Living Without Religion 
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Basic Principles

Giving religion the respect it deserves

The underlying principles of this site, its goals, its "raison d'être".
There are many different forms of atheism; many differents atheisms so to speak. The approach adopted by this site is one of those possibilities. The purpose of this section is thus not to present a list of definitive and immutable precepts, but rather to provide a clearly worded summary explaining that approach.
This section is a work in progress, as is the entire site!



Religion: a Vestige of Humanity's Infancy

Religious practice is an impediment to the advancement of the human species. Religious faith is a lesion on the intellectual resources of humanity. It is a vestige of the infancy of the human species. We are better off without religion.

Some religions are less harmful (less intolerant, less irrational, less racist, less sexist, less homophobic, etc.) than others. But there is no such thing as a "good" religion. They are all undesirable; i.e. religion is undesirable, because it is a belief system based on faith.

We are referring here to religious faith, defined as "belief in religious doctrines, belief in divine truth without proof" (and not to faithfulness or unfaithfulness in friendship or love). The key words here are "truth without proof". In other words, faith is the acceptance of "truth" without proof, without rational thought, without logic. This is the kind of faith which we must reject.

There is no Freedom of Religion without Freedom from religion

This web site could not exist without freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of association. These freedoms also ensure freedom of religion. Thus, it would be inconsistent if, in criticizing religion, we were to propose limitations on an individual's freedom to practice the religion(s) of his or her choice, provided, of course, that such religious practice remains compatible with fundamental human rights, including the rights of women and children. (If religious practice conflicts with fundamental rights, then such rights they must take priority over freedom of religion.)

What we propose, rather, is that no religion have a significant impact on those who choose not to practice it; in other words, that its influence be removed from public life, that religious practice remain in the private sphere. To put it succinctly, we propose not just freedom of religion for those who choose to practice one, but equally freedom from religion for those who choose not to practice. These two freedoms complement each other; neither is complete without the other.

Philosophical Basis of This Site

Negative Atheism

No belief in god(s). This absence of belief requires no justification. Those who make particular claims are responsible for justifying those claims. Thus, it is theists who must provide proof of their special belief in the existence of god(s). If they provide no such justification, then there is no reason to adopt such belief.

Positive atheism

Positive atheism, that is, the thesis that a particular god does not exist (such as the Jewish god Yahweh or the Christian god Jehovah, or the muslim god Allah) follows as a corollary of negative atheism. The very specific qualities of each of these hypothetical divinities reduces the probability of its existence to an infinitesimal value.


Criticism of Religion

Supernatural religious beliefs are pure mythology. The entire spectrum of these beliefs -- gods, messiahs, prophets, the soul, resurrection, life after death, reincarnation, etc., etc. -- is without rational basis, as any reasonable person will admit. Yet religious beliefs and institutions enjoy a very high level of respect. Do they deserve this respect?

Rejection of the tyranny of "faith"

Pure faith -- in the sense of revealed truth, without any evidence -- is less than worthless.
Religious faith is at best a comfortable delusion, at worst a pernicious lie. Most commonly, it is somewhere between these two extremes: an idle conceit, allowing the believer to place himself or herself at the centre of the universe.

Rejection of all paranormal belief systems

Paranormal belief systems (astrology, clairvoyance, spiritism, etc., etc.) are at best useless and often dangerous. Religions, especially the three major monotheisms, are the foremost and most firmly entrenched paranormal belief systems. Religious beliefs and institutions benefit from a very high level of respect, and it is this respect which legitimizes and supports the whole gamut of pseudo-scientific, new-age, and other irrational systems. Spokespersons for religious institutions may from time to time criticize other paranormal mythologies, but such criticism is merely a question of defending one's turf, denouncing competing irrational systems of belief.

Rejection of the "separate domains" theory.

Science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. To deny this is intellectually dishonest.

Rejection of religiously based moral systems.

To claim that religious belief, in particular theism, is necessary for society is irrational. Worse, to claim, as the major religious institutions do, that they have special and essential moral expertise is the biggest lie of all.

What is Atheism?

The Pocket Oxford Dictionary (Fowler & Fowler, 1942) defines atheism as "Disbelief in the existence of God." If we consider the etymological roots of the word "atheism", we find that it is composed of two parts:

  1. the prefix "a" implying negation or absence, and
  2. "theism" referring to belief in god.

Thus, the literal meaning of the word "atheism" is "without belief in god." (negative atheism)

We mention in passing that the Random House Dictionary (Stein & Su, 1978) gives a slightly different definition: "the belief that there is no God or gods." The distinction between this and the previous definition is subtle but significant. For our purposes the Oxford formulation is preferred: atheism is not so much a belief as it is an absence of belief, a rejection of credulity. As such, it is closely related to scepticism. A person who becomes an atheist does so, not in order to adopt a new belief system, but rather to free the mind from dubious preconceived notions. Atheism is not a conclusion; it is a starting point.

The atheist does not attempt to prove the non-existence of anything. He or she is under no obligation to provide a definitive proof of the non-existence of the Hebrew god Yahweh, or the non-existence of the nordic god of thunder and lightning Thor, or the non-existence of the god Wotan of ancient Germanic tribes, or the non-existence of the great Egyptian sun god Ra, or the non-existence of Santa Claus or of the tooth fairy. The atheist simply refuses to be credulous.

On the other hand, the existence of any one of these rather special personnages would constitute a remarkable and exceptional phenomenon, and it would be reasonable to require some evidence, some proof of at least a partial nature, of its existence, before believing. Theists claim that their "god" (or "gods"), which they may name "Jesus Christ" or "Allah" or whatever, truly exists; it is up to these believers to provide some justification of their extraordinary claims. We still await such justification. And while waiting, it is reasonable to assume that these divine phenomena exist only in the imagination of believers.

Theists often make the mistake of confusing atheism with amoralism, as if atheists must necessarily have no contraints on their behaviour. These theists assume that human beings have an absolute need to believe in the existence of some ghost-like all-powerful omnipresent father (god) in order to control their otherwise unbridled passions by threats of punishment. Even the great Voltaire fell into the trap of neglecting to question this so-called need.

But it is not at all necessary to swallow religious beliefs in order to adopt a moral code. All that is required is a desire to live in society, among our fellow human beings, negotiating with them agreements as to what constitutes desirable behaviour, behaviour which will tend to increase the well-being and decrease the suffering of people in general. The search for such social harmony is in the best interests of each and every one of us. There is no need for Yahweh, or Thor, or Ra, or Santa Claus. We may find some of these old myths quaint and charming (or we may find some of them disgusting), but it would be the height of folly to take any of them seriously.

In the recent words of Arthur C. Clarke, "One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion." In fact, it is a great lie for a religion to claim that morality and ethics are its exclusive domain.

To sum up, the atheist is an individual who, when confronted with a multitude of absurd supernatural belief systems, has both the humility to say, "I don't know" and the boldness to say to believers, "As for you, you have no more knowledge than I do." A person who calls himself or herself an agnostic is like an atheist who is somewhat lacking in audacity.

Proofs ;-)

List A : Proofs of the Existence of God
List B : Proofs of the Non-existence of God
1. See list A.

The essential point here is that the situation is not symmetric. The assertion of the existence of god(s) and the assertion of the nonexistence of god(s) are not on an equal footing. The burden of proof is on those who assert the existence of one or more supernatural entities for which no factual evidence exists. For example, if a person declares "I am God!" then it is up to that individual to provide some evidence for his or her extraordinary assertion. If no such evidence is forthcoming, then those who do not believe are under no obligation to justify their non-belief.