Mention the term “postmodern” to most people in contemporary life and you’ll inevitably be met with a blank face and a guess that it probably has something to do with being an obscure art movement. Ask the same person about religion, and you just may be on the receiving end of a hostile tirade condemning the apparent hypocrisy, homophobia, fundamentalism and anachronistic beliefs of a bygone era.
Alongside the mindless consumption of reality television, celebrity worship and auto-tuned music, a whole generation is also adopting a worrying psychological malaise: unquestioning mass acceptance of the empty dogma of secular humanism, and a stubborn spiritual inertia. Ironically, a school of thought that prides itself on critical thinking, and scepticism by default, is collecting labelled followers who blindly jump on the bandwagon without scrutinising their beliefs. In a world of instant gratification, defensive individualism and morbid self-involvement, the pillars of atheism, naturalism, secularism and relativism are en vogue. It’s officially fashionable to cast off the oppressive shackles of organised religion and traditional spiritual beliefs, and laud the Scientific Method as the One True arbiter of all Truth.
Much of the free-wheeling anti-religious sentiment has been fuelled by the glamorous controversy associated with books written by the so-called “unholy trinity”, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. Combine that with Baptist America’s absurd devotion to creationism and a dramatic surge in Islamic fanaticism, and you have the ideal breeding ground for an outright rebellion against religious institutions that inevitably ends up including the principles of the faiths themselves.
Atheism in itself is admittedly a very honest position. It asserts an absence of belief in the existence of deities, or a rejection of theism — and is often wrongly characterised as a denial of the existence of God, or Gods. In scientific parlance, it is the principle that there is insufficient evidence or cause to believe in a Supreme Being or universal creator. Its honesty is derived from the subscriber admitting right off the bat that humanity itself has not yet undeniably revealed the origins of existence, instead of assuming a creator.
Naturalism is a, well, natural answer to how life itself developed, and as a theory, continues to evolve in itself. The processes of the “Big Bang”, abiogenesis, and evolution through natural selection, are sufficiently scientifically proven to explain the planet’s apparent complexity, as well as the origins of species and containing biosystems. Theistic evolution attempts to reconcile scientific knowledge with the divine revelation found in scripture centuries ago. Very few educated religious believers reject scientific understanding.
Curiously enough, many naturalists argue that religion itself is an evolutionary mechanism that has developed for social benefit and psychological comfort. They point to primitive man’s early polytheistic belief and claim it is simply scientific in nature, like everything. To a scientist, pretty much anything in life that’s worth anything is merely atoms and inter-reactions, which presumably explains the socially awkward trait of their stereotype.
Herein lies the problem. “Religion” is talked about in the abstract, objectified and dehumanised. Spiritual belief structures are derived from individual…people.
Atheism invariably suffers from the paradox that is logically impossible to prove a negative. Until the Large Hadron Collider has explained how the Big Bang happened, naturalism will always suffer a critical Achilles Heel in its inability to explain that the universe (and time) had a beginning. Both often reject the idea of a “causeless” creator in a universe ruled by cause and effect, as well as the notion that there might be anything “outside” that known universe. It’s apparently safer to subscribe to empirically-baseless “Matrix” and “Inception” theories of a multiverse.
But aside from all this, few people rarely talk about the rather large elephant in the room.
Atheism is indescribably boring.
No matter which way you look at it, it drains all the colour from our short human existence. Many anti-theists attest that the absence of deities only increases their wonder at the natural world.
It truly is. Say what you like about religion, but it’s never dull, even if you consider it fictional delusion or historical fraud. It is one of the defining traits that set us apart in the animal kingdom and has affected our cultural and societal form more than any other aspect of humanity: wars, holy writings, moral reasoning, historical archiving, scientific drive, community investment, not to mention the centuries of art it has inspired and cultivated. Scripture, and its subsequent interpretation, has to be the most varied and controversial literature in history.
Man invented gods; the world would be better without religion; religion is an evolutionary reflex; religion is a disease and the cause of all wars; religion is a mechanism to control people; religious faith is inane and unfounded, blah blah and triple blah. It’s tiring. It’s agonisingly tedious. Spend ten minutes with any righteous atheistic soul and you begin to see their dogma is as aggressive, or even more so, than any of the religious folk you spend time with. Their intolerance of spiritual beliefs is far more severe in most cases. It makes right-wing politics look like a little girl’s tea party.
