Thursday 25 December 2014

Believe me, you don't need to believe in God to be good

Published 12/02/2007 | 00:11

Apparently I'm destined to become a Nazi. Or maybe a Communist. It hasn't really been decided yet.

But either way, I'm sure to become a bad 'un.

I've no particular desire to become a Nazi, I hope you understand. And apart from some idealistic adolescent posturing - look, I liked the badges and I was young - I've never had much time for Communism.

But as one leading Irish religious commentator pointed out recently, anyone who doesn't believe in God will eventually succumb to some evil and discredited ideology.

Yup, all of us out there who are proud to call ourselves atheists are simply deluded fools who will ultimately allow ourselves to become in thrall to some evil belief system because we don't have God to help us resist the lure of the jackboot.

It's an interesting argument on many levels, not least the obnoxious presumption involved. After all, the spread of Nazism throughout Europe was eased by its close association with many religious leaders.

But what is particularly irritating was the assumption that atheists - who comprise, lest we forget, the second largest 'denomination' in Ireland, according to the last census - are incapable of making sound moral judgements simply because they don't harbour any religious fantasies.

We have to put up with a lot of nonsense, us atheists.

A largely agreeable lot, Irish atheists tend to keep their heads down and go about their day without bothering anyone, and yet are subjected to the kind of bitterly unfair insults which, if levelled at a religious group, would have the PC police screaming blue bloody murder.

After all, if someone was to say that Muslims were fundamentally incapable of making sound moral decisions simply because of their faith, or that Catholics had dishonesty hardwired into their system, you'd soon have your collar felt. But when it comes to having a pop at the godless? Feel free to have a go.

This hostility towards those of us free from what American comic Bill Maher refers to as "a neurological disorder" is rather telling, however. And it is perfectly illustrated in the current, baffling, debate about the origins of the universe.

According to some of the religiously motivated commentators here in Ireland - and, indeed, in these pages - both evolution and Creationism (or Intelligent Design, as it is now known) are equally valid theories and both should be given equal consideration. It's sort of a 'you say tomato, I say tomayto' argument, they would have us believe.

But when anyone with a bit of common sense points out that looking to a 3,000-year-old myth to scientifically explain the origins of life is not, perhaps, the most rational methodology, they are immediately denounced as being an anti-religion bigot.

Yet nobody bats an eye-lid when the current Pope fingers secularism as one of the greatest threats to European harmony.

And, inevitably, religious groups have become adept at using the vocabulary of victimhood. Thus, refusing to let a hotel room to a gay couple, as happened recently in Britain, is not an outrageous and illegal piece of discrimination - it's a brave blow for religious freedom.

It's always amusing to listen to people who dress up their homophobia as a harmless and non-judgemental expression of their faith. So here's a little test: a man refuses to rent a room to a gay couple because, while he isn't judging them, his faith has strict and clear guidelines on how to treat homosexuality.

In another hotel, a man refuses to rent a room to a gay couple because, he says, he hates fags. Which of the two is more morally reprehensible? Answer: they're both the same.

For all the moral posturing of the smugly religious against those of no religion, one fact stands out - at least we have to back up our arguments with something approaching a coherent thought process.

When you argue with an atheist, you will be arguing with a form of logic - whether you agree with it or not - unsullied and uncorrupted by a supernatural fantasy. On the other hand, arguing with a religious person about some moral issue means you have to wade through generations of religious indoctrination.

And even then they will refuse to be held responsible for their beliefs or the holes in the logic of their argument. Ah, they will simper, you need faith to understand, before proudly wrapping the cloak of religious freedom around themselves.

I personally have no problem with religious people. I even know one of them. And, it should be said, we agree on many issues. Although I'm not certain which one of us is more distressed when we find an issue upon which we agree.

But this habit of automatically assuming moral superiority purely on the basis of a belief in the supernatural is one of his most irritating points.

So come on, Irish atheists, let's start sticking up for ourselves.

Because, let's face it, nobody else will.

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