effect that religions cause to help these forms of hatred along. Many religions / sects have spent many years encouraging and supporting slavery, racism, and most certainly sexism. The Christian bible is stuffed full of support for all of these things with particular emphasis on sexism. I hope no one expects me to prove this as it’s not a very difficult thing to do.
Globalization and World Peace
Is hoping that the world could someday work towards globalization rather like believing that a fairy tale will come true? Yes, it is. I don’t expect to see it in my lifetime, and I don’t know if I have confidence that it ever will happen. That is not reason to stop hoping that someday this is a world where all people can live on equal ground, live happy lives free of discrimination, segregation, financial limitations. The world will never see peace as long as religion is used as a source for laws, nor as long as it is used as the only source for people’s morals and ethics. Religion has proven incapable of preventing war, but is rather the source of the majority of wars in the world. Religions don’t just fight each other; there they also fight themselves in the form of various sects that fight each other.
Is the abolishment of religion in politics the only solution? Far from it, but it is probably the biggest thing that stands in the way of our world ever finding peace amongst all countries. People need to accept each other without bias, and without preconceived hatred based on thousands of years of hate training.
I don’t want to get into a long-winded discussion here about the justification for globalization. There are a lot of people that oppose it, but surely there is no one that would openly vocalize a desire to prevent world peace. As long as religions are out there preaching an opposition to other religions and promoting theirs as the one and only way to live, we will never see world peace and we will certainly never see globalization.
Indoctrination of Children
Religion relies on the forceful teaching of children from a young age. Parents and their religious leaders teach children that there is only one possible answer, that faith in that answer is virtuous, and that questioning the religion and its ways are not only bad but often the way to eternal torment. These kind of teachings keep children away from expanding their knowledge. It contradicts any ability to teach children how to think critically, and to make up their own mind as to the right and wrong in the world. Religions then try to, and successful, force school systems to teach their message and not present multiple options and theories that would allow a child to better understand the rest of the world as well as to appreciate the things that other people believe and why they believe in them. The reason for not presenting this information is obvious; the education about alternatives may lead people away from the religion.
People then have the nerve to separate children based on their belief into different schools where they essentially teach kids that they are right, and the guys over there are wrong. This promotes segregation and divisive values in children. Our labeling of these children at such a young age with a religion seems to imply that the child has already made up their mind on the cosmos and how the world works.
It is shocking to me that this is an acceptable pattern. We don’t label children as liberals, or conservatives, yet we are willing to label them as Jews and Catholics despite their inability to even understand the concept of a mirror, or later in life the concept of life and death.
Children should be taught science. Separately, they should be taught a course like comparative religions. This would give children a broad knowledge of what various faiths believe as well as provide them with the scientific facts that are known about our world. With this diverse set of knowledge children are able to grow up and make a decision for themselves to believe in a god, and what god to believe in if they so chooses to do so. By not presenting the alternative information, we are not allowing children to make up their mind. They never find their own way to God or away from God, but rather they are forced down a path and given threats if they deviate.
Allowing parents the right to inflict their religion on children is preventing the child from ever having the knowledge to make their own decision. This becomes greatly emphasized in religions where parents remove their children from school after as early as grade 3, and these types of actions get enforced by the legal systems in their countries under the label of religious protection. Why the parent receives the right to infect their child with their religion and destroy the future of that child in today’s society based on their belief is beyond me.
A child should have the right to an education. They should have the right to hear different opinions, and they should have the right to learn the facts. Even more importantly, children should have the right to grow up without discrimination and without pre-formed opinions about people they have never met.
Public discussion that is negative towards religion is still generally unacceptable. To suggest that something is wrong with the Islamic faith or Christian faith is to bring about immense amounts of criticism, and hatred. If religion wants to teach things like discrimination, blind faith, and sexism they should accept criticism and questioning of these teachings in an open forum. R has always had a free ride as it is just viewed as people’s right to believe what they want. This is just not acceptable. People should not be free to teach people to hate their neighbor, or that someone else is epitome of evil. This type of education has to be eradicated from the planet since it is not productive and does not benefit anyone.
Then there is the intolerance of other people’s right to expression. Let’s use the Dutch cartoons that caused a rather absurd uproar. Some people believe that their prophet should not be placed in print. Why does that rule apply to people who do not believe in your faith? Violence and chaos should not be an acceptable response to the creation of a cartoon regardless of the content.
Now, I do know that most churches do preach generally a good message of love thy neighbor. My references hare are a result of when you actually read the beliefs, and not just listen to what the pastor or priest says on a weekly basis. I will hit more on this later.
Opening the Door to Atheists
There are many atheists all over the world that either don’t realize that they are atheists, don’t know that not believing is an option, or that fear revealing their beliefs due to the negative reaction that they will receive from family and friends.
