Why I am an Anti-theist
While my return to atheism was long and circuitous – as one might expect from someone desperately trying to retain a belief in the face of mounting dis-confirming evidence – my journey from mere apathetic disbelief to positive opposition of belief was short, much more direct, and a natural conclusion to my quest for truth. This is not to say that the story is of any less value or that my need to express it any less urgent.
My path from atheism to anti-theism began with an examination of two questions: 1) what is the value of human life? and 2) What is the overall impact of religion (yes, religion in general as well as in particular) on the history of human life? When I speak of religion here, I include both the personal piety of religious individuals as well as the institutions that have codified and perpetuated these beliefs. The personal beliefs of individuals are not spared in my opposition because they are the foundation upon which the institutions (churches, if you will) are built. The beliefs that I here call religious are reduced to a few basic propositions: that a personal, creator god exists; that a human soul exists that transcends death; that this creator god is intimately concerned with the well-fair of the individual and his/her soul.
The kindest conclusion that I can make is that the influence of religion on the totality of human experience is a net negative, by a great margin. Religion is more dangerous than it is helpful, it is more destructive than it is constructive, it is more detrimental than it is beneficial, it promotes more injustice than it does justice, it is positively malignant to human life and well-being. Thus, the world would have been (and would be today) a better place without it. This is the root of anti-theism and why I must oppose religion’s pernicious existence.
A common objection (often an objection of last resort) to atheists is that there is a lot of good that is done in the name of religion, or motivated by religious belief. Some of the greatest, they say, works of art, music, poetry, and literature have been motivated by the sincere devotion and religious beliefs of their creators. Acts of compassion, love, and generosity also have a long list of religious foundations. To these objections I say, of course, they are correct. Only a fool would deny that religion has done no good in the world or say that religious belief cannot motivate positive change. But religion does not have a monopoly on beauty, compassion, love, altruism, or any other noble expressions of human experience.
There is a cost to religious belief, a cost to the existence of religion. And we should examine this cost in light of the good that religion provides. For example, what is the price of human life in terms of charitable acts or works of art? How many charitable acts, or inspired art, motivated by religious belief does it take to atone for the religiously motivated murder of a single person? How many people must be comforted by the idea of heaven to make up for one person who commits suicide in the belief that heaven is a better place than earth? And when we multiply these single atrocities into the thousands (on the conservative side), how many charitable acts and how much comfort must be felt to make up for their loss? My argument is that the cost in this exchange far exceeds the benefits gained. The cost is so great that it borders on the obscene.
Copyright © 2011 JP Laughlin