Friday, 12 October 2012

A test for your atheism.

I've been wondering for a while whether there is a really good test of one's degree of atheism, and recently a few things had brought me to a tentative conclusion.

I would like to suggest that our attitude to death might be the final give-away.  I don't just mean death in general, but specifically our own mortality.

Of course there is a broad spectrum of hopes and beliefs, and in a short blog post I can only speak in very general terms.  I think is possible to narrow down our attitudes to four main points of view and I'll try to place these on Richard Dawkins' spectrum of beliefs. (From page 50 of The God Delusion; 1 is a strong theist, and 7 is a strong atheist.)

1/  You know that there is a heaven and you are confident that you will get there because even if you are not perfect, you are repentant and you know in your heart that this is true.

3/  You don't think about it often, but when you do you are pretty sure that there is an afterlife and you fear that you might go to hell and suffer eternal torment.  You don't fear this quite enough to change all your life decisions, but it does nag at you.  But still . . . there is always time to mend your ways and to repent later.  (Or is there?)

5/  You don't think about it often, but when you do, you still have a lingering sense that you have a spirit or soul, and you would like it to live on after your mortal life is over.  You want this in some unspecific spiritual sense, since you don't really believe in the gods that others worship.  However, you are still horrified at the concept of your own mortality.

7/  You know that there is no 'hope' of an afterlife and find this viewpoint to be quite soothing - even therapeutic.  After the highs and lows of a life lived well (or badly) you will neither be subjected to the continuous joy of paradise (which must get boring eventually) nor to the eternal torments of hell.  After death there will be perfect peace and your entire being will cease to be.  And you really don't mind!  You think "when I'm gone, don't grieve for me, but look after the people who loved me".

Now I know that the words are slightly skewed towards what I might call 'Christian atheism'.  By that I mean the kind of atheist who has rejected the idea of the Christian God and ignores even the existence of the other options.   However, I think it might work for Muslims if the words were changed a little, and for other religions to varying degrees.  In the case of Buddhists this scale tests something other than atheism, since they are all atheists, but I think a Buddhist apostate could aspire to reach 7, with practice.

Religions clearly foster the human desire for an afterlife.  It is one thing that almost all of them have in common.  Indeed the afterlife might be the carrier of the virus of religion.

If I score 7, does that mean that I'm not enjoying my life enough?  What do you think?

1 comment:

RosaRubicondior said...

The idea of oblivion is not attractive for someone who believes life is interesting. The thing that I find most annoying is that I won't know what happend next; how things turned out for life on earth. All we can do is to prepare the next generation to carry our genes and try to return to them the world we borrowed from them in a little better shape that how we found it and celebrate now 'The Joy of Living'.

In Ewan McColl's words

Farewell you northern hills, you mountains all goodbye
Moorlands and stony ridges, crags and peaks goodbye
Glyder Fach farewell, Culbeg, Scafell, cloud bearing Suilven
Sun warmed rocks and the cold of Bleaklow's frozen sea
The snow and the wind and the rain of hills and mountains
Days in the sun and the tempered wind and the air like wine
And you drink and you drink till you’re drunk on the joy of living

Farewell to you my love, my time is almost done
Lie in my arms once more until the darkness comes
You filled all my days, held the night at bay, dearest companion
Years pass by and they're gone with the speed of birds in flight
Our lives like the verse of a song heard in the mountains
Give me your hand and love and join your voice with mine
And we'll sing of the hurt and the pain and the joy of living

Farewell to you my chicks, soon you must fly alone
Flesh of my flesh, my future life, bone of my bone
May your wings be strong, may your days be long, safe be your journey
Each of you bears inside of you the gift of love
May it bring you light and warmth and the pleasure of giving
Eagerly savour each new day and the taste of its mouth
Never lose sight of the thrill and the joy of living

Take me to some high place of heather, rock and ling
Scatter my dust and ashes, feed me to the wind
So that I may be part of all you see, the air you are breathing
I'll be part of the curlew's cry and the soaring hawk
The blue milkwort and the sundew hung with diamonds
I'll be riding the gentle wind that blows through your hair
Reminding you how we shared in the joy of living.

Ewan McColl - The Joy Of Living.