Most people addressed what they had learned through 2012 in December. I was going to but am only now really putting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard! There are several things over the past year that have changed in my outlook on life, and they focus on three main areas:
1) The role of religion
2) My mental health
Now I want to dedicate a post on each of these subjects and look at how my thoughts on them have changed and why. Hopefully they have made me a better person. One area I have spent a lot of time on in the past has been the subject of religion.
My position a year ago was that religion was a scourge. A plague that humanity had to fight. I saw all the damage that was being done by people who called themselves religious- the terrorism of radical Islam, the numerous acts of child cruelty by some people calling themselves Catholic as well as the Churches cover up, the homophobia inherent in some of the more extreme wings of Christianity. But then, I look at my Catholic friends who are as disgusted by child rape as I am. My Islamic friends who are appalled that murder is committed in their name, and my gay Chistian friends who cannot support the anti gay agenda of some groups who call themselves Christian.
And something struck me. Something clicked and changed inside me and I can’t quite figure out when that happened. It happened gradually. I was starting to realise that it was not religion itself that was a problem but dogma generally. And dogma is not the exclusive domain of religion but of politics as well as different social attitudes as well. It cannot be denied that there is some vulgar stuff in the Bible. There is also vulgar stuff in Mein Kampf. There were vulgar actions involved in Stalin’s communist regime. There were vulgar actions involved in Thatchers Tory Britain. And vulgar actions at the hands of the current government It may be true that religion seems to have a privileged place in society, but even that is changing and many religious people agree. A recent Ipsos Mori poll showed that many Christians were opposed to a state religion of any kind, that religion should not trump peoples rights and that pseudoscience like Creationism has no place in a science class. I really advise you read the poll.
There are many, many good people who are religious – with 7 billion people in the world it would be an act of extreme bigotry to think that all religious people are evil, or deluded, or brainwashed. I am friends with many good people who HAPPEN to be religious. Their religion however plays no real part in their lives at times though they have faith.
Now I haven’t suddenly converted. I think the existence of a deity of any kind is just as unlikely now as I did a year ago- but this isn’t about a belief in god, its about religion and it is important to realise they are not necessarily the same thing. As Dawkins (A man I once respected but now… not so much) has pointed out, the God of the Old Testament is in short a vile piece of work, but I don’t know anyone who actually believes in that god. And who are we to say what a Christian should or should not believe?
When a believer of any kind says “ah yes, but that person isn’t a real Christian/ Muslim etc” we are quick to point out the No True Scotsman Fallacy. But are some not guilty of the reverse? Of saying that if a Christian doesn’t accept all of the teachings they are not a Christian? We are quick to point out how much of the Bible is down to interpretation but it seems from browsing forums that it is NOT okay when Christians go “yup, I agree with you there” and get on with their lives. Somehow we think we’ve won points by getting someone to admit they don’t believe everything in the book. I of course don’t speak for all atheist, just my own feelings toward the subject.
Sometimes I find *some* atheists to be dogmatic – though accept thats maybe just my personal reaction to the abundance of “Religion is stoopid” comments on Youtube, but it doesnt look good to an outsider. I wont say fundamental for fear of PZ Myers and his Pharyngulites descending upon me – and that’s odd, almost cultish. I can see why some religious people say they see atheism as a religion, because the behaviour of some people who identify as atheist. Now of course, by the dictionary definition of religion, atheism cannot be a religion but that’s neither here nor there- it’s how we look to outsiders.
And that is something else that concerns me- how *we* look. Despite what some people might claim, atheism still just means a lack of a positive belief in a deity or deities. If you want it to mean more, then fine, but for the purpose of discussion we need to be pretty strict. Atheism is not a group of people with shared beliefs and ideologies. All they have in common is their lack of positive belief in a deity.
I am an atheist. I am also an afairyist. An abigfootist. An aethical-Toryist. I no longer feel the need to define myself by what I don’t believe but by what I do believe. And I believe in equality, in caring, in helping our fellow man, in truth, justice and the America… hang, on I may have gone off on a tangent. More and more I feel less like identifying myself as an atheist and prefer Secular humanist- I use small “h” as I don’t belong to the organised Humanist movement.
I was recently invited to a friends church where they will be discussing questions similar to the Alpha Course. A year ago I would have jumped at the chance- not for any other reason than I would have found it rather fun to argue and, yes, laugh at the arguments. Not now though. Now I don’t care. It’s her belief and it is important to her. Some people will argue that ALL religious belief is harmful. I cannot agree. Some beliefs are harmful, yes, but for the most part it is not WHAT people believe but HOW they act on that belief. And though some people who are religious have done bad things, so have some people who are atheists.
I don’t really care much for the argument that more religious people are in prison, or more wars are down to religion because quite simply it’s an unfair comment- at least when talking about wars throughout history as atheism was not as prominant as it is now and religion was very much ingrained in society. Of course as a percentage of the population there are less atheists in jail in the states- but when you realise that there are many things that correlate with atheism such as education you have to ask what the bigger picture is and if there are less atheists in jail *because* they are atheists or are there other factors at play?
I would also say I don’t give a monkeys spunk sack what someone 1000 years ago did in the name of religion. Stop throwing around the Crusades as examples of Christian cruelty as if it happened yesterday. Cavemen weren’t Christian and look what they did to the Neanderthals!
There are bad things about religion, there are bad things about any belief structure, and that’s because we’re human. We’re flawed. We could create a perfect paradise and fuck it up in a week.
I don’t have any problem with religion- I have a problem with dogmatic behaviours. I no longer find mockery of religion something we should be accepting. I see it as bullying. I see it as nasty and vile.
We should completely be opposing attempts to force Creationism into schools- but guess what, many religious people agree. If we stopped fighting we would realise that there are many religious people who would be allies in the battle for equality.
Religion is not the enemy. Ignorance is. Dogma is. And that is not the sole domain of religion.
I know many people will be angered by these words and try and argue that I’m being too soft on religion. They may throw out examples where religious people have done harm, where religious people have attempting to get exceptions and special privilege because of their religion. That doesn’t prove religion is a bad thing- it proves humans can be dicks. Regardless of what they believe.