There is only one thing that excites the religious person more than Satanism, and that is an Atheist. There is a strong collusion drawn in the mind of the theist between the two, and they are almost equally condemned. Some time ago I got a twenty minute spot on one of the talk radio stations and I put briefly the case for Atheism. The response ranged from the hysterical to the `New Born’ who felt pity for me. There was also the odd kindred spirit who thought as I did, but it certainly opened a can of worms.
I lost my ‘Faith’ many years ago, having originally been brought up as a staunch Church of England Christian, going through the ramifications of the choir and altar boy, and taking a fairly intensive course in Religious Knowledge, in which I graduated with distinctions. I have also studied comparative religion and philosophy at university level, and have written a short thesis on psychology for one of my degrees. I am stating the above to show that I am not a novice or an illiterate in this field, and that I probably know my subject as well as any theist.
Losing ones faith is not something that happens lightly. It is a shock to suddenly wake up and realise that there is no God. It is shattering. All beliefs and hopes lie in ashes and it is as severe a blow as losing a close relative. No soul, no spirit, no life hereafter. Nothing beyond the grave. All the comfort disappears. The realisation that the candle goes out once and finally. For the first weeks I felt overcome with depression before I managed to pull myself out of the rut. To me this was not a passing phase. It was final. I knew absolutely that I would never regain my faith again. It was not a temporary lapse. I knew with a certainty that there was no God and the edifice that surrounded His existence was a myth.
The believer has Faith, which protects him from the necessity of demanding ‘proof’ of the existence of a Deity. Where they could see evidence of God, I saw indoctrination. Where they saw a ‘Plan’, I saw self delusion. It was as though the `scales had fallen from my eyes,’ to quote the Bible.
What caused this awakening, as it were? There is no single factor that I can lay my mind to. A questioning of conventional ideas brought on by a study of philosophy, and the realisation that all religions are bound by geographic areas. Christians are born in Christian countries, Buddhists in Buddhist countries etc. Why? The answer is because they are TAUGHT to be Christians, or Buddhists, or Hindus, or Taoists. It is not a natural thing. Yet all these religions claim to be the right one and their exponents can be extreme unto death in their beliefs and proselyting. Religious wars are many and no amount of legislation will breed tolerance.
There is a Jesuit doctrine that says, ‘Give us a child for the first seven years of his life and we will give you a Catholic for ever.’ This, to mind, is pure indoctrination, and is the explanation of the above query. Children, during their formative years are induced into accepting religious beliefs, and the ideas which they receive at this period are almost always permanent. Not all this is as a result of direct teaching. The environment and the accepted standards of the society that they enter, together with the social mores they are exposed to, all shape the child and these are the most powerful influences that he will be exposed to during his entire life. In the human dotage and during senility, these earliest memories are the ones which once more emerge to the fore with the ‘second childhood,’ proving the lasting strength of these early influences. The local society God is introduced and implanted during these formative years.
But why have a God in the first place? There is one common reason throughout. It overcomes the problem of Death. Man, being an intelligent creature, sees and comprehends death. And he fears it. What more comforting thought than that he will survive it? Despite the demise of the body, somehow the ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ will live on; generally in perpetuity, rewarded if good, tortured for ever if bad. It is certainly a weapon used by the Church. In Christian religions it is amazing how much graphic detail is known about Hell, yet how little about Heaven. Try asking the question, ‘What is Heaven like?’ and assess the vagaries.
From my view, God was created to cater for this need in humanity, and over the millennia, has been vested in innumerable beliefs, superstitions and rituals, all designed to get the faithful into a sufficient state of grace to be allowed into the perpetual life cycle. It is also a damned good business on the part of the cognoscenti, priests and charlatans who prey off the gullible, and sell everlasting life in exchange for money and power. Pope Julius II once stood in the Sistine Chapel, and looking around him, exclaimed, “Surely the myth of Christ has brought in much gain!”
