Atheism Today

In recent years a new brand of militant atheism has established itself. Its underlying philosophy centres around demonstrating that the existence of god can not be proved and therefore all religion is pointless and unncessary. I am an atheist myself but I do not believe this new-age atheism is right in its approach.

Belief in a religion is about faith, in that one has faith that god will intervene for the best. Were the existence of god to be proved then following a religion would no longer be a matter of faith - it would be a matter of fact. It is precisely because we do not know whether god exists that religion remains as act of faith. Religious people may, perhaps, regard it as a fact that god exists but they continue to rely on faith as to god's true intentions. As the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy puts it about the sudden proof that god exists: "god promptly disappears in a puff of logic". Atheists do not seem to understand that belief in god is an act of faith and not an act of following the evidence. That there is no evidence for the existence of god is not the point.

God is a part of almost every human society. Atheists today are big on promoting evolution as a counter-balance to the emergence of creationism. But might it not be the case that religious thought is something that has evolved in human beings? Perhaps lending your loyalty to a communal preacher who has devine power and authority promoted the necessary tribalism to survive in a tough, resource-scarce hunter-gatherer society. Perhaps it gave some members of the group a loyalty greater than their own survival and may have taken greater risks for the benefit of the whole group, thus giving their group a greater chance of survival. It may just be that belief in god and the supernatural are a consequence of our big brains and selfawareness, of course - perhaps we will never know. But atheists today do not seem to appreciate the contradiction between their proposal of evolution and the possiblity that belief in god is a product of evolution too.

New-age atheists seem to have made a virtue out of non-belief to the extent that it has almost become a religion in itself. Are they against the belief in the existence of god or in religious organisations themselves? Basing a belief around non-belief requires the existence of religious people to set oneself against, just like many religions define "unbelievers" but for whom castigating the unbelievers is a necessary part of affirming one's faith. In that way the new atheism is behaving like a new religion in its own right. It's true to say that the principles of some of the new 'atheist churches' are well-meaning and inclusive, in which case they should be welcomed, but they are more like humanist organisations that simply make no mention of god than the new atheists who seem to make a virtue out of non-belief as a core aspect.

A critisicm of atheists is that they have less to offer to people suffering grief and loss. Believing that there is an afterlife and that someone is with god acts as a comfort that may be almost necessary to an individual in that circumstance. Atheists have little to offer people in such circumstances. They should, in my opinion, accept people for what they wish to believe so long as that belief does not disrupt the lives of others. As someone who can definitively say has seen a ghost my previous strict atheism has taken a knock (there may be a maverickman piece about ghosts at some point) and whereas I have always been sceptical about religion I have become somewhat sceptical about atheists too.

Being against organised religion is different from being against all religious belief. Organised religion leads people into tribal loyalities that often transcend any notion of god and spiritual belief. The question is: how many people genuinely believe in god, and how many pretend to but secretly don't have any feelings either way? Everyone I know who went to a catholic school is not a catholic in adult life. Perhaps new-age atheists should focus on criticising the notion of organised religion and spend less time criticising belief in god. It is possible to have a religious conviction without having to subscribe to one of the organised religions. Likewise it should be possible to be an atheist without it becoming an ideology to promote and convert others to like a de-facto religion.