Tackling God and Faith
An Anti-theist Speaks to the Faithful and Religious
Almost without fail, when people learn that I am not only an atheist (someone who does not believe in a deity) but also an anti-theist (someone who thinks that religion is harmful to society), I am asked why I can't just leave religion alone or why I am so angry. They are perfectly legitimate questions and often ones that take more time than is available at the time asked. With these questions in mind I hope to answer in such a way as to make sense for those who wonder about such things.
Now it should be remembered that I am simply one anti-theist and that to some degree this response can only be applied to the writer, though I personally think that many anti-theists struggle with very similar things when it comes to religion.
It seems only appropriate to start with the moment that the United States, and indeed the entire world, recognized that radical Islamists truly believed what they said. The morning of September 11th, 2001 need not be recapped yet again, for surely those who read this will know at the very least the basic details of the tragedy. The thing that should be noted, and indeed connects the thread in this response, is that the hijackers not only talked Islam, but walked the walk.
By this I do not mean to say that all Muslims are violent, that they have to agree with the hijackers, or that they are anything other than wonderful people. No, what I mean is that the reading of the Quran that Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda followers have is not an extreme distortion of the text. Like all interpretations of holy books, it is slightly cherry picked, but none the less there. The only time suicide is allowed in the Quran is when it is for the cause of Islam, whether to promote it or to attack its enemies. This martyrdom is greeted with the utmost praise and reward in paradise afterwards, least that is what is said.
It should be clear and understood that the men truly believed that what they were doing was striking a blow for the Islamic world and that they expected to go to paradise with nothing but the utmost glory and respect.
Now understandably one would say that such a situation and instance is an extreme one, even if the believers themselves were not. Truthfully it is in some ways, in others not as much. It is an extreme in the lives that it took and the coverage it received, however the idea of true belief is not. Furthermore the reason that religious belief is different than other beliefs in principal is that there is no compromise. Belief that direction comes from a supreme being, such as that of God, Yahweh, or Allah, is unrivaled because there is no other deity in their mind. Therefore there is no source of wisdom, morality, or knowledge to rival what has been revealed to them.
Move more internally to the United States of America and the same problem can be seen. Take the popular motion of teaching creationism or intelligent design next to evolution in science classrooms. The argument goes that we should expose our students to multiple theories so that they can decide for themselves which they believe in, which in theory is reasonable. However, it undermines what the purpose of science is. Science is the process of taking a question, such as that of evolution, and then trying to find evidence for it whilst trying to disprove it at the same time. Now scientists line up almost universally on saying that evolution is the best model that we have for how humans ended up here from the first life forms. It is in no way arguing against a creator.
However, some faithful find it threatening and have thus asked for an alternative version to be taught alongside evolution. Whether it be strict creationism or intelligent design, either way it involves teaching that we come from a creator. Maybe we do, I cannot absolutely prove that we don't come from a creator, but the proof that we do isn't there. It would be just as irresponsible to teach our students that we definitely didn't come from a creator, especially in the science classroom where evidence is necessary.
Religion trumpets the claim that it is based on faith, based on trust of the words of a prophet or scripture. One would think then that they would not have such a need to appear in the science classroom and would instead be content with being in the philosophy one. Now one may quite easily ask why it is such a problem that they continually ask for such equality. The problem is that it constantly requires refuting and when push comes to shove that leaves our students a step behind the rest of the competition.
Now putting our students in that position is most certainly not their intention, but it is a result of it and it happens because of the unwillingness to compromise. Imagine what outrage there would be if scientists suddenly started asking for churches to teach evolution at Sunday School. Charges of trespassing on religious freedoms would fly about and rightfully so I should add. However what that proves is that those who vie for equal time and representation aren't actually interested in that. Nor should they be if they're being honest.
While I can't say it's the only thing that bothers me about religion and its followers, it is the thing that bothers me most. It drives people to places where they are unable to cooperate and compromise with those who are different. This shows in all its forms from the extreme and terrifying actions of those on that fateful day twelve years ago to the simple fight to teach the best science we currently have in the science classroom.
Instead of opening ears to the wonders that we have discovered, they have insisted on maintaining their beliefs without criticism or opposition. While that is certainly okay on an individual level, on a social and political level it leads to abundant problems. It is the classic saying 'united we stand, divided we fall' and in instances of many faithful, the only way we can stand united is we conform to their way. Thus the constantly reaching hand of religion extends to every corner it can without wanting to let others in.
How can we incorporate the best ideas possible and be the best we can be if we rely on only one source? No one and no source is an expert in everything. It is by combining the best voices in their area of expertise that we can create the best possibility and reality that we can. Just as a puzzle achieves its final beauty and completion by the correct placement of all the pieces, so a society achieves its potential by drawing from many voices in their respective fields. Thus it seems so often that the religious and religion try to take the monopoly on so many things where others have so much to say. It is because of this push that so many of us non-believers feel the need to push back so as not to have valuable voices drowned out. It is because of this dogma that so many are frustrated and angered. For how can we function and be our best if we are not willing to compromise with each other? How can we be great together if we do not recognize each others individual greatness?