In our world, in the nations of this planet, the societies and government that compromise among each other in each region, there seems to be an almost universal taboo in the cultures that have formed. It may be stated by every historian that one of the single, common aspects of every civilization was that it had a form of religion, a creed, a superstition, a mystical outlook in what the scrolls had deemed as a new world. We have come lightyears in technology and science from those humble, honest beginnings. Wars have scorched the earth as much as literature has pushed the boundaries of human thought. Empires have been built by legions and archaeologists sifted through the ashes finding what may have been copper and bronze toys. As we look at this world, it still seems to be one singularity among the world's people: that religion is an inherent part of the human experience. Social globalization has done marvelous things to our worldly experience. Members of every ethnic and religious background can be found in every region of the world; at least, in those regions that have the blessing of tolerance and acceptance. Despite this, the Eastern world is still inhabited mostly by Hindus and Buddhists, the Western world is still inhabited mostly by Catholics and Protestants, and the mid-East has the tenets of Islam. And among these different regions, there are patches of members of the Bahá'í faith, the Jewish creed, various Animistic systems, assorted Paganist traditions, among others.
Yet in every society, there is the one taboo that has possibly outlasted all others: dissidence from religion. Atheism, absence of a belief in god, or Materialism, belief that the physical world is all that is necessary to explain all phenomena -- these are the ideas which have arisen in every society, as common to civilization as religion is. Just as government rises, and revolution becomes the spirit of the both, so has religion risen, and Freethought became the mindset of some individuals. Still today, Atheism is considered somehow wicked, somehow opposed to good ideals and liberty; in some way or form, it is believed to be an obstacle in our search for a better, more enlightened life. In parts of the world that must suffer the curse, that those who believe differently than you, are your enemies, those without traditional religious opinions have had to hide what their mind has discovered. But these "parts of the world" can be found any where, in America or Europe, where a population exists that still fosters ideas of intolerance. I am one of these Atheists. And of all the cruel-hearted things I have heard, the greatest was this: "A man is only his beliefs. Take away his beliefs, and he is no longer a man." A man without a creed is still a man -- he still has a living, breathing body, a mind that paints the picture of consciousness, a heart that gives it color, and an individual, who brings it to life. I am an Atheist, and it is within this paper that I hope to convey my opinions about the matter of religion, objectively, open-mindedly, as I hope they will be received.
An Opinion On Religion
Upon hearing the claims of every culture, of every society to inhabit this planet, we will hear talk of things unseen, of forces unheard. Whether gods, spirits, or vague "forces," it seems that there is some sort of medium of belief in every culture about religion. Why is it that Christians do not believe as the Hindus do, or that Buddhists have different ideas about the soul than the Jews? It is here that the first argument on behalf of non-belief arises: the absence of a such a universal truth in all of mankind. If a child is brought up in a Protestant household, there is a good chance that they themselves will be Protestant, and the same could justly be said of Muslims and Zoroastrians. The truth of this statement is so rock solid that only the religions that recognized it have spread. The Christian missionary who went to the land of "savages," knowing that though his body and mind were infinitely feeble in the sight of god, they still went with the assertion that they were better than the lord's ability at conversion. Maybe it is distressful to religionists to think that religion is but a value, no more intrinsic than any other value. Just as early cultures taught their children to use a certain method for developing tools and praising the gods, so it seems offensive to our modern believers that their religion is just another idea, passed down from generation to generation. The evidence of such a theory can be seen in the world religions, how the children of Buddhists grow up with similar ideas comparable to their parents, just as those of Muslims or Animists.
The existence of a god, spirits, or a spiritual force -- something so magnificent that every religion has believed them to be unbelievably powerful -- yet these religious followers have erected millions of legions, torture chambers, inquisitions, witch hunters, theologians, to convince the world of the most powerful truth. The existence of a god, of a being capable of great, massive power, infused with unending knowledge of the universe he created, and yet the leaders of religions think such a being needs to be proven. A theologian may point to a piece of paper with some scribbling on it, perhaps an inane proof or confusing terminology, and they will argue that this paper is proof of god. But look for a scientist, a biologist, who has tried to prove that dinosaurs still exist or that man can breath underwater, and their proof will not be observation or demonstration, but a proof on a paper. What we wouldn't accept scientifically, what we would laugh at politically, we open-heartedly grant belief to religiously. When we want to know the truth, we must have hard evidence. Reasoning alone can only help us deduct further what the evidence that we already have -- it cannot discover new things.
