Saturday, February 4, 2012

Religion for Atheists - Guidance for the Godless

Always interesting scrolling through Planet Atheism because its populated by idiosyncratic individuals that share some of my beliefs. It's a global aggregator, so I see viewpoints from everywhere, unfortunately many are just rants against religion, and that becomes tiresome - in the 'preaching to the choir' sense.

Religion certainly deserves to be ranted against, but it's not going away, because it obviously fulfils a basic human need. So I was impressed by an article in my morning paper about Alain de Botton (AdB) and his new book (see photo).
The article says that AdB is critical of the so called new atheists, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and the late Hitchens, because they have allowed their militant aggression toward religion, to cloud their imaginations.
“So opposed have many atheists been to the content of religious belief that they have omitted to appreciate its inspiring and still valid overall object: to provide us with well-structured advice on how to lead our lives,” Botton writes in Religion for Atheists.

Thats right, religions, as practiced worldwide have a purpose and its time to admit that fact. If they had no purpose, added nothing to peoples lives, they would have disappeared long ago.

In a clever turn of phrase the author of the Post article says that one thing that Botton suggests is "to save the baby of ritual from the bathwater of supernatural belief." That's part of the structure that religion offers automatically and that atheists sometimes dismiss too lightly. Marriage, birth, death, and other life events are covered by all religions, and atheists are left to fend for themselves with impromptu ceremonies that may or may not satisfy them or their families.

So, AdB suggests that atheists cherry-pick the faiths, choose what works from the buffet of religious practices available, incorporating those that are appropriate into the new atheism. Through millennia of trial and error, the major religions know how to keep their flocks faithful, and, like children we humans need authority, our knowledge needs to be re-enforced with frequent formal repetition like the major religions do, and our deepest emotions need external validation. That is the insight on which Botton bases the entire notion of religion for atheists. It's not as crazy as you might be thinking right now. He explains some of those ideas in the video you should watch below.

The problem of course is much of what is taught in the major religions, deals with affirming belief in the existence of, and praying to, the particular non-existant deity in question(no contradiction there). Not exactly helpful and well-structured advice on how atheists should lead their lives. If one searches around the major atheist groups, I don't think there is much help there either.

Take the Center for Inquiry (CFI) in both Canada and the US. They think society should be based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Well, science is a process, not a way to live ones life, it's a way of determining truth.....eventually. Science cannot tell us the way to live our lives in a moral or rational way. Science is mute (or should be) on ethics, values, and politics. There is much more to disagree with at CFI. Humanist values tend to be Judeo-Christian values (the default position) with a Marxist collectivist twist added. Using science, reason, and evidence, one sees that collectivism is failing everywhere it has been attempted. From the former Soviet Union, to China, to all of the so-called "free market" economies in Western Europe and here in North America. To the extent that collectivist ideas have been adopted, that is the extent these economies and their peoples are in trouble, economically, morally, spiritually, and by any measure.
How about the Bright's (see the name of this blog), what do they offer? They offer a worldview free of mystical and supernatural elements, not much help there. Richard Dawkins is a Bright, I share similar views on evolution with him, not much else.

Are there other places to look? Maybe, but most atheist groups are not significantly different from the aforementioned. But there is one other, its Objectivism.

Now I don't know what Alain de Botton had in mind for well-structured advice on how atheists should lead their lives. Maybe he would suggest many forms of atheism, each with its own structure and different advice on how to live, different philosophies. But why reinvent the wheel? Objectivism, in my view satisfies all the requirements of AdB's idea. It's a coherent, consistent philosophy that gives instruction on the proper way people should live, and interact with others. It even goes further than most religions in suggesting proper economic and political views. Now I may not agree with every detail, but it is very good, and has served me well for most of my life. A bit of ritual and repetition to help me, and others like me, keep on the straight, and narrow path of objectivist virtues, would not be a bad thing if it were done properly. Ayn Rand's birthday was Feb. 2, wouldn't it be better to celebrate that fact, then whether a groundhog sees its shadow? I think so.

Of course I am sensitive to the idea that Objectivists don't like it to be called a religion. It's the opposite of a religion though. I know Ayn Rand is often referred to as a high priestess in the popular press, and that is wrong too. Objectivism uses most of the ideas espoused by the major atheist groups above MINUS the collectivism.
Now all we need is someone to organize some structure and ritual. Volunteers?    

1 comment:

  1. I agree in principle with your ideas about objectivism, however, also found guidance in the words of a Roman elder statesman, Cato, which reach even further back into time, to ancient Greece:
    "Each man should thus conduct himself that
    Fortitude becomes apparent in labors and in dangers,
    Temperance in the foregoing of pleasures,
    Prudence in the choice between good and evil, and
    Justice in giving each man his own."
    When you look deep enough into it, you will find that they are entirely in keeping with Ayn Rand's objectivism, which is no wonder, considering the fact that Rand's philosophical roots date back to the times of Aristotle.


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