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Atheism: But A Small Part
by Cliff Walker

Quite often, a theist will write to our Forum and ask me to describe the advantages of atheism. What is it about atheism, they ask, that gives someone an advantage in making moral decisions? How could not believing in gods be a source of happiness? Most frequently, though, I am asked, How can telling folks that their beliefs are false possibly be constructive? Why not simply leave people alone, especially if believing in gods makes someone happy?

To address the last question first, I don't have anything to say to those who practice religion privately, who do not bother the rest of us about it. If you're not exploiting people by claiming supernatural powers of healing or trying to inflict your uniquely religious brand of morality on us by force of law, I have nothing to say. I'd never want to live like that, but it's your life and I'm not about to try to stop you from living how you want to live.

But if your religion intrudes on our lives, I won't just bend over and take it, either.

I will point out that Benny Hinn is a con artist. I'd picket his shows or perhaps even "award" him with a coconut creme in the Yippie tradition of Aron "Pie Man" Kay. I'd certainly support any effort to bust Hinn with criminal fraud. But I'd never block the entrance to his extravaganza.

Ditto for Pat Robertson: It's reached the point where anything he tells the public is most assuredly falsehood. I no longer feel the need to even check the facts: lying to his followers is almost a psychosis with him. I'd "honor" him with a lemon merengue, but I wouldn't shut down his carney side-show.

It's not my atheism that makes me feel this way about Hinn and Robertson, it is my innately human sense of justice. It can't be my atheism if so many theists feel the same way about people like Robertson.

Is atheism a source of happiness? Some atheists say so, but not me. My atheism is simply the absence of theism, the lack of a god belief. True, I wouldn't want to endure the emotional pain of believing in, say, the Christian Hell. But I won't gloat over my disbelief. I just don't believe. Believing in Hell can be a profound source of sorrow, but disbelieving is not a cause for joy.

Happiness, to me, is something I do for myself, through my own power or in concert with other humans. Atheists lack the "joy in Christ" touted by Christians, but we have our own sources of happiness. These have everything to do with being human and nothing whatsoever to do with being atheists.

As for moral decisions, we act just like any theist who does not have a specific religious commandment dictating to a particular aspect of life: we use our own sense of morality. Trust me: morality is not that difficult. A dog doesn't need supernatural intervention to know that another dog shouldn't steal its bone, so why do we need a "mandate from the gods" to learn what a puppy knows instinctively? We're not really missing anything as atheists.

In short, atheism is not a comprehensive philosophical outlook, but simply a way to distinguish ourselves from theists. Theism adds to what humans already are; atheism is the default human condition. And if theism gives an advantage, I don’t see how.

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Copyright ©2001 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon