Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Sun 26th Mar, 2006

Where's the fairness?

The whole idea of atheism has been roiling in my head since I read the article linked from someone's blog on The article basically talks about atheism being the only approach to life that sees things as they are. All religions colour how life is by saying "it's OK, good things happen to you when you die" or "she might be having fun but she'll go to hell and then she'll be sorry." They justify good behaviour by reference to some arbitrary text or teaching. They take your reasoning and your judgement away and replace it with someone else's, which you're mostly supposed to trust to be right.

I'm not going to try to point out the silly things, the stupid things, the atrocities, the immense untold harm that religions all over the world do to their followers and/or people who don't believe (take your pick). Other people have done a far better job.

Atheism is the only principle which says "we must be responsible for our behaviour now". The only moral code we should trust is the one which we come up with ourselves. Our actions should only be judged by what they do now, not what reward we reap from them when we're not here to have to justify them. Sure, the Ten Commandments might be a good start, but let's not trust them just because of an old story. Let's trust them and live by them because they make perfect moral and ethical sense. Since nothing's perfect, we have to debate them, and by seeing where things are dark grey and where things are light, and everyone learning by actively thinking about it rather than just taking the ideas in on faith, everyone can see a much clearer picture of where their decisions take them and the society they live in.

But what's really getting to me is that Atheism seems to be the one choice that is tacitly assumed was left out of the Declaration of Human Rights. You're free to believe in something, even if it consists of 90% sexism and 10% dreams. But when you don't 'believe' in anything, then you have to justify it. You have to be constantly explaining why you chose to think about your actions rather than take the chinese whispers of principle that most organised religions have become (with each new book re-interpreting the old ones and rewording and editing the old doctrine to make it fit the new). I could say I belong to a religion that teaches people to be cannibals and to punish curiosity with death and I'd get a "That's nice, I'm a wicca". But say I don't 'believe' in anything and I have to justify it every step of the way.

And the worst thing about this is I have to justify it in terms of whatever religion the other person holds. It's like saying "You don't believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster? But, like, everyone does! All the cool people do. Why are you so uncool?" I have to suddenly be able to quote chapter and verse to prove why I don't believe in what the other person believes. I can't win the argument, because that would be denying the other person's religion. But when I lose, I am implicitly saying "You've proved (to yourself, if not to the people around us) that your religion is justified. I cannot refute it. You win." It's stupid.

Things like the Flying Spaghetti Monster are there to make the religions of the world have to disprove that belief. That's a nice intellectual way of approaching the idea - try and prove that no religion is justified because one can't disprove the other. But again it doesn't matter, because the Declaration of Human Rights, when watered down sufficiently by the zealots and the Political Correctness Doublespeak Cabal, says that you can't actually say anything against another religion. And it doesn't matter because these people have never actually entered the arena, so to speak: they'll never take you on in a fair argument about the logical, ethical and moral reasons for their beliefs. If you don't believe as they do, you're just wrong and they don't need to justify it at all to themselves, which is exactly the people you're trying to convince.

And what happens at the far end of this spectrum is what you get in Kabul, where people want to put a man who converted from Islam to Christianity to death. This is a religion that's OK? You believe us or you die? We're supposed to tolerate that? They declare a fatwah on someone who says something a bit nasty about their religion - any person that kills that out-speaker is actually hailed as a hero. This is fair? This is just? These people don't respect the Declaration of Human Rights in the slightest. Why should their rights be respected? And yet they cling to this, and invoke the DoHR whenever their beliefs are threatened.

Hypocrisy is considered the greatest evil of all in that it is inconsistent: it applies one standard to the speaker and another to the listener. It also admits no challenge - the person cannot be challenged on their actions because of the very sin you accuse them of. They need not justify themselves to you because they have already justified their actions to themselves. It is the greatest evil because it is a deception of oneself, and it is most harshly punished because society requires consistency.

So don't ask me why I don't believe. Prove to me why, in the face of all the evidence to the contrary, you still believe in whatever your doctrine teaches happened. Prove to me that your system of ethics has a complete consistency that relies on no external scripture for correctness. Prove to me that your stubborn insistence on teachings that make no sense or, at best, have to be so liberally warped as to have no residual meaning, is an application of logic and intelligence and not of blinkered self-deception and I'll yield. Until then, don't hide behind some convenient right to your own religion.

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