I don’t know how many readers are on the T on any kind of regular basis, but you might have heard about a new ad campaign hitting trains on the red and green lines. It is, simply, a series of posters that read: “Good Without God? 40 Million Americans Are.”
The posters are funded by the Boston Area Coalition of Reason, part of a nationwide network that, according to its website, “share a worldview grounded in reason over superstition, and scientific truth over revealed truth. We are freethinkers [sic], humanists, skeptics, atheists and agnostics that hope to provide a larger sense of community and to be a central clearinghouse for information on all like minded groups in the area.”
There’s been surprisingly little furor over this that I’ve heard. Most people seem to be taking the attitude I have: other religious and faith organizations take out such ads all the time, so why not the non-faith folks? Fair is fair.
On a surface level, I’m glad to see such an awareness campaign. I am what you’d properly call an atheist-agnostic: I do not believe in any kind of higher power, but I do not claim that one does not exist. On rare occasion people inquire into my beliefs (or, if you prefer, lack thereof), and the revelation that I don’t believe in God (or, for that matter, Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah, Odin, Zeus, Ra, Marduk, Cthulhu, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster) strikes them as utterly shocking. It’s like I’ve told them I hate ice cream or have never seen “Star Wars”; it’s so ingrained in people that a belief in God is the norm and everybody does it, so a statement to the contrary is difficult for them to fathom.
My admittedly graceless retort at times when the inquirer’s response is so ridiculously outraged or scandalized that I can’t hold my tongue: “Oh, sure…you believe in a magical man who lives in the sky and I’m the weirdo.”
More reasonable minds will ask how I came to this mindset. The details are, frankly, no one’s business but my own, but I will summarize it thus: as I grew older, it became increasingly difficult for me to reconcile the notion of an omniscient, omnipotent, all-good God (as portrayed in the Judeo-Christian faiths — in my case Methodism, in which I was raised) with the randomness and senselessness of life. It was the age-old question of how God could allow bad things to happen to good people, and none of the answers I received satisfied me. Over time I grew to become rather appalled by how some people of faith could so blithely throw logic out the window to retrofit their beliefs to their situation: a child has cancer, the family prays for his recovery, the kid recovers, it’s God reaching down from Heaven to cure him; another kid has cancer, the family prays, the kid dies anyway — well, that’s just God’s ineffable will and we are not meant to know the mysterious ways in which God moves.
Yeah, I call B.S. on that.
The only reason I am not 100 percent atheist is because I do believe in a level playing field — by which I mean, people can claim until they’re blue in the face that God DOES exist and they have proof of some sort, but the fact of the matter is: no one has proof. They have evidence, which is subjective and debatable and far from authoritative, whereas proof is objective and indisputable. That goes for me too; I can point to a million things that say, to me, there’s no Ultimate Big Cheese, but I cannot definitively prove my stance. In short: I could be wrong.
And, people of faith: so could you.
The refusal by many (if not most) people to embrace the Russell’s teapot theory and allow for the possibility that their way may not be the only way is the source of most conflict between various religions — and the one thing that worries me about the Coalition of Faith campaign is that this is, intentionally or unintentionally, an effort to codify atheism and its related philosophies into a single organized entity, complete with an explicit or implicit mission to not just reach out to people of like mindsets, but to actively promote their way of thinking to people outside of this school of thought.
In other words: a religion.
Let’s savor that tasty irony for a minute or two.
If I believe in anything, it’s that every human being has his or her own spiritual path to follow. No single path is right or wrong in an ultimate sense — there is no one true faith — only the path that is right for the individual. I find life is easier for me and nicer for everyone else if we just run with that. I have friends who are Christian, Catholic (active and lapsed), Jewish, Buddhist, Taoist, Wiccan, Pagan (rooted in everything from Egyptian to Norse cultures), Unitarian, agnostics, atheists, Pastafarians (see above Flying Spaghetti Monster reference) — and none of that matters to me.
They are what they are, and as long as they respect that I am what I am, all is cool in the world and everyone is happy…and isn’t that really the end goal of most faiths?
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.