But, as so many people have noted, and I myself have also said, atheism is not a belief, it is the LACK of a belief. Over 8,000 gods/goddesses which mankind has invented over the millennia, and I don’t believe in any of them. For much the same reasons, in fact.
But, isn’t it true that everybody has to have something which guides them? Some moral compass? Some (for lack of a better term) ideology? I think that’s true, and mankind has come up with literally hundreds of such ideologies, if not thousands, in the course of our becoming humankind designing all of the myriads of civilizations (and accompanying gods) which have come and gone since.
Oh, what was that? What do I believe?
Funny you should ask, I was just about to get to that.
For starters, it also isn’t a surprise to my Facebook friends to note that I seem to be a liberal. I used to call myself an Independent, but the Republicans have managed to push me much further to the left over the last ten years (though mostly over the last six for obvious reasons).
But there’s more than that, a political ideology isn’t a moral one, as moral as it may be possible for political ideologies to be.
Morally, I like to identify myself with Secular Humanism. The basic ideals of that group of people resonate with me closely. Just to make it easier, here is one example of their beliefs:
* A conviction that dogmas, ideologies and traditions, whether religious, political or social, must be weighed and tested by each individual and not simply accepted on faith. * Commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions. * A primary concern with fulfillment, growth, and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general. * A constant search for objective truth, with the understanding that new knowledge and experience constantly alter our imperfect perception of it. * A concern for this life and a commitment to making it meaningful through better understanding of ourselves, our history, our intellectual and artistic achievements, and the outlooks of those who differ from us. * A search for viable individual, social and political principles of ethical conduct, judging them on their ability to enhance human well-being and individual responsibility. * A conviction that with reason, an open marketplace of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.Obviously, there are other interpretations and versions of these, Secular Humanism is not a religion and has no universally recognized tenets or principles, though these are a good example of the general direction most Humanists tend to go.
Another principle I admire is one contained in the Hippocratic Oath, “First, do no harm”. If there is one overriding idea which intertwines itself into virtually all of the above principles, that would be it. As a human being, into whose DNA the very urge of being a socialist animal is cooked, that seems to be the best guide to living one’s life, if one had to boil it all down to its basic elements.
That, I think, is one of the major differences between Humanism and religion - Christianity being my focus because of where I live. Why? Well, just look at the Ten Commandments, which Christians tend to look at (at least the Fundies here do) as the basic guidance provided by their God.
Without belaboring the point, look at the second commandment:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”Look at the passage I underlined. That is the very opposite of “do no harm”. To punish the innocent? For the neglect and disobedience of their ancestors? (I always kind of thought the jealousy was a sin.)
On the other hand, There is no example of jealousy or hatred in the Humanist principles above. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Another reason why I think Humanism is better than Christianity (as well as others) is because of longevity.
Yeah, yeah, I know, Secular humanism is merely a couple of hundred years old at the most. So, what gives?
As a movement, that’s true. But the principles above are based on literally hundreds of thousands of years of human experience. While our intellectual experience giving us the ability to express them well is fairly recent comparatively speaking, the basic experiences themselves derive from the totality of human experience going back over two hundred thousand years, fading back into our evolutionary past. These principles are so well understood that they were expressed, discussed and argued over in various ways even as far back as the ancient Greek philosophers, who debated many of these very ideas well over two thousand years ago, predating christianity!
Yet, Christianity is only around two thousand years old, its Jewish antecedents go back perhaps another two thousand or so, and the developmental periods for both religions are rife with violence, tribalism, slavery and misogyny. Hardly an atmosphere to encourage humanistic principles! Granted, the Greeks weren’t a prime example of being a hotbed of modern liberal ideals either, but their philosophers fought for the idea of trying to make humanity better than we were, at least some of them did, and their example resonated with the fathers of the Enlightenment thousands of years later!
I firmly believe that religion is, to a general degree, concerned with one thing: Its own survival. For an excellent example, look at the first five of the Ten Commandments. Every one of them are devoted to the preservation of the authority of God and his earthly representatives. Keeping people in the fold, under the pain of death. (Perhaps not an earthly one, but if hell isn’t a kind of eternal death, I don’t know what is.)
Certainly the fact that most if not all of His other dozens of commandments/laws in Leviticus command death as a punishment qualify as antithetical to Humanist principles.
Yet, Humanism is not. Not a single principle above is devoted to ensuring the survival of a “Humanist religion”, mainly because there isn’t one! The closest one can come is where it says, “A conviction that with reason, an open marketplace of ideas, good will, and tolerance, progress can be made in building a better world for ourselves and our children.” Which does not at all entail a self serving principle of survival.
As you might have guessed by now, another focus of mine is that of anti-theism. I am, admittedly, an anti-theist. I believe strongly that religion, as a belief system(s) which encourages people to believe things which are false and contrary to reality, is harmful to not only individual humans, but humanity as a whole. Much of my writing is focused on struggling to spread the truth about false beliefs and their harmful affects.
But even that is an outgrowth of my Humanist principles - see the next to last one above. Religion is not a good introduction to ethical conduct - quite the opposite, in fact, as it encourages a plethora of unethical conduct, mainly by example, which precisely undermines its attempts at ethics through the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus. There may be millions of Christians who defy this, by being good - but that happens because they adhere to the Enlightenment principles expressed by our Founding Fathers, ignoring the more harmful and violent examples and verses of the Old Testament. (One can see that, because of the various examples of Christians who do the opposite - adhere to the Old Testament’s more intolerant and violent prescriptions of conduct, and do all they can to undermine and violate the egalitarian principles contained in our Constitution.)
So, to make a long story shorter, while my focus may be on the harmfulness of religion and my attempts to explain how I arrive at those conclusions, my very positive beliefs are what informs that fight, wishing with all my heart that more people could see how much better America and the world would be without the falsehoods of faith.
I hope this helps to make my efforts more understandable.