I’m an atheist. I’m quite certain there are myriad phenomena in the universe we can’t explain – and don’t even know about. I just don’t see how that proves the existence of god(s), though. That is, I believe there is a “science” – a logical explanation – for all but one of these mysterious phenomena, even if the explanation is beyond our current ability to fathom.
So which mystery can never be explained scientifically? The fact that anything exists at all. Either it has existed forever, which is impossible. Or nothing became something, which is equally impossible.
Theists will say that “God*” (or gods) provides the explanation. This does me no good. You posit a deity? Well, what predated and created that being? All your god construct does for me is to add an unnecessary layer on a still-unsolvable mystery. So why bother?
I respect of spirituality – things like mindfulness and meditation have unquestioned value. And even paranormal phenomena can fall under the rubric of that which cannot presently be explained, but which certainly has an explanation. Telepathy? Telekinesis? Foretelling the future? I don’t pooh-pooh this stuff out-of-hand, even though I may be skeptical of the particular claim or claimant.
I’m tolerant of faith. If you believe in Jesus or Mohamed or the Hindu gods, what is it to me? I get why humans seek explanation for the unknown, rebel against randomness and entropy, and take comfort in ritual. I see how church provides community.
Even though I don’t have a problem with faith per se, once any religion claims certainty and exclusivity, I begin to take umbrage. Seriously, out of all possible explanations of reality, across an infinite universe, what are the odds that some white guy who lived 2000+ years ago provided a correct explanation, nonetheless the only correct one? Given the lengthy odds against any human theology’s being remotely accurate, I don’t get religious adherence.
I suspect that many original prophets and a huge majority of current practitioners are sincere in their faith. But the corruption of a theology is inevitable as men (and it is nearly always men) exploit it and twist it to gain and maintain power (see Jimmy Carter quote, below). Just as the wealthy in modern-day USA use their economic power to control our politics, the media, and education, so have the charismatic and clever used their made-up doctrines to keep slaves in chains, women as chattel, and homosexuals in hell. It is this political religion that is beyond the pale. From Indiana to ISIS, the world is awash in cynical, brutal, hurtful religion.
And the hypocrisy is mind numbing. US Christian fundamentalists condemn Iran’s theocracy as they legislate their bible across this country. It’s not just the “religious freedom” laws, but also the disappearance from our textbooks of evolution or honest American history. (Since god ordained the US as “his” own nation, everything the US does – from its genocide to torture – must ipso factor be beyond reproach.)
Notwithstanding the secularism of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution (church-state separation, anyone?) religion is the law of the land, with explicit theocracy dominant in one of our political parties. Big US cities are islands of rationality and enlightenment. But the suburbs, small towns, and countryside – the vast land area of the country – lives in 13th century make-believe. Or, rather, it should be make believe, but isn’t, for the reason that the Constitution gives undue power to land over population (i.e., rural areas and small towns get huge bonus in our system).
Political ideology is just like religion, except it’s directly about power, rather than pretending not to be. Consider:
- the Iraq War
- climate change
- austerity policies
- the certainty of a Romney victory in 2012.
In each instance, ideologues knew the answers before questions were asked – no facts or insight required, no feedback accepted. I hardly mean to categorize every person of faith (or politics) as an ideologue. I do mean to accuse religious and political institutions of exploiting doctrine to maintain power at huge costs to humans and the planet.
As Catholicism’s ban on birth control condemns millions to die of sexually transmitted disease or starvation; as al Shabab massacres 147 students in Kenya; as Buddhists, Hindus, and Moslems slaughter each other in Southeast Asia; and as the icecaps melt, it is apparent that blind faith won’t bring peace or progress.
Yet, we are crippled in our body politic; our fear of offending the religious makes the nonobersvant deferential and meek. Even our most progressive officeholders won’t proclaim secular values as such or risk appearing publicly unpious. At least one bow to religion is practically required in every stump speech and God Bless America has taken over baseball stadiums.
We need articulate and forceful leaders who will address directly religion’s impact on human dignity – people of stature who can reshape the discourse around religion, rights, and progress.
After a few days of working on this post, I had left it there, looking for leadership and not sure what else to say about it.
Then today – by sheer coincidence** – I came across the perfect closure to these musings: a 2009 article (“Losing my religion for equality”) by Jimmy Carter. He writes:
The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.
Jimmy Carter is a moral leader, a man of stature. Having left his church, he remains a godly man. In this piece, he holds religion explicitly accountable for hurting women. I might not have thought Carter a comrade in arms on these issues, because our theologies are different. But Carter provides a refreshing reminder that not only atheists make the case for secularism. That makes this atheist a bit more hopeful.
For today, anyway, Jimmy Carter is the leader I was looking for.
*I capitalize “God” when referring to the supernatural being Jews, Christians, and Muslims address by that name. I use the lower case when referring a generic deity.
**Or was it an act of God?
©2015 Keith Berner