We are aware that we live in a material world with finite resources. We are born almost without knowledge and have to acquire it through our five senses. Every problem or difficulty we encounter or observe must be solved by human thought and endeavour. There is no supernatural being who will solve our problems. Prayer is useless waste of time and in the same category as worship. Every advance which humankind has made has been the result of reason. We proceed by trial and error and learn from our failures as well as from our successes. Humans have developed speech and language for the transmission of ideas, invented writing and found methods of recording which makes the knowledge of one generation available to all that follow, thus there is no need to constantly invent the wheel or other beneficial products of the past.
Rejecting the assertion that sickness was the work of malign supernatural beings, humans set about overcoming disease. They developed anaesthetics and pain-killers, much to the displeasure of those who insisted that childbirth was divinely decreed to be painful.
To enable society to function smoothly, developing civilisations laid down rules for individual and community behaviour and have tried to balance the rights and privileges of the individual with those of society. Because there are no divine and unchangeable laws of behaviour, rules and laws are flexible to meet changing conditions and requirements.
Instead of fear of nature and its behaviour, non-fearing (i.e. non religious) people have learned many of the secrets of nature and turned them to the benefit of humankind. Foremost among these people must be the late Thomas Edison, an atheist and inventor ‘extraordinaire’. Three inventions of enormous benefit to humankind come readily to mind – the incandescent lamp which was father to the x-ray tube and the radio valve; the phonograph – the forerunner of all music and speech recording; and the motion picture for entertainment and information. Edison described the mental condition of so many people as “incurably religious”.
This may the appropriate time to quote snippets from the works of Albert Ellis, PhD
If religion is defined as man’s dependence on a power above and beyond the human, then, as a psychotherapist, I find it to be exceptionally pernicious. Religion, first of all, is not self-interest – it is god-interest. Religiosity is essentially masochism and both are forms of mental sickness. All religions contend that their super-human entities cannot be… humanly experienced and that their gods and their principles are beyond science. Religion is… directly opposed to the goals of mental health.
This view is echoed in the words of George Smith in his book ATHEISM – THE CASE AGAINST GOD:
By placing a moral restriction on what one is permitted to believe, Christianity has declared itself an enemy of truth and the faculty by which man arrives at truth – Reason.
To be moral, according to Jesus, man must shackle his reason. He must force himself to believe that which he cannot understand and be unwilling to subject religious beliefs to critical examination. Less criticism leads to more faith and faith, according to Jesus, is the hallmark of virtue. This rejection of reason is devastating to the human mind and personality.
It is often suggested that the 10 commandments could form the basis of our morality. I disagree.
The Ten Commandments in essence are:
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain
4. Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy
5. Honour thy father and they mother
6. Thou shalt not kill
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery
8. Thou shalt not steal
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness
10. Thou shalt not covet
The first four commandments relate exclusively to religious observance. The fifth concerns filial relationships.
It is interesting to note that if a person curses a parent he or she is to be put to death. If a man smites his servant and the servant dies, he shall be punished. But if the servant survives for a day or two he shall not be punished “for he is his money”
There are five commandments which are concerned with ethics but there is no mention of Personal rights or social justice.
Religious morality is primarily directed towards a supernatural law giver. Man is subservient. It is authoritarian in its primary structure. It depends on laws and penalties.
Morality which is human-directed should proceed from goals determined by reason. To assist in achieving these goals people set standards. These standards are forever flexible and are now the basic principle of situation ethics.
Reason dictates that we ought to move away from sanctions to goals; away from imposed penalties to the acceptance of principles; away from the worship of deities to the welfare of humankind.
Religion has been, and still is, promoted as necessary for morality, without which society cannot operate.
By definition Atheists do not believe in the existence of gods. Atheism does not impose sanctions and it does not set moral standards but the process of reason required to be an atheist should then lead to reason setting standards and goals.
Religion is afraid of the free dissemination of knowledge.
Christians burnt the world’s largest classic library at Alexandria and murdered the brilliant and beautiful woman Philosopher, Hypatia, in 415 because she was a propagator of paganism. The Vatican still maintains a list of books as prohibited reading for their members.
Religious schools exist today to maintain the authority of gods, the imposition of moral sanctions, the efficacy of prayer, the propagation of belief in the supernatural, the necessity for religion and religious institutions and to isolate children from secular knowledge which could threaten religious dogmatism.
* The right of education is not a priority of religion nor are any of the following:
* The right to work, to have reasonable hours and pay
* The right to strike, to have holidays or leisure
* The right, by both men and women, to democratically elect leaders and authorities. The equal rights of men and women are still not recognised by the major church nor are its leaders elected democratically.
The rights of women is a particularly interesting aspect. In the Bible women are regarded as the property of man and must obey the dictates of their husbands and other men in authority. Anyone who wants to learn of the terrible conditions imposed on women by the Islamic religion has only to read the book Not Without my Daughter. While Western society accepts the Bible as the basis for its theistic belief and ethics we are unable to use reason to negate the dogma of the Qur’an. In Western countries, only in the last century did women and their property cease to be the legal property of their husbands.
