"I'm every atheist"
The following is my contribution on the theme "I'm every atheist" that I wrote last year for the "context" in the site of the "Rational Response Squad". I think it is appropriate to show it here:
I'm every atheist, even though for a long time I have been somewhat passive about this, satisfied with just being an atheist myself.
In the back of my mind, I remembered enjoying in arguing against the priest that was my religion teacher when I was just a kid (that was Italy's reality in the 1960s, and sadly still is), and not really giving much thought to the need to share this viewpoint. Actually, at the time I was spreading my left-wing political views, which I assumed included by definition an atheist stance.
Lo and behold, as my hair was growing gray, I've come to understand that there also "secular religions", where some kind of belief in the ideas of a human being reaches the point where he is elevated to a higher, almost god-like status, and you can't deviate from this belief -- in other words, you are not really supposed to use your own intellectual faculties independently from the doctrines you were taught.
Which leads to a broader point.
If you are an atheist with respect to organised religion -- and their churches, their popes and ayatollahs, and their hierarchies of bishops, priests and mullahs -- you might still be a believer in some other, perhaps less "divine" beliefs, from the most ridiculous (like the horoscope) to some very serious and time-absorbing political or philosophical ideas.
In other words, it is possible to be a "god-less" person, but still take quite a number of things on faith. To some extent, that's inevitable.
In fact, up to a point, we would not be able to even survive if we really did not have "faith" in anything. How could you step on a plane, if you didn't "believe" that it will take off and fly you safely into the air? How could you go into an operating room and be anesthetised, if you didn't "believe" that the doctors will do their best to treat you?
OK, but where is "the point" of that "up to a point"? There must be some place where one draws the line and says: "No, this is too much!"
That what each atheist has got to find for herself (or himself): and it may vary, overtime and depending upon the situation.
Because although each and every atheist if essentially a materialist in philosophical terms, we are still all of us just human, and like any other human being, we have been shaped by evolution to react in certain ways, even to think instinctively following certain patterns.
And there are events in life when each one of us faces things that appear un-materialistic. Whenever a dear person dies, we might find that all of a sudden we are "sensing" their presence in our thoughts, and we would like to compensate for their absence by finding ways to further communicate with them. In actual fact, we are probably drawing from some of the deepest recesses of our brain cells certain memories of them -- conversations with them, letters from them -- and it feels as if we were hearing their voice speaking to us.
Death inevitably compels us humans to deal with a sad and inconvenient aspect of our existence... that sooner or later it will end. How nice if we could go on longer, if our dearest ones could go on longer as well, and if we could remain all in good health!
Like everybody else, an atheist has the secret wish of being inmortal (at least, this atheist does). But, unlike most other people, we know that our existence will end when we die, and more often than not, it's always too soon when it happens... However, as we recall other people, and we know we can keep them alive in our memories, so we know that we too can survive in the memories of our own spouses, kids, friends and relatives.
And that's why we would like to leave good memories behind us, so that people will speak nicely about us, and thinking of us will do them good, and so we will not have lived in vain.
And we can explain to ourselves, and to other people as well (believers, of one kind or another), that our existence does not have to have a supernatural connection to be worth living. In fact, even though our lives have no special meaning in the Universe -- there being no more "purpose" to the existence of humans, than there is to that of cats, dogs or ants -- each one of us is a special human being, to himself/herself, and to those around us. And each and every life has a meaning in itself, for us, for what we do, for the happiness we manage to enjoy and share with others, for the care we take to reduce the pain, the injustice, the suffering in this world of ours.
A good chunk of this activity aimed at reducing the sufferings in the world, at making people less unhappy and their lives less unjust is inevitably linked to the struggle -- because that's what it is, a real struggle -- to undermine the power of irrational beliefs. This activity, by the way, is also undertaken by an endless string of "believers" -- they just go about it by unmasking somebody's else "god". (Just think to all the theistic scientists, who may be able to do very good and valuable research, their faith notwithstanding).
Some of these beliefs that strangle mankind are explicit in their irrationality ("creationism”), others involve more or less elaborated cover-ups ("ID”), others claim to be materialistic or even atheistic while furthering methodologies and ideologies based on an idealistic approach (this includes many "churches" of and plenty of "believers" in Freudianism, "cultural anthropology", Marxism, or "alternative medicine", for instance).
Every atheist is bound to face this hurdle in the course of their lives. And each atheist will deal with this in his/her own way. My way is different from that of others, their ways and views are unlike mine. And we nonetheless strive to respect one another, for in our life we have chosen to put reason before belief.
And that's why I'm every atheist.