All three of the above terms have increasingly come under attack in recent years by a number of different people and sources. Those who attack tend to be religious fundamentalists. This article will make the case that, if the human race is to survive and prosper, all three will need to be widely accepted by the majority of the human race.
The first point to be made here is that all three of these are uncompromisingly positive terms. Any negativity associated with them is due to a misunderstanding of what each actually means not only in terms of definition, but also of actual practice. So the first step here is to give some definitions.
Atheism is simply not believing in gods. Since no one has ever given a coherent, non-contradictory definition of what a “god” actually is, and since no theistic philosopher has been able either to define or to produce the god they want to believe in, we may conclusively state that gods are nothing more than a figment of the human imagination. To be logically consistent, no true atheist should be a believer in anything that cannot be objectively proven or smacks of magical thinking, whether it be miracles, numerology, or any form of the supernatural.
Humanism is a term that has been the target of much religious opprobrium in recent years, even more than atheism. There are religious humanists and atheistic humanists. The term simply means that we as humans must act in our own interest without expecting any supernatural forces to come to our aid. Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536) is regarded as being one of the first religious humanists, but by no stretch of the imagination was he an atheist. By contrast, most of today’s humanists have shed any religious baggage they may once have had and live totally secular lives. To today’s fundamentalist religious community, humanism has become one of their main bugaboos, for the simple reason that people who are happy, can think independently and solve their own problems are far less likely to waste time in pointless prayer.
Modernity is a relative term and refers the time period closest to the present. The first point to be made here is that the term, properly understood, is always positive. Here, I use the term as the approximate equivalent of “progress.” This does not mean, of course, that Hitler’s Germany was “better” than, say, Elizabethan England. Hitler and his Nazi thugs, far from embracing modernity, sought instead to revert to an earlier allegedly halcyon time period and to escape what they thought were the “evils” of the modern world. Hitler had simply changed veneration of Christ for veneration of himself. Not without reason did Robert G.L. Waite title his 1977 biography of Hitler “The Psychopathic God.”
It is my contention that we are currently living in a pre-modern era. This will no doubt come as a surprise to most readers. Certainly, we live in a high-tech world wherein new innovations greet us virtually every day. Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of our fellow humans continue to believe in pre-rational (or anti-rational) things and ideas that should have died out ages ago. Until we are able to divest ourselves of these notions, we humans will continue to be our own worst enemy. Historically, science, technology and other innovations always precede moral change, and moral change is extremely difficult to bring about. Part of this is the simple fact that age-old ideas and myths are virtually impossible to discard for most people, no matter how backwards, quaint, or even immoral they may seem to others. Often, it seems that technology and people’s beliefs are light years apart.
Social evolution is the key term in understanding modernity.
The eighteenth century was the key time period in human development. During that time, social advancements made more headway than they had since the time of the ancient Greeks. Nonetheless, in France, the Rights of Man was soon followed by the terror of the French Revolution. We must therefore ask: did the horrors of the French Revolution spring from the same well as the Enlightenment? The obvious answer is no, but to listen to today’s fundamentalists, one would think that the Enlightenment was the direct cause of all the evils of the modern world. To correct this error, let us briefly consider that time period in order to better understand how it has shaped all subsequent human history.
The Enlightenment was not the product of any one year or any one individual. It was more of a process from which humankind slowly emerged from its long intellectual, artistic, and moral slumber. More than anything else, however, it seems to be a change of attitude about life itself. Rather than life being “short, nasty and brutish” as Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) had famously said, many people began to think that, no, perhaps it is actually possible to strive to achieve something and to enjoy ourselves rather than being useless and miserable as most were during the Christian Dark Ages. Perhaps it is possible even to feel good about ourselves. Hobbes’ cynicism is still felt today by many, but it thankfully is a minority opinion.
