Today’s headline is, by far, the most common reaction I get from people who discover that I am not a religious man, which is an understatement. These words are uttered in a gamut of emotion from surprise to anger, depending on how long the person knows me. No matter, what emotion is tied to their response, what they are requesting of me is to abandon or discount everything that I have learned about biology, archaeology, paleontology, anthropology, paleoanthropology, anthropodology, cosmology, psychology, sociology and theology, a combined education of nearly twenty-five years, in favor believing in a religion based on a book that, as Dan Barker points out, “has talking animals, wizards, witches, demons, sticks turning into snakes, food falling from the sky, people walking on water and all sorts of magical, absurd and primitive stories” . This action, to me, is completely unthinkable.
There is a definition of Christianity floating around on the Internet which I have been searching for authorship in order to give proper credit. The author still eludes me, but I laugh out loud whenever I come across it, and thus I will share it with you:
“Christianity is the belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree”
As blasphemous as that is perceived by the faithful, there is a lot of truth to it, and it is in this truth that I find the irony of the philosophical trade that I am consistently asked to make.
I am not a superstitious fellow. I am what is known as a “Freethinker”. I form opinions about religion on the basis of reason, independent of tradition, authority, or established belief. I do not conform to a bible, creed, or messiah and thus, I do not consider revelation and faith as valid, nor orthodoxy any guarantee of truth.
Clarence Darrow once noted, “I don’t believe in God because I don’t believe in Mother Goose.”
I am naturalistic due to my ability to reason, and I understand truth as the degree to which a statement corresponds with reality, and reality as limited to what is perceived through rational thought and empirical evidence.
Reason is a powerful ally. It is a freethinkers main tool for comprehensive understanding is reason. Through critical thought we know the limit of what is true according to the strict tests of the scientific method. Truth is testable. Evidence and repeatable experiments confirm it. All attempts to falsify it fail. It is parsimonious, logical and free of contradictions.
Like most freethinkers, I am a very moral person. The belief that Christianity has cornered the market on morality has been repeatedly proven false. I measure morality in terms of reason and kindness. What is moral is simply what doesn’t hurt others. Kindness sums up everything. I base morality on on human needs, not imagined “cosmic absolutes.”
As a general rule, freethinkers embrace respect for our planet and all it’s inhabitants and fiercely defend human equality. To us, a moral dilemma is one that involves a conflict of values. We resolve these conflicts using reason to weigh the outcome of any given situation.
Religion, however, promotes a dangerous and inadequate version of morality that is based on blind obedience, objective ultimatums, and childish promises of the reward of heaven for obedience or horrific threats of everlasting punishment in an utterly gruesome, sadistic place called “hell” for disobedience.
Albert Einstein said, “Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death.”
I prefer to base my actions on the consequences to real, living human beings.
The wildly popular “Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren swept the country several years ago, offering the faithful a reason for their existence on earth. The problem is that religion cannot give you purpose. Not even Christianity. Religion can only give you someone Else’s interpretation of purpose for your life, or invite you to explore what purpose a non-existent entity has for you, which is inherently dangerous. We should not forget that crashing an airplane into a building, the shooting of a well-respected physician providing a legal service as he was (quite ironically) attending church services and the stoning of a disobedient child are all faith-based initiatives. Those who think these are extreme actions are but the only logical conclusion that those who search for religious fulfillment can come, if one believes the Judeo/Christian/Islamic holy books are the literal word of god.
In contrast, a freethinker knows that meaning and purpose absolutely must originate in the mind. We know that the universe is mindless and does not care, so the caring must come from within us. Human compassion, social progress, art, music, literature, pleasure, joy, love, personal happiness and the advancement of human knowledge is what gives us purpose. Like life itself, purpose does not demand a designer, only a reasonable explanation. Fortunately, the undeniable and proven facts of evolution, including evolutionary psychology, explain everything from altruism to the existence of chaos, ugliness and pain in the universe
My resistance to religion is due to the fact that no religion has withstood the tests of reason. There is nothing to gain by believing a falsehood. The sacrifice of logic and reason to the altar of superstition is unconscionable to me. I think religion is more harmful than it is worth because it has been used to justify almost every war ever fought and blights on our society such as slavery, sexism, racism, homophobia, mutilations, intolerance, and the oppression of countless minorities. The totalitarianism of religious absolutes chokes progress. If you think good deeds are an argument for the existence of religion, consider that even Hamas has social programs available for their followers.
The thing is, dear readers, is that many believers would be good people even if they had no religion. Religion has no monopoly on good deeds. In fact, a majority of the modern moral and social progress we have enjoyed have been the result of the work done by people who are free from religion. Edison, Einstein, Darwin, Stanton, Curie, Freud, Russell, Dawkins… The list goes on and on.
Contrast this to the fact that religion has a history of consistent, kicking and screaming resistance to progress. The Catholic Church has recently proposed the elimination of spousal medical coverage in it’s institutions for the express purpose of avoiding any mandatory rights for same sex couples. That is nothing except spiteful.
Freethought is not a political position. Contrary to the religious right’s belief that all freethinkers are progressive socialists, we come from all walks of life. We do not have a cohesive organization. We are capitalists, libertarians, socialists, communists, Republicans, Democrats, liberals and conservatives. Basically a cross section of all Americans.
Freethought is not a religion, either. It is just a lack of belief in the supernatural and has no other requirements other than being without religious faith and a commitment to reason and natural rational principles. Religion requires the acceptance that there exists a supernatural realm, a deity, faith in scriptural or “holy” writings and conformity to an absolute creed.
I think in a pluralistic frame of mind. I keep myself free from the restraints of religious orthodoxy. I test and retest ideas and either adopt or discard them based on the demands of rational thought. I am not without great emotion, as those who know me will attest. However, I am suspect of anything that contradicts science or outrages reason.
Freedom is a wonderful thing. What believers regularly refer to as the concept of “freedom in Christ” is nothing more than credulous servitude . I see absolutely no pride in the blind adherence to ancient superstitions or self-effacing prostration before divine tyrants known only through the revelation of primitive cultures that had no concept of anything even remotely consistent with modern science, such as where thunder and lighting came from, what caused drought, why an animal had more than one color, why disease existed and what “line of sight” was.
Religion was borne out of the terrified infancy of our species and is an insult to the combined knowledge of human thought. It misrepresents the origins of humankind and the cosmos, demands unreasonable suppression of human nature, inclines people to violence and blind submission to authority and is hostile to free inquiry.
Only the freethinker is truly free.