It is commonly imagined that atheists think there is nothing beyond human life and human understanding. The truth is that atheists are free to admit that there is much about the Universe that we do not understand.
It is obvious that we don’t understand the Universe but it is even more obvious that neither The Bible nor The Qur’ an reflects our best understanding of it.
There could be life on other planets. Complex life. Technically accomplished civilization. Imagine a civilization that’s a million years old, as supposed to a thousand. Atheists are free to imagine this possibility! They are also free to admit that if such brilliant extraterrestrials exist, The Bible and The Qur’an are going to be less impressive to them than they are to human atheists.
It is also often imagined that atheists are, in principle, closed to spiritual experience. But the truth is that nothing prevents an atheist from experiencing self-transcending love, or ecstasy, or rapture or. in its simplest form, awe. In fact, nothing is preventing an atheist from going to a cave for a year or a decade and practice meditation like a proper mystic.
What atheists don’t tend to do is make unjustified and unjustifiable claims about the cosmos on the basis of those experiences. There’s no question that disciplines like meditation or prayer have a profound effect on the human mind. But do the positive experiences of, let’s say, Christian mystics, over the ages, suggest that Jesus is the sole savior of humanity?
Not even remotely! Because Christians have been having these experiences, but so do Buddhists, and Muslims, and even atheists! So there’s a deeper reality here and it makes a mockery of religious denominations.
The fact is that whenever human beings make an honest effort to get at a certain truth, they reliably transcend the accidents of their birth and upbringing. It would be absurd to speak about Christian physics, although Christians invented physics and to speak about Muslim algebra, although Muslims have invented algebra. It will one day be absurd to speak about Christian or Muslims ethics or spirituality.
Whatever is true about our circumstance, in ethical and spiritual terms, is discoverable now! And can be articulated without offending or making device of claims about the unique sanctity of any book or dedicating our lives to rumors of ancient miracles.
Finally, there is this notion that atheism is responsible for the greatest crimes in the 20th century. Now this is actually amazing because this is the most frequent objection that I have come across but I’ll deal with it briefly.
It’s amazing how many people think that the crimes of Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot and Mao Zedong were the result of atheism. The truth is this is a total misconstrue of what went on with those societies and these psychological and social forces that allow people to follow their dear leader over the brink.
The problem with fascism and communism was not that they were too critical of religion, but the problem is that they are actually LIKE religion. These are utterly dogmatic systems of thought. More than half a decade ago, Rick Warren suggested that North Korea was a ‘model atheist society’ and that any atheist, with the courage of his conviction, should want to move there.
The truth is North Korea is organized exactly like a faith-based cult, centered on the worship of Kim Jong-un. The North Koreans apparently believe that the American shipments of food aid that they receive from them to keep them from starving from death are actually devotional offerings to Kim Jong-un.
Is too little faith really the problem with North Korea? Is too much skeptical inquiry is what is wrong here? Auschwitz, the gulags, and the killing fields are not the product of atheism. They are the product of other dogmas such as nationalism and other political dogmas.
Hitler did not engineer genocide in Europe because of atheism. Hitler does not even appear to be an atheist because he always involved Jesus in his speeches, but that is beside the point. He did it on the basis of other beliefs and dogmas and the purity of German blood.
The history of Muslim Jihad does have something to do with Islam. The atrocities of September 11th did have something to do with what 19 men believed about martyrdom and paradise! The fact that we’re not funding stem cell research at the federal level does have something to do with what Christians believe about conception and human soul.
It’s important to focus on the specific consequences of specific ideas.
I want to make it clear that I am not holding religion responsible for every bad thing that a religious person has done in human history or to be balanced against all the bad things that the atheists have done. I’m only holding religion responsible for what people do and will continue to do, explicitly for religious reasons.