I think atheism gets a bad reputation. Since the world is predominantly religious (with over 85% of the world practicing a major religion, per the PEW Global Religious Landscape Study), Atheism is often considered a depressing worldview. I’ve heard that atheism is bad because it leads to a struggle of meaninglessness, but I think religion is bad because it eliminates that struggle. For example, everyone who’s tried to convince me out of atheistic beliefs seems to follow the same maxim that life without faith isn’t a life at all. To that I say, there is no opportunity for life without uncertainty. It’s difficult for religious people to wrap their heads around not having a predetermined purpose. While that alone isn’t a terrible thing, what religion causes is. Religion needs to become a thing of the past, so that we can advance as a society.
It’s blind to assume that there is no balance in life. So, while I can understand the benefits of religion, the detriments have begun to wholly outweigh them. Yes, religion brings people together, but it is also a major factor in tearing them apart. For instance, in order for there to be a group, there must be people left out of the group. Religion forms a community, but not for the people on the outside looking in. It is not built upon principles of morality, but principles of subtle hatred. A community formed by a common enemy. While learning to “love our neighbor”, we are bombing them. While praying to on our knees for a bountiful afterlife, priests are bathing in our holy water. I don’t want to get into the corruption aspect of religion (because everything that holds power eventually corrupts itself), but I do want to advertise for change.
Despite life being magnificently difficult to define from an existential perspective, there is no opportunity for it if we are dead. Since religion is easily the largest global cause of death (whether it be through war, sacrifice, ritual or tradition), I want to treat religious organizations with the same- if not more- disdain as terrorist organizations. The repercussions go deeper than just our physical termination. Mentally, religion acts as a plague that hinders the development of our cultures and art. It halts evolution by denying the possibility of other explanations. We cannot move forward if we are riding a carousel with no end. This means that we are not truly living while partaking in religion. We are “living” for the afterlife, and that is in direct contradiction to art.
What movement could atheists possibly have to lead a rebellion on religion? I suggest walking door-to-door every Sunday morning preaching the devils choir, but I doubt that will be well received. The only logical solution is time. We wait until the world is engulfed by the sun and eventually it all goes away. In all seriousness, time really is the only malleable factor in play. We cannot control how long it takes, but we can control what we do as it passes. Little by little humanity has evolved to speak of Greek mythology as fairytales and mere stories, even though at one point it was the universal explanation for existence. When will that happen with Christianity, Buddhism, or Judaism? We’ve eliminated every God from Zeus to Poseidon by slowly realizing that we don’t need these stories to explain nature, but we have yet to move on from the remaining few.
Unfortunately, there is no short cut to world-wide influence. Religion has been an integral part of humanity since we learned how to communicate. It is unbelievably difficult to change the core part of not a human, so imagine trying to change the greater half of the world’s beliefs. It’s clear that the unconscious main argument against atheism is an internal one. Our inner struggle with meaninglessness is what pushes people into using religion as a moral compass. This compass, however, is the gateway to an irrational society (Immanuel Kant would be proud of me saying that religion is like a drug).
The overarching problem is that religion is holding back art. Without observation or imagination, there is no possibility to understand art (Dewey). You could say that I’m viewing religion as pure imagination, but that is not true for the ones believing it. It is bathed in imagination to me, but practiced in truth. People actually think that once they die, they will be reborn as a tree. This sort of certainty withholds the possibility of truth, and therefore, art. If one is consistently disengaged with the world, there becomes an impossible attempt at comprehending what one is doing in relation to the universe. The world isn’t in our minds, it is in nature. To dispute that nature is real in favor of the magical, separates the possibility of art.
We need to make a clear distinction between art and religion because we are limiting ourselves when we view art and religion as one. While it is artistic to paint the murals of a church and act in rites of passage, it is not for the long-term good of the world. Nothing is more natural than evolution, so I argue, the more we act in conformation with religion, the less we are evolving. Religion keeps us in a prehistoric time, while art is meant to help us expand. This dichotomy is not wholly apparent until analyzed to the furthest extent. We close ourselves off when we reject the truth that is right in front of us. So, besides time, what is my solution?
For those who belief in the afterlife, I advocate for them to see it. Death. The paintings of Jesus don’t need to stop, but the reason we paint him must change. We paint him to see how far we’ve come and how much we’ve learned, not in admiration or as a guiding principle. Churches change from active communion centers to historical landmarks that tell the story of humanity and religion. What we need to focus on is our livelihood and the wellbeing of those around us, not those in our heads. Religion has the potential to be great for morality, it is wasting the true potential of art by confining it into a vacuum of worship. If we can agree that there is no definitive reason for us to be here, art holds no bounds. If there is no god, the limits for what we can we paint are endless. The sky is not the limit, but neither is heaven.
Dewey, J. (2016, February 8). Dewey’s Aesthetics (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dewey-aesthetics/
Kant, Immanuel. The Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, in Morrow, David. R. Moral Reasoning. Oxford UP, 2018. P. 168.
“The Global Religious Landscape.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, 18 Dec. 2012, www.pewforum.org/2012/12/18/global-religious-landscape-exec.