“My favorite atheist”

I am unemployed.

I pinch-hit as a preacher when colleagues need time off. I composed my sixth book this summer (The Progressive Pulpit).  I read a lot.  I study languages.  I involve myself in many interests (which sounds better than just saying I watch a lot of baseball and football).  But — still — I am unemployed.

Which means — I have trouble falling asleep at night.  I don’t have a pattern of working, returning home, relaxing and gratefully flopping into bed.  Sometimes I’m simply not tired enough.  So, I have found a way to distract myself rather than just lying in bed thinking about sleep.  Thinking about sleep is the surest way not to sleep.

One must find some totally other thing to think about — and only then does sleep take over.  Here is what I have been doing:  I pick up my cell phone, and I get online, and I google “Richard Dawkins.”  I have read all of the books written by the world’s most famous atheist.  I like his use of reason.  He shows how questionable are the most believed-in myths of Christianity (Resurrection and Ascension) and Islam (Mohammed flying to heaven on a unicorn)  and Judaism (a million refugees crossing the Red Sea when its waters part).

These myths are precious in that they reveal deep truths — truths so deep that trying to give a fact-based account like a police report just doesn’t cut it.  Myths engage us emotionally.  We invest in a belief.  Then — when we are mature enough — and we can see these stories as myth rather than fact — we can still believe, because of their role in relaying truth through dramatic imagery.

Dr. Dawkins doesn’t believe the stories as myth nor as truth.  He takes religion to be a human construct rather than a divine deliverance.   The subjection of women in every religion is evidence.  How is it that a God Who could supposedly part the waters of the Red Sea could not convince men to regard women as equals?  THAT was too difficult? Too “progressive”?  God could only accommodate the patriarchal and cruel societies of ancient times (be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim) by delivering laws that kept women submissive?

Richard Dawkins’ use of reason keeps those of us who are in the “religion business” honest.  I have enjoyed every one of his books.

But I have also discovered that there is an open treasure chest online of videos of Dr. Dawkins.  In most cases, the videos show him debating some religious figure over his twin “majors” of atheism and evolution.

I hope Richard Dawkins never hears about this blog, because I wouldn’t want him to think that he’s so boring, I listen to his voice on my cell phone in order to fall asleep!  What he would enjoy hearing, however, is that his videos are so captivating, I fight dropping off to sleep in order to hear the way he lays out his arguments.

Indeed, one of the most common remarks that he contends with is one that religious figures use against both atheism and evolution, and it actually gets me so irritated that now I really can’t fall asleep.  Here it is:  Atheism and Darwinism, if followed to their logical conclusion, result in genocide.  The examples from history are:  Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot (in Cambodia).

Professor Dawkins gets rightly annoyed at such leaps of stupidity.  So do I.  Thus, I’ve been thinking of a response.

An argument by atheists commonly goes:  Religion is the source of human misery.  Warfare, colonization, genocide, torture, subjection of women and minorities – all are committed in the name of religion.

An argument by the religious commonly goes:  Atheism is the source of human misery.  Warfare, colonization, genocide, torture, subjection of women and minorities – all are committed in the name of atheism.

Both positions are provably wrong.  I believe the better argument is not that religion causes misery, or atheism causes misery — rather, human nature!  There is a natural self-centeredness in human nature.   If you don’t believe that about human nature — if you people human nature is basically good — consider:  Why do kids have to be taught to say “Thank you”?  Raising kids is all about rounding out their view of life so that it’s not all about themselves. Human nature is naturally self-centered.  Another way to put it is – human nature is basically needy.

Needy.  We all have needs.  We have a need to be loved.  When we feel we aren’t loved sufficiently, our “solution” is jealousy, possessiveness of the other person.  We have a need to feel secure.  When we feel insecure, our solution is to want to be only with people who are just like us.  The result is racism.  We have a need for shelter and food.  When we fear we don’t have enough, our reaction is – greed.  Wanting power is a type of greed.  Politicians, business people, even clergy — their pursuit of power is a type of greed.

In short, the neediness of our human nature causes us to act on our needs by over-reacting.  The results are human misery, caused by greed, racism, pursuit of power…

This is what lies beneath both religion and atheism — the trappings of our human nature.  It is the self-centeredness of human nature that propels people to the awful things that are done (genocide, warfare, subjection) — and both religion and atheism are simply the ways in which people justify their actions.

It isn’t one or the other that is at fault — atheism or religion.  It wasn’t atheism that brought about the genocide of Armenians by Muslims from Turkey.  It wasn’t atheism that brought about the genocide of a small Christian sect called the Cathari in South France by the Roman Catholic Church in the 12th and 13th Centuries.  It wasn’t atheism that led the Crusaders to sack a Christian capital, Constantinople, in 1204 with the most awful cruelties being committed by one sect of Christians against another (Roman Catholic vs. Orthodox).

Nor was it atheism that led to the genocidal policies of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.  These men were power-mad opportunists.  They did what they did because of why they were — not because of atheism nor religion.  Hitler – as much as religious people claim he was an atheist — wasn’t.  He was anti-Roman Catholicism.  He was anti-clericalism (he didn’t like others having power).  But atheism was never his profession.  He believed a mixture of ancient Germanic myth as well God.  When Hitler survived the bombing of his bunker on July 20, 1944, he credited God for saving him!

Anyway, these dictators needn’t believed in atheism nor religion nor Darwinism — they were going to do whatever they wanted to do that kept them in power.

Darwinism, by the way, is normally paired with atheism (in arguments by the religious) to say that their logical conclusion is genocide.  This thinking shows an incredible lack of understanding of evolution. (Just to be accurate, evolution is a larger field of sciences than just Darwinism, but people who don’t like it lump it all into the one word – Darwinism.)  Evolution is NOT survival of the strongest (which the religious say justifies cruelty by leaders who are atheists).  Evolution is not survival of the strongest – it is survival of the fittest.

For example, during the final stage of the dinosaurs, mammals began appearing.  But the mammals survived not by trying to out-muscle the dinosaurs.  Mammals survived by being small.  Their smallness helped them avoid being eaten. Only when dinosaurs disappeared did mammals grow larger.

It is not survival of the strongest – it is survival of the fittest.  Still, we often hear the argument:  Survival of the fittest means that those who are disabled mentally, physical — would be disposed of in an atheistic society.  Far from it.  Compassion has been proven to be necessary for humankind to survive.  Evidence exists from the digs of prehistoric humans, for example, showing signs of care for someone who had a broken leg.

Compassion, morality, sharing – all are necessary for being “the fittest.”  These values help us understand our own limitations, and thus our need to help one another in order to survive.



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