I know I believe in nothing, but it is my nothing

According to a recent study by the University of Minnesota, I belong to the minority group most mistrusted by the average American. A group that comes below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians in “sharing their vision of American society”. What is this monstrous group to which I belong? Atheists, apparently.

The level of religiosity in the United States always astonishes me: polls put the number of non-believers in the US at between 5-10%, while here in the decadent and faithless UK it’s more 35-40%. And now, it would seem, the majority of American citizens would be highly suspicious of me because of my lack – in the face of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary of course – of belief in any god whatsoever. Moreover, I wouldn’t be welcome to marry their daughter. A sentiment which is wholly reciprocated, I assure you.

I’ve always found adherence to faith baffling in the extreme. Even if I were to overlook the fact that there is no evidence to support any of them, not a single one (which I can’t, fussy empiricist that I am) the sheer choice is just overwhelming. As Homer said to Marge when defending his decision to stop going to church in the classic episode Homer the Heretic: “What if we’ve picked the wrong religion? Every week, we’re just making God madder and madder!” I get flustered enough choosing washing powder at the supermarket – this one’s kinder to the environment, but this one is tough on all stains, ooh this one’s half price – so how could I possibly settle down with one all-encompassing faith and value system?

Fear and mistrust of atheists is predicated on the age-old lie that only religion can ensure a coherent morality system; that religion gives us morality, ergo atheists are amoral. Wrong way round. Morality existed long before religion: religion is an offshoot of an already embedded morality system.

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Centrist. Atlanticist. Dry liberal. Anti-totalitarian. Post-ideological pragmatist. Child of The Enlightenment. Toucan.

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17 comments on “I know I believe in nothing, but it is my nothing
  1. mAc Chaos says:

    Did you ever consider that religious faith may have an evolutionary purpose?

  2. Citizen Sane says:

    Great question.

    Absolutely. However! I think that morality has an evolutionary purpose and religion is a snapshot and offshoot of morality. So to answer your question: yes, but only by extension.

  3. mAc Chaos says:

    But isn’t having the backing of the eternal word of God a more effective deterrant to wrongdoing than simply your own sometimes-here-sometimes-not determination?

  4. Citizen Sane says:

    It’s certainly more useful. More convenient perhaps. You seem to be suggesting that the idea of a god – and the moral certainties that provides (although that is debatable, because which one should it be? God, Allah, Jehovah, Vishnu, Mars, Hubbard, Voldemort?) is more important than whether or not that god actually exists. Which, as an argument, probably has some basis, but is more commonly known as fraud. It’s a little bit too much like the Wizard of Oz for my liking (“Don’t look behind the curtain!”).

  5. ph says:

    On the big question of why are we here, why is anything here even atheists are left relying on the supernatural, as ‘rational’ thought does not give an answer.

  6. Citizen Sane says:

    I don’t think the supernatural comes into it. Certainly, on the origins of existence and the metaphysical problems it throws up, there are no answers. But I would prefer to say “I do not know how or why life came to be” than accredit it to a fantastical being.

  7. sparx says:

    I think we need to seperate GOD from RELIGION. The problem isn’t whether an individual believes in a higher being, it’s when a bunch of them all get together and decided to use this belief to build themselves a power base.

    There have always been people who are incapable of thinking for themselves and need someone to tell them what to do. I don’t have much knowledge of theology but i’m betting that is how the church started out. A way to control others by playing on their superstitions and issuing threats to their immortal soul.

    It’s always seemed to me a very HUMAN thing to do.

  8. Citizen Sane says:

    Sparx you old cynic. The motives of the church have always been pure.

    *cough*

  9. Rachie says:

    I always find it astounding that people assume because I have worked for charities for some years I must believe in God, because, apparently, without moral guidance from on high I would lack the ability to distinguish good from bad.

    However, I usually find that these are the same people who are shocked when they find out I don’t work for free. They don’t seem to have any trouble accepting my atheism after that. It’s very bizarre.

  10. ph says:

    C.S

    The origins of existence are fantastical, are supernatural and may or may not involve a ‘being’.
    But a ‘being’ is just as likely as any other scenario you may come up with … must stop my head is spinning

  11. Citizen Sane says:

    Rachie – Exactly. There are atheists who devote their lives to good, there are believers who are beneath contempt.

    The idea that only religion can enforce moral duty is a falsehood. A falsehood perpetuated only by those of faith (though not all of them, obviously).

    PH – This is starting to make me feel dizzy.

  12. mAc Chaos says:

    CS, I think you’re missing the point on the whole “atheists and morality” idea that seems to come up a lot in these debates. It’s not that an atheist can’t be moral. It’s that by their own logic they have no rational, foundational basis for their morality.

    When you remove the objectivity only God can provide, you subjectivize moral values and they simply become personal preference, meaning there’s no reason to listen to your beliefs over, say, the Islamist, because it’s all meaningless as different flavors of ice cream. I prefer chocolate, you prefer vanilla, but there’s no way you could make some sort of argument that would show me that I’m obligated to prefer vanilla. Hence, the only way to make me comply then is an embrace of “might equals right,” and that is where many states that replace themselves with God as the only authority end up.

  13. Jesus H. Christ says:

    Hey hey. I know you have trouble believing that I exist. But I do. In the hearts of men (and women) and I walk on water and sit at the right hand of God the father almighty. I actually am an atheist myself. Jesus, Dad said, how could you be so stupid: So I said to him well Dad, you had me put to death. I worry sometimes about your attitude to me. And beside what proof do I have that you are really my dad? I was born of a virgin and I cannot see how we could get a DNA test to prove your paternity. So you see, I do not believe you are my dad and so I am an atheist even though I am Christ the Lord.

    Confuse the christians eh. They believe in me Dad. Me! Me! And one day you old dog, we will take over. One day my day will come Dad and then its over for you. Revenge is yours I know but I intend to have that too.

  14. Laura says:

    No one knows how existence came about, and yes, it’s “could” be the creation of a higher being, but it could also be that chap slartybartfarst…

    Anything we don’t understand we feel that we have to create meaning for. Can’t we just accept that we don’t know?

  15. ash says:

    The thing is, even believers in God have a subjective moral view point anyway because they each have their own Gods and their own interpretations of that God’s will. The difference I suppose is that theists don’t see themselves as being subjective.

    Atheists might say that their basis for morality came from biology (e.g. The Selfish Gene) or from rational thought itself (e.g. Kantian Ethics)

  16. Anonymous says:

    I was just thinking of that saying “There are no atheists in a shellhole” i.e. the more you look death in the face, the more you believe in God. I’ll bet lots of contributors on here are around 30 give or take 5 years. Just wait, in 30 years time you’ll all be on ‘Songs of Praise’ singing your hearts out with Aled Jones! Wearing a big fake smile to let the world now how happy religion makes you.

    GB

  17. Rachie says:

    “I prefer chocolate, you prefer vanilla, but there’s no way you could make some sort of argument that would show me that I’m obligated to prefer vanilla.”

    But why would I feel the need to try and obligate you to prefer vanilla? What difference does it make to me what you prefer? That’s what annoys me about some religions – the fact that people foist them onto others as a means of controlling them.

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