7. Atheism offers knowledge instead of belief
‘But you must,’ Christians have said to me, ‘believe in something greater than yourself’ and ‘You can’t deny your spiritual needs.’ Well of course there are things greater than me and of all of us. The universe for a start; love, beauty, friendship, music, great art, nature, the night sky – sex even. Who hasn’t had a spiritual experience through their appreciation of these things? The fact they exist though, makes ‘belief’ in them redundant. We only need ‘believe’ in those things for which there is no evidence – which is why you can’t ‘believe’ in evolution; you can only know it as fact. Similarly, atheists know there are greater things than themselves. They don’t, as a rule, worship them, but appreciate them, often in awe and wonder, for what they are. As for such experiences being ‘spiritual’, we do not, of course, have ‘spirits’ either to nurture or express. We are emotional creatures and the value we find in those things greater than ourselves often stimulates sublime emotional responses. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but our responses reflect conditions within us, not the supernatural without.
8. Atheism offers the embrace of reality
Part of the inherent honesty of atheism is its recognition that this life is all there is. Atheism faces up to the fact that we are organic beings and like all organic beings our lives come to an end; there is nothing in us, no part of us, that survives death. Knowing heaven and eternal life are impossibilities atheism promises neither. Religions do, of course, and that is their great selling point but no-one, apart from atheists, seems to notice that they never actually deliver what they promise (because they can’t.)
Christians also tell atheists that it takes more faith not to believe in God than it does to believe in him. They need only look to their own experience to realise this cannot be so: they don’t need faith not to believe in Allah, Santa Claus or any number of other mythical beings. Equally atheists don’t exercise any faith at all not believing in Yahweh.
9. Atheism offers, unfortunately, an unsatisfactory name
One thing I wish atheism made possible but doesn’t – not yet anyway – is a better term for one who is unencumbered by gods, the supernatural and superstition. I have no wish to be defined by what I’m not, which is how ‘atheist’ works. It also implies that being a theist is somehow the default position and that any other is an aberration. I quite like ‘humanist’, but that doesn’t quite capture it either, but I’m not keen at all on Richard Dawkins’ suggestion of ‘bright’. The tide is turning though and once absence of belief becomes the norm, the right name for the true default will present itself.
10. Atheism offers a sense of well-being
Happiness, tranquility, peace perhaps don’t come from atheism per se, but they do stem from it: the opportunity for the consciousness I think of as ‘me’ to experience life in the here and now. I know many are not able to enjoy being here to the same extent that I and many in the west are able to, but this only makes it more important that we all do something to help improve the lot of others. As the nineteenth-century atheist Robert Ingersoll expressed it, ‘the time to be happy is now, the place to be happy is here, and the way to be happy is to make others so,’
As I write, Queen’s ‘Who Wants To Live Forever?’ is playing on the radio. It hardly matters who wants to; we can’t and we don’t. And – same group, different song – it’s true that ‘nothing really matters’. Really, it doesn’t, and so we are free to get on with living instead of trying to impose our beliefs on others, exterminating those we don’t like or squandering our one and only life because we think there’s a better one waiting. Atheism is far from nihilistic – it allows us to see the value of this life and helps us live it to the full.
So, what has atheism to offer? Freedom, honesty, meaning, contentment. Or, to put it another way, and to paraphrase what somebody or other once said, atheism really is the truth that can set you free.