From my childhood, like many of you, I am in search of God; during many turmoil of my life – I was waiting for some miracle, wanted to believe in some supernatural, a supreme being. And after that, when things and situation stabilized, I felt ashamed of myself – how can I be so weak? A perpetual state of fear and underestimation of my own credibility – does that mean God? Or is it a search of peace and identity?
First of all – let’s have some clear definition of Spirituality, God, Religion and Ritual. Most of the time we are confused with God and Religion, and religion to most of the Homo sapiens is a set and subset of ritual believes, deeply embedded in the cultural roots of a society. Belief in a Supreme Being or God and religion is not the same.
Most of the religions, including ‘New Age Religions’ (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism) were invented by a few superior people of the society, all of these were time-specific, based on the best knowledge and ‘practical’ best practices available at that given time. Basic philosophies behind religions may be eternal, but how the rituals remain as same for ages?
“Religion is the Opium of the people” (translated from the German “Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes”) is one of the most frequently quoted (and sometimes misquoted as “opiate of the people”) statements of Karl Marx, from the introduction of his 1843 work. Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right which was actually subsequently released one year later in Marx’s own journal Deutsch-Französischen Jahrbücher-a collaboration with Arnold Ruge. Here is what Marx said, in context:
Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man-state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. [Emphasis added]
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.
Note that the sense in which the word “opium” is used is quite different from modern. At the time when Marx wrote this text, opium was freely available and viewed as a painkiller rather than an illegal dangerous drug. It is sometimes suggested that today the phrase “sedative of the people” might be closer to the original Marxian meaning.
Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where’s the harm?
Mass genocide of World War II changed that, innumerable riots in my country changed that, “Ram Janambhumi – Babri Masjid” changed that, Gujarat Massacre changed that, September 11th changed that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense; it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labeled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism. Let’s now stop being so damned respectful!
If you still can stand for some more heat – after religion, I am going to jump onto the topic of GOD! Yes, I have the right – NOT to believe on something, if you have the right to believe.
Now where the God or Supreme Being came from? Think carefully – isn’t all the unexplainable incidents and unpredictability of future – reminds you of God? There will always be unknowns in science. Many theists see these unknowns as reasons for believing in God. The argument usually goes something like this: “We don’t understand how the universe got here; therefore God must have created it.” (This is today’s version of the argument, years ago it was “We don’t understand thunder, therefore the thunder God must have done it.”) But is saying “God did it” really an explanation? No, it isn’t. An explanation is a description of something we don’t currently understand in terms that we do understand. Theists will usually admit that they don’t understand their God, saying things like “God works in mysterious ways”. Well if we don’t understand how God does something, then “God did it” is just about meaningless. We will never have all the answers, but postulating an infinite God and pretending that this provides the answers is just irrational. It is much better to have the intellectual integrity to simply admit that we don’t yet know. [Ref: Miracles, Intelligent Design, and God-of-the-Gaps].
But is it only the difference between known and unknown? Don’t we have ‘educated’ people amongst us who do not believe in evolution, till date? Isn’t there witchcraft? Denial of big bang or quark? Future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.
By Bhagat Singh, Why I am an Atheist
You may thrust yet another question at me, though it is merely childish. The question is: If God does not really exist, why do people come to believe in Him? Brief and concise my answer will be. As they come to believe in ghosts, and evil spirits, so they also evolve a kind of belief in God: the only difference being that God is almost a universal phenomenon and well developed theological philosophy. However, I do disagree with radical philosophy. It attributes His origin to the ingenuity of exploiters who wanted to keep the people under their subjugation by preaching the existence of a Supreme Being; thus claimed an authority and sanction from Him for their privileged position. I do not differ on the essential point that all religions, faiths, theological philosophies, and religious creeds and all other such institutions in the long run become supporters of the tyrannical and exploiting institutions, men and classes. Rebellion against any king has always been a sin in every religion.
What is the difference between Atheist and Agnostics? The term ‘agnosticism’ was coined by Professor T.H. Huxley at a meeting of the Metaphysical Society in 1876. He defined an agnostic as someone who disclaimed both (”strong”) atheism and theism, and who believed that the question of whether a higher power existed was unsolved and insoluble. Another way of putting it is that an agnostic is someone who believes that we do not know for sure whether God exists. Some agnostics believe that we can never know. [Ref: www.infidels.org]
Here go some great conversational debates from www.infidels.org
“God is unique. He is the Supreme Being, the creator of the universe. He must by definition exist.”
Things do not exist merely because they have been defined to do so. We know a lot about the definition of Santa Claus – what he looks like, what he does, where he lives, what his reindeer are called, and so on. But that still doesn’t mean that Santa exists.
“Then what if I managed to logically prove that God exists?”
Firstly, before you begin your proof, you must come up with a clear and precise definition of exactly what you mean by “God.” A logical proof requires a clear definition of that which you are trying to prove.
“But everyone knows what is meant by ‘God’!”
Different religions have very different ideas of what ‘God’ is like; they even disagree about basic issues such as how many gods there are, whether they’re male or female, and so on. An atheist’s idea of what people mean by the word ‘God’ may be very different from your own views.
“OK, so if I define what I mean by ‘God,’ and then logically prove he exists, will that be enough for you?”
Even after centuries of effort, nobody has come up with a watertight logical proof of the existence of God. In spite of this, however, people often feel that they can logically prove that God exists.
Unfortunately, reality is not decided by logic. Even if you could rigorously prove that God exists, it wouldn’t actually get you very far. It could be that your logical rules do not always preserve truth – that your system of logic is flawed. It could be that your premises are wrong. It could even be that reality is not logically consistent. In the end, the only way to find out what is really going on is to observe it. Logic can merely give you an idea where or how to look; and most logical arguments about God don’t even perform that task.
