Saturday, May 3, 2014

Atheism is more than just not believing in religious teachings

PHOTO | FILE The voluble fellow calling himself Harrison Mumia, who has been giving TV interviews and posing as atheist-in-chief, does not strike me as somebody who knows the difference between an atheist and a charlatan.

PHOTO | FILE The voluble fellow calling himself Harrison Mumia, who has been giving TV interviews and posing as atheist-in-chief, does not strike me as somebody who knows the difference between an atheist and a charlatan.   NATION MEDIA GROUP

By GITAU WARIGI
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Kenyans love forming petty committees. They seize the slightest excuse to create little groups where they will make themselves chairman or secretary-general or treasurer. Many of these serve no other purpose than to massage small egos that crave endless attention. 

The latest I am hearing is an Atheists Association. The voluble fellow calling himself Harrison Mumia, who has been giving TV interviews and posing as atheist-in-chief, does not strike me as somebody who knows the difference between an atheist and a charlatan.

Atheism happens to be very serious business. Not believing in the Bible – or the Koran – does not qualify one as an atheist.

The average Class Five child has the capacity to doubt that life and the universe were created within six days through a series of daily omnipotent commands. 

The implausibility of the Genesis story is a pedestrian base to ground one’s atheism on. It so happens that true atheists tend to be exceptionally brainy minds.

However, it does not follow that they believe in nothing. At bottom, atheism is a highly developed belief system in itself. It is a belief system that rejects a humanised and whimsical god; a god who, as Albert Einstein memorably put it, “plays dice” with creation.

Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant contemporary scientists studying the cosmos, shocked the religious types by saying his work was aimed at understanding “the mind of God”.

UNDERSTANDING GOD

A rare degenerative disorder Hawking suffers from that has left him unable to speak or to walk is taken as an omen by religious believers of the peril of “playing God”. 

Basically, Hawking’s terminology got misunderstood. Neither he nor Einstein before him were categorically saying there is no room for a super being.

What they were saying is that such a being must be defined by the ultimate laws of the universe; a God who, by necessity, must reveal Himself through the language of science and mathematics, which explains the cosmos.

Science shows these laws, be it gravity of relativity or quantum physics, are logically designed, hence Hawking’s assertion that seeking to understand them, as his calculations aim to do, is in a manner of speaking seeking to “understand God”. (Science admits it is far from getting there. But, then, who is?) 

People like Harrison Mumia, who believe they appear very clever when they call themselves atheists, tend to confuse atheism with something totally different called agnosticism.

 An agnostic is a guy who doesn’t buy the idea of a biblical god, nor is he ready to get into atheistic cynicism. He is happy being somewhere in the middle. Actually, it is a very ordinary place to be and does not require extreme mental exertion.

Incidentally, it is a mistake for wannabe atheists to imagine all religious believers are, by definition, daft.

Some of the best minds that go head-to-head against articulate atheists like Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins or the late Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens are scholars who believe in a religious, moral god.

I would recommend Mumia to read the formidable American Catholic scholar and historian, Garry Wills. It may seem a contradiction in terms, but he writes from a position of heady reason and rationality that many atheists respect. 

OPIUM OF THE MASSES

There is the other tendency to jump to the conclusion that Marxism is, by rule, atheistic. Karl Marx’s atheism was inferred (not stated) by the dismissive place he assigned religion in his study of social transformation. (“the opium of the masses”).

I think if somebody could prove to him that the impersonal economic forces he believed drive society have a supernatural motor, chances are he would have listened very keenly.

The incoherent atheism the likes of Mumia profess reminds me of the old primary school misconception about paganism and heathenism.

The two terms got their bad odour from the Church which, of course, needed to portray everything pre-Christian in the worst possible light.

In truth, ancient pagan societies like the Romans and the Greeks were highly religious. The only difference is that they worshipped many gods, not one. 

Mumia needs more extensive exposure before inflicting on us yet another confused group.

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