Okay so my post about my religions class has ruffled a few feathers and inspired quite a bit of rage. Yes I agree that the assertion that atheism is a religion is ridiculous and that the professor should read more before making claims about us... The story I shared was not supposed to be about the professor's slip, stupidity happens, and I don't expect him to know everything. Furthermore I think calling out the big dogs to shut him down will do two things:
The class is an open forum style class, people are bound to be wrong, and as long as we are the minority it will be one or two students explaining ourselves. These explanations are key to understanding, so I have no intentions of shutting things down.
Also while the professor may disagree with me on the subject of what constitutes a religion, he isn't actively ruining me because of it.
I'm going to share the first paper we had to write for the class examining our own religious beliefs. Take from it what you will, read it if you want. Know that I got an "A" on this paper.
I do not believe in a god but atheism is not my religion, just the same as one who believes in Hecate, or YHWH doesn’t list their religion as “deist” or “theist”. While some may claim that atheism or agnosticism are types of faith in their own right, I believe that the claim is my own to make. I do not claim my disbelief as a religion or even a philosophy; it is merely something about me, a small detail in the long list of details that make up who I am. I don’t have the evidence I need in order to place faith in any of the gods of the organized religions I have been exposed to. Should that ever change then I will gladly adjust my worldviews and move on.
Still, the purpose of this assignment is to examine ourselves and our religious beliefs, and while I may not be parked in a pew on Sundays, there are certainly things I hold sacred, there are things I believe are important, and I think about the consequences of life and death. These things are typically tenants of religion, but no one religion has a monopoly on philosophical contemplation. I am not going to talk about why I am not a part of other religions; instead I will explain why my own approach is important to me.
Evidence or Lack There Of:
There is certain credibility amongst atheist circles for those who can cite biological or astronomical reasoning as to the deconstruction of their faith. I envy them at times because it seems as if the universe opens up for them, revealing answers that solidify their reasoning and arguments. I on the other hand used to have faith. One day it was strong enough to push me to teach others, lead prayer groups and argue in defense of it, and the next it just seemed to vanish. Not only did I not feel the presence of a god, but I did not feel a belief any more. The world took on a different feel to me. At first I felt heart-broken, losing my faith made me relive the feelings of loss I had felt when those I loved had passed away. Gone was the reassurance in an afterlife and in its place was the feeling that “this really is all there is.” Eventually though, that feeling evolved, I reasoned that if this is all we get, this beautiful but brief existence, then I should make it count.
Contrary to assumptions by those who never ask a non-believer what they feel, this did not mean I felt compelled to live a debaucherous life of excess and selfishness. I actually was overcome with an intense feeling of empathy for my fellow man. Life is short, this may be all there is, I’d better do my best not to make it awful for others.
I began to read more, and watch more and I began to feel a sense of awe again, but it wasn’t the same thing I had felt before. In learning about the vastness of the universe I felt a part of something much more significant; I was in and of the universe. As Carl Sagan said, “The cosmos are also within us, we are made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” (Sagan)
Implications of Belief vs. Non-Belief:
One of the most common arguments I have been pitted against while discussing the topic of faith with others is “If you don’t believe in God and you are wrong…” this is the opening statement to Pascal’s wager. It presented an interesting and frightening argument when I first lost my faith, and for a while sent me scrambling back to church in an attempt to force myself to believe again. If faith were only so simple there wouldn’t be much to study in this class. When the attempt to rediscover belief failed I decided to hit the books to try and understand the implications of the wager better. The major failing of Pascal’s wager is the assumption of one acceptable god. It presumes that the non-believer exists in a binary world where there is either no god, or the god of the one posing the argument. The reality is that if one can be swayed by the wager, then they must apply that logic not only to the deity of the one posing the wager, but that of any follower of any god who comes along. Those posing this wager never consider that “they are in just as much danger of going to [another religion’s] hell as I, an atheist, am in danger of going to [the asker’s] hell.” (Mills 34)
For me, the question of whether the supernatural exists is just not one that weighs heavily on my mind. We live in a world with very real suffering. People live in real fear of losing everything to disease, natural disasters, war, poverty, bigotry, and numerous other things that just seem out of our control. On a personal scale they are probably right, but imagine for a moment if we worked together as the human race to achieve a peaceful end to those problems. Imagine if instead of silently hoping that a disease would go away, if we all concentrated our efforts. Raising funds to discover cures so those who have the knowhow could eradicate it, educating all the minds of tomorrow to bring a new edge and fresh eyes to long-standing seemingly hopeless problems. I feel that this ideal is no loftier than the hope of eternal paradise, in fact I’m not asking for eternal paradise, just one that lasts as long as we do on Earth. I think that science could help make that a reality, but for too long those who adhere to one side of religion or another presume that science and religion are opposite ends of an argument. Since many non-believers try to use science as their explanation for their disbelief I cannot say I am surprised, but I do not accept that there is a dividing line between scientific learning and religious adherence, if someone believes that a god created this world, then they should ultimately accept the same god created all of the mechanical truths of the world. Understanding these mechanics help us live better lives with everything from artificial indoor lighting to understanding the cellular malfunctions that cause cancer and other debilitating illnesses. (Shermer 116)
Lack of deity does not automatically mean lack of hope, or lack of convictions. The adamant nature of some atheists may certainly rub many religious adherents the wrong way, and I understand that. There is a lack of understanding between the two groups fostered by some of the more outspoken voices seeking to create a movement of secularism. Many atheists may agree with some of the statements, but disagree with the attitude of contempt mixed with open hostility. I don’t seek to make others believe the same as I do, but I do seek to have civil conversation or respectful debate that leads to understanding.
If I am correct, this life is all we have and we should seek harmony, if I am wrong, then this is all there is for me, and I still believe we should seek harmony.