(This is a transcript of Al Stefanlelli’s “Voice Of Reason” segment on my American Heathen® Internet Radio Show)
I get many different reactions from people who discover that I’m not a religious man, which is an understatement. No matter what has led to our conversation and often-ensuing debate on matters of religious belief, their exasperated finale usually ends up with something close to, “Why don’t you just believe?” They don’t seem to understand that they are requesting me to abandon or discount everything that I have learned about the sciences over the past twenty-five years. I am asked to believe 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 Fundamental Christianity floating around on the Internet, and I laugh 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 to the faithful, there is a lot of truth in it, and it’s in this truth that I find the irony of the philosophical trade that I am consistently asked to make. Fact is, I am not a superstitious fellow. I am an atheist. My opinions about religion are based on reason, not doctrines, dogmas, superstitions or other sectarian authorities. I pay no homage to messiahs, creeds or holy books, nor do I consider mystical revelations or blind faith as valid. I understand truth to be how any given statement corresponds with rational thought and empirical evidence. Reason is my ally and it is a powerful one. Reason and critical thought are my main tools for comprehension, understanding and truth, which is then confirmed only through the strict tests of the scientific method.
Truth must be testable, and by virtue, must require evidence and repeatable experiments to confirm it, as well as continued attempts to falsify it. The explanation of what results must be in it’s simplest form and free of contradictions. Contrary to what the religious would like you to think, I am a moral person. I measure morality in terms of reason and kindness. The belief that Fundamental Christianity has cornered the market on morality has been repeatedly proved false.
What is moral is simply what doesn’t hurt others. Kindness sums up everything. I base morality on human needs, not imagined “cosmic absolutes.” To me, a moral dilemma is one that involves a conflict of values. I resolve these conflicts using reason to weigh the outcome of any given situation. Fundamental religion, however, promotes a dangerous and inadequate version of morality that is based on blind obedience, objective ultimatums and juvenile promises of a reward in heaven. The disobedient get 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. It offered the faithful a reason for their existence on earth. The problem is that religion cannot give your life 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. Both of these are inherently dangerous.
We should not forget that crashing airplanes into buildings, shooting physicians who provide legal medical procedures and the be-heading of disobedient women are faith-based initiatives. These extreme actions are the only logical conclusions that can come from religious fulfillment, if one believes the Judeo – Christian – Islamic holy books are the literal word of their god.
I am confident that the genesis of meaning and purpose absolutely must begin in my mind. The universe is cold, vast and mindless. It does not care about me, you or anyone for that matter. The caring must come from within us. My sense of purpose comes as the result of compassion, altruism, joy, love and the progression of human knowledge. The fundamentalists insist that there must be a designer and point to human characteristics and the natural world as proof, but life does not demand a designer.
All we need is 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 simple. There exists no empirical evidence to support the existence of gods, goddesses, devils, demons, spooks, spirits, jinns, ghosts, specters, apparitions or anything else supernatural.
As well, there are plenty of good reasons to oppose it. Religious belief defies reason and cannot be tested. While I believe many fundamentalists are sincere, I also believe they are hallucinating. There is no advantage to believing a lie and there is no excuse for sacrificing logic and reason in favor of superstition. This is unconscionable to me.
I think religion is more harmful than it is worth, as it has been used to justify almost every war ever fought and is responsible for horrific blights on our society. Only through religion have we come to know slavery, sexism, racism, homophobia, mutilations, intolerance and the oppression of millions of minorities. The totalitarianism of religious absolutes choke progress. If you think good deeds are an argument for the existence of religion, consider that even militant terrorist organizations have social programs available for their followers.
The thing is that many believers would be good people even if they had no religion. Religion has no monopoly on good deeds. In fact, the lion’s share of the progress we enjoy is the result of work done by those who are not religious. Edison, Einstein, Darwin, Stanton, Curie, Freud, Russell, Dawkins… The list goes on and on. Contrasting this is the fact that religion has a history of consistent resistance to progress.
Atheism is largely misunderstood. It is not a political position. All of us are not progressive socialists. We come from all walks of life and we don’t have a cohesive organization. We are Democrats, Libertarians, Republicans, Socialists, Capitalists, Conservatives, Liberals, etc. A cross-section of humanity.
Atheism is not a religion, either. It is just a lack of belief in the supernatural and it only requires a commitment to skepticism and reason. Religion requires the acceptance of the supernatural, holy writings, and the conformation to absolutes.
I keep my mind free from religious dogma. I test ideas and then retest them and then either adopt or discard them based on evidence. I’m not without emotion, but I am suspect of what contradicts science, refutes reason and is not open to question. What the fundamentalist Christian regularly refers to as “freedom in Christ” is nothing more than credulous servitude. It is blind obedience to bronze-age superstitions based on ignorance, and propagated by divine tyrants. The individuals who brought us these dogmas were from a primitive time in our history. They had no concept of anything even remotely consistent with modern science. They did not know where thunder and lighting came from, what caused drought, why an animal had more than one color, why disease existed or what “line of sight” was.
Religion was borne out of the terrified infancy of our species. It is an insult to the collective knowledge of human thought. It misrepresents the origins of humankind and the cosmos. It demands unreasonable suppression of human nature, inclines people to violence, requires blind submission to authority and is hostile to free inquiry.
Only the freethinker is truly free.