Among the illusions most of us have, shared by both atheists and non-atheists, is that we do just that. We have weighed the pros and cons of religious faith and have made a personal decision to believe or not to believe. We think we think for ourselves.
I know some people who can claim a real originality in their thinking and in their oratorical, literary or artistic expression, as well as in their historical or scientific research. But ground-breakers are rare. Galileo, Darwin and Thomas Edison, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, Shakespeare, Victor Hugo and Oscar Wilde, Walt Disney, Tim Burton and Woody Allen, all made original contributions to science or the arts. Others are famous for originality in other domains, like military strategy, not to say the “art” of war (Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Sir John Monash), politics (Macchiavelli, Roosevelt, de Gaulle) and philosophy (Plato, Aristotle, Hegel). One could add the fields of engineering and economics, medicine and astrophysics, and many others, and lengthen the list of men and women (the latter unjustly absent among the names I have chosen …) who thought for themselves. But even they were indebted to their predecessors and teachers (“On the shoulders of Darwin”, as they say). “We were all born originals; unfortunately most of us end up as copies” (the Dutch Catholic Catechism for Adults). A few geniuses came up with genuinely new milestones in human history. The model will remain “E = m c squared”. “Intelligent Design” doesn’t come even close.
Obviously my atheism is not the result of my own original thinking, any more than the arguments I present in defending it. But I claim not to have just followed the crowd, accepting the thinking of others without personally weighing the reasons for believing or not believing. I am consious of the overwhelming influence I experienced in my religious upbringing and education, and the social pressure that supported it. I do not attribute my decision to reject religion to any individuals, rôle-models or authors. Like so many others I simply began to wonder about the foundations and implications of my religious faith, practice and profession. I concluded not only that they were based on myth, fear and wishful thinking, but that they were literally ridiculous. “Ridenda Religio” became my mantra, enshrined in this Blog.
I have no original arguments to present against the theistic thesis. And the present-day rehashed arguments supporting the latter I find totally lacking in originality. My only personal claim to originality is in some of the ways I have chosen to ridicule religion. But even they remain only invitations for my Believers on the Brink to take a hard look at their own reasons for believing. The choice to continue or to abandon believing is theirs. Atheists are not sheep, do not constitute a flock and have no shepherd. We try, at least, to think, and to think for ourselves.