The greatest being of this universe, a spiritual force or god, and yet missionaries are required to bring this belief to those in foreign nations. If left in seclusion on an island, or in an area separated from the rest of the world, a person would not discover the religions of the world. Experience has taught us this. But if one person or one society, separated from the world, cannot discover "the one true religion," then how is it that the missionaries, originally separated from the world themselves, could discover it? Every culture's religion has its own story. Some of the time, it is a god or a spiritual being who came to earth, and ordered one human to write scripture on behalf of "the one true religion." Other times, it is an author who collects local legends and myths to combine them into one work. The idea of gods mating with mortals to create children was hardly new at the rise of Christianity; in fact, it was born in a society that believed that Pagan gods commonly mated with mortals. The idea of a flood seems to be a traditional concept in many of the old world religions. The more one investigates the origin of religion, the more they become familiar with the idea that religion was simply a social institution, variable to change with culture to culture. It was easy for our ancestors to believe that one man could gather all the world's animals in one ark -- those ancestors only knew about less than 1% of the world's creatures. Just as it was easy for the east coast Native Americans to believe that they were the first to see the sun, or "god" -- they didn't know that the world was round. A religion is created not by anything divine, but rather by the conditions of the culture. I imagine that the African Animists do not have a spirit for snow and that the Animists in snowy regions do not have a spirit for grass. Understandably, it is because the religions formed out of the culture, not of any spirits or gods.
Objectively analyze other religions, and you may find perhaps the most absurd ideas. Some religions purport that the gods interfere with daily life. Others claim that the gods have offspring with mortals on a regular basis. On the extremes, one may find creeds that state openly that the dead may be brought back to life, that spells and magick can alter the physical world with ease, that spirits exist in every physical object and will rebel if you disrespect them, that suicide is needed to achieve a higher spirituality. Religions are born everyday, each of them borrowing concepts from other religions and creating new ideas, some conservative and some radical. Examine these religions and you may find fascination at their ideas, amazement that some people can believe such, or just an interest in what others think about religion. But then examine your own religion, and you will find that it incorporates similar elements of other religions, to one degree or another. All religions incorporate some sort of spiritual element and believe that these spiritual forces can alter the physical world through their own means. A Christian prays, a Wiccan casts a spell, an Animist pays respect to an object, a Pagan acts virtuous to gain the favor of the gods... Whatever the means, it seems that most religions provide the followers with a means of altering the world by calling upon spiritual forces. When you see these other religions, you may think that they are without reason or logic, but when they are based on the same elements as your own religion, how is it that you can justify your belief to yourself?
The objective method of proving or disproving something is the question of whether there is any proof, or evidence, of such a theory or statement. With the abundance of variety in religious opinion, there should be little doubt that no evidence exists for any divine beings. If the god of Christianity made a mark on this world, it would be so undeniable, so inalienable, that the whole world would be convinced of the Christian religion. The same can be said of the gods of the other thousands of religions. Yet we do not have conformity of religious opinion. On the contrary, even among Christians, there are hundreds of sects and branches and reformations and churches, each with their own beliefs, some of them widely different than the others. If there is evidence of the Buddhist religion, why does the world still remained unconvinced? If there is a proof, a physical piece of proof, that confirms every precept of the Qur'an of Islam, why do we still have those who oppose Islamic ideology? If the Catholic Saints really can complete miracles and call upon the will of god, why have they not completed any miracle that would convince the world of their valid claims? There is no evidence, and the truth of this can be found in the jury of the world, where some have sided with one religion, others with another, and some with none.
The cruelest thing I have ever heard was this: "A man is only his beliefs. Take away his beliefs, and he is no longer a man."
I dream of the day when this belief becomes buried in the sands of time.
I know that religious beliefs are personal and intimate, and there are few who will not become defensive when they hear convincing arguments against their own religion. When a person has lived their life, knowing that the scripture of their religious text was the path for life, when years of knowing this shatters with a new discovery -- a revelation of the mind -- it seems almost devastating. Those things which were thought to be so relied upon, so sturdy and concrete, become dust. It seems like the most precious thing to the soul becomes under attack, when religion is attacked. I know this full well. When that which we have been born with, grown with, developed as an individual and a person with, becomes something that another disbelieves in or outrightly preaches against belief in, we become defensive. Sometimes, we almost feel as though we are being personally attacked. These feelings are natural to any human being. It is social instinct for our heart to struggle once our values and ideals are questioned. Among the precious gems that we guard closely, religion is among them.
