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Atheism: A Question of Conscience
Were you a scientist delving into mysteries, finding with each new discovery that you could no longer accept the religious beliefs that you had taken for granted? During the course of your research, did you have a moment when you applied that same scrupulous methodology to the question of God? Were you involved in an act of affirmation when you discovered the validity of a negation? And in that moment when you came to that conclusion, was it a moment of regret and the pained realization of having to now question all those principles that lay beyond the confines of your work?
Perhaps you were one attracted to the great questions of life and knowledge, studying the great philosophies and religions of the world. Was yours a curious mind that decided that the explanations given to you were incomplete or contradictory? Was the spirit behind the search that resulted in your atheism, a search for a greater validity and clarity? And in that moment when you came to that conclusion, was it a moment of regret and the pained realization of having to now question all those principles that were the grounding that led you to explore the questions of life and knowledge in the first place?
Is one of these the nature of your atheism? Is atheism no more than a corollary to your reasons quest, or is your reason a corollary to your atheism? This is the first question of conscience.
Were you among the deeply scarred in life, seeking retribution? Are you one who during the course of trying to cope with an injustice or abuse, found in atheism a means to shield yourself from the pain of that abuse? Is your atheism a scream and a vengeance? Were you a victim of the irrational when you discovered the means by which to make others the victim? And in that moment when you came to that conclusion, was it a moment of a smirking and malicious pleasure in being able to lash out at all those whose principles had hurt you so deeply?
Perhaps you were one who was seeking to live immorally, but needed to find a means by which to rationalize your immorality. In the vacuum of your hedonistic life, did you seek a grounding to justify the waste that your life had become? Was there a guilt that you wished to assuage without having to face the reality of your choices? Is your atheism no more than a means to justify the unjustifiable? Are the reasons that led to your atheism no more that an evasion of a parent’s proper and correct judgment of your life, but he/she happens to be religious? And in that moment when you came to that conclusion, was it a moment of a smirking and malicious pleasure in being able to dismiss all those judgments that you could not argue against otherwise?
Is one of these the nature of your atheism? Is atheism a conclusion you derived from your life-affirming philosophy, or is your philosophy no more than a rationale to support an atheism that is the massive negation that your life has become? This is the second question of conscience.
When did it become a point of pride to declare a negative? Line up 10 men who have uttered the words, “I am an atheist,” and I will show you 9 hypocrites. Show me 10 men who are speaking about the corrosive influence of Christianity, and I will show you 9 men with corroded souls. Find 10 men who berate another’s religious convictions, and I will show you 9 men who have no firm convictions themselves.
They say that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel; I tell you that atheism is his first refuge. When you expound against the religious mores of another person, is your exposition a defense of reason, or a hammer of ridicule? If the mere image or mention of a religious figure or symbol can throw you into a fit of rage, I tell you that your issue is not with a false morality, but with the very concept of morality itself.
You say that you understand that every human being must have a philosophy of life; he has no choice but to have one. And yet your greatest invective is directed towards those who are the most benevolent and well-meaning in their religious convictions. Your invective seems the most pronounced for the religion that is the least doctrinaire. You lump a Christian charity worker in Chicago with a self-flagellating Islamic fanatic in Mecca. Having made negation a virtue, I believe that in your heart you have a secret admiration for the true religious zealot.
In my own life I have had the misfortune of having had a young man blow his dying breath in my face, having been killed by a religious fanatic. The memory of that incident is seared into my consciousness. I have had the misfortune of sitting on a couch, watching as television reporters tried to make sense of the murder of 3000 of my fellow countrymen at the hands of religious fanatics. And even within my own family, I have seen relatives whose lives might have been richer and happier had it not been for their dogmatic adherence to a religion.
That said, with my own eyes I have seen a man killed over an argument about a 20-dollar gambling debt. During the course of my studies of 20th century history, I have learned that atheistic Communism murdered over 100 million people in that century. With my own 2 feet I walked across the compound that was once known as Dachau concentration camp. It appears that religion has no monopoly on horror.
That irrational fanaticism (in any form) needs to be confronted, exposed, and fought against is a given. But is that really your fight? Is yours an obsession with justice, or is it an obsession with avoiding the justice of others? Do you relish and delight in smashing religion with your atheist logic, or is it an annoying topic in which you reluctantly engage in order to make the life-affirming points that are your true objectives?
What is the nature of your atheism? Be careful friend ... the answer to that question betrays much.
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