September 5, 2012

Atheism: Making The World We Want

Bertrand Russell quote

This is a great quote from the first book I ever read on atheism, Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects. It has always captured one of the most inspiring and intimidating aspects of atheism: it is up to us to make the world in which we want to live.

Superstitious belief has done its share of damage, but we can improve our world through the pursuit of reason, the application of skepticism, and perhaps a bit of humanism. Organized religion has caused considerable harm, but we can help to hasten its demise and reverse much of the harm it has caused. Nobody would ever suggest this will be easy; it may take generations. The question for each of us to ponder is how we will contribute.

What is intimidating about this? This task falls on us, and we are not going to have supernatural assistance as we face it. Our prayers are not going to bring about the outcomes we seek. Our own commitment to change and sustained effort to bring it about will be needed. So yes, it is inspiring to recognize that we have this capacity and initimidating to recognize that this challenge falls to us.

Atheism is a great starting point, but it is really just the beginning. We could passively wait around for our religious neighbors to come to their senses, but I do not think we can afford to do so. They continue to wield far too much influence in the meantime, and we have all seen how dangerous that can be. Instead, we need to begin working to transform the world to one that functions optimally without religion. And let's not pretend that everything will be perfect just because we do manage to outgrow religion. Many people have needs currently being met by religion, and we'll need to figure out how to provide secular alternatives for some of them or else many are likely to find equally detrimental substitutes.