Monday, March 08, 2010

What's crazy about believing in God?

Believing in God is bonkers - that's pretty much the default attitude towards religion in popular metropolitan culture in the UK today. More people are out and proud to be self-declared atheists than ever before, and quite a lot of atheists make a point of ridiculing belief in God as often as they can. A range of belittling jibes are deployed by militant atheists: religionists are deluded, infantile, unthinking, ignorant,emotionally stunted, psychologically malformed,stuck in a time warp, fearful of reality - one or all of these. We get the idea!

There are no ideas in militant atheism's of faith in God that have not been around since the late nineteenth century in one shape or another. Sometimes,in good old common-sense pragmatic Britain atheism presents itself as opposing the alleged irrationality of believing something for which there's no scientific evidence. But more deeply it's also about the apparent impossibility of squaring the total blindness and neutrality over morals and values in natural life with the belief that there is a good, loving and just Mind or Spirit who is ultimately responsible for everything that has been, is, or ever will be.

There are well-worn pathways in philosophical theology in response to these issues, of varying degrees of sophistication, which it'd take a lot more than a short blog to map and explore. I'm interested to muse on why atheism has become so much more common and especially why more militant in recent years. Maybe it's been the slow-burn influence of various episodes of religious craziness - like the mass suicide of Jonestown Guyana in 1978 and other cult-related events in the 1990s - finally galvanised by the alleged theological motivations for the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.

What seems to have motivated the founder of a recent atheist bus advertising campaign, which urged people to relax and enjoy their lives because there's probably no God, was the negative reaction induced in her by religious posters. The ones that tell people they'll go to hell if they don't believe in God were the main culprits.

So probably the current cultural phenomenon of active atheism is a sort of equal and opposite reaction to those Christians groups suffering spiritual paranoia who sadly find it necessary to boost their faith by threatening others who don't share it.

Meanwhile it seems to me that believing in God is the least bonkers way of life anyone can choose and the most rational. In the spirit of French philosopher Blaise Pascal - consider the alternatives. Either God is or God is not. If God is not, still there is no harm in living as if God is, because the values of love, truth and goodness which are promoted by a sincere and selfless faith in God are ultimately better for us and our communities than other values, and faith will motivate us to sustain them against all odds. In that case, when we die we will know no different; but if God is, then the good life we have lived will be rewarded with ultimate bliss and fulfilment. That is the wager of faith a la Pascal as I understand it.

But there is a further thought for me. It's the emergence in this universe of ourselves as beings with consciousnesses capable of appreciating love, truth and goodness and valuing them, which is what persuades me it's not crazy to believe in God. And for me even if God is not now in one sense , the direction of travel for consciousness in this universe is that surely God will be, and a God who will be, cannot help but be a God who always was and now is. This seems to me much less bonkers and a much more creative and life-giving way to go than the atheism which sees only "change and decay all around".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can give you many reasons for the rise in atheism. The biggest one being the way they have been treated historically and how we still are treated by the majority of believers.

Here in the US, you could never imagine reaching national office if you have not hidden your atheism well. Atheists are considered the most untrusted group, and this in an era where people are afraid of Muslim extremism. This has even been the case prior to the "New Atheism" that has now permeated some parts of western culture.

When a group is oppressed, all it takes is a small piece of snow falling down the hill before you get a huge snowball, and eventual avalanche.

Religion makes a point to belittle atheists. The Bible says that people that don't believe in God are fools for example. On top of this, it was certainly taught to me that I should stay away from people speaking against religion. It was told to me that it was just inviting Satan into my mind, and I should never tempt Satan, lest he tempt me.

This type of mental conditioning creates a problematic situation for belief in a world where people are realizing that not only is God not necessary, but God is not seen as the best explanation for most of what he is attributed with.

If religion had allowed people to simply not believe, and not made atheists feel like they needed to hide their beliefs, atheists wouldn't be near as vocal as they now are. On top of that, if atheist messages had always been allowed, the current ones wouldn't have so much impact.

It is religion that has caused exactly what religions fear. The fact that you can live a good life without God is getting out, and will soon make it so all of society will find it perfectly okay to criticize all silly beliefs, even religious ones.