Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Atheism - The Informed Choice.

How can belief be a choice?

Imagine you're crossing a road and a speeding car comes round the corner towards you. Do you have a choice whether to believe in it? Of course, you may believe you have some power over reality; that somehow it's obliged to conform to your requirements. It might be possible to persuade yourself that you can ignore it, but normally, such people wouldn't be out without responsible adult supervision. You might well have a choice whether to act on the belief or not, and to carry on as though there isn't a car hurtling towards you, but reality is likely to intervene in that delusion. Perhaps too you can choose to believe you're not really lying in the road with broken bones, if you still have the capability of consciously deluding yourself. But you're not disbelieving; you're simply refusing to accept a reality you know exists, otherwise how could you choose to ignore it?

So where do religious people get this idea that religious belief is some sort of choice, and what does it say about their honesty and intellectual integrity? If it really is a matter of choice, why don't Christians chose to believe in a god who doesn't insist they were born with a 'sin', the consequences of which they need to be 'saved' from, and which demanded a blood sacrifice as some sort of atonement? Why don't they believe in a god which would never have created the means of unimaginable pain and eternal suffering but which made them to behave well just because it was the right thing to do? Why don't they believe in a god which would never have allowed slavery, genocide and infanticide so they know those thing could never have been done in its name and don't need excusing?

Why don't Muslims chose to believe in a god which says that women are the social and intellectual equals of men and that it's okay to chose to believe in a different god, or none at all? Why don't they chose to believe in a god which says you will be rewarded simply for the way you treat other people and for leaving the planet in a better state than it was when you were born?

In other words, if religious belief is a choice, why not chose to believe what you want to believe? Why are the choices limited to a handful of variations on a theme and almost always limited to the religion you were born into, labelled with when a child and which your society gives you little say in, if any?

If religious belief is a choice, why is religion and geography almost perfectly correlated even down to the forms of prayer and structure of the religion's establishment?

Clearly, people who think religion is a choice, and that somehow atheists or followers of a religion different to theirs have just chosen not to believe their religion, can't really believe it themselves. To think Pascal's Wager is a sensible argument and so to believe in a god just in case it's real, is at best to believe you can fool an omniscient god into thinking you believe in it.

If they think religious belief or lack of it is like choosing Brand X washing powder and not Brand Y they can't possibly believe their god is real and that their choice was based on real evidence, though they might like to think they do, and might even claim it was until challenged to produce that evidence. If they believe a god's existence can be dependent upon their choice then they must believe they can create or destroy gods at will. Is anyone really that arrogant and deluded about their own power and importance?

What is more likely is that these faith-heads have chosen intellectual indolence.

What they have chosen to do is to go with the conventions they were inducted into as a child. They have chosen not to make a choice because making a choice would mean looking for the evidence upon which to base that choice. The safe and lazy option is to choose not to choose but to practise strategies designed to make it look like you really believe in order to be seen to conform. Go to church. Sing hymns at the top of your voice. Wear a large cross and keep blathering on about Jesus and how much you love him. Stick the smugly self-righteous stickers all over the rear of your car, and keep asking people if they've found Jesus yet (or are they still your moral inferior?).

Praise the Lord. (Cheques and all major credit cards accepted)
What a handy tool this is for those who learn that it can be used to elevate yourself above other people; to sit in sanctimonious judgement; to be holier than thou whilst spitting hate in the name of love and presenting it as morality. What a useful thing it is to have something on which to blame your beliefs, attitudes and actions and to be able to dress the socially unacceptable up as good things.

How warm and satisfying it is to be able to tell anyone who disagrees with you that they have merely chosen to disagree; to wave aside any reasons or arguments they may have as unimportant and to ascribe a base motive on that choice whilst feeling superior about having made the right one.

And how useful it is to the ruling elite to be able to reassure you that, if you just accept the lowly, helpless and hopeless position they keep you in in the social peck-order, and pay as much as you can to the church, you'll be rewarded later on (when you can't ask for your money back).

To an honest person, there is no choice. With no evidence there is no reason to believe. That goes just as much for fairies, unicorns, trolls and mythical multi-headed beasts as it does for gods.

The only honest, rational, worthwhile and intellectually satisfying reason to believe in anything is because the evidence tells you it's real. To seek the truth, to be guided by it and to do that even when it makes you uncomfortable and in a minority of one, is liberating and admirable and it puts you in charge of you. Evidence is the great equaliser because it is either true or untrue, just as much for you as for anyone else. In any honest debate the facts are neutral. The truth is still there no matter who believes in it and it can not be declared or abolished by the fiat of authority.

To refuse to look for the truth for fear of what you will find is the desperate act of a moral and intellectual coward. To try to trick others into believing what you know to be untrue, is the despicable act of the morally bankrupt. To do that to someone young; to someone credulous; to someone ignorant or vulnerable is an abuse tantamount to intellectual rape and has the moral standards of a parasite.

Thank you for sharing!

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  1. Well put. As I always say, atheism is a conclusion and a response to reality. You can wipe out every reference to atheism, but in a few years atheists will emerge all around the world as they draw the same conclusion. Can the same be said for religion? Of course not. If every reference of (insert any religion) was wiped from the earth, then that religion would never blight this planet again.

  2. Pascal's Wager is so easy to knock down that it's not even worth the effort, IMO. By the way, at least where South Asia is concerned, your religious distribution map has no semblance of a correspondence with reality. Just thought I'd mention it. You'd do better to remove it completely since I'd bet the rest of it is equally in error.


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