I like Richard Dawkins, he is a man who likes to take an idea by the balls and squeeze it until it haemorrhages. He is the architect of a whole new philosophy combining genetics and psychology, evolving the humanist concepts into something much more logically acceptable than religion. He introduced us to the concept of the ‘meme’, a hypothetical part of our mental genetics that passes through groups, from individual to individual. A meme is a transmittable behavioural or idea that behaves in the manner of a gene and forms the basis for religious doctrine, Dawkins argues.
It’s a popular theory and one associated strongly with the concepts of humanism, a school of philosophy attributed to the fourteenth-century scholar (and former cleric), Petrarch and developed alongside other notable scholars. Evidence suggests, however that humanism was discussed as early as 600 BC in the Charvaka ideology of ancient India and within the architecture of Ancient Greece by philosophers such as Parminedes and Pythagoras, although their beliefs still centred around the metaphysical aspects of philosophy.
The Charvaka ideology denounced reigion and put forwards that all things were made of the elements, of fire, water, earth and wind. The Charvakas believed that if a thing could not be identified, percieved by the mind and senses then it did not exist and that the concepts of Heaven and Hell were engineered to make priests wealthy. Their goals lay in materialism, in the satisfaction of physical and sensory wants and needs.
The Charvaka ideology is summarised in this excerpt from the carvaka4india.com website:
- recognition of the fact that the external world, of which man is part, exists objectively and is therefore not a product of his brain but exists independently of any consciousness;
- recognition of the fact that the external world manifests itself in a law-governed fashion, the laws being capable of change only through physical action rather than through ideas, magic, or prayer;
- negation of the existence of supernatural forces; the view that the world develops spontaneously, without outside interference;
- recognition of man’s perceptions of the objects or phenomena of the outside world (sense experiences) as the only source of knowledge;
- rejection of the view that knowledge is esoteric, innate, or intuitive (mystical);
- recognition of the fact that the nature of man’s life and activity is determined by the conditions of his life and not by a deity.
The Charvaka ideology rejected the notions of the Vedas,the collective Hindu scriptures and was rooted firmly in the notion of materialism. In the same period (6th to 2nd century BCE) the school of Nyaya philosophy came into being, its sacred text focusing on logic and reason rather than religious conjecture and somewhere in between religion and materialism, the Middle Path was born, the teachings of Guatama Buddha, that of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
Buddhism combines both humanist and monotheist belief, the scriptures focusing more on the development of the individual rather than propitiation of a higher power. Yet it is still a belief structure, a religion in that it recognises a state of consciousness beyond death. Buddhism holds that we are trapped in the cycle of rebirth, suffering and dissatisfaction until we learn to unlock the true nature of our identities through introspect and meditation, therefore breaking the cycle and allowing the practitioner to achieve a state of complete self-actualisation. Buddha was reticent to speak of the afterlife (parinirvana) but focused instead on stopping the continuance of rebirth through karma earned in mortal life. The focus was on ending the cycle, not what came after.
But by acknowledging a state beyond death, (either that of rebirth or parinirvana) Buddhism falls in line with the conventional model of religion. Indeed, I would say that all religions are unified under this umbrella of afterlife acknowledgement in that they all recognise ‘something’ after death as opposed to ‘nothing’. Even if the ‘something’ is being born again, it is still a state beyond death.
Atheists, on the other hand do not acknowledge a state beyond death. They agree that they have no belief in the afterlife or the notion of the soul, that no god exists as creator and overseer. I recently spoke to some hard-line Atheists about their beliefs and asked one question: is not-believing in a god still a belief structure? In other words, does the atheist still hold a belief? I defined belief as ‘trust, faith, or confidence in (someone or something)’.
I was surprised by how defensive and angry the Atheists got by this question, as if I had offended their identities by suggesting that they did hold a belief, even if it was in nothing. I feel it was the word ‘belief’ that outraged them and brought about the usual semantic argument, picking apart my diction and sources rather than focusing on the actual question.
I asked them ‘what happens after we die?’ and their answers were ‘nothing happens’. I probed the idea of ‘nothing’, what it means to us as an identifier and realised that there is no such thing as ‘nothing’. Even in a complete vacuum, zero-point energy exists. Furthermore , if a ‘nothing’ is described, we use words such as ‘lightless, black, empty, silent’ but these are all identifiers, adjectives used to describe a noun and in this case, the noun is ‘nothing’. Pictorially, we use a zero but mentally, we picture a black void.
