Monday, September 8, 2014

Would You Want to Live in an Atheist World

So this was an interesting question I've heard discussed by a couple different atheist commentators recently. The question of whether they would want to live in an entirely atheist world. So I've thought about it a little myself. And after some consideration, the answer I came up with was a resounding "yes, but..."

But what?

I'm so glad you asked!

It's not enough, really, for people just to be atheist. If I could wave a magic wand and turn everyone into an atheist right this second, I wouldn't do it. Nor would I enact laws to forbid religious belief. Because I happen to believe that how we get there matters.

I would want to live in an atheist world that arrived at that state through rational thought and mutual discourse. In that way, I have hope that we as a society would understand why we gave up religion and superstition. And that in understanding our reasons, we would also be better able to transform societies in reasonable and sustainable ways. An atheism imposed by fiat is an unconsidered position that rests on nothing and can simply be overturned by replacing the imposing authority with a different one.

Also, such a transition would of necessity be gradual, and so provide time to develop new ways of supporting the positives that religions currently supply. See, I'm not so naive as to believe that the simple banishment of religion will cause all of our problems to vanish as well. Nor am I so blind as to fail to see that religious organizations fulfill some important roles in our society such as community-building and charitable work. Simply abolishing religion would create a void in those areas that may be worse than the current negatives of religiosity.

What I'm getting at is that I hope to see a gradual, reasoned decline in religiosity obtained by people becoming convinced to abandon it and to take up more reasonable alternative outlooks. I may not be able to get that, but it would be ideal.

What I would like, ultimately, is to live in a world where "atheist" is no longer a useful term. Where we regard it as a quaint historical word in the same way we regard "abolitionist," today. Nobody calls themselves an abolitionist anymore, even though most of us would fit the definition. Opposition to slavery is so ingrained in our consciousness and culture that nobody needs the title anymore; indeed, it would be shocking for most of us to encounter an American who espoused the opposite view. That's the atheist world I'd like to live in: one where not believing in gods is so much the norm that it seems quaint that there once had to be a word for it. Preferably without any devastating wars having to be fought over it.

There's an additional caveat: I would want to live in an atheist world only so long as atheism remains a provisional position. It, like any position, should remain open to question and to being changed by new evidence. That's another reason I wouldn't want atheism to become legally enforced. I don't want a world of dogmatic assertion. I want a world where human minds are free to explore the universe and let our understanding follow where the evidence leads. Even if the evidence somehow, someday, points conclusively to the existence of a god.

In other words: I would like to live in a society where atheism is the norm, but only so long as we live in a world where atheism remains reasonable. Denying reality for the sake of a dogma is not a good thing, even if the dogma is my own.