Saturday, April 24, 2010

Rational Atheism?

Normally I don’t delve into religion on this blog, except in relation to the first amendment. In the vein of informal posts, this one’s about religious philosophy. It was sparked by a an avid atheist guest to a program I listen to.

As I listened to Christopher Hitchens in the interview, I was surprised, and though it took me some time to formalize it, I know precisely why. He’s a religious zealot. I know, that sounds crazy because he’s the author of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” Normally I listen to an atheist’s opinion, respectfully disagree because of my personal experiences and the positive influence of religion in my life, and move on.

This guy’s tone, however, was really familiar. I’d heard it before, as a missionary preaching in (of all places) New York City. He sounded just like any hard-headed religionist arguing against another, something I found never to work as a missionary (I’ve always been one of those, “If you’re interested, I’ll share,” types, not the “swallow this or burn in hell” sort).

It wasn’t just Mr. Hitchens’ tone, though. It was his unwavering faith. Atheism isn't based on empirical data. Logic tells us that in the absence of empirical evidence, you can’t prove a negative. Thus I can prove, “There is no elephant in my pocket,” but I can’t prove “God doesn’t exist.” A cogent discussion of this topic may be found here. An individual may be personally satisfied through inductive reasoning that he or she doesn't think God exists. “I've seen no evidence God exists, so I don't think he/she/it does” is a logical, reasonable statement, but “God absolutely does not exist” is a statement of faith, and Mr. Hitchens was vehement in his faith-based position.

He and I do agree on one thing–you should absolutely believe in what makes you happy. He doesn’t seem to live by his own standard, though. He’s an adamant evangelist for atheism, seeking to tear down other belief systems, and atheism is undeniably an organized religion with councils and societies designed to propagate and strengthen their faith. Recently, they’ve designated a symbol for the gravestones of fallen solders. Why not a blank space where the symbol should go if one is an atheist?

It has been my observation that one's comfort in one's faith may often be determined by one's comfort with the beliefs of others. Mr. Hitchens' need to attack and break down other people's belief systems would indicate unsure footing with regard to his own. I have a close friend who has become atheist and we have no such issues. Both of us are quite secure in our respective belief systems.

That's because I don’t have a problem with atheism. I recognize my own faith isn’t logical, or logically provable. I simply ask that there be no pretense that atheism is rationally founded. Agnosticism, a simple, “I don’t know, and see no proof of God” is logical and empirical.

So, given our adamant separation of Church and State, one simply can not establish Atheism as the official U.S. religion, nor seek to do so, giving it any government-sponsored advantage over any other religion. Note that I don’t want my religion to be the State religion either, I simply want Atheists to cease pretending what they believe is not religious in nature and seeking to have their rights protected above the rights of others.

I understand Mr. Hitchens feels that Christians, Muslims and others are trying to push their religions at the expense of his rights, and I’ll fight against a theocracy by his side should any group seem to be succeeding. I’ll counter Shari’a law as readily as a Biblical Theocracy or an Atheistic rule.

When it becomes law, religion loses meaning. There is no faith in the absence of freedom to believe differently from my neighbor, or leave my religion and seek another or become agnostic. Only those weak in their own faiths seek to force others by law, argument, the sword or other means to convert to their way of thinking. In Christians it’s singularly distasteful given that Christ taught by invitation and example, never by force or coercion. It is my believe that any faith, sincerely and peacefully held, strengthens all faith.

Post Script:
I had a great comment by a thoughtful reader who pointed out I haven't been rigorous in defining atheism and agnosticism. I was directed to this link for clarification. That's a very good point. I should be clear that I wasn't terribly rigorous in writing this, but also that I was specifically responding to comments by evangelical atheists, who are beyond the idea of "I don't believe God exists," and on to, "God does not exist and your belief in one offends me." For clarification of terms beyond casual use, the above-linked article is worth a read.


Jean said...

Did you know that Peter Hitchens, Christopher's brother, has become a faithful Christian? I have read one of his books--not about religion--and he's an interesting guy. I thought this essay was pretty good: How I found God and made peace with my atheist brother

Andrew said...

I didn't know that about Peter Hitchens. I'll give the essay a read. Thanks, Jean!