If you live in the UK and have a penchant for being awake and angry on a Sunday morning, you may have watched ‘The Big Questions’ on BBC One. It’s hosted by Nicky Campbell and is, nominally, a discussion programme with a view to fulfilling the Beeb’s contractual requirement for spiritual broadcasting.
It’s a regular fixture in our household and leads to a stream of, sometimes sensible and well considered, sometimes quite sweary, tweets of a weekend morning.
The interesting thing about this programme (aside from the overrepresentation of the abrahamic faiths to the exclusion of all others) is how often the arguments boil down to two main points. The first is;
‘it must be true… people have believed in it for aaaaaaages‘
and the second is;
‘Atheists have no higher moral code and are therefore more likely to act immorally’
The first point is of no interest, The Minchin has covered it already.
‘I don’t go in for ancient wisdom. I don’t believe just ‘cos ideas are tenacious it means they’re worthy’
you know what, screw it… I’ve not cried for at least a couple of hours today, MUSIC BREAK.
Right then. On to the second point. I’m not going to dust off my philosophy textbooks and make great and convoluted arguments as to why these religious folk are provably wrong. I’m not even going to link to endless surveys and statistics that prove just how compassionate and generous atheists are. I’m not going to do any of these things because I really should be drafting an essay for my course and there are already people arguing these points in a much better researched and more elegantly worded way than I can be bothered to muster.
What I will talk about with some conviction is my own experience.
I am an atheist. I do not believe that there is any kind of higher power or supernatural being watching over us. I think of myself as an active atheist. If you talk nonsense about how other people should be living their lives based on your set of religious beliefs, I’ll call you on it.
I am a humanist. I absolutely believe that people are more important than possibilities of afterlives or dusty old books. I think that if you can live in an inclusive way based on logical actions based in kindness, you won’t do too much harm.
I am a rationalist. I will privilege empirical fact over pretty conjecture and will adjust my thinking and belief set based on the evidence as available at a given point.
I am a liberal. I believe in free trade, fair and open elections, freedom of the press and civil rights.
I am a feminist. I believe in equality of safety, rights, opportunity, and recognition for all regardless of gender or sex.
I am a pacifist. I don’t support armed intervention from a moral standpoint but I recognise that this is an idealised view. I will never take arms against another with the intention to kill.
I am a nurse and a student midwife. I care for those I encounter, regardless of their stories, beliefs, or behaviour. I’ve stayed after a shift is over to hold a hand, I’ve made myself unpopular to fight for the rights of someone in my care, I’ve been with the dying, helped save some lives, found a foetal heartbeat with a mother hearing it for the first time, supported those broken by the world or by their losses, I’ve cleaned dirty skin, emptied commodes, dressed wounds, held sobbing women and told them that they were safe, filled in endless paperwork, cried on the way home when I’ve not been able to fix it all.
I am an individual. I give to charities, I sign petitions, I’ve been on marches and attended protests. I make sure that I keep engaged in the world and I keep trying to do better.
I believe that the three most important things in the world are joy, consideration, and kindness. I think that if you act with kindness at the centre of everything you do, you will rarely have to worry about if what you are doing is the right thing. I think that if you are considerate of others, then you’ll act in a genuinely moral way.
I think that joy is one of the most important things that any individual can aim for. We only live once, we get a short span of years on this imperfect planet and with societal structures that we have to operate within.
Find your joy, that’s the trick to a happy life.
I understand that for many people, they believe that they are experiencing joy through their faith in a god or religion, and that’s just fine. I don’t think it’s true and I don’t think it’s necessary but I won’t take that away from them. I just really wish that the major religions would stop using guilt and threats of punishment as tools of control.
If you find comfort in believing that you’re going to sit on a cloud after you die and that everything’s going to be lovely, fine. Just act with kindness and consideration in this life. Don’t beat people over the head with the wonky mythology of space rocks, flying horses, magical fish dinners or virgin births. Don’t tell children that they’re going to hell if they masturbate. Let people marry the men and women that they love. Stop being ridiculous about science in general. Keep it joy-centred. Keep it kind.
The scariest thing that a believer can ever say to me is that they believe that their god wrote their holy book to the last letter and that they draw their moral code from it. Have you read those books? Jeez.
I make my moral decisions based on kindness, consideration and joy. If you get yours from an oft-edited, ancient text… well… I wonder how you can possibly call yourself good with god.