What’s even more trying is the seemingly endless supply of armchair critics who co-opt these beliefs and delight in evangelising to anyone who confesses they ever stepped into a church, as if it was the first time they’d heard such an epiphany. The enlightened ones preaching their very own controversial gospel of abject desolation.
If one is to assume the weakness of belief is foolishness (or even stupidity), then the diametric opposite complaint against atheism is the sheer level of ironic arrogance it embodies. The infamous Indian story of the Blind Men and the Elephant is a convenient illustration. Supposedly analogous to religious faiths all leading to the same destination, several blind men all touch a different part of an elephant and claim to know the truth of what it looks like from the part they feel with their hands. The lesson being that the different faiths are all perspectives of the same behaviour, or paths to the same spiritual truth.
The hidden trouble is actually with the perspective of the listener, who is presumptively in a position of superiority, and uniquely able to see the whole elephant and the mistakes of the blind men. Put simply, the observer knows better and is intellectually above, with higher perception and knowledge. So it is with atheistic nature. For a philosophy that minimises man to be merely a higher ape without sufficient knowledge or technology to explain his existence, many proponents are all too guilty of exalting themselves and their discipline above their peers, or a potential creator. Atheists are apes too, almost as certainly able to get it just as wrong as they claim their oppressors have. There is a spectacular arrogance to denouncing religious faith and assuming you have the answers above everyone else. The very same unpleasantry that atheists so dislike in the religious.
In the world of atheism, we are all equal in our humble animal origins, but some apes are more equal than others. They are more equal because of their lack of belief, and they are entitled to be intolerant because of it. Sounds very eerily familiar — a lot like… dogma and fundamentalism.
That arrogance often comes across as an aggressive confidence; particularly appealing to those who harbour a personal grudge against religious institutions, or those who consider existential questions to be too demanding and/or intimidating. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it’s expedient for them to pseudo-idolise both the contrary arguments simply as their proponents are intellectually brilliant. As they are promoting them, second-hand debaters are credible and enlightened — by association.
As one t-shirt puts it, atheism is the trendy religion people join to appear smarter.
The conceit that scientific knowledge can negate the existence of God is not only fallacious, it’s bordering on the absurd. The hypocrisy of atheist authors extolling the virtues of a world without religious faith whilst personally benefiting from it, verges on the ridiculous.
The recycled arguments are beyond dull. Take for instance, the standard two supposedly ”heretical” ideas that religion-haters just love to cite so casually that they’ve almost become a form of philosophical vernacular: a) man created God, and b) more wars have been fought over religion than anything else. These claims have little to no basis in logic or fact, but are widely circulated without the slightest critical thought as some kind of “clever” irrefutable argument. They are almost as bone-achingly soporific as the conspiracy theories suggesting Christ never existed (funnily enough, these rarely extend to other faiths). You don’t have to retain spiritual belief to be nauseated, but it helps by stressing the vital importance of patience and tolerance.
These are the same apostates that visit and appreciate cultural attractions around the world that owe the roots of their very existence to spiritual faith or religious institutions. Religion is the Great Satan that should never have existed, but it’s valued when it contributes to the human race.
But what of this fabled world without religious faith? It’s almost impossible to fathom simply because religious belief and activity has been with us in one form or another since we first began to walk the planet and bury our dead.
In 1993, English poet and music journalist Steve Turner sharpened the spear by encapsulating this bankrupt culture almost perfectly in his satirical “Postmodern Creed”:
We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin.
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don’t hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.
We believe in sex before during
and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy’s OK
We believe that taboos are taboo.
We believe that everything’s getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated.
You can prove anything with evidence.
We believe there’s something in horoscopes,
UFO’s and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha
Mohammed and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher although we think
his good morals were bad.
We believe that all religions are basically the same,
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of
creation sin heaven hell God and salvation.
We believe that after death comes The Nothing
because when you ask the dead what happens
they say Nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied,
then it’s compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin and Genghis Khan.
We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.
We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between
warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.
We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behaviour that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.
We believe that each man must find the truth
that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust. History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.
We believe in the rejection of creeds.
Years later, he added a postscript:
If chance be the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky
and when you hear State of Emergency! Sniper Kills Ten! Troops on Rampage! Whites go Looting! Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man
worshiping his maker.
