I’m an unabashed atheist, a position I’ve defended since 5th grade when I refused to pledge allegiance* in class—primarily on account of the God clause, but I’ve never been a fan of fealty. It was difficult as at the time I was being raised a WASP in a town comprised of 70-odd per cent of Roman Catholics.
I’d wrestled with the concept for years, even taking a middle-ground agnostic position until I decided to get off the fence and pick a side. Dawkin’s God Delusion made it easier when he published his 7-point spectrum, stretching between an absolute believer to an absolute atheist. Here I was able to remain agnostic but defend the atheist notion as, say, a 6 of 7 on the scale—or 6.9999 as the case might be.
The spectrum of theistic probability is published on Wikipedia:
- Strong theist. 100% probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung: “I do not believe, I know.”
- De facto theist. Very high probability but short of 100%. “I don’t know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.”
- Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50% but not very high. “I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.”
- Completely impartial. Exactly 50%. “God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.”
- Leaning towards atheism. Lower than 50% but not very low. “I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be sceptical.”
- De facto atheist. Very low probability, but short of zero. “I don’t know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”
- Strong atheist. “I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung knows there is one.”
I leave open there could be such a higher ‘energy’ or some such, but I feel the probability is pretty remote—something less than homoeopathic.
Allow me to sidestep the distinction between an atheist meaning not believing and an agnostic meaning not knowing. For the average person, this distinction is lost—sort of like the use of who versus whom or of fewer versus less at grocery checkout stations.
So why does an atheist care about religion enough to write about it? He doesn’t write about unicorns—except when discussing religion. Why can’t he just agree to individual religious freedom and leave it at that? And why does he refer to himself in third-person?
Marx infamously wrote that religion is the opiate of the masses. He was correct, but religious belief is a cancer. It is not benign. Various people have exclaimed that ‘your right to swing your arm ends at my nose.’ Religion violates this sensibility and smacks you in the face.
Although moral sentiment a precedent to religion, religion is a crucible that codifies it. And like cancer, it spreads into the public sphere as law. I’ve written about the moral outrage of prostitution, and it seeps into legislation around abortion, adoption, and restroom usage. It’s not that one could not have developed these positions independently, but in the US these positions are highly correlated to religious beliefs.
It doesn’t much matter to me the causal direction of this relationship; the correlation is enough for me. I don’t want to say that all religious activity is harmful, but the basis of it is delusional. We consider psychiatric treatment for those with different delusions.
And so my interest in religion is that I would prefer to pull it out by the roots. As Nietzsche notes, if God is dead, we don’t really have a suitable concept to keep society focused. The masses will go into withdrawal. Enlightenment Age Humanists tried to replace it with Natural Law and then some abstract notions that serve as philosophical mental masturbation, but society will not congeal around it, and so politicians prey on the delusional masses.
*The history of the US Pledge of Allegiance is fairly insidious.