Godless, or God-free?
A Suffolk Humanists member who’s not on the Internet contacts me the old-fashioned way – by letter. His latest went as follows:
I chanced upon the word ‘godless’ in a dictionary, which gave three definitions:
- ‘Refusing to acknowledge God’. I recognise myself. No problem.
- ‘Lacking a God’. If I have already stated my belief that God does not exist (see above), how can I be lacking one?
- ‘Wicked or unprincipled’. Really? How? When? Where? Why?
Perhaps this is a revelation to see ourselves as others see us.
Derek’s letter reminded me of a Thought for the Day I did on BBC Radio Suffolk in May 1998, called ‘Offending the Godless’:
‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names may never hurt me.’ Except they do. Scant regard is paid to the possibility of causing offence to people who have no religious beliefs, while the sensibilities of religious people are generally protected.
A few years ago, the TV, radio and press news had been full of reports about rioting and hooliganism in urban areas. Our parish magazine contained an article by one of the local ministers, blaming the lawlessness and violence on ‘godlessness’ in society. I was so annoyed that when I met him outside the Post Office I demanded to know why he imagined all godless people were hooligans, because, as a godless person, it had never occurred to me that I should be out there creating mayhem with the rest. He could see I was a bit cross and apologised, saying he hadn’t realised the significance of what he’d written. Quite.
In the 4th century BCE the Greek philosopher Protagoras taught that ‘man is the measure of all things.’ In other words, that human values are formed by reason and experience. He, and many other thinkers who formed the humanist tradition, believed that we can be good without a God or gods, that we can be moral without religion. It’s silly to suggest otherwise. It’s silly to suggest that everyone who lives without religion is a bad person. Non-believers used to be subjected to sticks and stones, were sometimes killed, for their failure to conform to the religious orthodoxy of their time. In some parts of the world they still are. Many prejudiced people are ready to judge their fellows not by how they behave, but by what they say they do or don’t believe.