I believe in One God, the Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen…
No I don’t! I gave that up over half my life ago, but can still recite the Nicene Creed from memory; I was raised by a Quaker Elder (for some years) and a Calvinist Anglo-Catholic Lay Reader (both of whom tried to raise me to follow in their religious footsteps) and have explored a wide range of branches of Christianity before I gave the whole thing up as a lost cause.
I’m an atheist and a sceptic about most things supernatural even if the person who convinced me this blog is a heathen (her term) and took a quick tarot reading about its possible success. (Eight of Wands and The Magician were the cards drawn if anyone is interested – and if you are you probably have a better understanding of how to interpret that than I).
Anyway, where was I? I’m an atheist. And a sceptic; if I put a name to myself I consider myself a ‘Derren Brown-style atheist’. How polite I am about either depends on the context; I don’t believe the cards of a Tarot deck have power, but I see an aid to semi-structured free-association as useful, whereas I can rant with almost anyone short of Orac on anti-vaccination nonsense and the subject of the esteemed Dr. Andrew Wakefield. And just because something isn’t real doesn’t mean that it isn’t meaningful or useful – or the mathematical concept of i, or even the concept of justice would be pointless. And we’d have a whole lot less beauty in the world, if indeed beauty had any meaning. But although I am an atheist and have been for many years, I’ve seldom defined myself as an Atheist except among religious groups.
I also absolutely defy any atheist to watch Fear and Faith and say there’s nothing there worth knowing about – or any theist to watch it and say that subjective religious experiences are inconclusive experience of the supernatural.
I don’t normally define myself as an Atheist for one simple reason. Atheism taken as is is about rejection. It’s about saying that something doesn’t exist; this doesn’t tell me anything useful. I’m as atheist as I am a-invisible-pink-unicornist, most of the groups of Atheists I’ve dealt with have been primarily interested in patting themselves on the back that they are Atheists rather than doing anything useful. If I wanted to jerk off, the Internet is for porn.
And even with that I’ve avoided the worst of Atheist groups. I’m an educated white male; I’m never going to have to deal with the sort of crap thrown out by /r/Atheism, to name probably the worst example, although there have been plenty of others. Also Atheism isn’t a value set in and of itself – the thought of defining myself by something that would put me alongside Ayn Rand and against Fred Clark makes me want to shower using a sponge made of steel wool.
To me, atheism is liberating, and it’s a moral stance. Never mind the monster that I’m free to not believe in (I’ll discuss how Hell perverts the very concept of justice in a post – and why I don’t ever use the term Judeo-Christian as the worldviews involved are fundamentally different), if this is the life and we don’t have an overseer then this life is what matters. It tells me what we have importance and meaning because we can set our own plans. It tells me everyone matters because no one can know it all. It tells me there is no one place that is the source of all knowledge, and enforces that level of humility on me if I take it seriously (and I am in dire need of humility!)
If anything, my beliefs put me closer to humanists than most mainstream atheists. But the humanists I’ve dealt with have disappointed me. All seem to be elderly white males – which means something is going wrong, and they seem to have the failings of most atheist groups.
That said, I am involved round the periphery of two separate atheist groups at present – the social justice brigade of Atheism+, and the sceptics of RationalWiki (I’m in the slow process of re-writing the RationalWiki pages on religion). But ultimately I work for an organisation I believe in (the NHS) and am involved in at least some local politics.
And my politics are much, much clearer to explain. They boil down to “We’re all in this together” mixed with “Freedom is merely privilege extended unless enjoyed by one and all” and “being a middle class white male is almost the lowest difficulty setting there is – why shouldn’t everyone be able to play like this?” And watching the current government I’ve been drifting hard to the left (I voted Lib Dem at the last election – something that isn’t going to happen again for a while, but I couldn’t vote Labour after the Iraq war until they’d been kicked out).
So why write this? Why now? I hope it will be useful to some. And there’s no time like the present.