The Atheist Bible
Chapter 20: ConclusionThis chapter of the Atheist Bible concludes the book.
Main MessagesThe main messages of this book are:
- Part 1: Atheism and Atheists
- Atheists reject belief in the supernatural. Humanists are atheists who subscribe to the Human Rights, democracy, science, freedom of religion, and liberal ethical values.
- Part 2: An Atheist View on the World
- As humans, we observe the world and we try to find patterns in what we observe. This way, we approximate truth — even if we may possibly never get to know it. Nevertheless, much of the workings of the universe can nowadays be explained by science. People developed ethics out of empathy, and out of the desire for mutual protection. The meaning of life is the intention that you pursue with your life. If you do not give your life a meaning, someone else will.
- Part 3: An Atheist View on Gods
- The existence of gods is unfalsifiable, and hence the concept does not carry meaning in the sense of this book. Proofs for gods are either wrong or ill-formed, or they can equally well prove the existence of the fictional goddess Gayatri. Proofs that use gods to explain the phenomena of nature, in particular, do not provide explanations in the usual sense.
- Part 4: An Atheist View on Religion
- For this book, a religion is a set of beliefs. People came up with religions out of the desire to explain nature, out of the personification of natural entities, or out of the desire to control people. People follow a religion because religion makes them happy, because they tend to do what other people do, because they are coerced into the religion, because they want to influence nature, or for a variety of other reasons. There is nowadays a plethora of religions, which differ in their gods, their concepts of the afterlife, their creation myths, and their values. The religions that have survived until today use a number of memes to dominate over the others.
- Part 5: Discussion of the Abrahamic Religions in particular
- The concept of the Abrahamic God is inconsistent in atheist eyes, in particular because he was extremely brutal but is now worshipped as benevolent. Furthermore, he is benevolent and omnipotent, but does nothing to stop the evil in this world. As for Islam, there are a plethora of interpretations, all of which claim to be the only true one. These interpretations go from the benevolent to the brutal. Christianity claims to implement God’s eternal will, but it has gone through impressive changes over time.
- Part 6: The Effects of Religion
- Religion has positive effects and negative effects on the individual and on society. Humanists warn people of the negative effects, but are happy to let everybody enjoy the positive effects.
Life is an unfoldment, and the further we travel the more truth we can comprehend. To understand the things that are at our door is the best preparation for understanding those that lie beyond.
HumanismHumanism, the particular brand of atheism advertised in this book, is a life stance that advocates
- The search for truth through a continuing process of observation, evaluation and revision .
- Liberal ethic values, i.e., the right to do whatever pleases as long as the equal rights of others are not infringed.
- Democracy and the Human Rights.
- Freedom of Religion, i.e., the right to adhere to any religious belief as long as it does not curtail the freedom of others. This includes the right to adhere to no belief at all.
- The scientific method as the most reliable way of understanding the world.
- The rejection of truth by faith.
Thus, Humanism is a comprehensive worldview, which has an ethical, a political, a philosophical, and a scientific dimension.
The concept of goodness is too important to delegate it to imaginary beings.
ReligionTechnically speaking, a religion is a set of beliefs. From an atheist perspective, these beliefs are not divine. They were made up by people a long time ago. The supernatural claims of a religion are unfalsifiable, and thus do not carry meaning in the sense of this book. The values of most major religions are at odds with Humanist values, most notably with the Human Rights. In addition, religion does much harm to society (in Humanist eyes) by propagating a medieval notion of truth, and by building up closed communities.
At the same time, religion can also give people hope, strength, and a reason for life. They can also make people happy. These positive aspects cannot be weighted easily against the negative effects. We cannot conclude that religion would be bad in general — or, for that matter, good in general. This is because different positive effects and different negative effects apply to different religions, to different times, to different cultures, and to different people. One has to be aware of both the boons and the banes of religion, and judge each case accordingly.
In this spirit, Humanism does not want to abolish religion. For all of its criticism against religion, Humanism does not aim to force people legally or physically to abandon their faith. On the contrary, Humanism defends the Freedom of Religion: the right for every person to adhere to a religion of their choice. This includes the right to adhere to no religion at all. This freedom finds its limits only when the equal freedom of others is concerned.
Religious freedom means that you can believe whatever you want.
It does not mean that you can do whatever you want.
Humanism and ReligionIt is often assumed that Humanism would give religions free reign, in the name of freedom of religion. That is not the case. Humanism gives free reign to religion only if no harm is done to others, and if all people enjoy the same rights 12, 3.
In particular, Humanism opposes any religious belief that
- advocates giving less rights to women than to men.
- does not grant its own adherents freedom of religion, e.g., by punishing or ostracising apostasy.
- stigmatizes atheists, or calls for their persecution.
- prohibits people from marrying adherents of other faiths.
- demands exceptions to the law.
- violates the separation of state and religion.
- opposes criticism of its tenets, potentially as “blasphemy”.
- teaches stories that run counter to scientific evidence as facts in schools.
- requires the mutilation of genitals for children.
- builds up isolated communities with different laws.
- considers all non-adherents worthy of hell.
- discriminates against gay people.
- marries off under-age girls.
- otherwise supports values that run counter to the Human Rights, such as cruel punishments.
Such values are incompatible with Humanist values. One cannot be a Humanist and be OK with such religious beliefs.
As it so happens, such harmful religious beliefs take an assertive role in many of today’s societies. Rather than hiding behind the principle of freedom of religion, Humanists should identify, expose, and oppose such beliefs. This opposition should not be directed against a religion. Rather, it should be directed against the harmful belief itself.
Those who hammer their guns into plows
will plow for those who don’t.
EducationEducation is a key to human development and well-being. It is also part of the Humanist quest for truth. In a Humanist spirit, education should put emphasis on the following subjects:
- Yes, religions (in plural). Currently, our schools and societies teach children mainly about a single religion (the one that the parents of the child adhere to). That is not good. Children should learn about all major religions. The more they know about the different religions, the more likely they will be to accept adherents of these religions. They will also be less prone to overvalue their own religion.
- Children should learn logical reasoning, debating techniques, and the principle of falsifiability. This will help them avoid falling prey to malicious ideologies (religious or otherwise).
- The values of the Enlightenment
- The Enlightenment has given us the rule of law, freedom of thought, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom in the choice of a partner, and freedom in general, as long as the freedom of others is not engaged. These values form the bedrock of our Western democracies, and children should know what they are and where they came from.
- Science is the key to understanding the physical world. Children should not just learn the sciences, they should also learn to master the scientific principles: validation by experiment, abandonment of wrong theories, and distinguishing hypotheses from validated theories.
The enlightenment of today will depend not on a few bright heads, but on the rise of the general population.
OutlookMarshall Brain imagines how a society without religion could look 4. His central message is that, once the supernatural is removed from the picture, we can concentrate on the here and now. We can focus our attention on humanity, on the needy, on science, on education, on the environment, and on cherishing the good things we already have. There is no need to waste time on worshipping some mythological beings, and no need to organise our lives around some rules these beings purportedly gave us.
Of course, we do not have to wait until all people are atheists in order to begin with this endeavor. Already now, Humanism calls us to work towards the implementation of the Human Rights for everybody, towards developing our laws and governments by democratic means, towards giving more people more freedom, towards learning more about nature through the use of science, towards searching truth and teaching it, and, ultimately, towards making life better for more people.
Interestingly, religiousness is negatively correlated with these goals: Prosperity, social stability, education, scientific progress, and happiness generally correlate with less religiousness — at least at the global level. Thus, if we work towards these goals, religion may yet disappear by itself.