Saturday, July 28, 2007

Coming out of the closet

The title does not mean what you might think it means. If this recent survey is to be believed, it is even worse, since I now consider myself atheist.

Most people have a lot of preconceived notions regarding atheists. Unfortunately, most of them are completely false, and are a result of people not understanding what the word means, and what the philosophy implies. By definition, atheism is the lack of theism. Theism is further defined as the belief in "at least one god". So atheism is the lack of belief in at least one god. Nothing more, nothing less. An atheist does not necessarily believe that god does not exist but rather, the question that god exists does not even strike him, just like the question that the tooth fairy is real does not even strike most sane adults.

It is a sad fact of humanity that theism is indeed the default position and atheism is frowned upon. A very basic logical principle is that the burden of proof lies on the individual/group making an assertion, in this case the ones claiming god exists. However, in our twisted world, the burden of proof has been placed on the atheists to prove that god does not exist. A little thought will uncover at least a couple of the many reasons why it is impossible to prove this negative. The concept of god is pretty much the only one in which such a situation arises. A classic consequence of the "proving the assertion" policy is the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" which is the bedrock of every successful modern legal system. Further, a belief in god is not the default position because of the merits of such a theory, but rather because our ancestors conjured imaginary creatures to explain phenomena they did not understand, and then passed them down as fact.

One major misconception is that atheists lack morals. Most theists learn that they should be good because they will be punished by god if they aren't. So they find it hard to believe that someone could base their morality on anything else. The only reason I want to do good is because I feel good when being good. Morality is an innate part of me and almost every other human being, much like how we all feel pain on touching a hot object. More often than not, religion is designed and interpreted to fit humanity's current moralities. For example, the following passage from the bible which deals with raising children is completely ignored nowadays because it does not fit with our modern sense of right and wrong.

Deuteronomy 21: 18-21
18If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:

19Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;

20And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.

21And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

So if morality is derived from religion/god, then what has caused christians to discard this section? The answer is quite obviously a value system that has arisen independent of their religious beliefs. Indian culture is also a fantastic example. Most of the "holy books", like the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata are widely acknowledged, even by most hindus, as books written by wise human beings to provide moral guidelines. While hindus call it part of their religion now, the people came up with it in the absence of any religion feeding them all these ideas. They were all original and came independent of any word from god. Instead, they were derived from the individual's experiences and study.

Normally, I dont care two hoots about religion and god. However, a quick look around us shows the disastrous effects these concepts are having on us and our planet. I am not even going to mention terrorism (except this one time), but only need to look back at our past for well documented atrocities. The church's suppression of Science and Scientific ideas in the middle ages is well documented. Unfortunately, such things are not confined to the past, as evidenced by the difficulties scientists are having in conducting stem cell research in first world nations like the US. Also, as discrimination against homosexual people, and calamities like this show, not only is religion impeding Science, but is destroying valuable lives in the process.

I do not have a problem with the basic practice of following a religion. I do not have a problem with belief in god by itself. I do, however, have a problem with irrationally placing faith in a higher power, or following rituals because "god says so" (where god is invariably a priest, parent, or someone on TV). Unfortunately, currently a belief in god is inherently irrational and following religion (being a person of faith) automatically condemns you to following a higher power with, at best, limited skepticism. Which is why I reject both.

Note: My ideas and philosophies have not really changed much since when I considered myself hindu. Fact is, I can still call myself one, but I do not since most people consider hinduism a religion, which it most certainly is not (or at least not a religion like Christianity, or Islam. But that is a topic for a different day). I do not want to have anything to do with religion, or have anyone even think I might be remotely religious. Which is why I have decided to shed the hindu label (which honestly, is completely meaningless to begin with) and adopt the atheism one (which in an ideal world, would not even exist).


TheInsomniac - DeDestruct said...

so would you consider yourself an atheist or agnostic ?

vRad said...

Nice Question:

Well, obviously it depends on how you define it. Something I am kinda confused about myself, but if you look into the meaning of the words, agnosticism is the opposite of gnosticism, which means knowledge. So basically agnosticism means you lack knowledge. Atheism means you do not believe in at least one or more gods. Note, the word atheism does not go into the reasons behind this lack of belief. Which further implies that atheism and agnosticism do not need to be mutually exclusive.

I would consider myself an agnostic atheist. Atheist because I do not believe in God, and agnostic, because I think we currently lack any knowledge that would allow us to consider the existence of God.

Try this link, it goes into far more detail:

Atheism vs. Agnosticism (