If something is perceptible, according to the humanists then it exists and if we perceive nothing then nothing must exist as a quantity. Does that make sense?
How would I define the absence of something unless I had knowledge of it beforehand? I can’t say ‘there is no God’ unless I recognise the noun ‘God’ and its attributes. I cannot say ‘Santa Claus does not exist’ unless I understand the concept of Santa Claus enough to disavow his existence. Our concept of nothing is still a perception and we could never put ourselves into the mental state associated with death as it would obviously kill us to try. When the atheist says ‘there is nothing’ then what they mean is ‘I do not recognise anything beyond mortality, including a higher power to govern the universe’. They cannot know there is nothing beyond death as they have not experienced the state of death, they can only make conjecture about its unlikelihood based on rational argument.
Dawkins doesn’t argue about the existence of God, he doesn’t waste his breath justifying rhetoric. Instead, his argument is that an afterlife is statistically unlikely yet not an impossibility. He proposes that after death, the state is similar to that prior to birth, that of complete cognitive unawareness. We don’t know anything about our existence prior to birth apart from the chemical and cellular reactions that propagate life. We have no awareness of it and similarly, we have no awareness of death when it comes. There will be cellular breakdowns but beyond that, what happens to our consciousness is an unknown quantity, that which can never be proved given our constraints on mortality. There might be an afterlife but we wouldn’t know anything about that as it is beyond our scope of perception. Once we are physically dead, we cease to perceive anything. What follows is a mystery and always will be and there is no way it could ever be communicated to the living as our ability to communicate has died with our minds.
I think there is a distinction in ‘believing in nothing’ and ‘believing in the likelihood of nothing’. A good statistician will not rule out anything after death as the probabilities of anything occurring are likely, if infinitesimal according to logic. An atheist said to me recently ‘you might as well believe that the Easter Bunny is our God’ and he has a valid point. I can neither prove nor disprove the suggestion that a giant rabbit controls the universe. But I can rule it out through statistical improbability. Still, I can never get a finite result because some element of probability exists in the unknown quantity we know as death. No-one can confirm the afterlife but this cannot rule out its existence. We can only make educated guesses based on our evidence and most of it points to scientific rather than divine evolution. What we know of the Easter Bunny invalidates it from our reasoning, makes it a virtual impossibility in our minds. However, one can never be 100-percent certain.
Religion is powerful, so powerful it is the cornerstone for our societies, for almost every human society in existence throughout history. With the exception of the disbelievers of the Sutras period, the Charvakas and suchlike but they still held their beliefs, only rooted in materialism.
The Charvakas were atheist to the extent that they rejected all religion and had no conceptions of an afterlife. They believed life to be about indulgence and satisfaction of lusts and fetishes. They acknowledged what they could sense and perceive, not that which could be supposed. As ethical schools grew in the Hindu and Buddhist movements, the Charvakas were seen as a threat to religion but their forward-thinking ideas about thought-perception and sensory awareness, about the constituents of the world around them were highly evolved for the period, occurring around the same time as Greek scholars such as Pythagoras and Thales of Miletus started their own schools of thought thousands of miles away and Confucius brought his own wisdom to the South East of Asia.
As these philosophies developed, in Persia the birth of a new ideology was starting, that of the philosopher Abraham and his message of the ‘one God’. It diversified from the aforementioned philosophies and the Hindu religion in its monotheist views of a supreme being governing all creation. Although this was probably not the first monotheist religion, it was certainly the most popular for the time as Judaism spread across the Cradle of Civilisation.
The first sketchy humanists were probably the early homo sapiens, capable of only rudimentary thought and survival instinct. Hierarchies and societies were built on skills and knowledge rather than tenets of religion. At what point did man first consider the concept of his own identity and his place in the world? Was the first philosophy based around a religion or a humanist approach, the recognition of the self as the supreme being? Who had that thought and how did it affect our societies? In another blog, I mentioned the Natufian culture, around about 12,000 year ago. That’s the 120th-century BCE! Nowhere even near the Charvakas and the Greek scholars yet at an excavated burial site in Israel, archaologists found the remains of a woman surrounded by strange trinkets and decorations n the manner of a ritual burial, differing significantly from other unearthed Natufian graves. This led scholars to believe the woman was known as a shaman and her burial was a ceremonial one, indicating the presence of a religion.
