Atheism is a bête noire in modern Ireland. The Catholic religion, having long ago established itself as being synonymous with the nature and character of the people, and as a driving force in the foundation of independence of the nation, has entrenched itself on the very meaning of what it is to be ‘Irish’. The Catholic Church, even if it is not active in pursing its goals, affects everyday life across vast swathes of the planet. We might think that we live in more enlightened times, that it was previous generations who were held in the full thrall of the Faith, and that we are free of it, emancipated by technology and consumerism. Where society revolved around the parish, when our parents would not even discuss the sin of sex denounced from the pulpit, the Catholic Church clearly held a firm grip of the lives of Irish people. The Church’s influence in this nation reached levels of savage proportion such that it could hide the lowest filth of the earth in its vestments, and condemn innocents for the vile deeds of white-collared men. It is our lamentable inheritance that we suffer the inability to bring these people, and the institution they represent, to any form of justice other than their own. They repent their sins and beg for forgiveness as they sit in their comfortable homes and palaces while those they tortured endure the prison of wrongs never righted. The Catholic Church may have ‘good people’ as members, people who are trying to improve the lives of others in a meaningful way, but the organisation is a foul corruption of the teachings of its supposed saviour, an insult to any who believe in it, and a malignant cancer on our society. The Catholic Church should be tried for crimes against humanity, for terrorism, and for the torture and abuse of the citizens of the sovereign nation of Ireland. Yet the faithful continue to support the men in black. Mass attendances are rising; a Novena summons a torrent of sycophants, all providing the Church with the mandate it needs to continue behaving like the greedy, abusive tyrant that it is. Sheep herd themselves into narrow halls and pray for salvation, listening to the languid words of immoral collaborators. Yet I am looked upon with incredulous eyes for daring to profane against the faith. I am the delusional one for not believing in the spastic rants of desert nomads and impoverished carpenters. I am closed-minded for not seeing the transcendent truth and glory of life-everlasting. I am somehow inherently wrong for questioning the Church and not believing in God.
To be an atheist in Ireland is to be wrong. The vast majority of people wander in depth of ideology from the firmly religious to the flimsy spiritualists. There is a shade of faith in the Other to suit everyone, and someone willing to sell you the associated paraphernalia. To not belong to a grey area, to firmly establish yourself as a dark knight against the tarnished white purity of faith, is seen as alien. Theism, however vague or profound, is the order of the day. Exceptional claims are made, and accepted, without any requirement, or desire, for proof. Why am I wrong to demand proof? Why am I wrong for needing more than a fiction to explain existence? Why am I wrong for thinking that God is equally as (un)believable as Zeus or Odin? Why am I wrong for thinking that organised religion is the enslavement of free-will, and that faith is a morally bankrupt shackle? Might it be that it is not I who is wrong? Might it be that it is they who believe in spirits in the sky, zombie saviours, and ephemeral kingdoms guarded by winged harp-players who are, at the very least, misguided, or at worst, delusional? Surely not. I mean, everyone knows God, miracles, angles, Heaven, Hell, spirits, Santa, the tooth-fairy, and the Devil are real, right?
As a child, I must admit that enjoyed reading the Bible, it was almost as exciting as other books I read concerning the myths and legends of the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Norse, and Irish were. I knew that Romans made sacrifices to their gods and we gave up chocolate for Lent, that they had many small gods and we had a multitude of saints. Then someone told me that the gods of old were not real, but somehow our one was. This puzzled me for the longest time, because those ancient peoples built magnificent temples and monuments for, went to war in the name of, and prayed to, their gods, just as we have. What was it that made their gods less real than the one I was told to believe in? Besides, their gods were far more interesting; animal-headed men and women who had more affairs than was decent, and habitually toyed with the lives of mortals. I recall sitting in religion class thinking if this was the way Greek children were told about their gods, that theirs alone were true while the Egyptians believed in fairytales. By the time I entered into Secondary I was a blossoming atheist, thoroughly skeptical of the God and deeply suspicious of Faith I had been told that I had to believe in. I was fascinated by History and Physics, and in the course of studying these two diverse subjects I came to understand that the Universe is an astounding place, even without the presumed privilege of being created in the pristine image of a fantasy, and that the past can be manipulated, censored, misinterpreted, and ill-understood. I was, and continue to be, unrelentingly curious. I had to know more; ‘God did it’ was not a sufficiently pleasing answer for me as seemed to for others. The more I read of physics the more I realised it provided far more convincing answers and arguments for why the universe is the way it is. The more I read of history the more I understood why humanity clings to Faith in preference over Reason. I could trace the evolution of God from ancient to modern times, and see each bizarre twist and turn in the development of the Catholic Church, the branch of the spiritual tree I was most interested in understanding as it was the one which besieged me. It became clear that for the majority of people it is far easier to say ‘God did it’, or remain ignorant, than actually find a reasonable answer.
