Nobody frowns at a person who introduces themselves as a Christian. Not many would sneer at an individual who asked to be excused because they were a Muslim. It isn’t usually considered impolite to talk about your religious views at a dinner table. Or at work. Or in a school. Being a courteous, reserved nation of (mostly) repressed or lapsed Protestants, Britain is a great place to be religious and proud.
Have the gall to declare that you’re an atheist however and you might find that the tables quickly turn.
Whilst there has always been an odd, unspoken rule that forbids the mocking of religious views, there is no such tenet when it comes to atheism. Portrayed all too often by the mainstream media as coarse, critical and hedonistic, today’s modern, British atheist gets a pretty bad rap. Whilst the freedom to believe is assumed, the freedom not to believe tends not to enjoy the same privilege.
It seems absurd to think that here and now, in our scientifically, socially, technologically advanced society, a disbelief in God is still frowned upon. And the fact that it is so often religious people who bully and abuse atheists is very telling indeed. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence in favour of both the Big Bang Theory and human evolution, the burden of proof is still somehow attributed to those who don’t believe. This is no accident.
Science has disproved 99% of all religious belief. The 1% that remains will always remain, precisely because it is impossible to completely disprove a negative. For many years scientists and philosophers have been using Bertrand Russell’s ‘Celestial Teapot’ to explain this theory. Russell’s ‘Teapot’ theory works on the basis that anybody can claim to believe in a ‘celestial teapot that orbits the moon.’ If asked for evidence of said teapot, said believer can again claim that it is simply too small to be detected by humans or machines. Thus it would be impossible to disprove the ‘celestial teapot,’ no matter how scientifically unlikely it seemed. Could the theory of the ‘celestial teapot’ explain why the religious are so keen to demand that science do the disproving?
To use Russell’s own words, “Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This is, of course, a mistake.”
The vast majority of atheists, want nothing more than to have their views respectfully recognised. In their ideal world science would reign, not because they need a replacement for religion but because science is overwhelmingly beautiful. To be an atheist is not to be without, it is not to believe in nothing. But rather, it is to believe in the endless complexity of human life itself. It is to recognise that human life is enough.
Contrary to popular belief, atheism does not equal emptiness.
Unlike religious people, atheists are not often given the chance to protest about what is taught in schools, whether or not it’s appropriate to leave Bibles in hotel rooms, how socially acceptable it is to preach your creed on every doorstep in every neighbourhood. They don’t have the social presence that religious organisations have, they can’t accumulate the same amount of influence.
So the next time you’re at a party and you meet someone bold enough to emerge from the secular closet, think twice before you roll your eyes or bite your lip. If there’s room to respect your beliefs, surely you can make room to respect ours? What was that thing that Jesus said about loving thy neighbour? Oh right…I forget, it doesn’t matter. He’s not real.
Live, love, laugh and most importantly, don’t worry. We’re all going to the same place anyway.
For more information on atheism and Bertrand Russell’s ‘Celestial Teapot Theory’ visit the BBC’s guide to atheism at http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/atheism/ or learn from the expert at http://richarddawkins.net/