We should, all of us, be prepared to call ourselves atheists. But we are either too greedy for power and wealth, or too intellectually lazy to do so.
No, that is not my statement. Today I am handing the principal content of Return to Paradox over to an item written by a friend. It is he who asks, “Why so few atheists?”
It is an interesting question that comes from Lionel Strange, a retired senior public servant whom I have known well and deeply respected for more than 50 years and who was, in a previous era, a science advisor in the Science Secretariat of the Privy Council Office (not to be confused with the Prime Minister’s Office.)
Instead of blathering on (I may make a comment at the end) let me now step aside.
Why so few atheists?
Lionel Strange ♦
The small but steady decay in allegiance to Christian churches, as indicated in a report from statistics Canada, is worthy of examination. Of particular interest is a comment in the press that there is nevertheless little increase in the reported number of atheists.
An atheist is defined as someone who does not believe in the existence of a God or Gods. So to go on record as an atheist is a much more radical assertion than to state that you don’t believe in the story of the virgin birth. The president of the United States never finishes a speech without asking God to bless America and the Brits are for ever asking God to save the Queen. So there is a natural tendency for all of us to treat God as a fundamental pillar of the state and not give much thought as to who this Almighty Power is or where He or She is located: to treat the existence of God as of about the same importance as the existence of the Conservative party.
As a one time Anglican church member who has come to realize that some basic components of that church’s theology are no longer tenable, I am drawn to wonder how many other members are faced with the problem that the main theological doctrines that stem from the time of Abraham, although they have a degree of verifiable historical validity, nevertheless also rely to a strong degree on supernatural or occult events that, in the light of today’s scientific knowledge, can no longer be accepted as having actually occurred.
Anyone who has attained even the most rudimentary knowledge of astrophysics must realize that the whole concept of the universe and our part in it is on a scale vastly greater in time and space than that described in the ancient scriptures on which our religions are based.
From time to time respected members of the Anglican clergy have come out with comments to the affect that they can no longer accept many of the tenets of Anglican doctrine, including the existence of God. These free thinkers created quite a stir for a short time but they failed to make any significant impression on the church’s hierarchy or its congregations. When pressed to explain why he did not openly comment to his congregation on this situation, a minister (Presbyterian in this case) said that if he did voice his opinions on the unbelievable nature of much of the church’s doctrine, his congregation would simply desert him.
So, to summarize the situation, it would seem that those with the authority to lead our religious life into the present century find it personally disadvantageous to do so and we, who rely on their leadership, are too disinterested in the wealth of new scientific knowledge available to us to face the fact that whatever power brought this universe into existence it was on a scale totally beyond any human dimension and comprehension. We should, all of us, be prepared to call ourselves atheists. But we are either too greedy for power and wealth, or too intellectually lazy to do so.
Thank you Lionel. You said that in 525 words. Back in August, 2012, it took me 3288 words to attempt much the same point. I make one comment, if only to encourage others to voice their views, and it is to say that personally I am uncomfortable thinking of myself as an “atheist” because it implies a denial of a First Cause, whereas being an “agnostic” I can take refuge in simply “not knowing”, which really means, I suppose, that I wish to reserve judgement if only to protect me from my own hubris. On the other hand, since my finite mind refuses to accept the concept of a First Cause in a void, perhaps it must follow that I am an atheist?
♦ Why so few atheists?
Copyright © Lionel Strange 2013