Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[religion] Almost a thesis statement from me on atheism

The atheism discussion over at daveraines's joint has continued interesting and civil. I'm promoting a comment of mine over there into a post over here, just because. daveraines asked me where atheists get their moral compass. My answer expanded a bit beyond the the question domain.

As to where the moral compass comes from, to me it seems to be a basic aspect of socialization. To simplify, everybody has to sleep some time. Everybody has to have a place to stash their stuff, and leave their loved ones. So in a very real sense, even the biggest, meanest, toughest monkey in the tree has to compromise with the other monkeys he lives with. Which translates up to the Golden Rule, pretty much. Which is enlightened self-interest, at its core. I'm with goulo on this one: many of Jesus' teachings resonate with me, without respect to how I might view His putative divinity.

To your methodological footnote, um, yeah. From the perspective of a non-believer, the Bible is no more (or less) a valid source of thought than the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Theogeny of Hesiod or the Popol Vuh. What makes it sacred truth is your belief that it is sacred truth. Any "proofs" of that sacred truth are by definition circular reasoning from the same starting assumption — which is to say they are not proofs in the empirical sense at all. So cite the Bible as a source translates to "I believe what I believe because I have chosen to believe it." That don't fly in the empirical world inhabited by us atheists.

All that being said, you'll never see me trying to de-convert a Christian. I have a profound respect for the human mind's need for mythic truth (as distinct from empirical truth). Religion in any form is an attempt to divine mythic truth. Where I get off the bus is with those believers who naively (or deliberately) confuse their mythic truth with empirical truth. Young Earth Creationists are a very obvious example.

As I said previously, to my view the choice to embed oneself in a religious framework is an abdication of personal responsibility. If God solves all problems, you don't have to. (Yes, I'm grossly simplifying again.) Likewise evil: if it's about Satan and original Sin and the fall, then an individual doesn't have to bear personal responsibility for the evils in the world, or even the evils they commit.

I'm tempted to think that the greatest benefit faith confers upon its followers is certitude — the world is an ambiguous place. Most people are not comfortable with ambiguity. Dualism seems to be inherent in at least Western culture if not hardwired into human thought. It takes a lot of courage to be an atheist, to accept that there aren't any simple answers, and probably aren't any complex ones except those we create for ourselves, and that personal extinction looms a few million heartbeats (or less) in the future. Religion absolves us of those burdens and replaces them with a solid, comfortable sense of our place in God's plan.

Nice work if you can get it, but the only proofs I've ever seen of God are inherently circular, and rely on me being willing to believe in advance that they are affirmative. The universe goes on whether or not I believe in it. God does not.
Tags: personal, religion
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