Atheism is not, I would argue, the belief that there is no God or gods. Whether it is a figment of the imagination or not, a supreme ruler of Creation is a very real thing in the minds of a substantial portion of the world’s inhabitants. Atheism itself is almost a misnomer; it is defined in terms of faith. What I am should not be defined in terms of what they are. Why are we identified in terms of their superstitions? Atheism is to place one’s confidence in Reason and all its ancillaries. It is Reason, we are Rational. Those who believe in burning bushes, the immanent Rapture, and voices in the sky are not Theist, they are Irrational, Unreasonable. I am a Rationalist, and I see no reasonable motive or incentive to believe in the supernatural or divine. The human mind invented these spirits, which are used by established religions to beguile those willing or indoctrinated to believe, as means to attach reason to unreasonable events. The Catholic Church is the greatest offender as it is the largest and most widespread centrally organised religious institution. Only human intellect can unravel this web of deception, this veil of ignorance that has been drawn across the world.
Organised religion is firmly planted in the quagmire of tradition. The preservation of customs and practices are common, and very important, to any society, yet when they become entrenched and dogmatic, refusing to adapt except under the most extreme pressures, they have become harmful rituals. Religion requires absolute stagnation; there is only one perspective in which the world can be viewed, they one decreed by clerical authority. Reason too demands a certain perspective of the world, one that adapts, revels in novelty, is inclusive and develops. Religions are based on one stunted, malnourished idea; Reason provides an overflowing cornucopia of inspiration. Tradition instills conformity, an unchanging sequence of events designed to plough rigid furrows of compliance through independence and imagination in the mind, enslavement disguised as education. Decent education should encourage freedom of thought and individuality. Religion only teaches us what is wrong. The Catholic Church makes claims of moral authority which it then fails to uphold, happily chastising the faithful while its own ministers commit vide deeds. Various branches of religion condemn women who dare ask for any form of recognition beyond that which a man has chosen for them, men and women who prefer the intimate company of their own gender, or anyone who dares to impinge the divinely ordained sanctity of their version of the truth. Intolerance is a hallmark of faith, only the faithful can be saved, otherwise what would be the point of being faithful?
Religions have usurped a fundamental right of every human being – freedom. Freedom from tyranny, freedom from persecution, freedom of speech. All brands of religious belief are feudal tyrants, a miasmic hangover from the Middle Ages that have no reason for continued existence in the modern world. The Age of Reason gave birth to the Enlightenment, the fruits of which make up our lives today. This has often been described as a revolutionary event in the history of humanity, I beg to differ. Reason has for too long sought to maintain a status quo with Faith, it had not dared attack openly as it did not have the strength to withstand the torrent of ignorance at the command of the religions. For too long it sought to appease, it hoped to explain to people that the images on the wall were just shadows designed by the despotic authorities, and encourage them out of the cave where ignorance was taught as a virtue. There has been some success, but new, more radically severe religious movements, and bafflingly dense pseudo-scientific gurus have appeared in response. This is no time for appeasement. The very fate of mankind rests in the hands of Reason; it alone can hope to offer solutions to the horrible mess we have made of the planet. A billion prayers uttered by the faithful to fantastic deities every day will not turn the tide of global warming, nor would they bring about world peace. God is dead, yet religions prop up its fetid corpse to rally the faithful to the cause of the tyranny of ignorance. This is a call to war, a war for the mind. Reason stands for intellectual and personal freedom, a product of which is Atheism. Each side has its armies; secular academics face clerical dogmatics, while scientists challenge quacks. If the various faiths of the world survive this war it will not be because the faithful won, they would prefer annihilate each other, but rather due to the fact that Reason did. Only Reason defends freedom unconditionally, even the freedom to believe. Only it can solve the peoples the human race faces on a local and planetary scale. For their own sakes’ the faithful must believe in the cause of atheists because we are the only ones who have their best interests in mind. Organised religion surely doesn’t, it seeks only to line its own bed, wallow in its self-aggrandising propaganda, and presume moral authority over all creation.
Why am I an atheist? Atheism is right. It makes sense. It is morally superior. It is the better path. It accepts all this world has to offer and sees the beauty in the universe without any need to attribute it to the hand of an insipid divinity. It does not demand blind faith but rather encourages inquiring minds. Life-everlasting is tantamount to hell; we must work to make the world, and precious little time we have, into an approximation of the painfully impossible heaven. Religion is standardised, institutionalised hate. It encourages division and requires a belief in the supremacy of its own twisted view of reality. Atheism is the cure for this immoral disease. The tyranny of malevolent organisations, be they political or commercial, are frequently denounced, and wars have been fought to end their oppression, yet organised religions, the tyrants of the mind, persist. To paraphrase PZ Myers, there will be no tyranny of the mind in the Rationalist Eutopia of the future. Why am I an atheist? Because I believe in taking responsibility for my actions, in seeing the world as it is, in understanding others without prejudice or preconditions, in freedom, equality, and compassion. The difficulties of our time require more than faith in the divine to resolve, the issues which affect the people of the world are more complex than any religion was ever designed to cope with. There is no magic cure for the ills of the planet or its inhabitants. We must rise to the challenge, forsake primitive fantasies and fanciful notions of surviving death, and use human wisdom and reason to improve the real world. Faith is an impediment to progress, to freedom, to civilisation. Reason, also know as Atheism, is the only way forward, the only answer. Its failure will doom mankind to an isolated existence and bleak ignorance in a remote corner of the universe; its success will grant us access to the wonders of all creation and rational appreciation of all of humanity’s best and worst attributes. The only way forward is to adopt the Zola Stratagem.
“Civilization will not attain perfection until the last stone, from the last church, falls on the last priest.”
Ceterum autem censeo, religionem esse delendam