Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Atheist's Struggle

I've was trawling the Net, as usual, and poking about in forums (guess my name(s)!) and I realised something: Atheism alone isn't enough.

Up until recently, I assumed that rational thought and critical thinking was part and parcel of atheism. In this, I do believe I have been a bit naive. Looking about the Net, I find atheism being manifested in far less noble forms. For the most part, it arises naturally as a reaction of a rational mind to the incompatibility of religion with rational thought. This is fair enough, though I can't say I particularly like the prevalence of philosophers who think too much and inject a crippling amount of self doubt into the people around them. More on that in a later post.

But we also find cases of atheists who turned atheist as an expression of rebellion (usually to overly pious parents) or worse yet, because it's "trendy". There are those who claim to be atheist (rightly so, because they clearly don't subscribe to the belief of dieties) but lack the vigilance and rationalism required to make their atheism a constructive part of society.

As such, the one thing atheists have in common with one another is lack of belief in dieties. That's it. And I for one say that is not enough. Browsing through the forums, it's clear to see that there is very little solidarity indeed between atheists, save in patting each other on the shoulders when speaking out against religion. Fine! Religion is bollocks! BUT, what are you going to put in it's place?

For all the failings of religion and its propensity for intellectual murder, the atheist community must acknowledge that, deluded though they are, within religious communities they promote altruism and solidarity. They will support each other, have community outreach programmes, feed the homeless and rehabilitate drug addicts. All these things serve to promote the image of religion and justify to the world at large their continued existence.

Now look at the atheists. When was the last time you'd ever heard of atheists banding together to feed homeless people? To be sure, discarding the delusions of religion opens the mind to great vistas of discovery, but let's be realistic: Joe Average doesn't give a shit.

Joe Average wants a roof over their head and a full stomach. Wife, couple kids, a car, etc. Joe Average does not care whether we came from mud or austrolopithecines. And he doesn't really care if God exists, as long as he derives some comfort from his chosen delusion. And who are we to take it away from him IF we offer nothing in return? Rationalism? Get real! Rational thought takes discipline and vigilance and doesn't magically pop into your head the moment you take that cross off your neck. Rationalism is NOT for sissies. Honestly, why should they put effort into rationalism if they're already happy as sheep?

One could argue that removal of religions obviously removes all the bad stuff - religious conflict, paedophile priests, opposition to scientific research, mass intellectual murder and so on but this is not what sticks in the minds of the masses. It's the benefits that will stand out, especially in the case of affluent 1st world societies far removed from the shitstorm of the world's armed religious conflict zones. They see church members rehabilitating junkies in their neighbourhood and that's what sticks. Not suicide bombers, firstly because "it's some other religion" and secondly because "it's some other part of the world".

The way I see it, the bulk of religious conservatives are mindless sheep, happily deluded and so very blind to much of the universe. But atheists are cats. Curious, free-spirited and each out to do his own thing. We do not have anything like the solidarity they enjoy. Unless atheists can do a lot more, humanity will not be free of the meme virus that is religion.

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