People seem to be scared of atheists. When polling companies survey people as to whether they would vote for candidates of certain religions for president, atheists usually come in last — and you’ve seen how the candidates we do vote for are. Many people actually seem frightened of atheists as if they’re amoral monsters, like vampires or werewolves.
But luckily, like vampires and werewolves, atheists don’t exist.
I mean, what is the definition of an atheist? He’s someone who doesn’t believe in God or any other unprovable, supernatural ideas and instead lives his life based on logic and reason. And the reason this sounds scary to many people is that if one is completely logical, one can conclude things like,
“Well, I end in the exact same oblivion whether I spend my life helping people or murdering people, so I guess I can just do whatever I feel like in this completely random, purposeless universe.”
So we fear atheists the way we fear that a robot’s AI might suddenly use its logic to decide to kill all humans. But the reason you pretty much never see atheists decide to kill humans is: Unlike robots but quite like all humans, atheists are not very logical, and any suggestion that they are is mainly just pretense.
Now, I talked a bit about this in my article on the future of religion, but it’s worth pointing out again that human beings are extremely irrational. All of them.This is very obvious and shouldn’t really need to be argued.
And we need to be irrational in order to function. No one gets up each morning and says, “What’s the logical thing to do? Eat some breakfast. But why? Because I’m hungry. But why do I want to stop my hunger? Because I need to survive. But why do I want to survive? Because I want to live long enough to watch the new Star Wars movie. But why…”
You can reason out everything you do all day, but you couldn’t actually function that way. And certainly no one has logically come up with a set of moral values. If you ask an atheist whether people should be kind to each other, most (except the most nihilistic — for instance, Rico in my novel Superego) will give you some hand-wavy nonsense about why people should be kind. But this isn’t math. There are no axioms you can follow that lead to logical proof that there’s an advantage to being a good person. So if atheists don’t get their beliefs from logic, where do they get them?
Quite obviously, they get them from the culture around them. If you know any atheists, they don’t tend to have a radically different set of values about stealing, murder, or auto-play videos than the other people they interact with. In fact, the profession of disbelief in God is often the biggest distinction itself. Despite what they may claim, they don’t build a new morality out of whole cloth, but instead just adopt most of their morality from whatever the dominant religion is around them. And again, it has nothing to do with logic.
Look at one of the most popular “secular” values right now: equality. It makes no logical sense whatsoever. Evolution cares absolutely nothing about equality; its engine favors some as superior over others. And there is certainly no evolutionary evidence for equality between man and woman; in fact, evolution is very happy for men and women to be unequal, with each serving distinct purposes, and if one has to oppress the other to do that, that’s fine.
But from a Christian viewpoint, equality is very obvious. We all have eternal souls, and thus our differences in this world are rather insignificant when the everlasting part of us is the same. Now people who don’t profess to believe in God or souls still find this concept of equality to be a Truth. And that’s how we get all our morality — not through logic, but because the idea feels right deep inside us. And you might consider that silly nonsense, but it’s silly nonsense you participate in all the same.
I think where a lot of the confusion lies, and where we get the idea that people can be non-religious, is the idea that there is some sort of useful distinction between religious beliefs and just plain beliefs. Religious beliefs are unprovable ideas from silly old texts, while regular beliefs are unprovable ideas that came from… out of the ether, I guess.
Still, the religious ones seem scary to many, because people seem unstoppable and can commit any atrocity if they believe God is behind them. But the fact is that every single person has deeply held beliefs, often ones they will kill for (or, more nobly, die for). Look at which belief system killed millions of people over the last century: Communism. Most would call that a bad belief in economics rather than a bad religious belief, but it is a belief held strongly enough to kill over, and people will always come up with more of those, whether you label them religion or not.
Because whatever our strongly held beliefs are, that is our religion.
There’s no such thing as religious versus non-religious; there’s just organized religion versus disorganized religion. Probably a big difference between me and an atheist is that I can easily write out a list of unprovable things I believe in while an atheist would have more trouble listing them while still having just as many beliefs.
And because we all have these unprovable beliefs that guide our actions, that’s why it’s nonsense to try to keep religion out of politics, as everything we do is religion.
Like my belief in liberty — people would call that a secular value, but if you trace the origin of it, you find a Christian belief in the importance of free will and people making choices for themselves. Atheists, of course, believe in liberty too, but they might have more trouble finding the origin of those beliefs. But this is part of why I say there aren’t really atheists, because if you take all the values you hold most dear and put them together, you’ll find the god you worship — whether you call him God or not. And despite the arguing between Christians and atheists, I doubt our conception of God is really that much different.
Related at PJ this morning from Andrew Klavan:
image illustration via shutterstock / Malchev