* The right to justice, both equal and otherwise, is not spelt out in religious literature. Remember the trials of witches and heretics.
* The right to freedom of choice is still subject to the restrictions of religion, e.g. contraception, abortion, right to die in dignity.
* The right to freedom of speech and association. Paul specifically denies woman the right to speak.
* The right to food, shelter, standard of living or health are not mentioned in religious literature or advocated by religious dogma.
The United Nations standards on all these matters were dictated by reason not religion.
To be a human being in society places one under the responsibility not only to attend to the welfare of oneself and immediate family but the wider community also.
In this the Christian concept is fatally flawed. Not only is family break-up advocated but forward planning for self and family is roundly condemned.
The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he thought… “What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?” And he said, “This will I do: I will pull down my barns and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.” And I will say to my soul, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink and be merry. But God said unto him “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided?” (Luke 12:16-20)
If not for the family then for some other members of the community.
It was only at the point of death that Jesus made provision for the welfare of his mother even though he had been contemplating the suicide mission for months before.
There is one primary dogma commanded by Jesus “Love one another”. To place love in the category of something which can be commanded completely negates the basic nature of love.
Jews must conform to the dictates of the Torah – an impossible task in the modern world.
Muslims must conform to the dictates of the Qur’an and Christians must conform to the dictates of the Bible. Fortunately for Christians, the Bible is so contradictory that they have a wide choice. They can treat one misdemeanour as unforgivable as Yahweh did in the Adam and Eve myth, or forgive up to seventy times seven. They can abstain from stealing or, claiming necessity, they and their friends can help themselves to a convenient wheat crop and, by extension, some other form of their neighbour’s wealth.
However, when it comes to illness the method for achieving a cure is explicit. Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (James 5: 14)
No one with the task of moving a mountain will resort to prayer. Prayer is one of the most futile and time-wasting exercises in which humans indulge. It has absolutely no effect on the weather, it does not cure sickness or find lost children, it does not avert natural disasters and it does not improve the tone or outcome of either Council meetings or Parliament.
During the Dark Ages when the Church had overall control, the philosophers concentrated on ‘proving the existence of God’ and reinforcing church doctrines. With the dawning of the Age of Enlightenment there has been a steady move away from god-orientated to human-orientated philosophy culminating in the enormous contribution by the atheist, Bertrand Russell. Philosophy is an on-going discipline but no rational person will argue that humankind is not immeasurably better today than 1000 years ago. Whence came the improvement? Simply through the observance of nature and the exercise of reason resulting in scientific knowledge and its application through technology.
Many socio-political systems have appeared. One of the longest-running has been that of theocracy and this is still endorsed and accepted by millions. There have been autocrats and dictators, feudal systems, communal and communist movements, democratic and anarchic systems and many more. In the final analysis the welfare of the individual and society is the only arbiter. The perceived ego of imaginary supernatural beings must never be considered.
Finally, ATHEISM is sometimes accused of being negative.
Is it negative to actively work for the removal of cancer or a foreign body in an animal or a person? Is it negative to work for the removal of injustice or belief in erroneous concepts which impact on the welfare of individuals or society? Is it negative to work for the removal of a flawed system for one which is better? A vital aspect of living is the correct and proper use of the word ‘NO!
Lest anyone should think that being an atheist is detrimental to achievement, I would say that we can claim as atheists musicians such as Beethoven, scientists like Stephen Hawking, statesmen like Abraham Lincoln and researchers like the naturalist Luther Burbank. Thomas Jefferson insisted on the separation of Church and State in the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin captured the god of thunder and lightning and put it to work for the good of humankind, orators and writers like Robert Ingersoll, Joseph McCabe, Joseph Lewis, emancipists like Marie Stopes and the Pankhursts all rejected the concept of deity.
The question is sometimes asked “If religion is removed what will replace it?” One could just as logically ask “If the splinter or the cancer is removed what will replace it?” The answer is simple “Nature will restore the body and reason will repair the mind.”
Do some people require religion as a crutch to help them over a traumatic experience? The tooth-fairy may help some child when a tooth is lost but the aim is for children to grow into adults. A friend at your side is better than an imaginary god in the sky. Religion has been described as the opiate of the people. If drugs are needed they should be prescribed by the physician – not the priest.
However, belief in the existence of the supernatural will continue for a long time yet. Atheists extend the right of everyone to hold to their own opinions free from duress, but claim the right to challenge anything which we see as detrimental to human beings and therefore to society. We consider it far better to work for the welfare of humankind than to seek to curry favour with some imagined deity.
The history of belief in the supernatural is a record of disaster.
The record of reason is glorious.
ATHEISTS have no doubts about their choice and look forward to the time when human beings reach maturity.
By Keith S Cornish