If the claims of our religions are dispelled, what have we lost, and what have we gained? There are some preachers, employed by the all-knowing, all-powerful gods, who will tell us that if there is no god, then the world has no meaning, life has no purpose. With the godless life I have lived, I can only come to believe the opposite. If a person grew up believing and cherishing the thought of an all-loving god, and one day in their life comes where they loss faith in that god, what did they lose? The friends and family they came to rely on -- is their touch any less tender, their gentle affection any less sincere? The social and political causes they came to support -- is there any less of a reason to end global suffering, to destroy the abuses of a thoughtless society? The poetry and music, literature and art, that they came to adore -- have they lost any beauty, are they without the creator's emotion? If there is no god... Have the sunsets lost their majesty? Have the night stars lost their quietness? Do kind friends, watching the seasons of the daily sky, abandon you now? Are the tendencies towards good less pure; is the smile of a lover less genuine; can you point out deceit when an infant turns? The world is the world, and it has meaning and purpose because of the experiences we have here. If the universe is with or without a god, it does not change the fact that I will abhor betrayal, that I will cherish kindness, that I will fall in love with beauty.
We will still whisper to our conscience, "I shall return," every time we leave the place our heart has called home.
Without a god, the world has lost nothing. Our friends have not left our sides and our families have not abandoned us. When we look to the faces of those enduring misery, we will still feel sympathy and sadness, it will still give us the hope of liberation and the nightmares of those who suffered. As sympathy will still reign in our hearts, so will justice in our actions. Truth, now having finally been discovered, will have more meaning now than it ever has. Virtue has not abandoned us. Goodness will still kindle the flames of our heart. Take every hour that the clergy prays or engages in ceremony. Take every hour, and if we could convince them of the faulty nature of their creeds, ask them instead to dedicate those hours to building homes for the homeless, growing food to feed the poor, or working to treat the terminally ill. Ask every dollar that has gone to house, feed, and clothe the clergy, sometimes in unnecessary extravagance, and ask that this money instead goes to alleviating poverty, ending misery, and curing disease. Take the bricks that build the churches and build homes for shelter for the people; take the land and plant crops to feed the people; take the moments where people show reverence and affection to god, and ask that they show such emotions to their fellow man. Atheism is may very well be the burial of religion, but it is also a spark in the mind and heart of all conscious beings.
Though it may come striking and powerfully with awe, the truth of Atheism should be considered a blessing. In the past schools of thought, there has often been one search: that of truth. If we can discover that the religions are false, that the gods are nonexistent, that there is nothing to this universe other than physical matter and physical laws, then we would have come to a conclusion in one field of confusion. In the arena of religion, it may be true that an alteration of opinion comes with shock to the mind and heart, as what was once fully believed becomes discarded. But consider the kind of independence that fosters. If you are strong enough to the point where your heart can stop belief, when your mind has made the judgment that such a belief is false, have you not gained in courage? Have you not gained in strength and bravery? It would give a sort of independence. For, if there truly is a god, I can imagine that he would be of a kind, warm, and amiable nature, that he would ask his creation not to accept with blindfolded eyes, but to question with the sharp, powerful wit in which he endowed in us. If there is a god, I imagine that he would want his people to be nimble and strong in their minds -- and in the matter of religion, of which the target belief is something so absolute, yet the opinion of this absolute is so varied, it must only be reasonable and scientific to have some doubt in religion. A religious leader will ask his followers to accept by faith, only if he knows that they will never accept on evidence and reason.
What did the world lose, when it has lost god? It has lost every religious leader, who begged and urged crowds to think one, absolute way. It has lost those authoritarian dictators, who argued that their will was the will of god. Every genocide and every form of slavery that had the boisterous words of a preacher or evangelist or missionary, those will disappear from the world forever once religion has been abolished. The vindictive cruelty manifested in wars and torture chambers, created by religious intolerance and fostered by the speakers of organized religion -- without religion, religious wars and their propagandists will disappear. Even though religion is gone, that does not mean that intolerance will leave the planet. It does not mean that brutality will be gone permanently. That is something that every individual, religious or irreligious, must understand: the abolishment of religion will not necessarily mean the development of a humane ethic. We will still have to fight intolerance and inhumanity. It might be an ugly truth, but a truth nonetheless, that it is natural for mankind to be greedy, even if this greed involves the suffering of countless others. We will have to fight this. We must open our hearts, give our strength for a better cause, and convince the rest of the world that this is their duty.
Independence. To know that my thoughts are my own.
Pioneers of Thought
To question the validity of a commonly accepted religious doctrine may be considered a grave offense by society, and depending on the tolerance of where you are, perhaps even by the law. Though it may seem like a taboo, to break such a barrier in a society that may be so unforgiving, we must all recognize that fact that to do this is an amazing expression of bravery and courage. Consider the situation of Nazi Germany: Jews are branded with the Star of David on their clothes, Jewish shops are burned down, concentration camps are being built, Hitler rises to power and the Nazi Party gains control. Think of the lone souls, strong in their heart as they are in mind, who stood up, boldly, powerfully, and spoke, "This is wrong. Kindness and cruelty are not racial characteristics. A man is not made good by his race or religion, but by the acts he has committed. Judge not by what a man is but by what a man has done!" A pioneer of thought in a society that was repressive towards the gems of the heart. What if these words were spoken to the lynching mob that sought out to end lives, or if they were given to the slavers of the black race? The person who spoke these words -- who would justly argue that they were without boldness and courage, conviction and strength?
