Atheists Believe in Nothing But Themselves: Finding Strength and Hope in the Universe
Atheists don’t believe in anything but themselves. It’s a trite saying, but it hits you when you least expect it. It comes from that nice lady sitting you on the airplane who happens to want to convert you, or that demagogue on TV. And although the saying comes from a sinister attempt to misportray atheists as selfish, narcissistic people who lack a coherent life philosophy, it is effective in bringing up the follow-up question. If it isn’t true, then what DO atheists believe in?
The short answer is that atheists believe in things that are real. We believe in the scientific method because it has always always always, without one exception, trumped all religious or superstitious methods of knowing. We believe in the power of wonder, curiosity, and inspiration. We believe in kindness and love because we can experience it, and help others experience its benefits. We cherish the human intelligence and revere our naturally endowed capability to reason. And many of us dedicate our lives to thinking freely, often against people who would rather we shut off the lamps of our mind.
The overwhelming majority of atheists also believe in an objective morality, one grounded not in the relativism of what religion you happen to be born into, but from real and substantial measures of human flourishing and well-being.
But what always stumps me about the question is, yes, atheists do believe in themselves, and very much so. In trying times, we don’t delude ourselves for comfort. We don’t spin a magic wheel or utter incantations to the midnight sky. We recognize that we may be in this situation alone.
Our inner strength comes not from one of many deities, but from an intricate relationship with objective truth. We breath and touch every moment as close as possible to what is real, endlessly looking for new things that we, ourselves, can accomplish. Our power is limited, and that’s what makes us strong.
Indeed, our situation is dire. We live on a dying planet next to a star that will explode–all in the suburb of an unimpressive galaxy that will crash into a neighboring one. And our individual time here always appears too short. In the face of this seemingly insurmountable situation, dare we turn to man-made illusions about how all of this was designed for just for us? What kind of hope, what kind of faith would that be?
Atheists believe in themselves, in the realization that if there is any salvation, it is only through looking through a clear, objective lens that they can find or invent something to achieve it. And atheists believe in so so much more. Carl Sagan said it best.
…here we face a critical branch point in history, what we do with our world, right now, will propagate down through the centuries and powerfully affect the destiny of our descendants, it is well within our power to destroy our civilization and perhaps our species as well. If we capitulate to superstition or greed or stupidity we could plunge our world into a time of darkness deeper than the time between the collapse of classical civilisation and the Italian Renaissance. But we are also capable of using our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth to make an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of this planet.
Posted on September 2, 2011, in Humanism, Religion, Science and tagged atheist hope, atheists believe in nothing but themselves, Carl Sagan, galaxy, morality, reality, scientific method, secular morality, strength for atheist. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.