Why An Atheist Speaks About Religion Every Day

In my personal experience, when questioned about their religious beliefs, most people seem to find it difficult to reconcile their underlying mistrust of global religious institutions with an inability to wholly reject the notion of an omnipotent god (clearly this is only people I converse with in ‘the real world’, most people I only know through their online personas have much more polarised opinions on the matter). This is not normally a result of independent inquiry, concluding with a summation of available evidence but a relic from the mild Christian schooling most of us were subject to through our childhood (or not so mild in some cases).

I personally went to Church of England schools and although I was taught the literal truth of many bible stories, I’m not sure if any of my classmates every went on to believe those literal truths into adulthood. Certainly many of us realised the hypocrisy of religious classes teaching us the insignificance of material wealth while all other teachers pushed us to succeed in their subjects to facilitate the accumulation of that wealth. This left very few in the school who could be classed as truly ‘devout’, of which I was one (however surprising you may find that). However, when my religiosity in my teenage years led me to read the bible along with much of the apocrypha, I was interested to find out why the apocrypha had been proscribed and how many of the beliefs of the modern Christian churches have been established from the diverse and often heretical beliefs and practises of early Christians. I felt it my duty as a Christian to attempt to discover as much as I could about the original meaning behind the scriptures and decided to read as much as I could about all ancient and classical near-eastern belief systems. Nobody with a logical or scientific way of thinking like me could do this without losing all belief in the literal validity and veracity of any and all religious books.

Most people seem to have been whitewashed with a kind of ‘soft’ Christianity, which leaves the way open for tolerance of others’ sin, providing those are only the personal sins that do not directly interfere with the lives of others. I use the words ‘soft’ and ‘pious’ in this context so as not to be confused with moderate or fanatical, a person can be moderate and pious or pious and fanatical but not moderate and fanatical. It is really to describe the depth of the subjects religious belief rather than the strength of their opposition to those who have differing beliefs to their own. Despite the underlying racial or sexuality based bigotry inherent in almost all cultures and the subsequent loose definitions of ‘good’ or ‘just’, most people try to adhere to the pre-Christian teachings from the philosophers of the classical world:

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.” – Marcus Aurelius

While there is nothing wrong at all with the views expressed in the quote, indeed I believe the world would be a much better place for all of us if a lot more people thought along those lines than the ones they do, this is not a Christian worldview. The idea that one should live what the Stoics (and Aristotle before them) referred to as ‘the good life’ has been around long before it was ever written down, living in a way that benefits those you live with and around and deriving pleasure from this existence without the necessity of any higher power or authority to dictate the minutiae of everyday lives is the philosophy of the first humans to live in groups larger than immediate families. It is not compatible with any of the 3 major monotheistic/Abrahamic religions that dominate the vast majority of the world’s landmass. Understanding the truth of the quote yet referring to yourself as a Christian, Muslim or Jew is the sort of religious belief born of ignorance and apathy, a way of thinking cobbled together piecemeal over a person’s lifetime without recourse to logical analysis or critical thought.

What is not always apparent however, is the far darker side to this form of religiosity, while the individual believer may have ‘soft’ beliefs, those that harbour much stronger feelings toward their religious doctrine are to be praised for their piety. It allows for a reverence towards religious buildings, leaders and institutions far beyond that of anything secular. It allows for special status and exemptions, breeds a culture of divergence and holds up the pious and devout as examples, role models for children or paradigms of virtue to be imitated by the masses. Those holding ‘soft’ religious views think they know what is taught in the books they have little knowledge of, do not feel strong enough to follow those teachings to the letter, yet they feel an admiration for the celibate priest or the veiled woman who claims to be following the right path. It is the ignorance of so many ‘soft’ believers that offers protection to all religions, the belief that religious faith and piety is somehow special among human character traits and cannot be criticised, even when it interferes with other social norms we have established. Genital mutilation of children and the inhumane and painful killing of conscious animals is not only condoned but also a necessary part of being a member, domestic abuse and rape are routinely unreported or blamed on the victims and the image of the institution is far more important than the risk posed by known sexual predators to vulnerable children.

It is not just the perpetrators of these actions who are to blame for their continuance, it is the willful religious ignorance of the vast majority of citizens throughout the Western world that allows these despicable practises to go unchecked. This is why I believe that religious education is very important and should be taught in all schools, not just the bits that help indoctrinate children into a particular religion but all the nasty and disgusting bits of all religions. More importantly still is the context of those who originally wrote the texts and the content of the texts that didn’t make it to the final draft. Only by undermining the ‘god-given’ authority of a religious text can its content and meanings ever be tested in a productive way.

This is not about race, culture or ethnicity, all the far-right parties in Europe profess a strong Christian belief. I couldn’t care less about your genetics or if you prefer to eat with sticks rather than cutlery. Believing that your god gives you the right to commit acts of cruelty counts for nothing with me, cruelty is cruelty no matter who commits it or by what orders. ‘Just following orders’ was not a valid defence when used by Nazi concentration camp guards and whether your commanding officer is yahweh, allah, god, Hitler or Stalin means no difference to me. Allowing people who profess to be good to act in evil ways is no better than collusion.

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”
“Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.” – Voltaire

These are the reasons that I, as an atheist bang on about religion every day even to people who don’t want to hear it.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

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