Religion….12,000 years ago? Predating the philosophers by nine and a half millennium? To even imagine the level of intelligence we possessed in those days is almost impossible yet we had the introspect to assess our position in the world and deem it the product of a divine creation.
It seems that as Mankind evolved, it picked up on religion quickly. This brings me back to why one would look to a religion and the answer is ‘answers’. In an effort to explain the irrational, that which makes no sense to use we seize on religion as it appears to resolve uncertainties, anomalies within our thinking. It gives reason to the unreasonable things around us and back in the 1200th century, everything was a wonder and completely without reason. Especially death.
In the earliest societies it would simply have been survival of the fittest. Those who were stronger and more adept at survival would be leaders of the pack and as generations bred, the power of knowledge will have become apparent as skills and training were passed down between fathers and sons, mothers and daughters. When did humanity ‘click’ and realize that knowledge was the real currency and begin attaching religious importance to objects and events? Was it earlier than the Natufians?
Either way, religion seems to have brought about an accelerated state of learning as the Cradle of Civilisation boiled like primordial soup and spewed out nuanced groups who quickly adopted a religion, forming their societies and rules around the rituals of religious praise.
I can see how the ‘logic’ evolved, as the first sentient men and woman surveyed the land around them, cowering at everything and fearing the disappearance of the sun. When they experienced death, how it must have frightened them as they thought the corpse was probably just asleep (unless it was rent to pieces in which case they must have been extremely frightened). They had no explanations for anything, least of all their own bodies and minds. Their only thoughts would have been surviving in the harsh environment and they learned how to interact with their surroundings, how to breed and care for their young, what to and eat and what to avoid. Even though the primitive man lacked the insight to question his own thought processes, he had the mental capacity to readily accept explanations from others on the group who were seen as more experienced and adept at surviving. What was that first idea and what was it centered around? If I had to guess, then I imagine it would be about death and the answer would have been the imagination of one person, maybe many forming a structured belief.
The earliest cave paintings are dated back about 40,000 years and experts believe the images and significance of certain art points to the belief in magic, an early form of religion maybe attributed to those among the group with artistic tendency. That’s forty millennia ago, an inconcievabe number to the modern-thinking man or woman. Yet even then we were willing to accept that a higher power could influence the world around us and change our fortunes. Scholars debate the meaning of the cave paintings in that the significance of the animals could infer a kind of shamanistic ritual whereby animals were painted in order to make them appear in abundance. The other painting of note is that of many hand-prints on a rock surface, as if people ritually dyed their hands and touched the wall, maybe thinking that leaving the print made them immune to death? That’s just my take on the painting, nothing as been proved conclusively.
If this is true, it seems to me that religious belief is an evolutionary trait and part of Man’s distinction from animals, maybe the defining trait that separates us? It seems as if we needed religion at the time in order to facilitate our understanding of the alien world around us.
I feel that religion was necessary at the time to make progress in terms of human development but as it grew as an ideology, the resistance against it also began. Now, we are at age where we can shrug off the blanket of religion and embrace ourselves as the unique species we are. Our focus on humanism has spawned such deep thinkers as Aristotle and Richard Dawkins. Was humanism born out of an inherent focus and self-awareness or merely as a tool for opposing religion?
Logic argues that humanism is the likeliest approach we should take to assessing our place in the universe. The morals are focused on the emotional well-being of humanity as a whole, not differentiated by race, sexual preference or religion. I like the ethics but isn’t humanism also a belief system? If I am humanist, I believe in myself as a thing of supreme importance, the race itself as a unique miracle of unfathomable odds. It doesn’t matter about the afterlife, the true paradise is in the thinking and feeling imbued in the brain. Life is celebrated in all its forms.
If I asked a humanist about what happens after death, he would probably say ‘I have no idea’. He would not discount the possibility of continued existence in another form as statistically, this could be true. Maybe the odds are the same as locating one grain of sand in the Syrian desert but they exist nonetheless in the rational argument and without evidence to disprove them, the principle of life-after-death could happen. He would look to his own perception, what he knows and relates to and the logic states that the existence of a god or gods is highly unlikely to the point of near-impossibility.
