Over on the ABC.net.au website (which is generally a reasonably good news website) Greg Clarke, director of the ‘Centre for Public Christianity’ has posted an opinion pieces titled ‘The Struggle to Believe is not a Futile One‘ apparently in response to Atheism and the bus ads that have appeared in several countries.
I hold a completely opposite point of view; I hold that to believe in whatever type of supernatural deity you like is easy and certainly not a struggle. By outlining this case, I’ll aim to respond to some of Clarke’s rather interesting takes on reality and belief.
Christianity, depending on denomination but let’s go with a generalised version, believes in a deity figure that watches every move, monitors every thought, knows everything, created everything and occassionally (apparently) appears on pieces of toast which miracously appear on eBay. That believe extends to the point of death, wherein the deceased Christian will pop up to Heaven and be judged by their deity or a direct representative thereof (sometimes St Peter is given this duty, sometime the Archangel Gabriel, sometimes someone else; I guess Heaven’s Gate has some sort of duty roster system happening).
But the basis of the belief is usually (and again, this can depend on denomination) that their god has some sort of master divine plan and therefore everything will work out for the best in the end. And that is the point where having a belief is easy; the belief becomes life a security blanket or psychological crutch where the believer can say “Well, the world is going down the proverbial gurgler quicker than an Irishman can drink a pint of Guiness but I’m sure it’s all part of God’s plan so it’ll all work out in the end.”
Having a belief in a deity figure which boasts such thinking can lead to all sorts of problems for humanity in general while dissolving responsibility for immediate situations on a personal level. But it certainly does not make the problem go away; indeed it can even be extended and the problem instead becomes something to celebrate. An example of this is certain evangelical christians in the United States of America (and other places, I must assume) who celebrate and look forward to the prospect of nuclear armageddon because it must obviously herald in the ‘end days’ described in the holy texts. So instead of working towards general disarmament and peace for all humankind (believer and non-believer alike), they are doing the equivalent of chanting “Go, Nukes! Go!” which is morally bankrupt to say the very least. They have actively passed on responsibility for the prospect of nuclear based annihilation onto other people and even celebrate it when they should be actively working to stop it from ever happening.
Now that I’ve outlined my position on that aspect of discussion, let’s move on to parts of Clarke’s opinon piece:
“I’m jealous of your beliefs – I wish I could be certain like you.”
Instead of addressing that line directly, I’ll instead look at the reflection of it. Atheists, in general, are not certain there is no god figure and I certainly don’t know of any who profess that there is 0% chance of one existing. That being said, they do state (and again, this is a generalisation) that there chances of one existing are infintisimally small based on all available evidence. Simply put; there’s no evidence for any sort of deity figure existing therefore we must assume that none do.
the trying to treat others as you would have them treat you
If it takes belief in a deity figure for you to act in such a manner then I would suggest that you need to to re-examine your own personal ethics and morality. Atheists, generally speaking, are quite moral people and have not required religious teachings to encourage them to act in such a manner.
Professor Antony Flew, the most prominent advocate of atheism before Richard Dawkins took up his pen, recently decided that he does in fact think there is sufficient reason to believe there is a god. And he decided this at age 81. Novelist Anne Rice, most famous for Interview with a Vampire, wrote last year of her journey in 1998 from atheism back to the Catholic faith she left behind aged 15.
I think this one one of the more telling paragraphs from Clarke’s piece; rehashing examples of people who came to believe in the Judeo-Christian god as they went through life. Of course, this does not serve as any sort of evidence for the validity of those beliefs. Afterall, many famous people believe in Scientology but I seriously doubt many people would claim that cult as teaching any sort of truth.
People are welcome to believe in whatever they feel like be it Xenu, Zeus, Yahweh, Odin, Allah, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, UFOs or whatever else you care to name. However, it is only when those beliefs are forced onto others (be it through irritating door knocking, tracts, or attempts to dilute science education just as some examples) that problems start to arise. Beliefs also need to be able to stand up to objective and critical scrutiny else they’re really not much of a belief to start with anyhow. You may believe that the sun is Ra’s firey chariot racing through the sky and you’re certainly welcome to that belief; but I’m also welcome to point out that it is infact a giant nuclear furnace that is about four billion years old as shown by the available evidence.
It is easy to delude yourself into thinking you have guardian angels, saints, or a deity watching over the welfare of your immortal soul; people have done it in one form or another throughout human history. But just because you believe in something, it does not make it real.
If you want to have a struggle with something, turn away from your delusions and accept the universe and reality for what it is. A terrible place full of dangers to overcome and challenges to conquer while it is also a place of incomparable beauty and majesty; where whole galaxies spin, where suns are formed in nebula too massive for our minds to properly envisage. Where this is the one life we have, we need to appreciate it while it lasts and do everything we can with it while we have the chance. It is the only chance we have.