Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Requirements of Atheism

I am amazed at the different ways that people look at atheism. Some people will actually spend a great deal of time arguing that atheism doesn't mean anything other than not believing in a god, God, or gods; yet they will spend their time doing it on an atheist website. If atheism doesn't actually mean anything to them, I can't quite understand why they are spending any time going over atheist materials and spending time with other atheists. If atheism were of no more consequence than the color of the small intestines, I wouldn't expect to see them at atheist sites any more than I would expect to see them browsing the medical sites endlessly researching information on internal organs. On the other hand, atheism does mean something to me. It is worth thinking about and debating. It is the raw material to build a movement on top of. Atheism touches almost every part of my life and should be treated as the far reaching idea that it is.
I think it's probably important to express some of my initial positions here. I will grant that atheism, by itself, doesn't actually carry any more meaning than believing or disbelieving in automobiles. It is nothing more than an idea that we use to try to interpret reality more accurately. But like any interpretation of reality, what matters is what happens when we try to use that information to navigate our way through the real world.
Imagine for a moment that you don't believe in the existence of cars. That lack of belief will have a dramatic effect on how you go about your daily life. While you might not understand what roads are for, you wouldn't have any inherent problem with just walking across them without paying any attention to objects that might be intersecting your path. There are, after all, no such thing as cars. I realize that some people will think this is nothing more than hyperbolic rhetoric and that it is an example of a false equivalence fallacy. I can assure you that isn't my intention. All I hope to do with this example is demonstrate that ideas have a real effect on us and our interaction with the world. Ideas are the raw materials of our actions. It is ideas that drive our interactions with the world.
When I talk about atheism being the raw materials to build a movement, I mean that atheism in and of itself might not have any particular meaning other than not believing in gods, but the consequences of that realization are life changing. If we were brought up in a church, then all the things we learned about the functioning of reality are changed. No longer can we just assume that when bad things happen that they are a part of God's plan. When something bad happens to us, we can no longer fit it into the context of a god trying to tell us something. Our faith isn't being tested, and no one is sending cryptic messages. There are no gods to help us, or harm us, or interact with us or anyone else. But what does that have to do with our interactions with reality?
If we don't want to live at the mercy of an uncaring universe, then we have an obligation to help our fellow humans in exchange for their help when we need it. When women make less money than men for no reason other than ingrained religious beliefs, then we have an obligation to stand by their side and help them. When members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community are treated as inferior for no other reason than who they are, we have an obligation try to assist them. When people require assistive technology to manage their interactions with the world, we should see that they have access to that technology. And these examples are only a few of many such examples of the consequences of atheism.
While I think we should advocate for all people that are disadvantaged by life, I don't think it is practical. But if we don't have the time, energy, or knowledge to advocate for everyone, the least we can do is not actively try to hinder them in trying to correct the wrongs that they suffer. And if you don't have the decency to not add misery to people that are already suffering from the cruelties of life, then you have just become a problem that needs courageous people to stand against.

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