Yet there is always that one grain of uncertainty in the desert of rationality. A good atheist will acknowledge this one grain and its power, its allure to those who seek answers and justification. He will not mock religion for, unlikely as it is the lore can never be disproved entirely and its morals are appeal to many. Its ethics are, in fact the building blocks for every civilisation since the twelfth-century BCE and without religion, we would not have democracy and order.
Religion challenges the argument of ‘who says I’m wrong?’ and enables judgment to be made. In a group, one person may challenge a behaviour and the offender says ‘who says I can’t do that?’
The answer will be that the rules of the group define behaviour but who sets the rules?
The group leader has influence but only to a degree. If the majority of the group override the leader, dissent will occur and the group will split. That a man or woman makes the rules and another has to obey may not sit well with one’s self-esteem, particularly if the ethics clash. If the orders come from a source that cannot be directly challenged or overruled then power is delegated out of the group. The leader associates his power directly with the higher source and promises those who obey that they too can become just as powerful, if only they follow the direction of the higher power which in turn are his own wishes.
The notion of a life after death has been around since early civilisation began. If someone could directly influence life beyond death then they could offer the one thing that nobody else could, an explanation about the afterlife and a reward for servitude. Religion elevated group members into positions of seniority and I imagine many were eager to start their own religions inside the groups after seeing how faith could reward them. Any unexplained event would have precipitated a rumour, a story explaining the occurrence and those ‘in the know would be seen as figures of great importance. If they had a code for survival, a way of making humanity get what it needed and wanted then they would follow the doctrine. Mixtures of good and bad luck will have forced the clerics to find reasons for the happenings and the concept of good and evil deities will have been born from such. A god for every occasion, for every facet of survival. People would claim to be able to offer something and maybe good fortune would enable them to be seen as mystics, in touch with a higher power that could change the seasons, bring rain and animals to the the plains. I remember the story of Indian Raindancers, or specifically the people who claimed to be able to make it rain and by statistical good odds, it rained after they performed their ritual. Such good luck undoubtedly made men into living embodiment of gods. Similarly, hunting prowess and survival acumen would have been attributed to the graces of a deity and the leaders themselves would be tethered to the idea of godheads, as conduits linked directly to the higher power. The phrase ‘kingmaker’ comes to mind as I imagine clerics were responsible for assigning power to prospective leaders by virtue of the god’s good graces. Even today, religion is a vital factor on deciding future leaders. Would you vote a confirmed atheist as President of the United States or Prime Minister of England? Would they even get a shot at election based on their lack of beliefs?
Like it or not, we need some form of belief structure to satisfy those niggling eternal questions: why am I here and what happens when I die. We can pretend that we don’t care yet on our deathbeds, we will be filled with fear and apprehension as to what lays in store for us. If we don’t understand something then we usually fear it. Only religious people will probably go with a smile on their faces, confident in their beliefs of Heaven.
So does an atheist have a belief? Surely, if they have no answer then they must be ignorant of life to not recognise death? Not really, that’s not fair of me to say. Atheists are good people, mostly with strong morals and sense of purpose. the real ones will shrug and say ‘I don’t know’ to both questions and they are telling the truth. They honestly don’t know and they don’t purport not to care. It just seems futile, wasting time on speculation in the absence of fact. Let it be a mystery, the great unknown they will say. Enjoy the life we are given and enable the race to flourish both mentally and physically. We don’t know why some people are gay and others straight, we don’t know what happened before the big-bang. Some things are unknown quantities and the best thing is to let them happen, inevitable as they are and enjoy the emotions and experiences in between.
The question is this: did we need religion to develop in order for humanism to become apparent within its groups? Would humanism have developed of its own accord had there been no inference of a higher power? Did humanism evolve as a direct result of religious oppression or would it have naturally evolved as a concept through our understanding of the world around us? It’s another Dawkins argument, that which might have been can never be conclusively determined when we speak about something as unpredictable as human nature. Dawkins says that without religion, Michaelangelo might have still painted a version of his Sistine chapel rendition, his crowning achievement yet we have no idea how it would have differed from the original had it been painted on the roof of a museum or library. We can only speculate about its design because we can never know the artistic creativity of Michaelangelo, we can never know what he might have conceived had his muse been the cultural story of the Roman Empire or the works of Dante Alighieri. That Michaelangelo would still have produced astounding work is a statistical likelihood given his social standing and his desire to express himself through art, yet we will never know what masterpiece his mind could have created in the absence of religion.
