Some readers of my book and of this blog have told me how much they pity me, and how much they regret, despise and oppose what I am doing. Good Christians, they genuinely feel sorry for me and the presumably sad, empty life I have created for myself. They are afraid my case, like my life, is hopeless, but pray for me anyway. They thank God they have their faith to keep them warm and happy and hopeful. They are distressed that I am trying to get others to question and abandon their faith. As if it were not bad enough that I am ruining my own life, wasting the opportunities I had and still have to discover the bounties of His love, the satisfaction, the comfort, the reassurance that come from faith in a loving, forgiving God, it seems that I am hell-bent on getting others to share my miserable, meaningless existence, and leading them to regret eternally the Heaven they and I could have had. Sadly, they say, I sometimes succeed in getting believers (on the brink) to give up God, leaving them with nothing : nothing and no one to believe in, no hope for the future and no reason to care about anyone besides themselves. They might not go quite as far as the gentle Jesus, who declared that it would be better if scandal -mongers like me had never been born and that we deserve to be drowned with a millstone tied around our neck. But they would prefer that I cease and desist, or at least soften my cruel blows against belief in God, His revelation and His Church, and not disturb the serenity of people whose faith is essential to the meaning they give to their lives and to their deaths.
An “Apologia Pro Atheismo Meo” would not convince hard-core believers, any more than the 400 Reflections already published to date here (178) and in my “From Illusions to Illumination” (227). But I feel obliged to remind them at least of the following :
1. People have every right to believe, or not believe, whatever they like. People have the right to express their belief or disbelief. People also have the right to try to convince others to change their mind, to reject or accept beliefs.
2. Efforts to encourage people to modify their belief or disbelief must be devoid of physical, psychological or other duress or the threat thereof, as well as of dishonesty, manipulation and attacks against, or disrespect for, the person of the believer or unbeliever. Respect for the person does not exclude disrespect for the beliefs held or rejected.
3. Persons attempting to promote or destroy beliefs are entitled to use any other means they wish which they consider appropriate to achieve their objective.
Propagandists on both sides of a question realize that their cause is not served if their methods alienate their opponents. “Captatio benevolentiae” (capturing benevolence) is a permanent rhetorical imperative. But “le style c’est l’homme”, “style is the man”. Mine is not everybody’s cup of tea, and I have only myself to blame if I shoot myself in the foot, turn people off or mix metaphors.
But I will always reject the fallacy that only religion can assure a genuine joie-de-vivre. I have learned to live without religion’s illusions and would not want to seek meaning, purpose and joy in fantasy. I have no need of religion to lead a meaningful, purposeful, joyous life which I know will end definitively in death. Nor do I need religion to give me reasons for respecting my fellow-man and contributing to helping ensure that his life, as well as my own, are in keeping as far as possible with human dignity. I am honest enough to say that I am NOT my brother’s keeper (if only because such a “brother” is a metaphor derived from the myth of God the Father of us all), and do not claim or pretend to love my fellow-man as much as myself, my own family and close friends, but I am dedicated to offering people in need whatever help I can, including my vision of religion as ridiculous and atheism as a liberation – even if I am a bit heavy-handed, trigger-happy and never short of poisoned arrows aimed not at people but at silly beliefs, silly rules and silly rituals. Ridicule is a two-edged sword but often an effective means of getting people to realize that religious credulity would be funny if it were not so tragic. Hence :