Recently I came across a Twitter thread that perpetuated the notion that atheism is a belief. Which is always frustrating to read because atheism is not and has never been a belief; it’s an absence of belief.
There are many historical definitions of atheism which show the prejudices of the religious towards the “godless”, but the best modern definition of the word comes from philosophy: “rejection of belief in God or gods”. But it would perhaps be better put as not believing in the existence of gods because there is no satisfactory evidence for their existence.
Note the word “satisfactory” in there – no, just because you had blue cheese last night and dreamed of Jesus, this isn’t evidence for the existence of any god. And no the bible isn’t evidence either – you may believe that it was written by your god, but there is no evidence that it is the case.
Does this matter? Not that much to be honest, it is just that as a whole atheists tend to be a little bit pedantic about their “beliefs” or lack of them.
For those who are tuning in a bit late, Blaise Pascal came up with the believer’s so-called ‘rational’ argument for believing (or trying to believe) in a god. The argument goes something like :-
God is, or God is not. Reason cannot decide between the two alternatives
A Game is being played… where heads or tails will turn up
You must wager (it is not optional)
Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing
Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (…) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.
But some cannot believe. They should then ‘at least learn your inability to believe…’ and ‘Endeavour then to convince’ themselves.
Sounds reasonable doesn’t it? Of course it does – Pascal has used logic here even though he is coming to an irrational conclusion; the key is logic.
However there is only one small area where Pascal’s wager makes any kind of sense – if believers burn atheists at the stake (which did happen during Pascal’s lifetime) then it makes perfect sense to pretend to believe to protect oneself.
However it does make two rather large assumptions :-
That this god isn’t able to determine the difference between believing and pretending to believe. Which kind of invalidates the notion of an omniscient god.
Which god? Given the childish jealousy that most gods exhibit, pick the wrong one and you’re in just a bad a position as someone who doesn’t pick at all.
And the very first statement – that reason cannot determine whether god exists or not, is completely wrong. Reason requires evidence for the existence of something, and the best evidence for the existence of god is the belief of the believers which isn’t evidence at all.
So the US has blown up Soleimani with a drone strike; what’s the problem?
Well it isn’t that Soleimani didn’t deserve it, although I would lean in favour of being imprisoned for life after a conviction for crimes against humanity (yes this would be a lot more difficult to arrange). And no it isn’t because the one effectively pressing the button was an orange-painted idiotic sociopath.
No, it’s the way he was killed.
What seems to be commonly overlooked is that a total of ten people were killed by the drone strike – did all of those there deserve to die? Each and every one? No, probably not.
And who made the decision to go ahead and make the drone strike? The president of the USA with an arbitrary decision rather than any proper due process. In other words, this ‘execution’ (or assassination) wasn’t sanctioned by a court of law .
And lastly, this was an act of war by the USA against Iraqi territory and an Iranian general. Either could use this act as justification (as much as any war is justified) for war with the USA. And as the USA has used similar acts by others as justification for war, it can hardly claim that they are not. At least not honestly.
In terms of reactions to this assassination, it doesn’t matter what USA citizens think; it matters what Iraqis and Iranians think. And judging by the public reactions so far, they don’t appear to like it much. That will further radicalise ordinary Iranians and Iraqis and make them more likely to side with the Islamic terrorists.
I was recently involved in a bit of a twitter spat when I ‘came out’ as an atheist in a religious thread. I was agreeing with a sentiment that a religious moderate put out (except for the “god bit”).
In response, I had two religious fruitcakes going on about how I would find god if I suffered enough.
No, I won’t.
And how condescending is it to assume my unbelief is only skin-deep, and at the first sign of trouble I’ll start asking for help from an infectious imaginary friend?
Put the boot on the other foot: Do christians give up their god at the first sign of trouble? Do muslims? Imagine ‘coming out’ to an atheist that you’re a christian, and the response: “Never mind; maybe sometime you’ll regain your sanity and become god-free”
Within the atheist community, the attitude towards the catholic church can sometimes verge on the old-fashioned protestant style anti-catholic bigotry. That isn’t to say that the RCC doesn’t deserve its fair share of criticism – in particular women’s rights and reproductive rights.
But some of the anti-catholicism can be a little extreme.
But that was centuries ago! Were the crusades evil? Of course they were.
But take a look at what other organisations were up to at the same time – secular rulers were doing pretty much the same thing (usually at a smaller scale).
If you look at secular rulers of the early mediæval era, a good proportion of them qualify under modern standards of behaviour as psychopaths. Most “noble” families started off as successful raiders and war bands whose winning strategy at accumulating wealth was to find those with some wealth and extract it from them with force.
And the church leaders? Many of them were from those families and so it is not surprising that the mediæval church had its own psychopaths.
Take the Cathar Crusade in southern France as an example. It was the source of the phrase “Kill them all; God will know his own”. The catholic church spent nearly 100 years trying to convert them peacefully, and it was only after a papal legate was killed that the crusade began.
And this is all ancient history – when was the last catholic crusade?
So every priest is a pædophile? Not even close – the proportion of child abusers within the church is probably much the same as the proportion of child abusers within any other organisation with power over children. See https://www.newsweek.com/priests-commit-no-more-abuse-other-males-70625; one interesting datum from that article is that the insurance industry rates for sex abuse insurance are the same for catholic churches as for any other denomination.
And insurance companies hold no truck with religious morals; they deal with hard statistics and probabilities.
The RCC can be quite reasonably criticised for past crimes in concealing child abusers, and suspicion over how they will treat future crimes is not unreasonable.
But I don’t see them reacting differently to every kind of organisation which reacts to protect the name of the organisation. Protecting child sex abuse is an extreme example of this, but has still occurred in many different kinds of organisations.
The RCC is also a bit of a special case in that it predates nation states in existence today (the oldest state is Iceland which was formed in the 9th century) and has a long tradition of managing itself independent of secular authorities.
In a sense, the RCC thinks of itself as the authority in charge of the hierarchy and wouldn’t think of informing secular authorities of issues. This may be changing, and needs to change.
The Catholics and The Nazis
There are those out there who seem to be under the impression that the RCC was in cahoots with Hitler and the Nazis; such people are woefully and abysmally ignorant of the history of the times.
This might come across as a bit of a white-wash of the RCC, but it is not intended as such. It is merely intended to point out that the RCC is no more culpable to child sex abuse cases than many other organisations which have had similar incidents.
One thing that may be commonly overlooked is just how large the RCC is. There are approximately 2.4 billion christians around the world; of whom nearly 1.3 billion are catholic. You can take every single baptist out there (up to 100 million) and they will amount to no more than the error bars on the estimate of the number of catholics. No wonder that nearly every other week there is a new catholic scandal.