Quite a few people have written about their experiences with atheism. Some reports are funny, some are angry, many are triumphant, as if becoming an atheist takes you to the next level, makes you a better person, somehow. I would like to explore if that is true.One of my parents was a catholic, the other was a protestant. Today, it may be difficult for most people to distinguish the two, but when they met, it was a huge problem. We have a proverb that could be translated as: “Two religions on a pillow will find the devil in the middle.” They decided to get married and end the debate by not bringing their children up with any religious beliefs. Therefore I never struggled with god. I’ve read about different religions to find out what having a belief meant. Ironically, I spent lots of time among the believers; I just didn’t know it.
Do atheists know better?
What are the advantages of being an atheist, apart from having more spare time? Would losing your religion make you less superstitious?
In Nietzsche’s essay, “David Strauss the confessor and the writer”, I have blogged about it before, Nietzsche tells us that Strauss boasts of a new faith, a new religion: his view of the cosmos based on modern science. Nietzsche asks the question: “How can modern science be a religion? To call it a religion means that some of its grounding principles lie beyond the realm of modern science.” It would be a science based on faith. And that seems to be the case here: Strauss has changed his faith in God into a faith in the cosmos and he demands the same piety for his rational universe as the devout person of the old school demands for his God.Why do so many atheists feel a need to ridicule what they used to hold dear? And at the same time, demand everyone’s respect for the ideas they have only adopted recently?
Strauss more or less admits that he doesn’t know everything, because science has not furnished him with all the answers yet:
“But one can be without a firm position and still not be lying on the ground,”
It doesn’t sound convincing.
“Someone who neither stands nor lies, must be flying, or perhaps he floats, flutters, or flaps.”
Nietzsche answers. Maybe underneath his boasting, Strauss the atheist feels like a Peewit. It flies erratically over the fields, making a lot of noise, in a feeble attempt to draw away predator’s attentions from its nest, where it feels most vulnerable.
What do atheists believe in?
In writing this, I am not trying to make myself look good. I am not claiming to be beyond atheism and I don’t have definite answers. I’m just asking if it’s possible for a person to become an atheist by exchanging one set of beliefs for another, without changing oneself at all. These are some likely candidates:
David Strauss looked at the cosmos as an infallible, rational machine. It was the scientific view of his day and when we read about it a hundred years later, it looks hopelessly old-fashioned. If we want to adopt science as our new faith, we have to accept that there is no stability. Our belief could be based on the ruling paradigm, on the current consensus of mainstream scientists. Or on the one dissident scientist who somehow convinced us. And that is not our only problem:
There was a young lady named Bright,
Whose speed was far faster than light;
She started one day
In a relative way,
And returned on the previous night.
Do we understand quantum mechanics? Do we feel superior to theists because we really know that everything is relative?In asking these questions I am not saying that scientific achievements have no value. On the contrary: I am deeply impressed when I read about the Big Bang or brain research. All I’m asking is if science is a good candidate for an atheist faith.
When I was taking a break from writing this, I saw that fellow blogger Makagutu had written a very interesting reflection on the death of god. He also thought about morals in a new light:
“I realize that some of the things I thought immoral, appeared to be so since I was looking at life using a christian filter.” Makagutu
He referred to this article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy about Metaethics.
“Many have thought the right answers to these [moral] questions are found in an appeal to God. On their view, moral principles are the expression of God’s will — they are His commands to us — and they get their authority from their source.” SEP
The article goes on to explain why this couldn’t even be a sufficient answer to religious believers, but one thing a new atheist should probably think about is a new set of morals. The easiest option would be to find an authority figure who gives us some answers that we can adopt. If we choose that option, it shows we haven’t changed. If we don’t, we’ll find that facing insecurities and admitting we don’t have the answers is not easy.
We have to believe in something
Like I said at the very beginning of this article, I found myself among the believers wherever I went. Where I live the majority of people would admit to a belief in something. This could be any personal mixture of things like positive affirmations, reincarnation, the innate goodness of people, humanist ethics, horoscopes, Deepak Chopra or The Secret. I suspect somethingism is an answer to the threat of nihilism.What if we took the discussion on morals one step further and explored the thought that there is no meaning at all?
“We’re just chemical scum on the surface of a moderately sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies.” Stephen Hawking
From personal experience, I can say that I’m not a stranger to somethingism. I have at times displayed an overexcited enthusiasm about the answers science might provide, I’ve had political beliefs that were not based on reason, but on a wish that things would be so. Even today, I’m probably more of a romantic than a nihilist. I don’t think I should build a pyramid and put the new atheists at its apex and the aura readers at its base. But I’ll ask the question again: “Are we better people because we’re atheists?”