Spiritual belief not only helps us understand the nature of our own existence, it provides moral ideals for how we should live while we exist. It builds communities, and divides them into different, diverse ones; it addresses our nature, and emphasises transcending it to a higher purpose; it promotes charity and relationship to one another; it records and relates history. The cultural benefits are staggering, even if the wishing well-idealism of it never having existed is ever so slightly pointless.
Strangely, all religious belief asserts the same principle — that there might be more than one dimension of existence. One we are unable to prove empirically with our current technology.
A world without spiritual belief or religious observation would be so stale as to be unbearable, as we’re coming to see with all the trappings of postmodern secularism. Popular culture might gratify hunger temporary, but it does not satisfy, like cheap fast food. Life without the richness of depth, breadth or variety provided by spirituality would simply be robotic and empty. Religion actualises the very parts of us that bring us the contentment we so desperately seek in the shallow pursuits of individualism. Narcissistic self-interest can never reward us like involvement in community and/or altruism can.
To quote a practical example, why are films (or any type of media) with religious, spiritual and/or supernatural themes always so undeniably popular? Is it possible to imagine a theme with purely atheistic philosophy (i.e. not making hay off the back of anti-religious feeling) being remotely as interesting?
How many works of art, or creative expression — paintings, sculpture, photography, theatre, film, television, music — have been inspired by atheism, naturalism, relativism or individualism? How many of said works would be in existence if not for the practical support of religious structures? How many third world communities have benefited from the activities of atheists? The questions for dogmatic deaf-eared secular puritans go on and on.
The classic tale of the vacuity of allegedly “enlightened” secularism is in America’s “first postmodern building”. What is a postmodern building, exactly?
“Well, the architect said that he designed this building with no design in mind. When the architect was asked, ‘Why?’ he said, ‘If life itself is capricious, why should our buildings have any design and any meaning?’ So he has pillars that have no purpose. He has stairways that go nowhere. He has a senseless building built and somebody has paid for it.”
I said, “So his argument was that if life has no purpose and design, why should the building have any design?”
He said, “That is correct.”
I said, “Did he do the same with the foundation?”
The supremely miserable dark cloud of atheism is that it is essentially, nothing. It is arguably a reductionist way of thinking, meaning all it does is take away and reduce — it exists to erode other beliefs, and negate them — for its own profit. It has no ideas or suggestions of its own to posit, it only seeks to dismantle and dismiss the structures of theism as its antithetical opposite. It gives nothing of itself, and it has no central principle that contributes to help improve our understanding or better ourselves. It purports to be truth, but its central goal is to unseat other imposter “truths”. It is a belief that derives its existence from being “against” something, rather than “for” anything or standing on its own merits with its own ideas. It does not enhance, add, clarify or encourage.
It is a belief that we have yet to discover any reason for our existence. Yawn. It asserts that existence is , to our current understanding, causeless, sourceless, purposeless and meaningless. You can try and reason it as you like, but it’s a profoundly sterile, boring and cynical world to live in. Degrading religious belief simply detracts from the richness of human experience. It is invariably a negative and oppressive force that exists only for its own self-perpetuation, with only negative, corrosive and oppressive effects that contribute nothing to our lives.
There is a similar entity in the biological world that has the same traits: cancer. The same term Dawkins uses to describe religious belief itself.
The compelling magic and alluring mystery of our existence is that we are able to transcend our own limitations — morality, creativity and spirituality being only a few of the enduring majestic wonders we are privileged to be capable of. The exciting thought for those on the fence is there just might be a Creator behind it all. Falling in love might just be neurochemistry, but no scientist madly enchanted by their love of their life is ever going to be able to minimise it to quantum physics. Nor would they ever want to, because no-one would relate to it as their own experience.
As the wise old saying goes, if you haven’t found something you would die for, you haven’t lived. Atheism suggests that we because we don’t know for sure, it’s better to adopt the negative position until a full answer is proved beyond doubt. Sorry, but that’s just not good enough. It’s a cheap, stale and colour-drained re-modelling of the human experience. Not to mention boring, tedious and robotically monotonous. The same conditions as a typical science lab or brutalising sweat shop.
Exactly the type of world man, in his bloody-minded arrogance, would create for himself if given the chance.