Atheist or Anti-Theist?
When I first started to self-identify as an atheist, I held several positions that I have since rejected. An example of one of these was the notion that science answers “how” questions and religion answers “why” questions. Although I was unaware of him at the time, I would have agreed with Gould’s non-overlapping magisterium. Now I don’t. I don’t actually believe religion has anything worthwhile to say on anything.
Religion never shied away from making bold claims about the world when it was talking to an ignorant unscientific audience. If religion doesn’t overlap with science today it is only because the religious are rightly afraid to compete with science; a battle they have historically always lost.
Some fundamentalists aren’t happy to remain on their side of the playground however; they actively undermine legitimate science and try to have their view of reality supersede any other. Finally, religion makes numerous claims that are incompatible with scientific knowledge. Some theists rationalise these incongruities by appealing to symbolism or non-literalism. That’s their choice, but I don’t think you can justify every contradiction, and indeed if religion was true, why would you have to?
Another position that I used to tacitly hold is that religion can do whatever it wants, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. That is after all, one of my universal principles for living: do as you wish, as long as no one is harmed. In theory, if religion also lived by the same precepts, I would have little problem with it. I don’t agree with everyone’s worldview, but I would hate to see a world where any worldview was imposed. In my ideal world, free speech, free inquiry, and freedom of belief (or non-belief) would be permanent inalienable human rights. The reason I am so opposed to religion is because it embodies everything that civilised society should not want to see realised on any scale.
I see no reason to believe in anything supernatural, which obviously includes god. That makes me an atheist. But what about anti-theism? You don’t have to be an atheist to be an anti-theist strictly speaking. One could fully believe in a god and also be opposed to him and his regime. One assumes that the character of Satan is an anti-theist. Being an atheist doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an anti-theist either. I don’t know many atheists personally who self-identify as anti-theists, but this might just be because they don’t know of, or like to use, the expression. I will explain why I’m an anti-theist.
First, I’d like to point out that there doesn’t seem to be one theist who doesn’t dislike the idea of what they believe in. This may seem like a rather obvious point, but is subtly powerful. There are many facts about the world we accept. Some of them we like and some of them we dislike. Some we are glad are the case, and some we wish were different. But we accept it. I don’t like the fact that I will die, but I accept it. I don’t like losing, but it happens (occasionally). I don’t like having to pay so much in taxes, but it’s a fact of life. A nihilist may consider the ephemeral nature of life as inferring that life is meaningless, whereas a humanist would infer that life is even more precious because it is so brief. Isn’t it rather convenient that there isn’t one theist who believes in a god and doesn’t wish it were true? If it were so obvious that a god existed, why are the only ones who believe in him those who wish it were also true?
The following are notions that all monotheisms hold. From Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great, Chapter 15, page 205:
- Presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and credulous
- The doctrine of blood sacrifice
- The doctrine of atonement
- The doctrine of eternal reward and/or punishment
- The imposition of impossible tasks and rules
I am not just an atheist. I’m an anti-theist because I am strongly opposed to the very foundations of religion itself.
Religion lies to people about how the world really is. Where it doesn’t lie, it actively makes claims that it cannot possibly know, which is as much the same thing. It befouls the minds of children (and in many instances mutilates the genitalia of children) with falsehoods and superstitions.
Religion dictates that sacrifices, of some sort of other but nearly always blood, are a necessary part of a believer’s life.
Religion decrees that we must keep atoning for our very nature constantly; that we are wicked, licentious, and depraved, and that our natural desires and bodily functions are shameful and something be repressed. Religion has always criminalised homosexuality and any sexual freedom. Religion has historically been one of the greatest oppressors of women in all times.
Religion offers what it has no right to offer: forgiveness of and for another person. It offers the ultimate reward that it has no possible way to know of. It also threatens eternal torture in the most sadistic and execrable way for those who will not accept the shotgun offer it proposes.
Finally, religion demeans humans by demanding the impossible and then condemning us for not living up to its own warped notions of perfection. There are ridiculous restrictions on diet, entertainment, language, and association. Restrictions on not only who you can have sex with but also in what sexual positions you may copulate.
One or all of the above are symptomatic of all religions. They are the antithesis of the most noble and enlightened concepts that humanity has to offer: tolerance of humans, freedom for humans, respect for humans.
Not only do I not believe in a god, I am glad that the god of monotheism doesn’t exist. Imagine living in a world where the god of religion existed. It would be like living in a theocratic police state, where you can be convicted for the crime of thought; virtually the very definition of totalitarian. Where the entire purpose in your life is to serve and worship and venerate another being; where you owe everything you have to a galactic dictator who you never elected, and you’re born into a system of total mental and physical control that you had no say in choosing.
The central figure in this eternal Dominion is a being who apparently knows you before you were even born, who watches you every single minute of every day of your life, and whose control over you reaches beyond death! As Hitchens observes, even in human totalitarian regimes, or in Orwell’s 1984, at least you can die and escape the regime. With religion, not even death is an escape, and indeed for any supposed crime you commit, an afterlife of eternal torture awaits you.
In this theocratic regime, freedom of speech would be as unknown as the theory of evolution. Who you choose to fall in love with, and how you choose to make love, would be under constant surveillance on penalty of death.
In this regime, you have to accept responsibility for the crimes of others that you had no part of, incur their bloodguilt, and unconditionally receive the only way to be absolved of this guilt: accepting the blood sacrifice by torture of another person that you had no say in at all.
No thank you, I don’t want it. I reject the very absurd notion of original sin; that I have somehow transgressed for someone else’s actions; this is the very opposite of justice. I reject the exculpation offered to me that was supposedly paid for by a process of human sacrifice to appease the blood thirst of the Divine One; a sacrifice that was necessarily the murder of an innocent man, something I would have objected to anyway.
And if I reject this barbaric offer, am I free to live my life my own way and die as all people must? No. If I refuse the “gift” I never asked for and never wanted, I can be promised an eternal live roasting.
This is why I positively reject religion and theism. As a thinking human being I could not, in good conscience, be party to such an inhuman and cruel regime, and I could not worship or love such a dictator. Humans beings with ethics, self-respect, and intelligence, should refuse to submit to any theocracy. That is why the necessity is not just of atheism, but anti-theism.