But Surely Atheists Can’t Have Morals (!)
I have just finished The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I found it to be a very fascinating and engaging read. This is the first book that I have by Dawkins and it has definitely got me eager for more. I was already an atheist, so I can’t say that this book changed my beliefs, but what it has done is open up a new need to learn, renewing my thirst for knowledge.
I won’t do a whole book review here. A fellow blogger (Sift Through The Static) has recently written a great review that I don’t feel I could really match. So I’d like to concentrate on what I personally got from the book.
My Study History
Before I left England I had just started working towards a degree in Humanities. As I could not afford to quit work and go to university I decided to study at home through the Open University. I thought that I wanted to study Art History (it was my intention at that time to work towards becoming an art teacher) so I chose the course ‘An Introduction to Humanities’ thinking that only the Art History and the Religious Studies units would actually be of interest to me (I’ve long been interested in religion as a subject to study. In fact, I chose Religious Studies over History and Geography at high school).
What happened during the course surprised me. The Art History, although interesting, didn’t engage me as much as I thought it would and I actually got more enjoyment out of the History of Science (a unit on Darwin!), History of Medicine, Religion and Philosophy units. At the end of the year I had decided to leave Art History alone for the time being and was torn between studying a combination of Religion with either Philosophy or the History of Science or with English Literature. I couldn’t decide, I was completely stuck. Then I got the opportunity to move here. I was disappointed that I didn’t have a chance to do more than just the first year of study, but sometimes you just have to make a decision and go with it. Which is exactly what I did and I do not regret it at all.
Anyway my point with all of this is that I now feel that I can continue a quest for knowledge on my own. Dawkins has so many books in his suggested reading list that I don’t know where to start. I think I’ll read another of his before moving on to other authors and then who knows where my curiosity will take me!
The part that was most fascinating for me was the chapter on why people are drawn to religion. This is a subject that I had thought on in the past and I was pleased that Dawkins included it in the book. Reading this may help theists to understand why they feel that they NEED to have a god, even when faced with evidence of his/her/its non-existence. I’d happily have read more on that chapter. From the perspective of a non-religious person it seems a very alien concept to me. Why do they need to believe? How can they completely dismiss any and all evidence disproving their beliefs? Why are they so adamant that they are right even without any proof to support their claims? The God Delusion puts forward some very interesting (and, to me, very surprising) theories in answer to questions like these.
Thank Goodness I am Me
Something else that I got from reading The God Delusion is a feeling of great, great relief that I was fortunate enough to have been born where I was and into the family that I was. His examples of the prejudices shown to atheists in the USA were absolutely shocking to me. I was brought up in England, a country where atheism is fast becoming a norm (from my experience and based on the people I know and have known there) and I have never had to deal with any closed-minded bigotry because of my beliefs (or lack thereof). My parents, leading by example, taught me to always look at the evidence before making decisions or pronouncing something to be a truth. If I had turned out to be religious, after examining what evidence we have, they probably would have been somewhat surprised, but I am sure would not have condemned me for it. It seems, from Dawkins’ examples, that many people can not expect to get a similar reaction from friends, family and community if they make the ‘shocking’ decision to make up their own minds on the subject.
Maybe if more atheists ‘come out’ it will be easier for others to follow suit, so I have added the Out Campaign ‘A’ to my footer here. I’m not really ‘coming out’, as I have never really been ‘in’ hiding, but I’d like to add my name to the cause nonetheless.
But Atheists Don’t Have Morals (!)
Finally, I feel that I am now better able to answer people when they ask questions like, ‘But how can you be happy if you’re an atheist?’ and statements like, ‘If you don’t believe in god then you have no moral compass.’ Of course I find these statements completely ridiculous, but I never really known how to counter them other than uttering a spluttered ‘What?!’. Now that I understand better the reasons for them even asking these questions I won’t be afraid to use myself as a model.
I am an atheist.
I am happy.
I am fulfilled in my life.
I consider myself to be good.
I do not need to believe in ultimate good and evil to know that I am good enough.
I abhor all suffering, both of humans and animals.
I am a vegetarian.
I do not believe in killing animals or humans (euthanasia for great illness or pain is another matter).
The knowledge that I am not being ‘watched’ does not give me a desire to commit ‘evil’.
I love the world and I see beauty in it. Is the world any less beautiful to me because I do not believe it was ‘created’? I can’t see through your eyes, but I sincerely doubt it.
‘Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?’ – Douglas Adams
(There are lots of great quotes in the book. I wish I’d thought to make note of them as I was reading)