Atheism Central for Secondary Schools

 

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"People need to stop getting hung up about whether people are real or not. If you see a man with a white beard and a red cloak you say that's Father Christmas. That's the way I believe in Jesus Christ."

Stephen Mitchell, rector of Barrow upon Soar Parish Church


"Faith is believing something you know ain’t true."

Samuel Clemens "Mark Twain", American author and humourist

 

 

"If God does not exist, and if religion is an illusion that the majority of men cannot live without...let men believe in the lies of religion since they cannot do without them, and let then a handful of sages, who know the truth and can live with it, keep it among themselves. Men are then divided into the wise and the foolish, the philosophers and the common men, and atheism becomes a guarded, esoteric doctrine - for if the illusions of religion were to be discredited, there is no telling with what madness men would be seized, with what uncontrollable anguish."

Irving Kristol, American religious neoconservative.

 

"... the God idea is growing more impersonal and nebulous in proportion as the human mind is learning to understand natural phenomena and in the degree that science pro- gressively correlates human and social events."

Emma Goldman, 1916

Plato imagined a city with a population divided into different sections - Rulers, Auxiliaries, Farmers etc. The Rulers would be selected from a military elite called Guardians. The Rulers would be those Guardians who who had shown their skill in watching over the interests of the community and proven that they care about those interests. The Auxiliaries would be trainee Guardians.

The Rulers must tell the people the noble lie that the division of the population into different sections - Rulers, Auxiliaries, Farmers etc. - is not due to education, but to the gold, silver and iron put into their souls by God. 'If one of their own [the rulers'] children has bronze or iron in its make-up, they must harden their hearts and degrade it to the ranks of the industrial and agricultural class where it properly belongs: similarly, if a child of this class is born with gold or silver in its nature, they will promote it appropriately to be a Guardian or an Auxiliary'.

Plato benevolently conceived of such a system in order to establish a stable social and moral order and to make the most of the capacities of individuals to serve the community. He was not concerned that the lie he told was false. If the people believed that god put different metals into the souls of different people then they would accept the social order that resulted from this and live in a stable and socially just society. Its claim to social justice would come from a willingness to promote or demote people according to their ability. Even less palatably to us now, Plato also suggested that people be taught the myth that different classes have different metals in their bloodstream, and therefore should not intermarry.

The noble lie is a religious myth told to the people to motivate them to do what is good and right. Without this religious belief they would not behave in a good fashion even if this was what was ultimately in their best interests. It was no use explaining to them why they should behave well because they would not understand. Plato did not have a very good opinion of the ordinary man or woman. He thought mankind should be ruled by super-intelligent Guardians who would know what was right to do. Ordinary people could not rule because they could not be trusted to do what was right. Democracy, said Plato, is the rule of the mob.

To be fair to Plato, he was not entirely convinced that the rulers could be trusted with the truth: "might we contrive one of those opportune falsehoods ... so as by one noble lie to persuade if possible the rulers themselves, but failing that the rest of the city." Persuade the rulers of the truth of the lie and it would be all the more successful!

Many of those who support religious belief agree with Plato. It is not important that religion is a lie - the important point is that the people believe in it and that this belief maintains social order and moral behaviour. This is why English schools are obliged to have religious education in their syllabuses - because the government can see no alternative to religion to maintain some sense of social order and moral behaviour amongst the masses. individual students can opt out of religious education - not for the benefit of atheists, but to allow Moslems to provide an alternative syllabus for their children without the negative influences of other religions.

A Church organisation in the UK agrees with Plato too. Calling itself the Sea of Faith this organisation comprises over 70 serving Anglican priests
who do not believe in the literal truth of the Bible or in the existence of God. Members of the Sea of Faith do not believe in the authenticity of the Christmas story, as related in the New Testament, or in the resurrection.

The organisation was founded by
Don Cupitt in the early 1980s and now has a membership of about 800 with clerical members among Roman Catholics as well as ministers from evangelical Protestant denominations

When asked how in conscience he could prepare his people for Christmas while not himself believing in the virgin birth, one clergyman, who asked not to be identified, said: "I wouldn't tell people that Father Christmas didn't exist - it's the same as that."

One of the few Anglican members of Sea of Faith prepared to state his views publicly is Stephen Mitchell, rector of Barrow upon Soar. Mitchell says: "People need to stop getting hung up about whether people are real or not. If you see a man with a white beard and a red cloak you say that's Father Christmas. That's the way I believe in Jesus Christ." It seems that he and other members of the Sea of Faith believe that knowing the truth is suitable for a small elite but not for the masses, who, like Plato's men of bronze or iron, are too ignorant to know what to do with the information.

Sea of Faith believes that God is a human creation, evidently agreeing with Aristotle (see quotation on homepage). However, absurdly, they reject the term "atheist" because they say that they believe in the human invention of a deity. They happily and hypocritically conduct services including Holy Communion and happily recite the Nicene Creed: "We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty..."

However, the Sea of Faith do have a positive contribution to make in many ways and perhaps the above may appear too critical. The Sea of Faith also appears to act as a sort of staging post for people moving from theism to atheism who are unable to drop the habits of a lifetime. The following is a quote from their web site with some words made bold by the author of Atheism Central:

"As for immortality, a Sea of Faith view would have it that concepts of "eternal life", "life after death", "Heaven" and "Hell" are necessarily human constructs. Just as Heaven and Hell are now widely understood as states of mind in this life, so traditional doctrines of eternal life are ways of expressing the profound conviction, common in all cultures (and confirmed, of course, by modern biological science), that we are part of a process which began long before our birth and will continue long after our death. Indeed, it is precisely because every individual life makes its own unique contribution to the drama of the living universe that it is seen as having "eternal" significance. And it is precisely because our one life in this world is all that we have that we have a responsibility to make the most of it. To see life "here below" as a mere preparation for joys above (or horrors in outer darkness) - that is to diminish it, to trivialise it. We reject such reductionism."

The idea of the '"eternal" significance' is a bit wishy-washy, to say the least - but it is in inverted commas. This passage expresses a curious combination of the religious and the realistic - an outward feeling of religion and emotion half-concealing a cooler atheistic core. It is understood that about one third of Sea of Faith members leave each year able finally to shake off many of the trasppings of religious life.

Many modern religious thinkers such as Irving Kristol, an American religious neoconservative, provide the basis for the modern noble lie: "There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work." Kristol rejects the notion that the truth will make men free and agrees with Leo Strauss, a German political philosopher, that the popularisation of truth could cause a breakdown of the social order and moral conduct.

According to Strauss only philosophers are made free by the truth.
Philosophers know the truth, but must keep it hidden from the common people because this knowledge would cause despair and lead to the breakdown of society. What is the hidden truth known to philosophers? That there is no God and there is no ultimate foundation for morality.

The author of this web site agrees with Strauss that there is no ultimate foundation for morality but only if no value is placed on life. Once a value is placed on life then it is possible to construct a moral code. It is the job of non-believers to develop the basis for a moral code to replace one built on the noble lie. This is because the noble lie has too many side effects: ignorance and human misery. A satisfactory morality and social order can only result from a starting point of truth.

 

Title: 'Atheism Central for Secondary Schoolsl' Copyright 1999, Alan Urdaibay