Atheism is perfectly acceptable. It is the default position for anybody that does not know what the future holds or how we got here. Atheism is not only for scientists or intellectuals. Atheists are not all anti-religion. Atheists are not Satan worshipers. Atheist is a very simple concept and there are a lot of misconceptions out there about it. Atheism is just simply a lack of belief in a deity. That’s it. It does not imply anything about anything else.
There is a nearly endless list of misconceptions out there about what atheists believe, and what atheists are. It is seen as a negative term, and one that is not looked fondly upon. Why? I believe because ultimately atheists are infidels to every religion on the planet making them a very easy target for a large majority of the world to insult without a large objection. By not believing in any faith, and likely rejecting all faiths, atheists are doomed to whatever negative is associated with the after-life. People feel justified in their lack of respect for atheists, because it has been the social norm for a long time.
It has been proven that by simply being quiet and going about our lives without disturbing others new ideas are not progressed. It is clear that the only way to promote a social change, promote acceptance, and educate the public about these things is to take a number of different approaches. One of those has to be an offensive approach where we get out there and publically recognize the flaws in our current social standards.
One of the reasons that this is a difficult movement is the perception that atheists are just attacking religion. Unfortunately there is a lot of truth to this. Attacking the irrational parts of religion is the goal. There is not much to say about atheism in particular. As Sam Harris would say, atheism is a non-word. There is nothing specific to promote with atheism, just that we are here and that if you want to know more, you are not alone.
Another big problem is misunderstanding about terms. It is very common for people who do question their faith to label themselves as Agnostic. Rather than getting into the detail as to why people are not simply “Agnostic” I am going to instead reference a good description about why Agnostic and Atheist are not words that need separation as they are talking about different subjects:
Reason, Logic, and Truth
There should be a certain responsibility that we all take on our own community to promote the truth, even if the truth isn’t pretty. I would rather know how the war in Afghanistan is going rather than being told that it is going extremely well when in fact it is a very difficult struggle. If Canada is going to head towards financial difficulties, I would rather know that than ignore it and pretend everything is ok right up until the moment when the truth is simply unavoidable. If I can’t afford next month’s rent I would rather know that up front than have my bank tell me that everything will be fine.
This is the difficulty that science runs into. There are a lot of truths in science that have a difficult time getting accepted and even face immense pressure from religious groups due to the nature of the message and how it potentially affects someone’s faith. What happens is that people put their religion and faith ahead of truth because they are incapable of accepting that the thing they accepted as correct for so long is false, but probably more to the point is that the scientific answers to things such as life-after-death, and why-are-we-here are not very appealing to the average person.
The fact that we are not eternal beings that will live forever and the fact that we are not unique and special in our existence can be very depressing at times. People will lose loved ones and find the idea that they just simply died and that’s it, perhaps after a difficult life, just not a very comfortable answer. Parents that lose their children do not want to know that their child is just simply gone. It doesn’t seem fair. Belief in an afterlife gives it perhaps at least a happy ending rather than knowing that the person had a rough life and then it ended.
Though it is very comforting to believe in a religion that will tell you that everything is okay, that your loved ones go to Heaven, and that you will go to Heaven someday too, there is just simply no reason to believe that it is in fact true. I know that people will debate that statement, and I am glad to discuss that in a separate area, but it is the truth.
The Bible is not a true historical document, the world is not 6-10k years old, the world was never covered in water to kill all life, and there was no splitting of the red sea. There is simply no tangible reason to believe otherwise.
People need to stop rejecting the results of scientific research on the presupposition that their book is right and that if the evidence points to anything else, that the evidence is wrong rather than their book. There is far too much evidence out there that points to the books being historically incorrect, and that evidence should simply not be rejected.
I’m sorry if the truth is not pretty. I am sorry if the truth is not comforting. But the journey to find the truth should be a fun one and not a constant battle against mysticism, dogma, and the supernatural to which there is no evidence to support.
Religion’s Opposition to Science
Scientific advancement stands to disprove religious beliefs. What is the logical and rational approach to this? Is it for religion to learn and encourage science, or is it to fight against scientific advancement? Obviously it’s to fight against it. Religion has a staked interest in that it is liable to collapse as science proves all of its claims wrong.
The Vatican, for example, has taken a fairly hard stance against science. In particular it has taken opposition to stem cell research, artificial insemination and cloning. I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that the pope does not understand what exactly stem cell research is, he just knows that he should be afraid of it. The sad part is that this kind of research will eventually save lives by the millions, and none of the embryos used would ever actually become humans since they are donated. Religion doesn’t like it because it’s along the lines of cloning. The creation of life has obviously large implications on religion since this is something they have traditionally always been able to lay claim to not to mention arguments about the existence of a soul.
