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Saturday, September 10, 2011

WDAD: What Do Atheists Do To Find Peace?

While in times of crisis, atheists focus on the immediate and present dangers to humanity instead of even using part of their time to gain comfort from prayer to a higher power, the flipside of the question may pose a larger quandary: what do atheists do to find peace in those times of crisis discussed previously or in general? What ought to be qualified from the start are two kinds of peace. The first is that of personal, inner or introspective peace. This refers to a calm, or at least rational and level headed, approach to the various trials and difficulties life throws at you. The second is resultant from the first. When you find peace within yourself, you have more likelihood of finding peace with others. The nature of that peace will be discussed forthwith, but the interpersonal or external peace can also reflect how you resolve conflicts or approach international politics, such as recent wars in the Middle East and U.S. intervention which I find at the very least invasive and at the most stretching our resources thinner than necessary. My non-interventionist position aside, this extrospective peace can also reflect the state of a society: crime rates, quality of living, etc.  This dual approach to peace 
might be a bit simplistic, but it confronts two important facets of this question to atheists.

Inner peace; more precisely peace of mind; is something argued to be a benefit of believing in God and praying to it, as noted in part last week in “WDAD: What Do Atheists Do In Times Of Crisis?”  However, this sort of comfort is as fleeting as any sort one gains from without. Family is something both atheists and theists can find happiness and peace in through shared love. But even family will pass away. This is not to be pessimistic, but realistic. Any peace of mind should not be gained by clinging to things as if they are what give us contentment or satisfaction. A peace worth anything comes from contemplation, introspection and realization thereof. I’m not saying everyone should become mystics, but just practicing some form of mindfulness or contemplation for even just an hour of one’s time could lead you to greater peace.  I imagine people would respond that they can do that and center themselves through God, but I would respond, as I would to anyone who prays to any higher power for guidance or security of any form, that this persists only as you continue to either exclude any contrary evidence/thoughts or until you experience something harrowing enough to break you and reshape you as a more self sufficient human being. I went through troubles, but I never found solace in an invisible, inscrutable entity. My parents, my friends, and people in general helped me. Human healing and improvement comes through human efforts and human will, not through the interventions or appearances thereof from supernatural beings.  Any sort of appeals to gods or spirits will not avail you and that harsh reality is something I cannot prove to you, but only advise you to consider the likelihood. I’ve considered whether the world would seem better through believing in a protective deity, but I cannot concede that anything becomes better. The basic conclusion would be that things would be too safe and we would cease to have any real awareness of things around us except as they benefit us and us alone as humans instead of as part of a larger world we share with other beings, both smaller and larger than us.

The issue of peace between others is much more contentious than even the previous debate on the psychological benefits of religious belief. Many theists respond with examples of cruel dictators, such as Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot and Adolf Hitler to claim that atheism as any sort of basis for society only leads to chaos and evil. First off, the example of Hitler could be pointed out by anyone reading his own writings to be mistaken on its face, since he clearly believed in God, even if his God was an Aryan Nazi. Any other example one can present is not a reflection of atheism as a whole, but atheism when intermingled with politics and humanity’s natural lust for power. The maxim that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” applies the same with atheists as with theists. Any sort of atheist without some basic ethical framework or consideration of other humans is bound to be just as dangerous as a theist believing they are doing God’s work on earth. The argument commonly goes that atheists don’t have any basis for ethics (which I’ll confront in more detail eventually), so they are more dangerous than theists in what they would do with political clout. But I contend that humans conceive of equally horrendous things whether they believe in God or don’t. The only difference is that atheists are more easily accountable to humans than theists are; pledging their loyalty first and foremost not to humanity, but to God, faithful to humanity only vicariously as a duty to the Creator. A theist in control and following the commands of God without question can commit atrocities likened to an atheist who regards science as their primary master in that there is the same human tendency to be inflexible and resistant to change.

Evidence seems to suggest, in part, that nations with more atheists are more peaceful, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Japan and Canada are just a few nations that are more peaceful in that they have less crime and overall violence. That’s not to say they are crime free, but the occurrences are more spread out statistically. Japan is notorious for some murders in its history, but they occur more sporadically, since guns and swords are all but illegal in Japan; even the Self Defense Force doesn’t use guns, but instead utilizes non lethal weapons and force to pacify people. That word pacify is not commonly related to its root meaning of peace. Many would regard pacifists as weak, but just because you want to restrain someone or solve a problem without killing people does not make you weak. When you restrain yourself so as not to take a life, it takes more courage than lashing out in violence that kills anyone near you. Similarly, both theists and atheists who are pacifist in this sense have far more willpower and bravery than either an atheist or theist who advocates the use of violence to solve problems that could be solved without bloodshed or unnecessary death.

Overall, I hope I’ve given some perspective on how atheists, or at least myself as an atheist, can find personal peace and interpersonal peace, not pressured by some natural urge as a nonbeliever to kill people or commit crimes. I maintain peace for the sake of others as much as for myself. We share this world, so I see no reason to create harsh waves without a rational or practical reason for doing so. Until next time, Namaste, aloha and as-salaam-alaikum (Peace be unto you).

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