Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Freethought and Joy

Are We Munchkins?
I’ve been on the lecture circuit lately. I’ve taken up the ideas and ideals that in the battle of concepts between faith and reason, that freethought, non-theism and atheism are each a better, more just and joyous alternative to supernatural belief.  Between my jaunt to the Philippines, speaking again in New York City and just recently at the Freethought Society in Philadelphia, I’m finding that program attendees, while their questions and perspectives are diverse, appear to find real joy in not believing in god or having faith.  I’m also seeing these same trends in the interviews of folks who have agreed to be subjects in the book which I and my co-author, Linda Blaikie, are writing.

When I began to think seriously about what I find so joyful and compelling about atheism and rational freethought, I realized that ultimately atheism equals both freedom and liberation. This is a counter-weight to belief. Unlike our religious counterparts who accept we cannot be moral without god, prayer, religious ritual or faith.

Atheism is ultimately the freedom not to be destructive. Atheism actually helps create a kinder, more open and gentler reality based on common and humanistic ideals rather that adhering to faith-based rules for action or guidance. We can be good without god; the literature shows this as do the upcoming results of our book.

As an allegory, I see the break with faith along the lines of the story of the Wizard of Oz.  Do we really need some external source to give us our brain, a metaphor for our intellect?  Or a supernatural power to give us our heart - essentially meaning our humanity?  Or do we need some deity to give us our courage, which can be defined as our freedom? I conclude certainly not. Once we pull back the curtain, we realize that we are responsible for our individual and collective future. When we accept that there is no god, our perceptions and our reality change dramatically.  So I have to ask those who read and appreciate this blog are we fully realized men and women or are we munchkins?

As noted in an earlier blog post, the Gallup organization conducted a survey which showed that creationism is still held as “truth” for 46% of Americans. That number is large, but it is only 2% higher than when they began to take the survey in 1982.

The good news is that the number of people who accept evolution and science has grown from 9% to 15% of those surveyed.  That’s 47 million of my fellow citizens who conclude that there is no god and all supernatural explanations for life on Earth and the cosmos are false.  This is the equivalent of the combined populations of California, Arizona and Connecticut.

But I should qualify what is meant by “joy” since the concept can be somewhat subjective. Because we can each be joyful for many things and as such, joy can mean many things to many people.  When I write or speak about atheist joy, I’m really intending to share the idea that atheism is a form of psychological, social and philosophical liberation. Being freed from the shackles of faith and the imperialistic ideas regarding who and how we love, or the religious justification to hate, harm or help others.

At a recent presentation, I asked participants what they find joyful about their non-faith.  Here are some of the individual written responses from the audience:

“I am not a god-defined second-class human because I was born female. I’ve no need to castigate myself for sexual expression. I do need to seek a rational lifestyle.”

“I enjoy being in charge of my destiny. Every day is different. I’m free to learn new things. I’m free to enjoy the beauties of nature.”

“I don’t want pointless restrictions of blind religious faith. I prefer fact-based science rather than faith-based religion.”

“Not being limited because of faith. Not having to follow unjust, chauvinistic, bigoted and abusive laws.”

“Since I come from 4 or 5 generations who call themselves freethinkers and were social and political activists, it’s been a way a way of life. My grandmother trained me from the age of 3, to attend rallies, carry signs, and protest before Congress. (Editor’s note: This last entry was from an 87-years-young freethinker).

So if the religious are uncomfortable with our atheist ways and actions, it is because we challenge their conventional wisdom and beliefs simply by existing and doing good work outside of a faith-based lifestyle.

Where is the joy in the dependence on prayer and faith? They are each forms of cognitive dissonance and scapgoatism. If our prayers are not answered we’re told not to question the ways of god. If they are answered, then it was gods will or plan to help. Taken to its logical conclusion, prayer means we are disengaged from ourselves, humanity and reality because we look for external and supernatural forces to help us instead of helping ourselves and each other.

I and so many others refuse to live a life of falsehood brought to us by organized religion and faith.  We are liberated, joyous and free because our ideals and actions allow us to make the world a safer, kinder, and richer place based on our common humanity rather than the subjectivity of bible-based morality. We give of ourselves because our actions serve this world and are not meant to rack up points after we’re gone in the non and imaginaryworlds outside the known universe.

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