A reader quibbled with Margaret Atwood saying that atheism was a religion. Seems to this reader this is the definition of a religion: A set of dogmas characterized by ritual, built on a basis of tenets, rituals, and an orthodoxy, so how can atheism be a religion if all of the above are absent? This is the reader asking, not me.
I’m quite willing to let Miss Atwood, with whom I would not be so bold as to engage in a debate, have her definition, which is that a belief is a religion. Webster says a religion is a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices. Take whatever part of that fits and just about anything is a religion. Atheism is a belief that God does not exist. I can see that. It doesn’t happen to be my religion, but it’s a free country, and Atwood not American anyway. Last time I looked Canada was a free country too.
Agnosticism, which Miss Atwood does subscribe to, is not a belief. It is an attitude of permission to explore whether or not God does exist. That’s okay with me too.
How can I argue that there is a God, even though I happen to believe it? Can I prove it? Can anyone? Atwood says there are those who are comfortable accepting the existence of God, and those who are not, and then there are agnostics, she says, who say “Maybe.”
Why do I and so many others say “Yes”? Because I don’t say “No.” My cerebral friend who brought the rituals, etc., into the argument, would probably like me to write something definitive here and clear up the matter once and for all. Maybe I shall.
I seemed to recall having written some rather profound bits to this particular correspondent a couple of years ago, so rather than re-think my original deep thinking, I went on a search for the missive addressing this for him, and found at least one. Here’s what I said in 2003: Religion, through its own corruption, has misused its mandate to help mankind and has become a detriment to all but the most holy (who would have found rectitude even without the iconization organized religion demands). Religion – the institutionalization of the spiritual and the self-proclaimed guardian of society’s moral code – was itself corrupt by its very definition, from the outset.
Spiritual consciousness would be the aim of all in an enlightened society. It would not be codified or memorized, but simply recognized as a component within everyone. The highest calling would be to contemplate this aspect of life, and this would be one of the tasks of everyone, every day. It would not be limited to the few who might attempt to articulate it. If some choose to worship an artifact or object, there would, in a perfect world, be a place for that worship. Some might glorify trees or sunsets, or clouds, or silence itself. This would be an individual choice – shared if there were seen to be some purpose in sharing – but not for material gain to any person, nor for the building of an edifice. There would be true spirituality without the structure of religion. There would be nothing between man and his god.
The dealings between man and man, woman and woman, man and woman, adult and child, and so on, would be sacred as well.
Does this description of the ideal prove the existence of a god? Not quite. It was arrived at from the premise that God exists, and does a pretty good job of supporting that premise -- if I do say so myself, reading it cold three years later.
It may take many more lifetimes of war and crises of spirit to bring about any actualization of a better world. The lack of these is hardly proof that there is no higher being or power than man himself. Proving a negative, I'm told, is more difficult than proving a positive.
We await the answers that do not come, at least not on this plane. We seek, we thrash about, we deny God, we beg forgiveness for that denial, yet we are not capable of truly understanding. We attempt to articulate our observations in the hope that they will lead us to some greater awareness. We discuss the possibilities with those more knowledgeable, like Margaret Atwood, and we are enlightened by discussion.
We demand answers, and all we get is more questions. But let us not stop trying to answer each other.