A study by Christopher Silver and Tom Coleman tried top catagorise the diversity of atheist ideology into more refined groups. They came up with six types of atheist based on their research and you can read about their results here.
By breaking down atheism into these compartmentalised groups, Silver and Coleman have given different thought structures a label, trying to cover every type on non-believer and leaving no cognitive stone unturned. Putting these people into groups, Silver and Coleman remove personal identity in favour of a group identity so that our lack of religious belief can be neatly pigeonholed as one of six possible types, demonstrating once again the human psyche’s need to order and collate things into identifiable groups.
If we can name and identify something, understand it fully then we cease to be afraid of it
Do atheists frighten us? Do we need to have a specific label for them that explains their rationalised approach to the afterlife and the existence of God? Surely, most of the atheist types by virtue of their denial in the divine focus more on humanism and materialism than any other schools of thought? Therefore, are all atheists not humanists and materialists, when we look at the archetypal though processes concerning religion?
They certainly share common traits such as a focus on the human self as opposed to a higher power. I think the further one strays from contemplating religion then the closer one comes to materialism. To have a belief is key to our identity, even if its a belief that God does not exist. If we claim we don’t care and never contemplate religion then what do we invest our trust into? The continuance of the human race, that of our children’s futures? In that case, we have belief in our children because we can never know the outcome of their futures, we can only ‘hope’ that they turn out alright. To assume that our children will grow indefinitely into leaders and architects and follow our expectations is a belief and a noble one at that.
If we have no belief in anything, then we must only be concerned with our material existence, our own selfish needs and wants. Belief in family, belief in science, belief in humanity as a race of evolutionary wonders; belief in one’s self that we are something of significance set apart by our unique identity. They are all aspirations
Which category does Richard Dawkins come under, out of the six stereotypes? If I ever meet him, I’ll ask him. As for me, well….I’m mentally ill and my views are never fixed for long. They fluctuate like my moods, between rational disbelief and grim divine certainty. Sometimes, I hold strange beliefs concerning my own personality and identity, other times I am rooted in a negative form of humanism, focusing on the dark aspects of Man’s nature. Other times, I celebrate the uniqueness of humanity, perceive us as divine beings ourselves, statistical improbabilities that have defied all the odds, certain that no god exists. Then I might have a few minutes speaking to God, using him as a sounding-board for my views and opinions.
Dang it, I just can’t settle down spiritually. I’m not even sitting on the fence, I’m getting on and off it both sides, dependent on my mood and my needs at the time. I wonder how many atheists, faced with a sudden crisis might sub-consciously say ‘please God, don’t let it be true’ or God help me’, as if there might be some chance of avoiding inevitable grief. I know I’ve done it plenty of times, particularly when I’ve almost died. When I survived accidents, I didn’t say ‘thank the statistical odds of me surviving’, I said ‘thank God’ and in those moments, I felt humility and self-awareness of how fragile life can be, how uncertain and unstable.
We are generally more able to accept religion in a time of high stress, when we seek to understand something that we know cannot be explained. Religion gives meaning to the cycle of life and the elements of the universe, brings closure to the question of death. It was created to manage the stress that we deal with as part of our existence on Earth, our interaction with the world around us. Maybe the first religious ideology ever uttered was genuinely to make people feel better about death, to stop them from grieving and experiencing stress. If they knew their loved ones were still alive in some form, they could manage the irrationality easily as technically, the loved one never dies and will be reunited with family eventually.
So is religion selfish, then? Is is an ideology we adopt to stem feelings of self-pity and anguish? In our grief that we will never see loved ones again, do we fabricate an existence for them beyond death, one in which they are eternally happy and fulfilled because the thought of them being a vacuous dead thing, a shell rotting into compost or a bundle of ashes is just too horrible to conceive?
