My comments and opinions on the ways of the world.
17th April 2017
What is my Religion?
I’m an atheist; I don’t belong to a religion. Am I fooling myself? An article in this week’s (15th April) New Scientist explores the argument that atheism is itself a religion. While it doesn’t provide a definitive answer, on the one hand it says that aspects of atheism, and especially the activities of certain fervent atheists, have some characteristics of a religion, but counters that by saying it is impossible to define a religion. This latter statement is odd in itself because in the UK as elsewhere religions can get preferential treatment from local and national government, for example relief from business rates on premises.
At this Eastertide, or time of the festivals, Vaisakhi (Sikh), Songkran (Buddhism), Hanuman Jayanti (Hindu), and the Passover (Judaism), among others in April, here is what I think.
I was brought up in the Anglican Church, the Church in Wales to be exact. One of the earliest books I recall was a book of Bible stories with pictures. Of course, we learnt about the main stories of Christianity at ordinary school and I attended Sunday schools. From the age of eight I joined the choir at my parents’ church and was immersed in church life. I was confirmed (became a member of the church) at the age of twelve and became a server at communion services. I continued to attend church, and sing in the choir, until I was thirty-two. Once or twice I attended church study groups. A lot of my social life was with church (or rather church choir) friends.
Did I believe? Ah, now that is a difficult question. I suppose when I was young i.e. at primary school, I probably did believe the Bible stories along with a belief in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy. But by the time I was 12 I was doubting. I can recall speaking to our Vicar before I was confirmed and saying that I had my doubts about things like the Resurrection. He dismissed my worries as being unimportant and typical of young churchgoers. I suppose I took that as I sign that I could take or leave what I liked of Christian beliefs. I continued to recite the Creed while gradually coming to dismiss the supernatural elements of Jesus’ life. I used to pray, particularly when I was in a sticky position, and most of the time things turned out pretty well but I didn’t feel it was God answering my prayers, just a result of my decisions and other factors.
Now, after a life of teaching and interest in science I have come to some decisions. I don’t believe in God (any god, whether it be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc.). I especially do not believe in some omniscient being who shows any interest in my or anyone else’s life. Note, I used the word “believe” twice there and some people will say – there you are, atheists have beliefs too. It’s just that I use the word in a different way to religious believers. For them it is a matter of faith to accept the beliefs of their religion. They don’t have to question them. For me the word “belief” means that I have weighed up the evidence, or lack of it, and decided on my viewpoint. My interpretation of everything I have read and heard and seen is that there is no God, neither was Jesus Christ raised from the dead, etc.
It is interesting that while most religions believe in one or more gods and angels or spirits very few have the belief that a human was brought back to life and is part of god (although there are elements of the story in old Greek myths and probably in other old religions.)
While faith is of central importance there are other aspects of religion which have pushed me into disliking all religions. They nearly all have a hierarchy (almost always patriarchal) which issues instructions that followers must obey. These orders are often couched in mild language. For example, the Christian churches make a lot of fuss about love being at the core of all their actions. This didn’t stop the crusaders from massacring Muslims, or the persecution of Jews or the torture and execution of heretics and non-believers. Even as they were maiming and burning they would talk of love and the rewards of the afterlife that would come to those who repented. It didn’t stop Catholics and Protestants killing each other in Ireland. The same applies to other religions with their god’s love being used as an excuse to kill members of other religions and other factions of their own.
I do believe (my interpretation) that at various times in human history there have been charismatic people who have proclaimed a way of life, tied to a set of beliefs, that they thought would help people to live together. I am quite sure Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha existed. What happened in many cases was that their ideas were subverted to the desires of the people (usually men) who formed the subsequent hierarchy. How else can the simple life and teachings of Jesus have led to the opulence of Christian churches and the grandiose priesthood?
So, as well as rejecting a belief in a god and supernatural happenings, I also reject any group that seeks to tell me how I should think and behave based on their interpretation of ancient sacred texts. No religious group should have overall control of government and no child should be taught exclusively by followers of one religion. People are free to believe what they like but under no circumstances should their faith determine how people that are not members of their religion should live. No religion should have special position in the daily life of a country nor be given exceptions to the laws of the land agreed by a democratic vote of all the people.
However, I do not reject the study of religion. Religions have shaped the way we live today; British culture grew up in a Christian environment. I think that everyone should understand how religions have shaped their lives whether they have a belief or not.
There, I have declared the tenets of my atheism. Does that sound like a religious belief?
23rd Feb. 2017
Rising Up against Brexit.
Tony Blair wants the 48% to rise up to oppose May’s plans for leaving the EU; the Lords are debating the bill to activate article 50; Leavers talk of the will of the people. It is all nonsense. Tony Blair is hardly the right person to call on the people to express themselves as he ignored all the popular warnings about the war in Iraq, and what does the will of the people mean?
Last summer’s referendum was won by the Leave side by the tiny majority of 52% to 48% of those that voted. About a third of eligible voters couldn’t be bothered and there were millions of 15, 16 and 17 year olds, who will be voting age by the time the country leaves the EU, who had no vote at all. I reluctantly accept that since the idiot-Cameron, set up the referendum as the final decision on EU membership then the decision to leave (although based on inaccurate slogans) stands. But the referendum did not specify the degree and terms of separation and the narrowness of the result must not be forgotten. The uncertainty and the lack of an overwhelming victory means that the government must not be allowed to make of the result what they like. Every step of the split from the EU must be examined, analysed, discussed and the decisions fought (peacefully) to a sensible conclusion. That means that the opposition parties must do their job and even members of the ruling Conservatives must examine their consciences and decide whether they really do have to support May and her cronies.
When May stepped into the PM post after idiot-Cameron’s resignation, I thought she might be a moderating influence on the rabid Leavers. Now I see that she was just biding her time, waiting to see which way the wind would blow and ready to grasp power when it came her way. I don’t know if she ever really had a firmly-held position on Europe but just waited to see which side the majority (whether of her fellow MPs or the voters) were on. Now she has gone power mad. It usually takes a PM at least a couple of years before they turn goggle-eyed with power. Thatcher and Blair survived one term before becoming power-crazy. May has managed it in the space of a few months. Unfortunately the official opposition is in such a muddle it is not functioning so it is down to the Lib-Dems, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru to speak for the 48%, and those of the 52% who don’t know what they voted for. I am not hopeful.