Those who promote a social or political ideal that has been made villainous, are those with a heart that gives strength to the ideas of their mind. Little more can be said on this.
Pioneers of thought are not restricted to religion or politics. Scientists, artists, and those who developed an intellectual expression are among pioneers. In fact, those who break the walls set up by the armies of society and government tend also to be those who break the barriers in art and science. Imagine the first thinkers to develop the ideas of gravity, and how they were scorned by the population, many of them called religious heretics, because their research defied the church's claims! Imagine the line of thinkers to follow Charles Darwin, detailing the observations of nature and the earth's creatures, discovering secrets that the papacy had deemed as blasphemy -- did they not go as valiant heroes, breaking now ground and discovering a new world. The scientists who made theories on the mechanics of the Universe, on the laws of nature, creating a new field of study and helping the inventors of the world better postulate their ideas on paper. They created something magnificent, by helping the world's thinkers understand how physical objects operate. They broke through barriers set by old thinkers, by those who guessed rather than studied -- by the thinkers of Greece who believed that thought without investigation was real philosophy. Look at the anthropologists of the twentieth century and the discoveries they made that shocked the world. They would come to break down the barriers of our thought, as human culture desired to know their own origins. Everywhere, in every nation and every continent, especially those most tolerant, discoveries and inventions were made that would serve the desires and interests of mankind. Those who uncovered such immortal truths will be revered as pioneers of thought.
Imagine the situations that gave birth to the inspiration of our artists. Whether they paint, they sculpt, they draw, they compose, or otherwise create, they push the borders of human thought. It could be something as simple as graffiti, but when we walk through the days of an otherwise ordinary life, something might make us stop and think and remember an experience -- something beautiful, something unique, some piece of art. By reaching down into our soul and pulling out what we cherished most, an artist becomes a guide to your own experience as an individual. It could be listening to music that powerfully motivates your imagination and past experiences, bringing you back to those tender moments with a lover or those strong pains of avoiding danger; it could be a painting of something sadly beautiful, that will help you remember what it was like to suffer at the hands of an aggressor, or that will help you remember the color of the air when you were among your closest family years ago. Using such mortal tools, a set of paints or a guitar, artists are capable of arousing the most immortal emotions, bringing back the cold snow of a winter with the tears that came with a lost friend in the winter, bringing back the warm rain of a summer with the secret smile that you were with your lover -- those memories that we recollect so we remember who we are and where we've been, these are most vividly brought back when we are with the aid of art, be it music or painting, poetry or literature.
And maybe... maybe when we see the art of philosophy bloom, we will see something profanely unique. We may call it an offense when you say to a girl, "That scripture that tells you, that you cannot express yourself physically with someone you love -- that scripture means nothing." The preachers will call it revolting when you say to a boy, "The priest who tells you, that you cannot like others of any other skin color, that priest means nothing." When you speak to the crowd of oppressed people, the poor, the throw-aways, and you tell them, "The politicians, who argue that your condition is the will of god, they mean nothing. They are nothing." Maybe today, what may be considered perversion in these words, will be the art of a world that will give a helping hand over praying lips, that will worship goodness over a deity, that will idolize virtue and kindness over a spirit.
Liberty of Conscience
Before I end this piece, there is a small bit I would like to say on the liberty of conscience. If a man has been kind to me, showed me generosity, been warm and affectionate with his words, then no matter what religion he professes to believe, I will call him my friend. Every person, no matter what background they descend from, has their own mind. If a person uses their own mind, judges ideas presented to them for themselves, then they become an individual -- someone I can respect. If a person has decided to believe that the Universe came from the palm of Allah or from the fingertips of Yahweh, either way, it does not make them an instinctively bad person. If one finds themselves believing the Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist religion, does that mean they are without mercy? Does it mean that they are without kindness or charity? Does it mean they are depraved as a human being, full of vice without virtue? To these, I must decline. I have found good men in all religions, and simultaneously, I have found bad men in all religions. Though a religious background may influence values, it cannot determine whose spirit is brutal and whose is charitable. Socially and politically, every person must be allowed to think and believe as they wish. If laws were to be enacted against this, it would be an attack on our liberty of conscience, to think and believe and say as we please. It may very well be the most valuable right we could obtain.