[Photo: DNA strand. Religion did not give us this.]
[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, January 2018.]
I call myself an atheist because god has not been proven to any clear degree, but like other people I can enjoy certain things that are called “the spiritual”.
I think the biggest mystery is to do with what we call consciousness and this is one of the enticingly ’wonder-full’ areas that art and creativity can put to use so well.
One problem of atheism is that some atheists go too far by maintaining that religious-inspired work is automatically somehow wrong, regardless of its content.
I only have to listen to someone like the Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to feel the power of his voice as an expression of something right and good, even though I don’t share the love of Allah that fuels that voice.
We all need that sense of awe and humility that comes from, say, the extraordinariness of so much in the natural world: all that science cannot explain or come near to doing justice to. (There is after all, not even an adequate definition of what a thought is.)
Plenty of scientist-atheists have no problem with the unknown and the transient, in fact they embrace it and some even work at finding answers in it, though they often end up with more questions than they started with.
When religion asks questions, I applaud it. But when it simply quotes ancient texts or ‘interprets’ them I start to twitch.
I think it makes perfect sense to doubt what you know. The attitude of “I could be wrong, but…[insert opinion]” is the most sensible one to have because without it there is either blind faith or the conceit of absolute certainty.
I think this is the healthy basis of what we could call moral concerns. Organised religion often likes to claim that it has a monopoly on the ethically correct outlook but too often the people who are making the claims have not genuinely questioned their beliefs and have instead relied on their traditional leaders to set out a position first.
Equally, the celebrities that are so admired in today’s world are often ignorant about basic scientific truth but we still hold many of them up as role models and guiding lights. Even someone as cerebral as Barack Obama recently made comments linking vaccines to a supposed rise in autism.
It seems like this era’s obsession with the body, rather than the mind or the continuing inequality that exists across the globe, means that everything from karma to astrology to detox dieting is legitimate as something to believe in and use as a basis of living.
If our species can eliminate superstition we will have eliminated a major cause of our problems.