But back to basics. Atheism doesn’t keep one foot in the doorway like the Agnostics. It is more positive and more final. With the harmonious structure of life now in ruins, it is necessary to reconstruct. With the demise of all gods, so also goes the reason for morality. Conscience becomes part of the indoctrination process. This too, varies with geography, and what is immoral to a Christian, is not necessarily so to a Muslim. They have their own tenets. Conscience is a mixture of deliberate indoctrination and acquired standards of the society in which we are brought up. Every mother tells her child what is right and what is wrong. This is further ensconced by school teachers, other adults, religious leaders and one’s peers. Some morality is socially based, other is purely religious. If there is no God, there is no basis for the latter, but this is a persistent delusion and colours our entire existence, both personally and officially.
When challenged by circumstance or fact, the Church will exhort you to ‘have faith’ and try to impress you with the doctrine ‘that God moves in mysterious ways’. Governments follow suit – ‘Yours is not to reason why….etc’ In other words, don’t ask inconvenient questions. The very antithesis of Atheism that asks questions about everything. No wonder they have been persecuted throughout the ages!
Being an Atheist forces one to re-evaluate every single aspect of life and society and return to first principles. ‘Why?’ is the major question. Take any action, any tenet, any law, any political belief, any of the things that society holds dear and ask the question, ‘Why?’ In nearly all cases it will be found that it is tradition and we do it, or believe in it or accept it because we have never been taught to query the validity of whatever it is and is accepted blindly. In a very large number of cases, this has been created by those with a vested interest in the outcome and a desire to control. Occasionally there is a good social reason why we behave in the way we do, but by-and-large, this is the exception. Why shouldn’t we covert our neighbour’s ass, or his wife, or his estate or anything else where in modern society, envy and greed appears to be the norm, especially in the current competitive commercial world? Why should we bow down to an authority we disapprove of, or be taxed for services we do not receive or want? Most of the moral and social taboos have their origins in religious, political or social fictions.
There is a belief propagated that the Law is above the Man, because initially God gave man his laws in the early chapters of the Bible and in the Ten Commandments, and therefore this has been extrapolated to include the fiction that all law has the tacit backing of God. This is complete and utter bullshit, but is a useful doctrine for keeping the masses under control, making lawyers rich and keeping governments in power. Why should we accept that the law is above the very men who made it, when in reality, the law, in theory, at least, is merely a set of self-made rules by which we agree to govern ourselves, but nevertheless are subject to change either when politically convenient or when social standards change?
Certain rules are just plain common sense and based on survival. ‘Thou shalt not kill’, for instance. This is a good fundamental doctrine, because if it is adhered to, it will also prevent someone from killing you. Now take the actual scenario. Fundamentalists in religious practices ignore this and the rule is immediately overridden by any politician seeking power or a material advantage for himself or for the nation, and when it is broken by a government there is the implication that God approves of these actions. Hence whole nations can go to war, and priests on both sides will claim that God is with them and bless the combatants, the bombs and various weapons of destruction.
Again, if killing is outlawed by God, why are there so many weapons in the world? It remains the largest commercial enterprise on earth, outweighing energy and food! A gun has only one purpose, and that is to kill. If governments truly believed in Peace, as they say they do, and pray to God for guidance at the opening sessions of parliament, then they should immediately get rid of every single instrument of death they possess or are possessed by the citizens. What do you think the chances of that are? How do they reconcile the different definitions, of murder, genocide, justifiable wars and war-crimes if they all involve breaking the command of God? Is there not an element of hypocrisy involved here?
This is this sort of problem that one is faced with, being an atheist. An examination at the grass roots level of the entire principles of life. Not why are we here, but how, and what are we going to do about it now that we are? Gradually one begins to form one’s own morality and code of ethics, and to my mind, although less generally acceptable, it is far more sound than the current code of the day, largely because it is a product of reason and not a blind acceptance of tradition or propaganda. It is based on sensible principles of largely, ‘do unto others’, but it does cut out many of those ritualistic things and opposes many of the accepted regulations that ‘authority’ demands we comply with.
