(view post on original site here: http://www.atheist-positive.org)

It’s understandably hard, as an avowed atheist, to try and find some acceptance or reason for religion in today’s world.  One of the reasons I started this blog, however, was to show religious people that not all atheists are trying to destroy all religion.  Despite our contention that the harm caused by religion vastly (VASTLY) outweighs the good, we can acknowledge that at a personal level, religion can be a source of comfort and order in one’s private life.  If, as a believer in God, you fear atheism, then it is because you yourself have doubts about your faith; and you realize that’s it’s just a matter of time before the logical case for atheism builds up and you become an atheist by your own choice.  I would no sooner force atheism on a religious person than I would have that religious person force their religion on me.  

Atheism is arrived at through the decision to base your life on observable fact, rationality, and the scientific method.  Granted, it’s sometimes maddening that people will often make serious life (and, all too often, political) decisions based on ancient fictional texts instead of empirical evidence; but this brings me to my point:  Some otherwise rational people do manage to find a reason for their belief.  

Full disclosure:  One of my best friends from high school (to whom I am still very close) was recently ordained as an Episcopal priest.  I would never for a second consider him an irrational person.  He is not a Bible-thumper.  Granted, he talks about “God” a lot more than he used to; but I get no sense that he has lost the ability to tolerate views besides his own, or views that challenge his own (like mine).  Episcopalianism is one of the most liberal Christian traditions, but obviously there still is the belief in God, and Heaven and Hell and the word of the Bible; it’s just not as fundamental or evangelical as in the other sects.  Does he believe God exists?  Yes.  Is he a creationist?  No.  Does he believe the Bible is literal?  Not sure, but knowing him I’d say not entirely.  Instead he uses it (judging by his sermons) as a series of parables and life-lessons, fictional or not, that can help guide people in their daily lives.

The key here is that belief in God and/or the truth of the book is secondary to what one personally takes from it.  Are you a Christian because you believe Jesus Christ is the son of God and he literally died to save you from damnation, or because you try to live by his example?  Even as an atheist, I see the character of Jesus as a good role model; just as I see Captain Kirk or Frodo Baggins as a good role model.  Does it make me a worse person because I don’t take the story as true?

I can’t speak as well for other religions, as my own childhood experience with Christianity gives me a tad more insight in that area; but I suspect that people gain some real value from their affiliation with one religion or another…totally independent of their belief in God (and please feel free to contribute any personal insights you may have in the comments section).  If this is the case, then we can’t just write off all religious people as delusional wackos (unless they literally believe everything and are intolerant of those who believe otherwise).

Which brings me to a larger question, which I put to religious people (should any happen to stumble upon this blog…):  Is belief in God really necessary?  If you throw away the rites and rituals, mythology and miracles…do you become a worse person?  How is it worse to gather with friends and family in a park or at home than at a church?  Is belief in a literal Jesus necessary to feel compassion for the poor and forgiveness toward transgressors?  Can you tell the difference between Right and Wrong only if you believe in God?

My answer to all of the above questions is, of course, NO.  Hopefully this opens the door to some deeper understanding of atheism.  It’s not that we believe in nothing…we’re not nihilists, after all.  We just don’t believe in God.

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Comment by John Kelly on February 3, 2012 at 5:58pm

But the measurements used to claim "it vastly outweighs the good it causes" tend to manipulate the scales so that it can't be measured accurately.  Although there is a lot of bad, we take a lot of the good it provides for granted because it is so normative.  Furthermore, a system without religion, and its effects are unknown, because even atheist nations are still exposed and reacted in their history to the theistic/deistic paradigms that guided humanity into its current thought patterns.  Everything is action and reaction.  The notion that religion poisons everything is far too simplistic.  It may poison a perfect ideal of the future, but that perfect ideal is presently unobtainable anyway.  We live in the now, and must live in harmony with the religious people to the best of our ability.

Comment by Christopher Downes on February 4, 2012 at 12:18am

Correct, I am saying we should live in harmony with the religious people.  My point is that the "good" people associate with religion is just normal human decency and the level of kindness, forgiveness and cooperation necessary for any society to function, God or not.  Whereas the bad caused by devotion to one particular unchanging faith (to the exclusion of all others), has created plainly observable intolerance, prejudice, violence and war that would not have come about in the absence of religion.

Granted, historically all societies have had religious beginnings; but the advent of religion was merely a means to explain any phenomenon that the people of that time didn't understand.  The scientific method didn't exist until the 1700s, so people were left with little recourse but to make up an explanation that best conformed with mythology that had been handed down to them.  It wasn't until people started saying "You know, maybe it wasn't God that did this..." that we really began to understand the world around us.  Religion is a relic of a time when people were unable to understand the truth about their world by any other means.

However, the idea of religious paradigms guiding human thought patterns is a harder case to make.  Plenty of societies were able to flourish without some moral code handed down by an all-knowing being in the sky.  The Asian and Native American traditions limited their religious understanding to the notion of "spirits" that would inhabit physical forms and cause whatever they couldn't explain.  There societal paradigms and ethics, however, were more pragmatic in that they realized that it was beneficial to their social groups to behave in a certain way toward one another.  Rather than a series of prophets and holy edicts from on high, as in the middle east, the Asians followed philosophers (Confucius and Lao Tzu being the most famous), who participated in society and came up with series' of precepts that they felt would make for a more harmonious coexistence.  It's possible that whoever "Moses", "Jesus" and "Mohammed" were, they were merely doing the same thing - the key difference being that they attributed their rules to a higher mythical power, instilling greater fear/belief (and thus greater prejudice against those who did not share these fears/beliefs) in the people who took it as literally true.

Obviously, in today's society we can draw on all manner of historical ethical and moral traditions to aid us in our daily lives and in the betterment of our society.  My point is that belief in God is no longer a prerequisite.


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