Religion — not a prerequisite for living a fulfilling life

“I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.”

Undoubtedly, these are the words of an atheist. But what do they say of the speaker?

The Signal’s amateur theologians/columnists would have you believe this individual led a vapid, miserable and pointless life, for without God there is nothing … and so on.

It turns out this couldn’t be more wrong. These are the words of a man who wrote close to 500 books in his lifetime, was a member of MENSA and lived to be 72 years old. I refer to Dr. Isaac Asimov.

Asimov is but one of many rationalist and humanist thinkers who have profoundly shaped the way in which we view things today.

For example, in 1991, in a joint survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club, Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” which rejects religion, was recognized as the second most influential book for Americans, after the Bible.

Considering the Bible had more than a thousand-year head start, I’d say that’s quite an accomplishment.

Alas, I digress – I’m not here to extol the virtues of reason and deface religion, but rather simply to point out that (much to the discontent of some of my fellow columnists, I’m sure) religion is not a necessary ingredient in life.

I do not contest the notion that man requires a devotion to a higher purpose (be it science or reason or faith or even the destruction of other purposes), but I draw the line at the insinuation that adherence to creed, doctrine or dogma is vital or even wise.

First, let’s start with the assumption that man needs faith to live. If this were the case, the atheists, the heathens and the nonbelievers would simply wither and die as a result of their disbelief.

Not only does this not happen, but, as Asimov and Rand illustrate, those who reject religion often lead full and productive lives.

Next, let’s examine the centrality of faith to God’s existence. Many atheists assert that God is a byproduct of man’s mind. “Not so!” the faithful claim. They hold to the contrary idea that God exists externally.

My question to them is if God exists independently of man’s belief in Him, why do they find worship to be necessary?

This brings us right to my third point: the relationship between God and man.

All conceptions of God or gods point to a higher power and most point to a being or beings that are either omnipotent or close to it.

Man, on the other hand, is born with tangible flaws and percievable physical limitations.

As such, a barrier exists between God and man. Man cannot rise above his rigid limitations and become God; likewise, were God to take on the flaws of man, He would be a higher power no longer.

Thus, even the most devout believer will be no closer to approaching God and godliness than the person who doesn’t believe at all.

My fourth and final point concerns the importance of religion in maintaining order. Generally speaking, theists believe religious doctrine to be an absolute code of right. Without it, they contend, we would fall into lawlessness and disorder.

This view overlooks man’s ability to reason. We are capable of thinking, making decisions and evaluating the choices in front of us. It is this ability that separates us from the animals.

With regard to Hobbes and his belief that man is savage by default, it should be noted that thought is an evolutionary process. We make bad decisions, learn from them and make better decisions the next time around.

This view also greatly overstates the bearing of absolutes on reality. Whether in realization of it or not, just about everyone is a relativist.

Absolutism is an either/or proposition with nothing in between. There is only good and evil. If the taking of a life is an absolute wrong, it doesn’t matter if the one who took the life was a sadistic serial murderer or a soldier fighting in a war. Wrong equals wrong.

Similarly, absolutism allows for no lesser evils or shades of gray. A person who doesn’t uphold the Sabbath is just as guilty as a person who steals or murders and so on. This is what is meant by having absolute moral clarity.

Life, however, is not measured in moral absolutes. We allow for situation and degree.

A non-doctrinal, relativist approach enables us to say that George W. Bush is a far lesser evil than Saddam Hussein, even though both have committed wrongs.

The same approach allows us to say that a parking violation is a lesser offense than statutory rape. On an ideological level, both are wrong, but on a practical level they do not equivocate.

Lastly, the question arises – if religion is unnecessary, why is it still practiced?

The answer will differ from individual to individual, but the one I give is as follows: life is chock full of riddles, mysteries and things unknown.

I cannot pretend to be certain of the origins of the universe or what the future may hold.

As such, I accept a certain measure of religion as one possible explanation of these unknowns.

The God I choose to believe in is the vengeful God of the Old Testament, because that is what makes the most sense to me.

Others may choose to embrace the loving God of the New Testament, or a pantheon of nature-gods or no god at all.

I do not begrudge any person for his or her choice (as this choice is an undeniable right), but it is important that each remember that it is a choice.

The faith of the believers serves them and them alone. Attempting to subject all humanity to the yoke of that faith is self-important puffery.