Beta Culture: Proposing a New Definition of Atheism

Beta Culture: Proposing a New Definition of Atheism December 8, 2013

One thing I’m adamant about in my thoughts on Beta Culture: That the people within it must be atheists. As I’ve said before here, if you haven’t taken the mental journey of freeing yourself from religion, Beta is not for you.

And again, if that sounds harsh, the foundational distinction OF Beta Culture is the idea of a culture – a community, a virtual nation – of people who are free of religion. Free in every aspect of their lives, including all that we’ve inherited socially. The goal is to build such a thing for the first time ever on Planet Earth, and see what happens.

Anything short of that, say a culture that had a friendly “Oh what the hell, why not?” relationship with religion and religionists, would be a simple extension of what we already have. What we have had, for countless thousands of years, and what has given us this society and world. Might as well start up a new church fellowship.

Thought Experiment: Beta Culture

Beta itself is a thought experiment, the thought experiment of “What happens when humans build a totally secular, absolutely non-religious culture? What happens when humans examine and reimagine every aspect of human society – family, personal relationships, business, government, every human endeavor – free of mysticism?”

When I say “re-imagine,” I mean the exact opposite of this: To accept everything that’s gone before, both the social structures and their philosophical/conceptual/historical underpinnings, and to simply branch out or build upward from there.

No, I mean: Go back and pick apart EVERYTHING for its mystico-religious elements, and re-imagine things, re-create them, without those influences. Tear civilization down to the bones and rebuild it from the ground up.

I’m aware that might sound threatening. But when I say Beta is not for everybody, I mean it both ways. It’s not something that everybody would fit into, but it’s also not something intended to be enforced upon those outside it.

Oh, I expect it to be a potent social force eventually, if it becomes what it could be. But I see that force as a protective measure more than a transgressive one. In the same way that gays demand equal rights, Betas will demand equal rights – FULL social access and equality. If some Catholic Bishop gets his nose bent out of shape by our existence, just as he does by the existence of gays, that would be HIS problem.

The array of rights heretofore allotted to the religious has been overly broad, in my opinion, but there’s very little I’d want to take away from them. At the same time, I would absolutely demand that same array of rights for Betas. If, for instance, Bishop Christian Blatherbot gets an engraved invitation to the Presidential Inauguration, I want someone in Beta to get that same invitation, to show up and make a visible statement that Betas belong there too.

Thought Experiment: Science

Speaking of thought experiments, here’s one we’re already doing – the thought experiment of Science: What would the physical world look like if there were no supernatural beings or mystical forces – at all – to have any effect upon it?

What would astronomy look like? What would chemistry look like? How would geology work? What are the mechanisms behind the emergence and development of life? How do human brains function? What can we discover about physics? How does weather work? How good can we get in inventing reliable electronic gadgetry?

Again, the preface of all those questions is basically “If there were no such things as gods and ghosts, supernatural superbeings or mystical forces of any sort …”

This is in the shared endeavor of science, mind you, but it’s possible to carry out that same thought experiment in your own mind.

Before we get to that, though, note this very important result of the thought experiment of science: Pretty much everything in modern civilization. Hell, if we hadn’t performed that experiment, we’d still be riding horses and driving carriages. Maybe we could have derived steam power from a belief in spitting, hissing demons, but I doubt we’d have gotten much beyond it.

Note that science didn’t have to PROVE the non-existence of gods and demons, chariots pulling the sun across the sky, or angels dancing on pins. It just had to perform the thought experiment of assuming that such things didn’t exist to affect daily reality – incidentally flying in the face of thousands of years of tradition – and absolutely incredible results began to flow out of it.

Finally, though …

Thought Experiment: Atheism

From my earliest days as a public atheist, I’ve been encountering people who say “Well, I’m an agnostic because you can’t PROVE there’s no such thing as God.” Not to mention those on the other side of the fence who chirp “It takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to be a Christian!”

The second response doesn’t bother me all that much. I mean, they have to say SOMETHING, right? But the first one … I always see it as a failure to think about the thing in deeper ways.

As I explained in my book, there are actually two arguments at work in most discussions of whether or not gods exist, with a hidden unfairness insisted upon by traditional believers.

The first argument is strictly a faith-y one. On the basis of faith, you can believe in a god, or believe in the non-existence of a god, with perfect justification. A god-believer who says “I have faith this is true” can’t turn around and deny the disbeliever the same rationale. Neither can we. If we accept theism based on faith, atheism is perfectly justified by the same argument.

The fact that no atheist would WANT to claim “faith” as his justification – it would feel sort of self-defeating – is irrelevant.

The second argument is the rational one. In this case, both sides need some sort of reasonable evidence. NOT faith, but hard facts that support ones’ assertion.

The problem comes in when the goddy side, armed with nothing but faith in existence, then demands the non-goddy side trot out four-decimal-place evidence for non-existence. It’s not a level playing field; I’ve always suspected this is exactly the intent.

Besides, as we all know, you don’t have to prove something doesn’t exist. It’s the ones making the claim of existence who have to provide the proof.

But … perfectionistic non-believers fall for the argument every bit as much as believers, large numbers of us going through life carefully avoiding the label of atheist for the safer, apparently-more-defensible one of agnostic.

But suppose we as individuals, we as a society, perform this same thought experiment: WHAT IF no such things as gods exist … in our lives?

What does morality look like? How do we bid farewell to those who have died? How do we celebrate births? How do we accomplish charity? What does every other aspect of personal life and mind look like? How do we live, how do we THINK?

In the vein of science, the distance from Ben Franklin’s kite to computers is a staggering leap of progress, brought on by that one thought experiment.

I suggest that leaps of equal magnitude would become possible – would be unavoidable, I suspect – if we performed this same thought experiment in our personal lives.

I’m proposing that atheism can be defined as this slightly different thing than we’ve always thought it was. Not the seemingly indefensible statement “God doesn’t exist,” but this other, wholly rational, logically defensible, thing:

Atheism is the THOUGHT EXPERIMENT of “What if there are no such things as gods?”

We don’t have to prove gods don’t exist. We don’t have to do anything really, other than hold the idea in mind. We also don’t have to waffle and worry about whether we must call ourselves agnostics — “I don’t knows.” We can proudly and confidently call ourselves atheists – the people who perform in their daily lives the thought experiment of non-belief in gods – and feel perfectly justified in so doing.

And see what happens.



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