Scientific advancements have constantly pushed religion back and forced it to change its way to suit the times and retain membership. This is why religion’s gods are often referred to as the “God of the Gaps”. I particularly like this term since it is exactly what god has become. Science demonstrates that the world is not flat as advertised in the Bible, that part of the Bible becomes metaphor. Science goes into space and doesn’t find Heaven, religion backs up, Science demonstrates that the world is older than 6-10 thousand years old, and most religion has backed up.
Religion is constantly on the run from science. It needs to fight back because it knows that its teachings are in jeopardy. People need to recognize that their God has been on the run for a long while now and they should start to realize why he is on the run.
Religion Drives People to Irrational Actions
Religion has the capability of encouraging people to do immensely dangerous things, from simple insults, to abuse, to murder, and all the way to complete genocide. We have seen this all throughout history and we still see this everyday in our world. Religion has always been used to invoke great enthusiasm from the masses of people to garner support for military action. When people have felt that their religion is being threatened they have shown immense capability for violence. I’ll walk through a couple examples of these types of actions starting out from the small, and I will grow bigger.
A father, due to his daughter being an atheist, states that he had regretted bringing his daughter into the world every day. He goes on to describe her as the biggest disappointment in his life and that he can’t believe that she even calls herself his daughter. Source: http://www.rationalresponders.com/forum/the_rational_response_squad_radio_show/freethinking_anonymous/12081
This is not a unique story either. You can see stories similar to this all over the internet for people who have changed their faith, or come out of the closet regarding their sexuality. This time of intolerance is encouraged by religion.
Although there was obviously some other problems at stake here, there should be little question where the belief in possession and demons comes from.
A doctor murdered due to his practice of abortions. The killer, to his death, felt justified in his actions due to the teachings of the bible. He felt as though he was doing God’s work. Source of abortion related crimes, includes the US and Canada: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion-related_violence
Most, if not all, of these are religiously related. People feel justified in their actions because the Bible said so.
Ethnic cleansing and religiously motivated wars are far too many to count. They are and astounding number of them, they are happening today, and they will continue to happen as long as people believe as passionately as they do in superior beings that are telling them what is right and wrong.
These types of things should not be ignored. They are religiously motivated, these are people who are told to feel justified in their actions and most of them take pride in it even after doing it.
Now, I should note that many wars that have religion tagged to them may not be for religious reasons but may have been for power, resources, or other reasons. It is unquestionable that this is the case, but religion is the tool that the people use to influence people to support them, and die for the cause. It is a lot harder to tell people to fight for oil than it is to tell them to fight for God.
“With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” – Steven Weinberg
Though I am sure there are many examples of bad information or damaging information being enforced by religions I am going to focus this one on the Vatican. AIDS is a gigantic problem in Africa. All while this problem is spreading and killing incredible amounts of people the Vatican, which holds a lot of power over the faithful people in Africa, constantly says that abstinence is the only solution and that any form of contraceptives should not be used. The number of lives that could be saved in Africa by simply telling people to use condoms would be remarkable. Unfortunately the church is more concerned about not having sex than it is dealing with the reality that people are having sex and need to be told to have safe sex. The opposition to contraceptives is killing people, and the Vatican deserves that blood on their hands.
The Vatican also uses its influence over people to try to play an active role in governments all over the world. Many people justify their political opposition to things like same-sex marriage with their religion. Completely putting aside the fact that it is preventing people from making their own decisions with their lives they are enforcing their views on other people as being more important. People do not have the right to live their lives as they want, they have to live their lives according to the Christian faith even if you are not Christian. The Vatican openly threatened all Roman Catholics around the world in political positions by telling them that they would be excommunicated if they supported any kind of same-sex marriage legislation.
Due to the amount of media I saw around the events involving Paul Martin (former Canadian Prime Minister) and Dalton McGuinty (Premier of Ontario) I give them full credit for standing up for secular values in the face of their religion sentencing them to an eternity in hell. It takes a brave man to believe in hell and stand up for people’s rights to make their own decisions.
Religious influence is far from restricted to the Vatican. Religious figures all over the world influence their government’s decisions. In a lot of countries they are very successful at it as well.
In this group I am generally talking about people who oppose gay marriage, who opposed black rights or woman’s rights. These are people essentially are trying to protect their own belief that they are better than other people. They use religion and politics as a way to influence other people’s lives even though the decisions made by other people don’t have a direct influence on them (if someone chooses to get married and are of the same sex, this doesn’t affect me in my house).
