To Arrive At Atheism
And Be Comfortable With It
I wanted to write to you some of my thoughts on organized religion. I am an agnostic noncognitivist and agree with the general outlook of your publication.
Let me start off with what I think are some requirements to be satisfied in order for one to arrive at the atheistic viewpoint and to be comfortable with it:
1. An emphasis on (or even an aesthetic pleasure felt in) truth and verifiability.
2. An ability to think and reason clearly with a system of facts : that is, a reasonable level of intelligence.
3. A reasonable degree of fortitude needed to "withstand" the final conclusion that the notion of "God", as is commonly held does not "hold water". Otherwise the person will slip back into faith.
I would claim that only a small fraction of the population satisfies these requirements. I would also claim that satisfaction of the above requirements by a person renders him very moral. That is, he/she would help the needy, understand other people's pain and also refrain from hurting others. Though I cannot substantiate my claim for now, it feels intuitively true. Somewhere in your website there is an article that claims that atheists supply less than one percent of the prison population. That claim if verified, lends support to my claim on morality. The first requirement (above) is very important to be satisfied for one to be a moral person.
On the other hand, for one to arrive at the theistic viewpoint one can say that the negation of the above requirements is sufficient. The bulk of the population satisfies these negated requirements. The character of the theistic populace is one of unquestioned belief in what has been dictated to them by authority: ministers, holy scriptures, parents, teachers etc. Left to themselves, they would probably not be have been able to arrive at a set of moral values on their own, unlike people who do satisfy the positive requirements. Hence from this perspective, it is to the benefit to all of us that organized religion exists -- as much as we despise it! There is an article somewhere in your website that talks about a non-believer resisting his impulse to take on a street preacher because of the non-believer's realization that if the street preacher were not preaching, he would probably be selling drugs.
What I am suggesting does sound like I am taking an intellectually snobbish and condescending viewpoint toward the general populace but I do mean what I am saying with a lot of respect for all. Organized religion helps people be more moral but obviously is not perfect -- it did lead to the Inquisition and the Crusades. But I am wondering what other, possibly more heinous, acts could have been committed by the same unthinking crowd in the absence of religion. I do believe that morality produced by the positive requirements I listed earlier is much more durable and long lasting. I saw a televised debate between Alan Keyes and Alan Dershowitz last Saturday on C-Span-rebroadcast from last year. Dershowitz was gentlemanly in his approach, never attacking Keyes personally, being precise in his language etc. Keyes was the opposite -- he attacked Dershowitz personally, accused him of things he never said or meant, repeatedly used the "straw man" technique on him, used too much unclear language -- his ratio of words to content was very high. In my opinion, Dershowitz was more moral in his approach to the debate than Keyes. Despite all of this, it was interesting to see a lot of boos for Dershowitz and a lot of claps for Keyes.
I think that satisfaction of the positive requirements is too lofty a goal for the general populace and we need to settle for a lesser goal -- that of organized religion, unless we can find a better alternative to religion. Whether organized religion or the theistic viewpoint is "correct" is not the issue. We know it isn't but it does appear beneficial to society for reasons I indicate. What do you think?
From: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: "Vasu x"
Subject: Re: WebMaster:_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: August 28, 2001 8:18 PM
Thanks for this!
But I am wondering what other, possibly more heinous, acts could have been committed by the same unthinking crowd in the absence of religion.
Stalin showed the world that an ideology based upon the basic tenets of atheism is not immune to abuses in this respect.
Stalin also showed us that we could hold the basic tenets of atheism and do this "religiously," that is, hold these tenets in a manner and style usually associated with religious faith and fervor.
This is one of the reasons I emphasize passive or "weak" atheism: it's hard to get very excited about the mere absence of religion; how can you get yourself worked up into a tizzy because you differ from most people? What few "tenets" we do hold in this respect aren't really tenets at all, in the traditional sense. With "weak" atheism, you won't be twisting many people's arms and you won't be holding a sword over their necks. It's almost impossible to become what Colin Wilson called The Right Man, the man who is right and insists that everybody else conform to his will. (Know any political leaders like that?)
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Thanks for your response. I have a comment I write below.
This is one of the reasons I emphasize passive or "weak" atheism: it's hard to get very excited about the mere absence of religion; how can you get yourself worked up into a tizzy because you differ from most people? What few "tenets" we do hold in this respect aren't really tenets at all, in the traditional sense.
No question. There need be nothing to live or die for. You and I understand that. But will your average Joe understand this? Average Joe needs something he deems more powerful than him, to keep him moral.
I have a feeling that the organized religion concept was devised by a set of shrewd agnostic people to keep the others on track. Perhaps Moses himself was one such person. Had he not ventriloquized "God" and suggested something like the ten commandments to be a nice set of rules to live by, people would probably have asked him to buzz off. He needed an authority to back him up.
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