What we now call “fundamentalist” Christianity has been until very recent times the only type in existence; whether it was in the form of Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestantism. Today’s liberal Christians conveniently forget this historical truism and insist that their watered-down version is what the “real” Christianity is all about. Nonetheless, in their earliest manifestation, all religions are inherently fundamentalist; all are terrified of modernity or at least many aspects of it, and seek to escape through alleged mystical “insight.” In other words, through subjective means. But since only the objectively true can be shown to exist, rationalization of an intense order must take place to justify subjective intuition. That is where religion and theology come in. However, all the faith in the world cannot make an untrue statement true. Nor can it produce a god. Unfortunately for humanity, belief in a god has not died out as it should have centuries ago, along with the belief in witches, devils, and all sorts of other things that go bump in the night.
This is not the place for a step-by-step refutation of religion or the existence of god. Interested readers seeking this information may consult my article “Why Gods Cannot Exist.” What I do want to discuss here is the fact that the hijacking of morality by religion is the single greatest disaster in human history. Since religious beliefs are by nature anti-rational, by extension they are also anti-moral or immoral, since rationality is the basic difference separating the human species from all others. The equating of subjective religious belief and intuition with correct moral behavior is the fundamental evil from which all others spring.
Religions, in their earliest formulation, are the primary instruments of both sociological and moral repression, though they invariably claim the opposite. Even the most superficial examination of human history will disclose this fact; virtually every human advancement has been fought by religious groups. When the smallpox vaccine was invented, Christian ministers howled that, if someone became sick, that was the will of god and who are we, puny little humans that we are, to try to defy the divine will? When the airplane was invented, religious leaders screamed that if man were meant to fly, god would have provided him with wings. These examples can by multiplied endlessly, but the point is obvious: the church, by its very nature, is a regressive and a repressive institution. If these various religions today have lost some or most of this characteristic it is simply because they have been forced to adapt or survive. And, when the advances of science become too obvious to refute, the religions step in and claim them as their own; witness all the Christian hospitals in this country as but one example.
Morally, the entire world seems to be countless generations behind our scientific advancement. Since morality continues to be equated with religion, virtually every aspect of human existence has been tainted by the simple fact that most people simply cannot recognize the good when they see it. A monk or a nun is perversely accorded the same or greater respect than an award-winning scientist. Consequently, we are adrift in a sea of moral degeneration which has poisoned virtually all other aspects of human endeavor. The arts, most certainly, have been affected by this poisoning of morality.
Society today is both ideologically and morally bankrupt. True, there remain classically trained virtuosos of the arts, as there have always been. But appreciation of real art is beyond the interest of the masses, and the ruling elites and social media have abandoned this in favor of what the masses want (or what they think the masses want). As a consequence, we have abandoned our moral compass to an entire generation. Consider, for a moment, the state of current popular music, as manifested in rap.
Obscene lyrics, spouted by illiterate gangsters accompanied by primitive and repetitive rhythmic thumping, is the new standard of musical excellence to many young Americans. But objectively analyzed, this is neither music nor art. Anger, rather than aesthetic values, is the driving force behind this anti-musical phenomenon in which melody and harmony are abandoned in favor of angry verbal monotony. Many people are angry at society, they have no self-esteem, and rappers feed off of this and therefore perversely become role models. In other words, contemporary society has all but deified rappers. This is but one indication of how far society has degenerated. We have abandoned musical values and replaced them with anti-values that are the very antithesis of uplifting inspirational sound. The purpose of art is not to imitate life, to show it as it is, but rather as it could be. There is nothing uplifting about a “music” that rejects all the definitional essences of real music (melody, harmony, and counterpoint).
Politics too is no longer an institution designed to serve those elected for just that purpose. Both democratic and republican parties are currently beholden to the same corporate interests, though both claim, as the Girondists and Jacobins did to be representing “the people.” Yet increasingly, voters are becoming increasingly disenchanted with both parties. Despite this, they continue to elect politicians who refuse to serve their best interests.
Religion, subjectivism, and all their concomitant evils have brought us to this state. Only logic and objectivity can save us from this moral abyss.