By Michael Dishnow, October 26, 2014
Published in the La Crosse Tribune.
Secularism promotes a virtuous life
Virtue has its roots in the contemplation of what is good and in accord with the laws of nature. As plants respond to the sun’s rays and raindrops falling from the sky, virtue blossoms individually, as in community, when love for oneself and others is the compost.
What is good for me is good for another. What is harmful for me is harmful for another.
I would argue that atheism is a surer path to leading a virtuous life than the paths followed by those following traditional religious dogmas. There is a natural freedom in not being bound to required beliefs. Understanding is the source of all morality. It’s our actions, not our beliefs, which matter.
Common sense and our experiences have long held that we should note what one does, not what one says, to understand the man.
The distractions of bias and discrimination toward those who did not accept their particular beliefs and dogmas have historically bound religious believers. Minus the distractions of having to defend and proclaim a particular set of beliefs, a person is truly free to study, observe and make decisions based on an objective examination of nature’s ways. This freedom is universal in that it allows for changing and modifying one’s conclusions as the state of science and learning advances before us.
I would be remiss to paint with too wide a brush. Not all believers in a God react toward those who see the world differently in a negative way. There are those who have a universal mindset and see belief to be the province of the believer or nonbeliever. This said, our history suggests that this form of liberal religiosity has more often than not, been absent.
The conservative Christians who proclaim our nation’s founders established a government based on Christian values is an obvious contemporary example. The leading men in our fight for our independence from Great Britain were not Christians, but rather products of the historical period known as the enlightenment. They were deists or atheists — believers in nature and nature’s god — and, to them, nature and God were synonymous.
The majority of our founders rejected the Protestant doctrines of the virgin birth, original sin, miracles of Scripture, and the resurrection and the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. Their disdain for the priesthood and the shadow it cast over the common citizen is obvious throughout the primary sources available to the current historian. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and others of significance in our founding documents were not Christians.
Reason is essential in learning and knowledge and, as such, is the basis of morality. The opposite of reason is faith. When faced with reason disagreeing with faith, the person of faith is bound to his faith. This self-delusion is the foundation of all religion in its popular manifestations. Theocracy is the opposite of democracy.
Jefferson argued that secularism spreads as the natural consequence of freedom of thought in a free society. Secularism is inevitable in the modern free world. Our social, moral and political experiences bring deeper understanding and this knowledge, along with the advances of science, foreshadows increasing secularism.
Secularism is spreading throughout the world. Europe, the cradle of Christianity, is largely a secular society today. The grand cathedrals and remnants of a time when Christianity ruled are now merely works of art considered through the window of history.
The United States has been an outlier in the overwhelming move toward secularism. This is rapidly changing, and the younger generations are less and less religious in any traditional sense. More than two-thirds of the those younger than 30 are non-churchgoers, and their number are ever increasing.
Education and the increase in scientific advances will be the death knell of traditional religious practices and beliefs. They are simply not compatible with an educated and knowledgeable populace.
The virtuous atheist is a free agent, free to find meaning and purpose in life, free to understand the deepest meanings of the golden rule, and free from the myths and superstitions that often enslave the mind.
The virtuous atheist, liberated from all forms of tyranny over the human mind, is arguably the freest in the land of the free.
Mike Dishnow is a member of the La Crosse Area Freethought Society.