Over the next few posts I’m going to do my best to answer the question, ‘what does atheism have to offer?’ that a commenter on Facebook has put to me – that’d be you, Dave – because, he says, I’m too sneery about Christianity. Some of my response will of necessity be personal in nature, and you can take or leave whatever I say; you won’t go to hell if you disagree (or heaven either.)
1. Atheism offers the truth
Christianity wasn’t delivering; it didn’t ring true for me any more and lacked explanatory power. As a result, a need to know the truth of why we’re here and what life is about preceded my atheism. I set about examining the facts of our existence as we know them, together with all the evidence. I became committed to this pursuit regardless of where it might lead. I didn’t, initially, confine my questioning and subsequent reading only to secular or scientific sources, but continued to explore religious and spiritual explanations of life as well. These quickly paled in comparison with empirical evidence; they were vapid and unsubstantiated, relying as they did on talk about ‘energies’ and entities that no-one had ever seen and for which there was no evidence.
Drawn increasingly to scientific explanations of life – biology, genetics, psychology, astronomy – I became increasingly aware that God wasn’t and isn’t required to explain anything about life, the natural world, the universe or indeed anything. Natural phenomena (and they’re all natural phenomena) have, on the principle of Occam’s razor, natural, not super-natural, explanations. The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from this was that he wasn’t and isn’t involved in any of them. His very superfluity demonstrates his non-existence; a god who is not evident in any aspect of reality is a god that doesn’t exist. This pursuit of truth therefore led to atheism as something honest and inherently truthful.
2. Atheism offers a real life in the here and now
Living without recourse to the supernatural is refreshing. There is no god (no angels, devils, spirits, ghosts or demons either) watching over us, waiting for an opportunity to punish or bless us; no god whom we are answerable to either in the present or at some future judgement; no god of vengeance who must be obeyed; no god who will vindicate us at the end of time; no god to grant us eternal life; no set of frequently bizarre rules to follow and no empty promises to claim. Atheists take full responsibility for their own lives and behaviour; they construct their own meaning, knowing this life is the only one they’ll get. Atheism alone grants this responsibility and privilege.
3. Atheism offers a humanist perspective and approach to life
This is not the End Times™ as salaciously envisaged by Christians ancient and modern, just as the first century wasn’t – even though Jesus and Paul both thought it was (Matt 16:27-28; 1 Thess 4.15-17 etc.) The atheist accepts that the only help we’re going to get in solving our problems is from ourselves. There is no god waiting in the wings to put things right; no end time scenario when he will come to rescue a chosen people. (This is, incidentally, one of the most pernicious ideas ever to have been devised by humankind, causing more strife and ‘excusing’ more inhumane treatment of others than any other we’ve devised.)
Apart from natural disasters – and we seem to be contributing increasingly to those – the cause of all of our problems is us. Equally, the solutions will have to come from us too. More positively, all of our endeavours, our achievements, our scientific, technological and social progress are ours alone too. We have the potential to do great good, and often do, just as we cause great harm. Free of religious restrictions, the atheist is at liberty to help others out of fellow-feeling, not because a (non-existent) god demands it.
to be continued…