This is the beginning of the New Age of Atheism, when humans are awakening from the religious daze they have been in for aeons, and beginning to realise that they have been fooled by preachers long enough – and what they previously believed not only has no basis in reality, but is actually very funny to thinking people. Of course there have always been atheists, but In the New Age of Atheism, we find that atheists are leading the world in every area, from arts, science and medicine, to philosophy and psychology. There is a good reason for this – when you think the answer to everything is ‘God’, you have closed your mind, and are not likely to think of new ideas or to challenge established thought. When the leading thinkers of today, people like A.C. Grayling, the late Christopher Hitchins, Richard Dawkins, and Steven Hawking come to mind – all are atheists, and each with far more influence on current thought than the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury. What you get from these modern thinkers is the originality and intelligent insights that people need to help them understand the world of today and our place in it. What religious thinkers cannot supply, especially when the absurdities of their most basic beliefs are apparent, atheist thinkers supply, and in abundance. It is no longer legal in most places to kill atheists for pointing out the absurdities that people must accept to believe in any particular religion, and the world is beginning to be influenced by reason. Blind faith drops away as people realise that thinking is a better alternative. People have begun to realise that ‘being good’ does not involve their method, frequency, or intensity of worshipping their god, but instead, it involves their actions in this world.
Living the ‘good life’ for those who are not deists, is therefore quite different from the ‘good life’ of those of religious bent. For atheists there is no god to forgive sins — we live with what we do. There is no god to tell us what is right and wrong – we use our conscience and decide for ourselves. There is no god to tell us that we must believe any particular book — we judge each by its merits and the supporting evidence. There is no god to prescribe what we eat; with whom we should have sex; what we should believe; to whom we should give praise — we use our own experience to judge what to do, and there is nothing — even our most cherished beliefs, that should not be questioned. Contemplative people realise that we learn new things all the way through our lives, and some new evidence may prove, and often does, that what we believed to be true yesterday was wrong. The basis of atheism is skepticism and scientific enquiry, and few things in science are immutable. In fact, that is the one of the major reasons that science and religion will never be reconciled – the former acknowledges that it is always up for revision, and little by little we improve our knowledge. The latter has fixed ideas and a dogmatic approach that is never up for revision until society or science proves, bit by bit, that the dogma is wrong.
Admittedly, it is harder to think for ourselves than to just believe what we are told to believe, but the consolations of self-determination are more than enough compensation to make the effort worthwhile. To know that we are each the masters and mistresses of our own destiny is to take back our own power and with that power in our own hands we can look at what is happening around us with a critical eye and take steps to change what is wrong, contribute to what is good, and make the difference that blind followers of any particular religion can never hope to achieve. The ethics of atheism are thus the ethics of common humanity, which all good people, religious or otherwise try to live by, with the greater good in mind, whilst respecting individual rights.
Compare this compassion of common humanity to the prescribed rights and wrongs given in the books of the monotheistic religions. The approval and disapproval of one thing or another so obviously originate from bigoted and fairly primitive human minds that any idea that an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful god could have been the originator of the ideas and opinions put forward in, say, The Bible, vanishes as one reads the absurdities, contradictions, and blatant errors about our origins and our place in the universe, and about the rituals and religious crimes and prescribed punishments.
Nevertheless there are many who have not awoken from their religious daze. Amongst them are those who take their moral stance from The Bible or The Koran. Suicide bombers are made of such stuff. The religious police in Iran and Saudi Arabia enforce the laws of the Islamic holy books. Apostasy still warrants the death penalty in these places, much as it did in Britain a few hundred years ago.
The thing is that as true believers in their god and in holy writings, those who commit torture and murder in the name of their god are simply carrying out what they believe to be their god’s will. We may be shocked by what they do, but they are adhering to The Bible and the Koran which are both held up by their preachers to be a good guide to morality. This is the morality that is taught to them from an early age. The right and wrong are black and white, and fixed forever in our ancient history. There is little place in these books for compassion, and where there is wisdom, such as in Jesus’s reported statement, ‘ Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’, it is ignored. Jewish people may have stopped stoning or beheading apostates and adulteresses, but in Islamic states it is still common, and is very much approved of.
The current religions of our world do not deserve our unearned respect any more than we should afford respect to racist political parties, or to those secular people who incite hatred and war for material gain.
Thus, the religious claims to morality and the official respect that our modern religions and their various types of preachers get as arbiters of what is right and wrong are bad things about religion.