Most people who know me know that I’m an atheist. I try to be the sort of atheist who does not believe God exists but does not really care too much what your religious beliefs are as long as you don’t force them on other people (especially me). My girlfriend is a practicing Pagan. In the past I have been a Christian and a Quaker. If prompted I will tell someone that I feel we are all on a path of discovery when it comes to religious beliefs and that those paths are all different. I will say how it makes little sense to me to argue that you are wrong simply because you are on a different part of the path than me.
That sure sounds nice. And it is something I try to keep in mind. But there is a nagging thought in my head. A variation of this though is in the head of every atheist I have ever talked to. It’s the thought that gives atheist a bit of an asshole reputation. That thought is, “How can otherwise intelligent human beings who demonstrate the ability to think rationally, apply evidence, and use logic believe that there’s an old man in the sky who created everything in the universe but only cares about us and did this all in six days as recently as six thousand years ago?”
I have never found a satisfying answer to this question and so I have employed mental tricks to avoid the thought. The typical mental trick I try is that I pretend religious friends and family are playing different Live Action Role Playing (LARP) games. Each religion is a game with a set of rules and it’s all centered around an imaginary afterlife that you get when you die depending on how well you play the game while you’re alive. From a believer’s perspective I can understand how condescending an insulting such a concept is, but understand the idea here was to keep that annoying question out of my head in an effort to be nicer to those who believe and not bug them with that question.
Of course this too has a problem. If I manage to convince myself that it’s all a bunch of LARPers, then the lie I’m telling myself is that every believer knows deep down that God is not real and their religious convictions are illusions. And if I’m not careful I end up saying things to let them know I’m in on the joke. A joke that they aren’t actually telling.
Then something happened. I read a book. The books was called Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind by Yuval Noah Harari. There’s a lot in it but one of the more surprising things to come out of reading it was the concept of myth. Not just myths like Thor or Zeus but myths like nationality and money and days of the week. These are things that have no objective value but only exist because we decide that they do. Really there’s about as much evidence that today is Friday as there is that there is a God. Friday isn’t REAL. It’s an agreed upon myth. There is no scientific test that will prove it is Friday.
The problem for an atheist like myself then becomes what myths are acceptable and what myths aren’t? There’s no real way to live in society without accepting the myth that printed fabric paper has value as do digital numbers in a bank account. Not one strand of DNA in me can be definitively called ‘American’ because America is simply a place we’ve all agreed exists but is actually just a part of a land mass that we have all agreed to call North America. Why is it I would never have a problem with someone believing it’s Friday but I would have a problem with someone believing that a God created them? I wouldn’t think someone just isn’t very smart or at the very least they aren’t intellectual if they still believe in Friday.
I don’t have any answers here. This is just something I was thinking about and I figured I would share it.