To help us justify the stressful factors of our lives, do we turn to religion to explain our inner feelings? Remember, stress is generated internally. No object generates stress, it is not an energy form but a perception, a reaction to stimuli. Death is stressful because we are losing a vital part of our group structure, somebody who may have had a large influence on developing personality and ethics. Any change in a long standing routine is apt to cause stress and death is a terminal event that breaks routines and changes groups permanently. We choose to believe that some part of the deceased is still conscious, maybe involved in our earthly lives to an extent in a way that makes them a vague part of the group, despite their physical absence. We trust that they have gone somewhere even better than Earth, meaning that through the awful act of dying they have improved their situation.
I would like to attend an atheist funeral and struggle to imagine what one might look like. Technically, they shouldn’t even have a funeral as its a religiously inclined ritual. Really, they should be mulched up and used to somehow feed the land or benefit humanity on some way, even in death still focused on the idea of humanism, their bodies furthering the fields of agriculture or science.
There should be a distinction between atheism and ignorance. Complete disinterest in anything religious including festivals and rituals is usually the mindset of a staunch materialist. Even a humanist might partake in Christmas, Divali and Eid celebrations, not for the religious inference but for the sense of joy it brings to many groups worldwide. Partaking in a social ritual does not count as believing in religion. I buy my kids presents and observe some non-religious aspects of Christmas, like traditional dinners, watching the children’s nativity play and watching the Queen’s speech yet I hold no belief in God. We celebrate Santa Claus more than Jesus; I like the story of Jesus, it’s a good Christmas-spirit story, one of hope and redemption, of new life and change. I like good stories and religious ones are some of the best ever created.
The kids might sing carols, I like it; hearing the melody as pleasing and seasonally appropriate. The messages are about love and kinship and if you don’t mind the odd Hallelujiah (it’s just a word, after all, saying it doesn’t change your ideals about God) then what is the problem with singing them?
You can’t escape it, no matter how scientific you are. Religion brings people together and celebrates the joy of life. Sadly, it also created schism and divides in societies as each religious group seeks to exert its dominance over others. We can thank the architects of the religions for this, for creating gods that are judgemental and biased. As I recall it, no man could ever presume to know the mind of God so the whole of all scriptures must just be conjecture. We are told, however that the religious doctrine is the ‘word of God’ and that it was transmitted to Man through signs, symbols and other methods. We are told that it is infallible and cannot be overruled therefore invalidating any chance of disproving it. In fact, to question the doctrines usually resulted in death. Still does, in some cultures today.
So, have I answered my question: is atheism still a belief structure? Even if we believe in science, it is a belief structure, something that we can forge our identities and ethics around. You can’t believe in ‘nothing’ because our minds will not permit this abandon of a core principle. If you believe in ‘nothing’ then you are not familiar with the theory of energy conservation and that of zero-point energy. Quantum mechanics forbids the persistence of ‘nothing’. Instead, we look to Darwinian theory to explain our origins and debate that after death, nothing that we can conceive happens.
Consider this: mathematicians argue that the chance of cellular life transmuting into humanity is approximately one in a billion-trillion. If the odds of our race even acheiving sentience through cell mutation are so inconceivably high, then the odds of an afterlife being present after death cannot be excluded from the argument in a random universe. It’s just a question of how ‘likely’ an afterlife is, not whether it actually exists on some level.
Religion has been around since Mankind had understanding enough to question his environment and his own existence. It was probably principally a means of explaining the irrationality of the environment, especially the state of death and for asking boons. Once Mankind learned of the power of religion, its ability to subjugate others and satisfy needs, it was exploited and continues to be exploited to this very day.
Humanism may have evolved involuntarily, through Mankind’s own development and awareness but it didn’t. It developed many millennia after religion but did it develop as a philosophy because of religion? We cannot say. It is like saying, what would Ave Maria have been called and what would it have sounded like had Franz Schubert not been influenced by religion? That he would have still composed a masterpiece is highly likely but its form and content are unknown quantities. I pinched that from one of Dawkin’s lectures but it has weight to it, an inarguable weight against the dogmatic discipline of religion.
