Atheism seems to be the new fashionable club to belong to. Perhaps it's just me but every time I step outside my front door, I find perfect strangers falling over themselves to inform me that they are non-religious, as if there was some cosmic reason which stated that I needed to know.
Sunday morning television on the BBC is particularly preoccupied with parading pedantic, God-hating, science-loving forthright individuals ready to judge any religious person present as an idiot. Or perhaps it's just that atheists are always ready to declare their persuasion (even if you haven't asked) while believers have been somehow forced to hide in dark corners, apologising for their faith and hoping that no one will see them.
Atheists, like neo-Jehovah Witnesses, spread the good news far and wide. While atheism isn't new of course, it seems to be more vocal than in past times. An (atheist) friend of mine recently told me a joke (or rather I read it on her Facebook page as no-one actually speaks directly anymore): 'An atheist, a vegan and a cross-fitter walk into a bar. I only know because they told everyone within two minutes.' Atheism is popular. More popular perhaps now than ever before.
And that's fine. It's not my intention to invert the status quo and start bashing atheists. There's enough bashing going on as it is. What is interesting, writing as someone who doesn't really think of himself as either, is to observe the distinct similarities in each group.
In the red corner: a group of people who believe that God exists, have great joy from their faith but ultimately can't prove it.
And, in the blue corner: a group of people who believe that God doesn't exist, have great joy from their faith but ultimately can't prove theirs either.
The laws of academia state that the burden of proof is always on the positive. In other words, if you believe that something exists, it is your responsibility to prove it. While you do that, I can comfortably relax, smile at you and repeat that it's not true. Innocent until proven guilty - you must prove your belief that someone committed a crime rather than have them prove that they didn't. Fair enough. In most cases, I would agree completely.
As we know, our justice system doesn't quite work like that in reality. In this particular case, however, it's rather a slippery excuse: God cannot exist because when asked to prove it, nothing happened. No clap of thunder, no lightning, no plague of locusts and no Charlton Heston voice booming from the heavens. The argument central to the cause is to elucidate how ridiculous and stupid religion is because God cannot possibly exist. In addition, religion breeds death and destruction and the Bible (specifically the Bible and not the Qu'ran or any other religious text it seems) is full of inconsistencies and hypocrisies.
The great atheist Richard Dawkins describes the book as a 'chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and 'improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other.' Quite so. Why therefore, should you devote your life to believing in something which isn't tangible, provable or real?
In any discussion I've ever had with any religious leaders, I've never once come across anyone, from an Archbishop to the lowly (but marvellously named) parish Reverend Ffrancon E. Davies, who took the Bible literally. Simply put, it's a book. A book written by many people, hence the distortions, about a philosophy which has been developing for an estimated two thousand years. Is it of any surprise then that there are inconsistencies? Most of it contains a decent moral code which has either been reflected by society or was created as a reflection of society depending on your perspective.
While I would agree that many religious people should focus more on loving their neighbours rather than figuring out the right time to kneel, sit or stand during a church service, I find it difficult to dismiss the Bible completely. The favourite atheist Bible story seems to be that old chestnut - creation v. evolution. Creation, they say, should never be discussed at school. Depends on the discussion doesn't it? Of course the creation did not happen as per Genesis. It's a story. A story preaching the ramifications of not following rules. A story which could just as well have been written by Orwell's Ministry of Truth as by the Daily Mail. Once again, I've yet to meet anyone who thinks that human life actually began with Adam and Eve.
Yes, it can be said that a lot of harm has been done in the name of God. A thousand years ago the crusade factions fought over the right to believe in the same person. Now, religious denominations endlessly debate that their specific God is the one and only while all others are false idols. Even if they are clearly the same God. Religion, however, is used as a mere pretence to commit violence rather than in it's proper context, i.e. a serious faith, and we should be careful to segregate the two.
Recent world terror events, for example, may have been committed in the name of Allah but Allah has very little to do with it. Irrespective of that, religious groups generally have faith that they are right and everyone else is wrong. But that can be said of any group believing in a common cause doesn't it? Including atheists. And there's that word again: faith. Richard Dawkins once wrote: 'Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is the belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.' Faith and evidence. Two marvellous concepts. Faith comes in many forms in this world. Faith in God or religion is a big one for sure. But what about faith that the local traffic lights work properly and doesn't allow all cars to go on green at the same time. I've even heard it whispered that faith in other people is quite important. Faith that your partner or spouse won't lie, cheat, steal, break your heart or destroy your life. Faith in Mrs Dawkins, for example.
On the contrary, I would say that life without faith is impossible. As an academic, naturally I see the need to provide evidence. But surely it is faith which starts the process. We look for evidence because we either believe or don't believe in something. If that evidence is to the contrary then we may have to adjust our beliefs. If that evidence cannot be found at all, then it's anybody's game. Yes, Christians cannot provide proof that God exists. Therefore, they have faith without evidence.
But putting academic law and double negatives aside, atheists cannot prove that God doesn't exist. They simply believe that there is no God. In other words, they have faith. Faith without evidence. Personally, I regard atheism as a religion much like any other. At a fundamental level it's a group of people who believe in a common cause and have faith that their cause is correct. They have writings and teaching ('cobbled-together' as they may be) from senior members of their group which are quoted with reverence and believed. And like the early Christians, they spread the word emphatically - in their case, via Sunday morning television.
In closing, let me apologise once again for the repeated use of the 'C' word (I mean Christian). Naturally, I have focussed on Christianity as Christians seem to be the focus of most disappointment in the world and I still cling to the misguided belief that the UK is a Christian country. Although, now that I think of it, I'm not sure I've ever heard an atheist speak out against Islam or Buddhism. I wonder why?