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An Atheist Argues for Faith

I am an atheist. Not an agnostic, an atheist. THERE IS NO GOD. At least not a supercomputer-in-the-sky fairytale type of god. And certainly not one defined by a bunch of bearded blokes thousands of years ago. I'm not going to go into the arguments which support my lack of faith in there being any possibility for a deity (there are many better arguers for atheism around) suffice to say that I believe we all have the potential to understand every unexplained mystery. We are surrounded by stuff today that would blow the minds of those beardies for which they invented gods to explain, but where we now have scientific explanations (science means 'know', not 'have faith').

Where organised faith is concerned, I believe there are two types of people in this world. Those who need to ring-fence things they don't understand by assigning them to a god (who does the understanding for them - otherwise referred to as the 'god-of-gaps'), and those who refuse to assign them to anything other than their own ignorance (we'll almost certainly never fully understand 'everything', but we have the potential).

So even though gods are invented by man, do they still have a value? Deists typically argue about the need for a moral compass. These they extract from heavily censored and often translated texts (bible, koran, torah, writings of buddah, mao, and no doubt thousands of beardie-equivalents in every other corner of the world), together with 'wise-men's' extrapolations from such texts to provide answers to moral questions either missed by the original law-makers and deity reporters (prophets and disciples etc), or to resolve conflicting messages within their mishmash of selected texts. For example the bible used to be comprised of several hundred authors' works. In the fourth century it was whittled down by Constantine and another bunch of beardies who preferred some more than others. Mohammed couldn't read and write. Much of the 'word of god' ended up on the cutting-room floor I'm afraid.

Atheists such as Dawkins, Harris and Hitchen argue that we don't need a deity, or more importantly, the fear of one, to define and control our morality. We simply need to know what is right and what is wrong, and accordingly lead our lives responsibly and compassionately according to moral absolutes. The deist would then argue that individuals' judgements about morality would vary according to their circumstances, experiences, intellect and health - although the history of our species has copious examples of collectively approved immoralities, usually perpetrated by faith leaders (instructions from the bible and koran are particularly vicious in this regard). Consequently societies would descend into anarchic self-interest. Back to the atheists - they would contend that reason and ethics should encourage 'good' behaviour, not fear.

My problem with this is that morals are not absolute. They are defined by what individuals collectively can 'get away with'. The Nazis did not believe what they were doing was unethical or immoral. On the contrary, they believed passionately in racial purity and the protection of Aryan races as being of primary importance. Collectively they were allowed to believe that the greater good was served by eradicating what they were encouraged to believe were cancerous elements of their society which threatened their children's survival and prosperity.

So ignoring for the purposes of this treatise, all the cruel and 'third reich-like' immoral instructions and advice you find littered throughout 'holy words' (child abuse, capital and corporal punishment, subjugation of women, slavery, genocide etc), the fact is they have the power to control populations, and therefore can be used for good. Of course the main argument an atheist or secularist might use against this approach, is 'define good'. It's not hard to find directly conflicting beardie instructions within aggregated texts as exemplified by Sunni vs Shiite, Catholic vs Protestant and Orthodox vs Liberal Jews. Tragically it's also not hard to find examples every day in our press about fanatics taking violent retribution against opposing beardie-followers. Interestingly, the more closely these followers are related, the more violent they become towards each other. It would seem that followers of one religion believe that followers of diverse religions are simply 'wrong' and therefore probably stupid and certainly misguided. But generally you don't kill stupid and misguided people. You try to persuade them that you're right and they're wrong. However, if someone who ostensibly worships the same god as you is misbehaving in some way, then they really ought to know better, and their excuses are less forgivable. That's why apostates are the most evil offenders in Islam (and Judaism interestingly - Deuteronomy 13:6–10), and blasphemers in Christianity (burnt at stakes etc).

So billions of people follow moral compasses defined by the beardies their parents follow. Most claim to do so because they like the security and ethics defined by their proscribed set of moralities. In reality, they do so out of fear for the consequences of not obeying the rules. They risk suffering disapproval or retribution from their families, communities, rulers and faith leaders. But these are known risks, and one can always find techniques to bend the rules and mitigate the risks. But ultimately, of course, and most powerfully, there is the retribution of their deity - who, usefully for those implementing the rules, have divine CCTV everywhere with infinite recording and analysis capability. There's no escape, even from what you think.

So why might I advocate the use of this artifice created by beardies to apply ultimate sanction over their particular selection of rules. Because it works. If, for some reason, you wanted to clear the streets of your community several times a day, call your people into buildings to pray. To limit food wastage, demand fasts. If you want to make sure your men share out available women without leaving hoards of testosterone-laden gangs to grab whatever they find to satisfy their sexual urges, then enforce monogamy and illegalise adultery. If you want to make sure personal property is respected and expenditure on policing is minimised, make theft an offence against god. If you want to make sure that your rules are the only ones that your people adopt in order to protect your social hierarchy and power-base, then make it known your god will punish the adoption of alternative sets of rules.

It's all wonderfully self-propagating. In fact it's hereditary. There's a basic momentum in all religions which says 'to make sure your innocent babies don't suffer appalling fates, protect them by making sure they follow the rules. It's your duty'. The most powerful marketing device ever invented. And unfortunately, the biggest problem facing atheists: You can't terrorise your children into becoming atheists. Atheism is not enforced by anything other than intellect and reason. In fact it takes bravery in many countries, especially the USA, to declare yourself an atheist. Far easier to adopt the god-of-gaps and appear meekly god-fearing and therefore 'good'.

Which brings me to the problem and its possible, although defeatist perhaps, solution. The ebbing of morality in today's societies. Are we experiencing a breakdown of social conscience and personal sense of responsibility? Are we losing control over basic moralities? Hoodies rioting in our streets for 'fun'. Drug abuse. Growing prison populations. Free sex. Unrestricted violence in films purporting to be entertainment. Video games that offer carnage to kids of all ages. Pornographic abuse of women and children on the internet. Even our tolerance of swearing - there are now no words banned from public broadcasting in the UK.

What is the ultimate end-game for all of this? Perhaps the ancient Romans (and many other ancient civilizations like the Incas, Aztecs, Mongols, Barbarians etc) give us a clue, where the public were provided with murder and every other sort of depravity as publicly staged events. Does a bored society always evolve to bestiality, to the deepest and darkest areas of the pleasure areas of our brains? Neural controls which encourage us to enjoy killing (for food and power), and sex, above all other motivations. And does morality ultimately passify those genetic Darwinian urges designed to help us survive and procreate? Is the application of morals the way society prevents us from descending (or ascending, depending on whether you view it from the side of the selfish gene or not) towards inconsiderate, disrespectful and dispassionate behaviour? And if we are already on this downwards spiral, how can we reverse the trend?

Police, soldiers, teachers, politicians, parents, in fact anyone who tries to impose restrictions on this descent will increasingly be ignored and rebuffed by people determined to push the boundaries of authority. And they'll have the weight of the 'moral' (or immoral) majority on their side. "Freedom", "Liberty" will be their cries. And we'll all support the idea of "I might not agree with what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." Ultimately the mob will bay for bestial fun, and there will be nothing the state will be able to do to prevent them escalating and proliferating (note how quickly the hoodie riots spread around many cities in the UK, and how ineffectual the police were in protecting our streets and property). Mob rule. In fact politicians will attempt to harness it for their own gain.

So civil restrictions will increasingly fail to control this descent... leaving fear of retribution by a far more powerful authority the only control left at our disposal. These people are not reasoning atheists. They are nihilists, and as such, they can be made fearful of what they can't or won't understand.

If that doesn't work, then when you compare our developing situation with what happened to the Romans, Aztecs, Incas, Monguls et al, and the failure of their godly authorities to do anything other than support the hierarchy chosen to implement them - it does not bode well. Majority morality, or beardie claptrap. Imperfect choices, but with some careful manipulation of beardie wording, almighty retribution might be reserved for acts which threaten universal compassion and planetary survival. Now even I'd feign a love of god for that if I thought it might help stop hoodies rioting, children being raped and the planet being raided for personal wealth.


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