On being an atheist
I swear, dear listener, that I don’t earn a penny from the BBC for saying nice things about them. I don’t even get paid for getting out of my lovely warm bed at some ungodly hour to come and talk to you. Well, it’d have to be ungodly, because I’m totally ungodly, or god-free. So it gives me great pleasure to tell you that next Monday the BBC begins what it describes as ‘the first ever television history of disbelief’ with Jonathan Miller on BBC4. I look forward to hearing Jonathan Miller, who I expect to be erudite and witty. It will be good to hear someone talking about atheism, including his own atheism, without a hint of apology. What is there to apologise for?
I find it very irritating when incredulous religious people can’t or won’t understand why I don’t regard my lack of religious belief as a problem. It’s not a matter of having missed something, or not having been given the right guidance, and if only I could see things their way I’d be much happier… I just don’t believe in God, and I don’t think you can make anyone believe something they’re disinclined to believe, nor do I think anyone has a right to try to make me believe. What would they say, these people who’d like me to believe, if I tried to persuade them I’m right and they’re wrong? Exactly. So I won’t preach atheism to believers, if they leave me alone. In any case, the onus of proof lies with the proposition, not the opposition, and as I’m not very interested in the proposition, why should I bother explaining myself?
The thing is; there are good atheists and bad atheists, just as there are good religious people and bad religious people. Saying you’re an atheist, in itself, doesn’t tell anyone anything about your values. It does, however, usually suggest that you’ve given the matter some serious thought. The late Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, when asked about his atheism, said, ‘I really mean it, have thought about it a great deal, and that it’s an opinion I hold seriously.’ I’m with Douglas on this. So if you are too, please don’t apologise for it. There are lots of atheists who tend to go all quiet when anyone starts pontificating about how religion is good for us. Maybe it is, for some people, but, for crying out loud, we don’t get burnt at the stake any more, so be honest about yourself, and your disbelief. Most of us atheists have a strong sense of right or wrong, and try to live responsibly. Atheists, assert yourselves! You’ve nothing to apologise for.
Jonathan Miller (left) & Douglas Adams (right)