One of the things that comes across strongly when starting from first principles is the number of labels that people, especially politicians, stick on things that are just the opposite of the reality or are blatantly and deliberately untrue. By associating a label with an action or situation, they hope the definition will adhere. It is the basis of propaganda. It is a convenient tool especially when used against an opposition policy, and to then shout at the label as though it is the matter itself. Try looking at Democracy. Supposed to be the opposite of tyranny, but in the hands of politicians it is usually a label stuck on their own policies which will allow them the gain the same power they desire which the opposition currently holds. Different saddle on the same donkey! Democracy originally meant to mean rule by public consent but is now a system whereby we ensconce our next dictator, sometimes after an election along severely limited party lines and with pre-selected party candidates. A far cry from the original meaning of the word, but nevertheless, still a powerful label. Think also of ‘Freedom’. Where does it exist in any real sense? A century ago, Jules Verne wrote a story called ‘Round the World in Eighty Days’ where the hero did a complete circuit of the world, including innumerous adventures in that amount of time. He didn’t pack a passport for this journey and managed to travel through an enormous number of the countries of the world without let or hindrance. Try it today, with all our United Nations etc. Think about it next time you stand in an immigration queue at one of the airports. Try planning an overland trip from Australia to London and see the number of countries where you simply cannot go anymore.
It is now generally accepted by most Christian religions that a belief in the old legend of Adam and Eve is less likely that the theory of Evolution as advanced by Darwin, yet the Church continues with the ritual of infant baptism. This is supposed to wash away the Original Sin that is innate in man from the time of the Fall, when Adam broke the laws of God. Strange that they no longer believe in this Fall, but the ritual persists, and is still a cornerstone in the religious doctrine, being the key to Heaven, without which, infants, should they die, will be consigned to an eternal roasting in the fires of Hell! They are being punished for inherited sins that they did not commit and by a ‘forgiving God’! Somewhere, some logic is lacking.
Free will? You will get arrested if you ever try to use it nowadays!
Through this end of the telescope, life looks different and it is amazing how quickly one starts to recognise the foibles of society. However, as an individual in the midst of a mass, it is very difficult to survive without having to make some concessions and from the ‘angry-young-man’ beginnings where everything is a challenge, one gradually matures into accepting that one has very little power to change the world and eventually becomes to accept for the sake of comfort, some conformance with the daily demands of society at large, however ill-advised or irrational one may consider them. Most atheists still pay their taxes, but it does create a generation of grumpy old men.
One thing that it has taught me, that if I do not get as much out of life as I can while I am here, I won’t get a second chance. I intend taking a first class ticket through life, and those who want to inhibit themselves and others for the sake of a hoped for reward in the next life, to them, I shall give a special sort of sign and a wave in passing.
The disapproval of a Mother Grundy can generally be taken as the measure of the success of this philosophy. I would like to finish with a poem I once wrote.
What’s it all about, this thing called Life?
The Arachne thread so tautly drawn
By which we hang and ponder on our being.
The twilight wish, this search beyond
Our small horizons, questing other dawns.
Caught briefly here between the pangs and
Pains that mark life’s ends, wondering
And listening for that immortal whisper
On which to pin our hopes forlorn.
Is there some rekindling of this brief candle
In spheres beyond our thin philosophies,
In sunshine worlds free from the small
Restrictions of these Earthly frames?
What’s it all about?
What’s it all about?
Passage of time salves all our griefs
And sights of Future in the Past
Help ease us o’er the passing sorrows.
Belief in Faith pours oil upon our troubled
Minds and smoothes the way from this life
To the next, but Thomases draw small comfort
From the Sage or Priest, and one Eternal
Question mocks their brows.
Is purpose there, or is it not?
When Atropos, with scissors sharp,
Cuts that thread and life departs,
Where goes the soul, if soul there be
And is it for Eternity?
But still the question nags our minds,
What’s it all about?
What’s it all about?
Should we live our life for now
And take our chance on things unknown,
Or curb desires for fear the loss
Of latter-day rewards, exchanging all the gifts
We have for vales of tears and Earthly strife,
Or should we cast our caution to the winds
And shout at Fate that we shall LIVE
And hang the consequence of Sin. Life is mine,
And briefly as I fly I shall extract the essence,
And in passing light the touch that will
Illume the world before I go, and say to Death,
‘I fear you not!’
Perhaps, just perhaps, that is
What it’s all about.
What it’s all about!