This morning I listened to a “faith-based” discussion with a former member of Bush’s staff re the melding of religion with government. As an atheist, I have been searching for a word to describe how nonbelievers differ from believers, and I think I may have found it when I heard it again In John Kennediy’s wonderful speech on the subject of his approach as a Catholic to his possible election as President of what used to be a country of and tolerance for multiple beliefs. And that word is “conscience.”
Until being faith-based became de rigueur during the current reign of the emperor of mediocrity, you could walk down the street without a passerby being able to recognize your beliefs unless you were wearing the ecclesiastical garb of your office, which in those days, we heathens felt respect for without feeling intimidation in return., and still do. Now, however, religiosity hangs heavy in the air and we nonbelievers feel constrained to speak up and educate the rest of you as to some of our various views, especially the views of atheists. (This is my own definition of atheists, by the way.)
An atheist, as I see it, is a person who does not accept the existence off a supreme being, having to this point had no scientific proof of such a being. There does appear to be some sense of order (or disorder, for that matter) to the creation we see, but I have no proof that that entity is speaking to me. As so often happens as a result of the multitude of tragedies that we are aware of these days, if a child in a crowd is killed, people of faith are inclined to thank God that he has saved their child because he still needs the child here on earth, while if their child is killed, it is because God needs the child in heaven. If a child is born terribly deformed both physically and mentally, it is because God has an even more important job for him in heaven.
And here is where the word “conscience” comes in. You do not realize and accept yourself as an atheist unless you are a thinker, and being a thinker means that you work out a set of principles for yourself as a human being. They may be based on eduction and experience taught by others, but they are your very own peronsal principles, and your own self-punishment is severe if you betray them.
The world is full of people who have no faith, no principles, and no conscience, but they have not earned the right to call themselves atheists any more than they can be called true believers.
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