Friday, July 20, 2012

Why "Atheist for Peace"?

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Why do I call my blog "Atheist for Peace"?

Well, in some senses, I came up with the name in the easiest way: I wanted to write a bit about my experiences and outlook in life as an atheist who was formerly religious, and I also highly value peace - not just an absence of war, but of true peace in the sense of reduced conflict between humans at all levels of society. Personally I believe atheism, a true rational approach to life without the dogma and instructions of religions, is the best way for humans to find peace with each other, and I think that is a common theme in the background of my writings on this blog. I am all for discussions and arguments. I don't ever want to see everyone in the world agree with one another like some sort of robot world, but what I do hope for and aspire to is a world in which those discussions, disagreements and differences of opinion are expressed in a respectful manner and one in which a true understanding of opposing points of view is sought, and more importantly where people admit when their opinion does not make sense, is not rationally defensible, and they have been proven wrong. I long for a world in which people form their opinions based on proven reality rather than on what someone else tells them. Religion is one of the main things that causes people to resist giving up their opinions even when they are irrational and proven wrong. (Patriotism is another such structure that causes irrational thought and inability to accept when one is wrong). In many ways, I think an ideal world would be one in which people did not have "beliefs", because to me a belief is a position you hold that is not necessarily evidence based. Sure, we all believe that the world is round not flat, but would you really call that a belief or simply an acceptance of reality? Sadly, it often seems the world is going in the opposite direction, with less and less understanding between people of different points of view.

It is easy to point at infamous atheists in history and reject the idea that atheism can help bring about a peaceful world. People like Stalin and Mao are obvious examples of those who publicly rejected religion and pursued a society free from religion. The results were terrifying, to be sure. But, that is because they tried to impose their will on people in society, a road to disaster and pain no matter what your will happens to be. Whether you are atheist, Baptist, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Republican, Democrat, pro-life or pro-choice, if you try to impose your views, beliefs, and will on other people by force then the results will almost always be negative. My suggestion as to why atheism can offer peace is that I believe people should take the time to logically and rationally examine the world around them very thoughtfully before they make their opinions or beliefs. And, I believe that when people do so, the ultimate and sole position that makes sense is atheism. Atheism is nothing more than a lack of belief in deities. It does not, as some may think, mean you are a liberal, an environmentalist, a hippie, a scientist, or any other label. I do not necessarily think that when someone examines the world rationally they will end up as any of those things. I do believe that it is possible to be a rational, independent, and critical thinker and be a conservative, for example. But, I do not accept that it is possible to be a rational, independent, and critical thinker and be religious. Being religious requires that you accept some things on faith that someone else has told you are true, and which are not independently verifiable - the exact opposite of independent, critical thinking.

When you look at most of the conflicts in the world, they stem from misunderstandings or unwillingness to understand different points of view. I'm not just talking about conflicts that result in wars, but also everyday conflicts in the workplace, in the home, in school, in society in general. When we avoid taking the time to really understand another's point of view, then we risk creating conflict. Sometimes, when we do take the time to understand someone else's point of view there is still conflict because one or the other of us are not thinking rationally. I think this basic feature of human interaction leads to all the major wars in society. The American invasion of Iraq, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, the Cold War, all are basically the result of non-rational thought combined with massive misunderstanding, and a desire to impose one's will on others. If people would avoid those three things, there would be much more peace in this world.

Take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example. I have long maintained that the only way there will ever be peace in that region of the world is if children are taught from birth not to hate the other side, to truly understand the other side's position, fears, and desires. It would only take one generation to have peace if that were done. I have met and known many Israelis and some Palestinians in my life. Without exception, every single Israeli I have ever met believes that the entire conflict is the fault of the Palestinians. If the Palestinians would just stop using violence to get their way, then we could have peace. And, without exception, every Palestinian I have met believes that the entire conflict is the fault of the Israelis. If the Israelis would just understand that this was our land and it was taken away from us by force, then we could have peace. To be sure there are many complex issues in that conflict that would take some serious negotiating to resolve. But, until a generation of Israelis and Palestinians are raised not to hate and mistrust, there will never be peace. How many times have we seen Israeli and Palestinian leaders smile for the cameras as they shake hands and claim peace, perhaps with an American politician smiling on? Never has it actually resulted in long-term peace. If everyone in that conflict was educated to think rationally, the Jews would be forced to accept that they are not in fact a special race. The Palestinians would be forced to accept that the Jews do actually have as much of a right to live in the region as anyone else. Or, even better, if people thought truly rationally, they would accept that we are all just human and being Jewish or Palestinian doesn't really matter.

I'm not naive, I know that the world will never be a rational place. Humans, en masse, are incapable of rational thought. But it doesn't stop me from promoting more rational, logical, critical, and independent thought. And, as I say, I believe that the first step when we all start doing so would be to discard the ancient and primitive shackles of religion. Not by force, but by free choice and acceptance of the truth of the world we live in.

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