The Good Delusion

Neil - Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom
Entered on March 17, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: atheism

You need to read the title of this entry carefully. There is no typo – I am writing about Good behaviour.

I do so because of some positive aspect about life that I have acquired from reading “The Bible Book”, a precis of the Bible that I mentioned in an earlier blog. As an atheist, I admit to having read about the Bible with a little trepidation. I suspect that this was fuelled by decades of indoctrination about the significance and reverence with which society holds the Bible. After reading through Genesis, Exodus and a few more books, however, I feel less daunted. More bemused by the slaughtering that God involves himself in.

But this article is not about the slaughtering. It is about the recurring theme of God’s frustration with His people. No sooner do they pledge loyalty to Him than they are manufacturing and worshipping false Gods. Repeatedly! Aside from the matter that God should not get frustrated, since he surely knows the character of humans, having apparently made them, and aside from the matter that He knows the future so He knows in advance that they will fail to be consistent worshippers, there is something to be learned from this recurring theme.

Namely that humans are by nature inconsistent and hypocritical. Many of us know this about ourselves, yet conveniently turn a blind eye to these deviations from our normally morally good behaviour. We readily chastise someone who fails to adhere to our own moral code, yet very rarely give credence to the possibility that our own moral code may itself be flawed, and that we do not always even adhere to it ourselves!

The point I am trying to make is that most people try to be good, independent of any religious bent, but we often are not good, often do not know when we are not good, and are essentially too close to ourselves to have a hope of being good consistently. So the concept of turning to an overseer, such as God if He were to exist, to put us on the right path is a wise one I feel.

Often, your parents provide external guidance, but even that is flawed – they would be unlikely to rule consistently fairly when judging you against someone else’s offspring. And they guide you with their own flawed outlook on life also.

I’m not so much talking of living a perfect life, but more that we delude ourselves into thinking we sit on the moral high ground far more than we actually do, and this delusional aspect of human nature blinds us to ever really working out for ourselves how to be truly good.

Additionally, we are simply not party to enough information about the World to act the good life. Someone we know may hate our sweet nature to them, preferring that we treat them with honesty, warts and all. We rarely know this since they fail to inform us. I am also reminded of the rare occasions when I went to Portsmouth Cathedral to watch my girlfriend and her sister sing in the choir. Her deeply religious father would sorely chastise them if they were a few minutes late after changing for their lift home with him. He was blinded by the hypocrisy of the situation by the simple expedient that he is a fallible human.

So when we atheists say in defence to Christians that we are ‘good people’ regardless of our failure to salute a potentially non existent higher being, we are being somewhat arrogant. We are only good in a qualified sense – our blinkered view of the World and our role in it necessarily stops us from being more. It is not our fault, it is just one of our limitations that a higher being might help us with.

Except that from my perspective, if God does exist, He has been astonishingly, invisibly quiet in my life. A guiding figure does indeed need to guide. If His existence is as hard to rationally believe as I find it, then the Catch 22 situation where I must blindly believe Him before he will start guiding me is a crazy one. If He exists, He knows this of me, but fails to solve the dilemna.