A Chapter from: Kick Me: A Lifetime of Humiliations
by Alan Carl Nicoll
Copyright 2017 by Alan Carl Nicoll, All Rights Reserved
I am an Atheist and Proud of It
“[T]here is reason . . . to worry about the intellectual respectability, and thus the respectability, of [Judaism, Christianity, and Islam]. And it also looks as if there were more interesting and/or more humanly pressing things for philosophers to do than to keep warming up this old stew.” Kai Nielsen, Philosophy and Atheism: In Defense of Atheism, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York, 1985, p. 225.
Religious people should not assume that I’m an asshole because I’m an atheist; rather, I’m an asshole and an atheist. Perhaps this is not the place to rehash the old arguments, but I am compelled, compelled, I tell you, to get my licks in against the torch-and-pitchfork crowd of Stupid Christian Fanatics (“SCFs”) who will be the loudest to call for things to be done against me when (if) this book is published.
Bible believers, if any are reading this, how do you respond to Exodus 32:27-29? It goes, “And [Moses] said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel, “Put every man his sword on his side, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.”’ And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses; and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men. And Moses said, ‘Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, that he may bestow a blessing upon you this day.’” (RSV) Is this your God?
One more question: Why didn’t Noah take dinosaurs on his ark? Are reptiles evil? (Oops, that was two.)
The “Holy Bible,” as I see it, is a work of fiction, no more useful and far more evil than George Lucas’s “Force.” Obviously, I’m no Christian. That the “bobble” is evil is a defensible opinion, but I don’t care to go into it here.
It is often argued, or stated, that if there is no God, then everything is permitted. But what has God ever done to stop an evil act? Society’s prohibitions are far more effective than those of the great bluenose in the sky.
Although I’ll remain an atheist, I’m considering and have often considered attending Quaker services. (In a recent discussion with a friend, I told him that if “God himself” directed me to have faith, I’d believe that I was hallucinating before I’d believe in a god.) For a church, and from a distance, they seem pretty cool and quite unstuffy, given their early abandonment of slavery and vigorous support of abolition and their activism during the Vietnam war. I like their ideas of “plain speech” and “plain dress,” though these are mostly out of fashion now, and the “unprogrammed meetings,” where anyone can speak. A long time ago I subscribed to and read the Quaker Journal for three years, which I found quite interesting, and read a few books. They have no official creed, but most of them are nominally self-identifying as Christian, or so I understand; it may be that I’ll feel like an outsider among the Quakers and will give it up—if I even try it.
I apologize for the choppiness of the following; I’m doing a hasty edit because this site can’t handle footnotes, at least, not how I did them.
Of all the “religions” I know, and I have some familiarity with most of the major and several of the lesser ones, those that have appealed to me include:
- Tolstoyanism ( That is, Leo Tolstoy’s version of the Russian Orthodox Christianity of his era. He wrote extensively on religion, including My Confession, My Religion, The Kingdom of God is Within You, and others. I was almost persuaded by My Religion, but choked on his insistence on “resist not evil.” Too, it’s not unlikely that he actually believed in God, which I couldn’t have done in any case.)
- Theravada Buddhism (The “Four Noble Truths” I can accept when I believe that “all existence is suffering,” but it takes a pretty bad mood for me to find that plausible. Imagining myself as a poor man in India in 500 B.C.E., it seems self evident. From the little I’ve seen, Mahayana Buddhism just adds idolatry and ritual to the basic scheme, and who needs all that.)
- and Confucianism. Of these, the last is most interesting to me, in particular because in the Analects, Confucius defines the “superior man.” No talk of sin and salvation, and little mention of Heaven. His ancestor worship and insistence on ritual, however, hold no appeal.
Taoism (via Alan Watts and Laotse) is just too obscure and requires a guru. Jainism seems both cool and ridiculous. The evidence for ESP is voluminous, and I can’t reject it en masse. My own unexplained experiences do not encourage me to adopt any creed or god. Even more ridiculous are every New Age belief I’ve looked into. I’ve wasted a tremendous amount of time in trying to be open-minded and intellectually pure; the time for such efforts is long past, given my age and my urgent pursuit of “important” goals.
I’ve looked too little into Hinduism to feel comfortable saying anything; the chapter in Huston Smith’s The Religions of Man (also published as The World’s Religions) was mind-blowing.
The only other “religious” option I’ve considered is quite ridiculous: to start my own “church,” the Church of the Bleak Philosophy. “Theologically,” it’s atheism that takes science and especially neuroscience seriously. It accepts some verbal hygiene and constructions from General Semantics, elaborated in Alfred Korzybski: Science and Sanity, and books by Neil Postman, S. I. Hayakawa, and Wendell Johnson.
And philosophically it is more-or-less identical with critical rationalism. A basic text for me now is Gerard Radnitzky & W. W. Bartley, III: Evolutionary Epistemology, Rationality, and the Sociology of Knowledge; Bartley’s other books, the existentialists, Kaufmann and Nietzsche, the later Wittgenstein, and the pragmatism of William James and Richard Rorty, etc., have also been important to me, but let’s face it, I’m no philosopher. Most of my phil. reading has been in Bertrand Russell.
The Bleak Philosophy, as I call my beliefs, has one essential tenet: I am my body; “mind” is just a word for some functions of the body. This belief answers all the questions raised by Blaise Pascal here:
“When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant and which know me not, I am frightened and astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been allotted to me? Memoria hospitis unius diei prætereuntis [Wisd. of Sol. 5.15. ‘The remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but a day.’]” Blaise Pascal, Pensées, translated by W. F. Trotter; Great Books of the Western World, v. 33, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952, no. 205, p. 211
I am here now, not some other time, because the animal bodies called my mother and my father had sex. I have no soul, not having had need of something that is imaginary.
Lately I’ve begun thinking that emotions are essentially the influence of the “body” on the “mind.” The Nielsen quote at the start of this chapter is not quite my bottom line regarding religion, though it was for a long while: now the good fight is anti-stupid-religion, because global warming, nationalism, and the anti-science and pro-Trumpism of SCFs is speeding us to an end that will make no one happy. If you’re not a curmudgeon now, there’s something wrong with you.
Although I reject the Bible, I still use the words “good” and “evil.” To me, it requires no defense to say that unnecessary suffering is evil. If you say that unnecessary suffering is not evil, I don’t understand you. And if unnecessary suffering is evil, then clearly, the relief of unnecessary suffering is good. Also, empathy is nature’s way of telling me to do good things. By “nature’s way,” I mean, “a product of evolutionary adaptation.” I don’t make a deity of nature, or anything else. If I use the word “sin,” it is only in reference to the beliefs of others, or it is meant ironically. This is about as far as my ethical theory goes.
Perhaps I should call myself “the bleak philosopher.” My readers will surely think of more appropriate names to call me.