I’ve been an atheist activist for a long time now and I want to tell you why. It isn’t just because I lack a belief in deities; it is because I have realized that belief in deities has and continues to impede human progress – not just technologically, but morally.
Today Christians often try to take credit for things like the Suffrage Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, even the Gay Rights Movement and the Scientific Enlightenment, but the fact is that religious holy books and a huge chunk of Abrahamic religious believers were actually on the wrong side of those issues. Secular modernity and humanistic atheism lead the way on these issues. Religion often got in the way and continues to get in the way today.
Until relatively recently, I believed that once we educated the vast majority of people away from religion, we would be well on our way toward an ethical evolution based in secular humanistic values. Admittedly, that was a little naïve. As it turns out, there are atheists who can be almost as vicious as the religious.
Still, I think we can move past our infighting because at the end of the day, I truly believe that all the people involved in the atheist infighting are really on the same side and are just communicating badly. I believe that we all share similar humanist values and that we all are trying to use logic and reason to guide our way. But it takes more than that. We have to evolve our ethics toward each other and even toward those who we truly disagree with.
I think we need to remember why we are activists in the first place; we all want to make the world a better place. We want to use logic and reason to advance humanistic values for the betterment of humankind. We all recognize that this is the only world we have currently and this is the only life we will ever live. We need to remember that we should model our ethics as well as teach them.
This means that we should give other people the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. I’m not just talking about fellow atheists either. We should treat religious believers with respect too. That doesn’t mean we have to respect their beliefs, just them as human beings.
Atheists have a right to be angry with the religious for not only the way they treat us, but the way they are treating themselves and the rest of the planet. Like I said before, the Abrahamic religions are a threat to human happiness, human progress, and human survival on this planet. We have every right to be angry about that, but we have to remember to control our anger and to channel it into calm and useful actions. We can’t let our anger control us or use our anger to justify being hateful in return. Yoda put it best when he said that anger leads to hate and that hate leads to suffering. Yoda also said that you will know the good side from the bad when you are calm, at peace, and passive.
This is good advice we should consider in all of our dealings. I know religious believers can be frustrating at times. They can be hateful and even dangerous, but we shouldn’t respond in kind. We have to be the ethical evolution we wish to see in the world. We can’t just talk about being good without God; we have to model being better without gods.
I sometimes get into debate mode too, but we have to remember that these people truly believe their bullshit. We have to listen to what they have to say and try to teach them the facts about reality and how we came to know these facts without frustration, anger, or hate. While we have heard all their arguments often before they have even finished making them, we should remind ourselves that they have probably never heard our responses to them before. We need to encourage them to do their own research on these issues and point them to places where they can find out the answers for themselves. No one de-converts from a single conversation.
I think most humanistic minded atheists would agree that our understanding of morality is evolving over time. Religion is certainly a huge obstacle in the path of that evolution, but it isn’t the only obstacle. Even after we reach the tipping point when religion is viewed in the same way most people view psychics, there will still be obstacles to overcome. Still, religion is the biggest obstacle in the room and we need to deal with it first.
I think one of the best ways to do that is to try to be better people. This isn’t easy and I think we have to continually remind ourselves that we should remember to be the best we can be. We have to remember to be as charitable toward other people’s point of view as we can while at the same time explaining why their ancient superstitious beliefs don’t hold up to the weight of reason and evidence.
Religious believers sometimes talk about listening to their better angels, but I think we need to start listening to the better reasons for being better toward other people. We need to evolve ethically and then we can pass on our moral understanding and reasoning to others through memes and genes.