Religion seems to always be the defense behind the attempts to prevent social progress and prevent people from gaining more rights. There are atheists that defend against these things as well so I’m not going to put the entire burden there, but religion is definitely one of, if not the number 1, driving forces behind denial of equality.
Not In Canada
There seems to be a misconception that there are no problems with religion in Canada, and that due to this there is no reason to fight it. I’m sorry but that is a horrible way to think. There aren’t many poor people in Canada, so why help Africa? I refuse to believe that there isn’t room for growth and advancement in Canada but I will admit that it is a far more accepting place than most of the world. I do have some fears by the religious right in Canada and I think we must keep them honest. But I will admit that lot of my hope is for the world, and to help correct what I consider a dire problem in the United States where Christianity seems to govern far too much of the direction of the country and laws.
That all said there are many situations of these things happening in Canada with less frequency, but we also have less people. I am greatly happy to be in this country. We have had some staunch defenders of secularism in our governments and I am very proud to call myself Canadian for that among many other reasons.
What we should not due is pretend that just because a situation is not as bad here as it can be elsewhere that it doesn’t happen or that it isn’t a problem. There is no question of the religious influence on our government and that should be very visible by looking at the campaign strategy of the Conservative government and who their supporters are.
Atheism Acting Like Religion
I won’t address the people that feel that it is “faith” based. That’s a fallacy that gets addressed far too often. What I am talking about here is the belief that organizing into groups and trying to get a message out, and gather to talk about issues is a lot like religion. I accept this.
One of the things that make it so difficult to separate from religion is the social structure that is built into people’s lives. They have the social network of people at church, they maybe go to events, and grew up with people there. This social network has nothing to do with the faith, but it is just good to have these kinds of community groups and social networks. There is no reason that secular groups could not do the same thing and we are seeing more and more of it. The Rational Response Squad, specifically, is an activist group, but there are also many groups (like a number of Humanist and Secular groups) that just get together for the purpose of having that social gathering and networking.
This kind of community is a fantastic way to help make the transition away from religion easier. People have a place to go to meet with people, and talk, and foster friendships. It is immensely important that these things are in place if people are to have successful and happy transitions away from religion. They not only fill the loss of these community groups, but it is also a place to go to discuss the problems that come with transitioning away from a religion.
Atheists Do Bad Things Too
There is no doubting that. People do horrible things for a wide variety of reasons and religion is just one of them. I will say this with complete confidence: no one does bad things in the name of Atheism.
Atheists, such as Stalin, killed many religious people because “God” was seen as higher than him. He essentially saw himself as God and wanted to be second to nothing. Hitler was debatably atheist, debatably Christian. Either way, he did not do anything in the name of Atheism.
Followers of Religions Support What They Don’t Believe
It is a shame, but true, that so few people educate themselves on the teachings of their own religion. This is very true with every person I know that considers themselves faithful. People just don’t go through the effort to read the specific details of what their sect of their religion stands for, believes, and attempts to promote on a global scale.
Being in Canada this is very evident within the Catholic Church. I find it simply astounding how few people know the history of the church, how it came to formation, the hard stance that the Vatican takes on issues, or even what all issues it takes a stand on. This is simply unacceptable. For anyone to contribute to and support an organization of this nature and not understand what they are claiming to support and believe in is simply shameful.
Countless people have died in the name of religions that they were not educated enough to understand. In today’s western world I am confident that most people would walk away from their religion, or at least sect, if they were actually educated on the beliefs behind them.
All of this lack of education amounts to people openly and passionately supporting things that they don’t know a thing about and may not have even realized they were supporting. This kind of blind following is a danger in the form of the level of influence these organizations have based on their numbers. They can influence policy and change based on their membership without even knowing if their membership supports them.
It is imperative that people understand what they are supporting and stop supporting the brutal organizations with brutal pasts and prehistoric teachings.
The Church Will Change With My Help
A person close to me once said that the only way the church will update to the current times is by having people inside of it disagreeing with the message. The very foundation of this claim strikes me as absurd. The teachings of a church should be based on documents that are thousands of years old and have not changed in that time. I am not questioning that the Catholic Church has changed, because it has, but I see that as a major fault in its teaching and is a very clear proof that religion has been forced to update itself to suit the social changes in the world rather than being the driver of morals and ethics.
Religions and sects have had to change their message simply to retain membership. This, to me, seems like something that should make highlight the ludicrous nature of believing in the teachings to be anything more than guesswork.
Religion is constantly behind the time when it comes to morals and ethics yet we hold back social progress in the name of religion. If religion was not so vigorously teaching its conservative and never-changing values on social issues we would have a lot more accepting of a world and issues such as racism and sexism would die a lot faster.
I hope you enjoyed the read and please feel free to comment here or email me at [email protected].