Logic is a useful tool for analyzing data and inferring what is going on; but if logic and reality disagree, reality wins.
“Then it seems to me that nothing will ever convince you that God exists.”
A clear definition of ‘God,’ plus some objective and compelling supporting evidence, would be enough to convince many atheists.
The evidence must be objective, though; anecdotal evidence of other people’s religious experiences isn’t good enough. And strong, compelling evidence is required, because the existence of God is an extraordinary claim – and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
“OK, you may think there’s a philosophical justification for atheism, but isn’t it still a religious belief?”
One of the most common pastimes in philosophical discussion is “the redefinition game.” The cynical view of this game is as follows:
Person A begins by making a contentious statement. When person B points out that it can’t be true, person A gradually re-defines the words he used in the statement until he arrives at something person B is prepared to accept. He then records the statement, along with the fact that person B has agreed to it, and continues. Eventually A uses the statement as an “agreed fact,” but uses his original definitions of all the words in it rather than the obscure redefinitions originally needed to get B to agree to it. Rather than be seen to be apparently inconsistent, B will tend to play along.
The point of this digression is that the answer to the question “Isn’t atheism a religious belief?” depends crucially upon what is meant by “religious.” “Religion” is generally characterized by belief in a superhuman controlling power – especially in some sort of God – and by faith and worship.
(It’s worth pointing out in passing that some varieties of Buddhism are not “religion” according to such a definition.)
Atheism is certainly not a belief in any sort of superhuman power, nor is it categorized by worship in any meaningful sense. Widening the definition of “religious” to encompass atheism tends to result in many other aspects of human behavior suddenly becoming classed as “religious” as well – such as science, politics, and watching TV.
“OK, maybe it’s not a religion in the strict sense of the word. But surely belief in atheism (or science) is still just an act of faith, like religion is?”
Firstly, it’s not entirely clear that skeptical atheism is something one actually believes in.
Secondly, it is necessary to adopt a number of core beliefs or assumptions to make some sort of sense out of the sensory data we experience. Most atheists try to adopt as few core beliefs as possible; and even those are subject to questioning if experience throws them into doubt.
Science has a number of core assumptions. For example, it is generally assumed that the laws of physics are the same for all observers (or at least, all observers in inertial frames). These are the sort of core assumptions atheists make. If such basic ideas are called “acts of faith,” then almost everything we know must be said to be based on acts of faith, and the term loses its meaning.
Faith is more often used to refer to complete, certain belief in something. According to such a definition, atheism and science are certainly not acts of faith. Of course, individual atheists or scientists can be as dogmatic as religious followers when claiming that something is “certain.” This is not a general tendency, however; there are many atheists who would be reluctant to state with certainty that the universe exists.
Faith is also used to refer to belief without supporting evidence or proof. Skeptical atheism certainly doesn’t fit that definition, as skeptical atheism has no beliefs. Strong atheism is closer, but still doesn’t really match, as even the most dogmatic atheist will tend to refer to experimental data (or the lack of it) when asserting that God does not exist.
Just for fun, and not to end this post in a bitter note –
Ten Commandments Manifesto by Hugh McLoid
I like the Bible – it’s a great piece of literature – but needs some context. So here’s my manifesto based on Exodus 20:1-17
1. God may, or may not exist – you decide. Does it matter if you believe in God? No, but if you do believe, believe in a good one.
2. Don’t mess about with symbols – Swastikas, Crucifix, Crescents, it all ends bad. Avoid them.
3. If you mess with any of the above – you’re fucked.
4. Best to forget a Supreme Being, chill out, have a beer, scotch or claret, and treat everyone the way you would like to be treated.
5. Get a life and concentrate on being nice to others even if other people are assholes.
6. Stop being stupid – you’re not as smart as you think you are. But remember neither is your boss nor are all the other people who tell you they are smarter than you.
7. Put one day aside a week for your self – your deserve it.
8. Don’t be a slave and don’t make slaves of others.
9. If your mum and dad love you – give it back in spades.
10. Don’t do any bad stuff like murder, adultery, theft, lying, or fucking a donkey.
By and large life is good, people are good. Keep a song in your heart and the truth on your tongue.
How can I miss my favorite Scott Adams
Atheist: “Religion is irrational.”
Believer: “Oh yeah? Atheism is a religion too, because it’s a cause that’s believed on faith! See Merriam-Webster’s 4th definition of religion.”
Atheist: “Atheism is religion the same way that NOT collecting stamps is a hobby.”
Believer: “You can’t prove the non-existence of God. And belief without proof is faith. Check Merriam-Webster’s second definition of faith. Therefore, atheists are irrational by definition.”
Atheist: “You can NEVER (or almost never) prove a negative. Besides, some things are so obvious that proof is unnecessary. Do you believe there’s a monster under your bed? You have no proof that it doesn’t exist. Therefore, by your reasoning, it’s only reasonable to believe there MIGHT be a monster under your bed.”
Believer: “Hey, you never know.”
And so it is argued by both believers and agnostics that atheists must be either irrational – believing the non-existence of God without proof for that position – or atheists are really just fence-sitting agnostics and don’t admit it.
My question is this: If you reckon that the existence of God has less than a 1 in a trillion chance of being true, based on all the available evidence, but not proof, can you call yourself an atheist? And if so, would you still be irrational?
UPDATE (28th Feb 2007):
Richard Dawkins at The Late Late Show
Richard Dawkins BBC Interview