The New Age Atheist

Religion, for almost the entirety of human history has played a dominant role in society. Whether it is guidance of ethical issues or the instigation of mass wars, religion has always been involved. However, for all the faults of religion it does provide solid grounding and benefits to society, which is rarely seen elsewhere. Our society today, for all its modern outlooks and tolerance still remains fundamentally segregated into two parts, the believers and the non-believers. Atheism throughout history was something of a hushed idea due to the churches dominance especially in medieval society in which atheism was akin to blasphemy.

The boom of atheism in the 20th Century sparked vocal and often aggressive responses from both sides. Historically Christianity has spoken out against forms of atheism or agnosticism especially in America, which many non-believers were met with vocal hostility at their blasphemous ideas. Toleration has been the topic of this century in which some may say it has grown to an extreme where everyone fears everyone else for what they say. Today, while there is hostility towards atheists, the intellectual reverse is occurring. There have been some very vocal atheists who’ve pointed out, not just that religion is wrong, but that it’s ridiculous. This open incredulity towards religion has insighted a somewhat childish view of the entire concept, choosing to either accept it all or shun the system which essentially founded our nation. This view of blatantly showing faults in religion should be viewed as offensive as a believer who would state that an atheists beliefs are false.

Religion is so imbedded into our society that atheists, who perpetuate strong anti-religious views, are indoctrinated into taking part in many religious rituals possibly without their own knowledge. It is often the case that an atheist does not want to believe in something bigger than themselves as they may feel they lose control of their own lives. Alain de Botton spoke of the doctrines of the church being unbelievable but loving religious art of the Mantegna or the historic churches throughout the world. However, why is it that an atheist cannot enjoy both the aspects of religion; from the ritualistic and communal side to an atheist’s freedom of morality?

Education has been the source of our information and growth for hundreds of years and, in the 19th Century when the attendance at church fell many feared where people would go for moral guidance. The answer to some, was Culture. A diverse cultural setting will create the moral grounding a person can use for the rest of their life and if they do not get this direct implementation in society we must turn to education, more importantly university life. However, our educational system is not built to create well rounded people who independently think it is designed to pass test after test and implant streams of information in the desperate hope that one may remember it in the future. Although if one were to apply to any university on the sole basis of cultural and personal development they would likely be laughed away. A university, college or secondary education while officially perpetuating the development of the students into well round members of society is too rarely the case. Once we leave the doors of education their care for our wellbeing leaves with it along with any hope of maintaining what we learnt without personal and constant repetition.

This is where the ideals of religion first come into play, the policy of sermons in religion repeats and reiterates messages so fervently that many believers can recite passages of scripture but ask a graduate to recite what he learnt in school and they will respond with a blank incredulous look as if you were insane. It is this in which universities should aim towards, however we live in a society engrossed in wealth and income which causes personal needs to be shunned for the purpose of the overall goal. A sermon in a church will teach a person a message multiple times while a lecturer expects one lecture to be sufficient for you to then build your own understanding.

Calenders are a key concept in all religions, they provide set dates to remember events. Whether it is to reflect or to learn it will happen every year without fail thereby indoctrinating the message into all believers. Furthermore the ritualistic system of religion provides structure to many lives which atheism lacks. It allows set times for certain events and in the case of Orthodox Jews who will (every Friday) go to Mikveh in order to cleanse the body. Or to the messages instilled into each Saints day throughout the year.

To Freud, human society was naïve, in which it could not comprehend matters which were not quantifiable or deemed too great for our own understanding. Freud believed there was two exceptions in which religion could be tolerated. Firstly in juvenile societies and cultures in which the ideas of philosophy and contemplation were lacking, religion could be incorportaed to provide form and order to those societies. Secondly he stated that it creates the moral grounding in children necessary, while provides a relief upon parents in moral coding. Theroising that its use during childhood can be beneficial but “we may now argue that the time has probably come, as it does in an analytic treatment, for replacing the effects of repression by the results of the rational operation of the intellect.” In this he implies that once adult there is little requirements of religion as our moral codes have been institutionalised and ethics grounded.

Catholicism (as well as all major faiths) is not just a religion, it is a global organisation which pulled in $97 billion in 2010. This shows its power as a conglomerate in which it can, not only shape the face of the earth in politics but it has the power, money and inlfuence to essentially control large areas of society. This vast organisation, with its global prestige provides community and a sense of unity to all its followers. An idea which atheism is severly lacking. Sunday mass while being an excellent platform to preach messages allows local communities to come together and discuss not only moral issues but socialise as individuals. Atheist loose out on this communal gathering as we do not feel the need to gather and discuss, or more importantly there is nothing nudging us to go to events or groups in order to socialise. Many during there lives will very happily not be involved in group matters choosing to associate closer to home in their comfort zone. This is only as they have not broadend there horizons, which religion teaches one to do (to an extent). Finally there is no organisation of atheists, preaching how to be a good atheist or how to live ones life. This results in extremes occuring in which some who disregard God may also disregard ethics. Imagine if you will that atheism were to become a powerful and influential aspect of society in politics. It would become a form of philosophy which disregards any form of a Deity, stating how a good atheist should live there life. However, it is likely that these messages for a beneficial life will likely be not disimilar to religious message just without the concept of a Deity.

Therefore, our society which is ever increasing in atheism should learn to homogenise culture, religion and opinion in a world which is constantly evolving. Atheists should not aim to prove God wrong or to shun believers but to learn key messages religion teaches and adopt it as its own in order to indoctrinate atheism in to a pragmatic and ethical way of life.

Contributed by Luke Harvey-Smith

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