Monday, 10 March 2008

The difference is not that great

Most theists and most atheists have more in common than most people may think. At least more than may be assumed when following all the god-vs-no-god disputes in the books and in the blogosphere. I think that the relevance of these discussions is much overrated.

We have been invited to lunch with a theist family yesterday. Kind of very strict and obedient theism, as far as we know. We had just normal small talk. Of course they mentioned that they have been in church in the morning, and we mentioned that on Sundays we use to get up late. And of course grace has been said at table. That's it. No talk about God. No hint that God may have influenced any of the decisions and what they told us they did or did not in their everyday life.

I have the strong impression that God is less important for them as they may think. When confronted to a situation that demands an ethical decision, they most likely will believe that God tells them what to do. They feel it inside, and they believe it is God's voice. In the same situation, I most likely will do the same because I feel inside that it is good to do so. The difference, thus, is not in the doing but in the post hoc reasoning why they or I did so.

As an ethologist, a couple of years ago, I have dealt a lot with the question of motivation. We all, theists and atheists alike, are humans, and we all have very similar brains. We eat when we are hungry. We seek company when we feel lonely. We engage in sex if we are turned on and have a consenting partner who is turned on, too. We love each other and we hate each other when we have reasons of doing so. These are the things that guide us.

In everyday life, there are thousands of things that have known or unknown reasons. But there is not a single thing that without any doubt has been caused by an act of God. Some may think so, but they won't say it openly because every theist knows that his view is not generally accepted. That's why theism or atheism does not make a big difference in everyday life.

Where the difference begins

The difference is not in the reasoning but in acting. The Pope banning condoms and helping Aids to spread. People hating gays because of certain anti homosexuality content of the Bible. Trying to push creationism in and evolution out of schools. Stuff like that is what counts.

And there are many, many theists on our side in these things: They oppose the Pope, they stand up for humanity and for the promotion of science. It's the act that counts, not the reasoning behind it.

Further reading

In the Humanist Symposium, hosted by the Glittering Muse, the question of atheism or anti-theism is debated, and Greta Christina dismisses the fundamentalistic view that atheists have reason to feel morally better than theists. Well said.

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