Humanism is still a belief structure, in that the individual ‘believes’ in the progression of Mankind and the fostering of core morals essential to stable living. They have no clue as to what the future holds for the human race but they ‘believe’ that it will be a successful one, if we get smart enough to value ourselves as important individually. Humanism focuses on a belief in the virtues of Man, the inherent traits of protectiveness and tenderness, of tolerance and selflessness. Humanism is, by far my favourite philosophy but completely unworkable in this modern cultural climate.
Materialists believe that their possessions will make them fulfilled and contented, that life is about enjoyment of pleasures and avoidance of pain. They have no real idea what their possessions may bring them in the long-term, what their experiences may lead to in the future but they ‘believe’ they will be happy if they satisfy their material needs. It is not always the case, as we know. Only on their deathbeds might they question the validity of an afterlife.
Mankind needs a belief structure in order to foster an identity, that’s my opinion. Even if it’s self-belief, it still counts. We don’t need to acknowledge a higher power or an afterlife to have a belief structure. Whatever we choose to think about our purpose, it becomes a framework for our ethics. My family and its progression through the future generations are my reason for living. I feel as if I exist to be a father and mentor, that my life of hell has been necessary to facilitate my understanding of the world so that I might pass on the knowledge to my children. I believe in their success and it defines how I think and behave. Everything I do is done with my children in mind yet I do not worship them and think that I will see them again in the afterlife. That is my belief structure, my immediate family. The rest of humanity can go fuck itself.
Too much belief can cause an identity overload. When somebody hands control of their thinking over to an unknown agent, they are at risk of becoming puppeteered. Their thinking becomes that of the collective religion and their actions reflect the doctrine. Sometimes, these religious values can clash with other values such as family and personal well-being yet the indoctrinated individual will be solely dependant on the higher power for support and guidance. The higher power seeks to supplant needs otherwise provided by family and the group becomes the new family unit with the god or gods as provider and regulator. As they lose individuality, the individual’s sense of purpose becomes that of the religious group and they can be directed to commit atrocities upon the promise of a heavenly reward, something significantly better than their existing stressful life. The way in which self-esteem is linked to acts of terror, especially religious suicide is an example of somebody without a clear identity, moulded into a weapon by religion.
There are different types of Atheist, all holding a degree of belief about some type of philosophy, be it Darwinian theory or nihilism. Some Atheists claim to believe in ‘nothing’ but what they really mean is, they are indifferent to the cause of humanity and the question of its persistence after death. When pressed, they will undoubtedly reveal a belief in some type of philosophy or code of ethics or get angry about the question.
Angry Atheists are condescending towards religion and believe that there is no god or afterlife. They believe we are ‘sentient meat’ as one Atheist put it to me. They are either humanists or materialists and their identities correspond to their grouping. There is no escape from compartmentalising and labelling, folks! It’s the human way. They may even fit into one of the ‘six Atheist types’ as proposed by Silver and Coleman. Even I have my labels and my identity is formed according to my tags.
There is overwhelming statistical evidence against the likelihood of a god and an afterlife. The model of science refutes the creationist philosophy in that matter and energy are attributed to the initial event known as the ‘big-bang’ and through billions of years of evolution and mutation, humanity was born. The odds of this mutation happening in the first instance is too high to write mathematically and we are quite literally a universal miracle as a species. Yet because of these staggering odds of survival and evolution, the probability of an afterlife in some form is equally as likely, I would say. The truth is, we can never know for sure until we actually experience death.
The best approach is to take religion with a pinch of salt. It had its day and did its job in settling and establishing our present-day governments and institutions. Now we can shelve it and look back upon it fondly, enlightened by science as we are. We won’t rule out the possibility of an afterlife yet we will be humble enough to admit that we have no idea what lies beyond death. Our human traits are stable enough to become a religion in itself and we should concentrate on unity of being and diversity of expression. Everybody is unique and special, their genetics making them the people they are. The odds of any one of us being born as a unique unit of self-contained identity is beyond conception. We should celebrate this miracle and seek to preserve it.
I’ve not even answered my own question, damn it! God is always a man because patriarchal minds conceived the nature of a monotheist deity. Had it been women then I suspect God would be a female archetype. Simple. Does he or she exist? I couldn’t tell you but I’ll make you a deal: when I die, if there’s an afterlife then I’ll send you a viral video, me and the creator in a pouting selfie. Up until that point, I would stick with the humanist approach to life, see if we can’t iron out these religious creases a little.