Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why Atheists are Misunderstood

I have just read a review of Professor John Gray view of athiest. Evidence that even a great mind can be hide bound by a religious upbringing
Alas poor Professor Gray, atheism is not a belief. Its not even the absence of belief: it is a state of quiet confidence that existance is just what it appears to be and needs no additional explanatory constructs. Its true adherents enjoy a state of contentment and acceptance, that leads to tolerance and humanism.
The human condition is such that some are driven to seek meaning in the meaningless; and a small portion of these are driven to to kill, maim and subject millions to miser in order to follow their obsession. These people we call extremists: a minority that religious and non-religious alike want to disown.
A supreme irony is that since there are so many contradictory versions of the absolute truth the majority have to be wrong. So if the majority are wrong, and we have no way of knowing which (if any) is correct, it is statistically correct to say that the vast majority of fundamentalism have to be incorrect.
Clearly intolerance - whereever it is coming from - is the root of all evil and not religion (or atheism). As with all forms of extremism, Professor Dawkins extremism has no place a world seeking the truth (though some of the arguments he makes are worth serious consideration).
Professor Gray's observation that atheists' mirror religious methods of argument - methods we supposedly ridicule - when putting forward their point of view. This is hardly surprising given the millenia-long domince of religion in all branches of education (and the naked aggression displayed to questions & questioners). Though most of that is Aristotlian - so maybe the church shouldnt claim it all for themselves
Furthermore his hyperbola ('Nowadays most atheists ......want ..... a secular state in which religion has no role. They clearly believe that, in a state of this kind, religion will tend to decline') damages his arguement. Most atheists worry about the influence of irrational thinking of all fundamentalist, and how such thinking may impact social and political freedom - not simply the rreligious content.
While agreeing that human nature will not be changed by education most people accept that religion will be with us for a while to come. Most atheists will happily accept that as long the religious dont expect to control social and moral behaviour. Given the sad history we have of lunatics (religious or not) forcing people to accept all kinds of nonsense as moral imperatives, caution is understandable. There is no reason why a spiritual belief system should have primacy.
The good professor is confusing believers with extremists (a mistake that Dawkins also makes). It is not just the unshakeable certainty in one's beliefs, but the certainity that others should be forced to adopt them, that leads to confrontation and (periodically) the outrages noted. Religion is often, but not exclusively, the foundation for such certainity.
The majority of believers and non-believers want to live in peace where they believe they have an economic investment in the future. We are more likely to embrace a belief in a God (or 'scientific' polticial systems) when things (economic or personal) are slipping from our control. Communism and Nazism gained ground at times and in places of economic and/or social desperation.
We all tend to embrace things that seem to reduce the negative impact of chance (who hasnt avoided walking on cracks?). And there is nothing wrong with that as long as your accept that others may not share (or even care about) that opinion.
Finally I think that emphasising the horrors of 'scientific' political systems the world endured in the last century (to show that progress is not being made) is misleading. They were tragic blips on the road to advancement.

No comments: