Milestones and Millstones

Posted by on April 28, 2012 in Featured, Thoughts | 5 comments

I try not to be overly introspective on this blog, but sometimes it seems appropriate to do so; I’ve reached 400 posts, which to me represents some kind of milestone, and this I think is a good time for a little reflection, if not some kind of celebration.

My main focus in this blog is “atheism”. But to me this is less of a topic and more of a “stepping off” point for commentaries about the world, it’s politics and it’s people. There’s not much to be said about “atheism” than just a simple lack of a belief in a god or gods, nothing more. I’ve noticed a tendency for people to conflate this lack of belief with human rights issues, animal rights issues, political issues and garner equality, but really there is no guarantee that such a link exists; it’s the individual and their personal stance on the outlying topics that brings the ideas of godlessness into line with the big moral and ethical issues of our times. To start a commentary on any issue, the question of god often pops up; faith in a divine creator and all it’s baggage so often finds its way into our lives via politics, cultural practices, education, humans and animal rights issues that it’s sometimes hard to separate the “god issue” from the topic at hand. Very often, blind belief in a creator and the dogmas that bolster it into position are at odds with the present and future world we want to see develop.

When I started this blog I had the intention of writing how I felt about the issues we face as a planet for the excluse purpose of just getting all this information out of my head. In the process writing has become much more; it has become the ultimate learning tool for me. Every issue is heavier than it first appears, and the causes for our current situation in the world so often has its roots deep in history, culture or some skewed political agenda. Some feminist issues and misogynistic practices worldwide owe their existence to centuries of oppressive behaviours perpetrated under social and political ideologies, presented under the guise of religious dictates. Political issues between countries and states, particularly in less developed nations, owe their existence to disputes over land and resources, and are justified by invoking god or gods. Social issues, be it the caste system of India (still alive and well, though nobody talks as if it exists anymore after it was dismantled last century), or the misogynistic practices perpetrated by Afghani men, are seen as political and human-rights issues, but have their roots in ideologies around belief. Financial issues caused by a monetary and trading system which seems to have had its day, are often overseen by people no use their faith as their guide, and care not for the future of a planet that has been foretold will be destroyed by the hand of god.

Every one of these issues on the surface appear to be social social problems, but when you scratch the surface, in almost all cases, the purported belief in divinity and it’s dogmas will play a role, sometimes smaller, sometimes larger. So if we want to talk about these issues, inevitably it will come back to the topic of religion. Not atheism, but religion.

The discourse around religion and its role in the future seems to be gaining much more publicity in recent times. We see this when more and more people worldwide are no longer afraid to step forward and declare that they don’t believe. We have seen an unprecedented increase in gatherings of atheists like two Global Atheist Conventions held in Melbourne, the Reason Rally in the USA, and many others being held worldwide, where people such as myself are willing to openly admit that we think that the time for religious intrusion into our lives has come to an end, if such a time ever practically existed at all.

Sam Harris wrote in 2005 an article titled “An Atheist Manifesto“, which closes with these two paragraphs:

“It seems profoundly unlikely that we will heal the divisions in our world simply by multiplying the opportunities for interfaith dialogue. The endgame for civilization cannot be mutual tolerance of patent irrationality. While all parties to liberal religious discourse have agreed to tread lightly over those points where their worldviews would otherwise collide, these very points remain perpetual sources of conflict for their coreligionists. Political correctness, therefore, does not offer an enduring basis for human cooperation. If religious war is ever to become unthinkable for us, in the way that slavery and cannibalism seem poised to, it will be a matter of our having dispensed with the dogma of faith.

When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world and to one another. Atheism is nothing more than a commitment to the most basic standard of intellectual honesty: One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence. Pretending to be certain when one isn’t—indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable—is both an intellectual and a moral failing. Only the atheist has realized this. The atheist is simply a person who has perceived the lies of religion and refused to make them his own.”

I agree with his standpoint here on what atheism is. To me, however, I see the term “atheist” as a term that oughtn’t exist. Not believing in something for which there is no compelling evidence is not something that should be given a name. Instead, not believing in the proposition of a creator should be the default position, a blank canvas as you will, which then over time may or may not arrive at the conclusion that a god doesn’t exist. We all have our reasons for how we see the world, but atheism is not one of them. Rather, it is a conclusion based on evidence. Those who purport that there is definitive evidence for the existence of god have stopped looking too soon.

I hope that I never stop questioning things. I hope that my mind and body can sustain me for long enough to keep questioning and learning. I hope that something that I’ve written will help others to see that they may not be thinking clearly, and that an reevaluation of their standpoints on the topics that matter in the life no longer need the input from an imaginary being and a bronze-age book. I hope that one day, the millstone of religious intrusion into our societies and cultures becomes nothing more than a personal belief set, and that we can be freed from this burden.

400 posts is really just an arbitrary celebration, but I take this opportunity to just talk to you. You, the reader, is the reason I do this, and I thank you all for your wonderful support and commentaries. I look forward to the next 400 posts.

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  1. “I agree with his standpoint here on what atheism is. To me, however, I see the term “atheist” as a term that oughtn’t exist.” – then you’re in agreement with Harris about that also. In case you missed it at the time, he made this argument at the 2007 Atheist Alliance conference in DC:

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    • @JacquesR Yes I looked back and realised that the “however” was unnecessary. He says exactly that in the essay I cited. Thanks Jacques.

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  2. Congrats MSP, I’m looking forward to your next 400 millings of ancient wisdom with the stone of modernity.

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  3. Thanks for writing Martin.  I also agree with the Harris quote you chose to highlight.  While I agree that the term atheist should not exist, that is not our reality.  When so many children are baptized or otherwise brought up in some religious faith, atheism is not the starting point that it should be.  I wish it were, but that is not to be.  To be an atheist, you can be born into an atheist family–which would be great.  However, for most of us being an atheist required some type of active work and thinking in order to reject whatever religion we were brought up in.  I think that is why the term atheist exists—it is often something that someone becomes—and while I wish that it was the starting point and not the end, I am proud to say I am an atheist and proud of the work and study that I undertook to get there.
    The other reason I think the term needs to exist (but still wish it did not) is as a necessary construct to fight against the hordes of Christians in the U.S. and elsewhere who seem to want to eradicate the separation of Church and State.  It seems that many who take on that job are atheists and define themselves as such.  Once again, I am proud to say that I am one of those atheists.

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    •  @reasonbeingblog Agreed, if the New Atheism is a social movement then it’s surely a reactionary movement. Moreso than merely a ground swell of liberal frustration at the slow pace of social progress (from religious institutions to secular alternatives). Now much better characterised as a kick-back against the rhetoric of today’s religious leaders who’re overtly demonising secular organisations as inferior, including contemporary academic opinion. Thereby insulting us to the extent of “blasphemy”.

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