Atheism IV

Atheism has always been a skepticism born of politics, a point of view arising from the realization that power and authority define what society respects and, ultimately, venerates. But this skepticism has not deterred atheism from embracing and extending power and authority over others. The ancient pontiff who delivered the auspices to the Roman emperor we would call cynical — not because he disbelieved the gods of Rome but because he pretended to believe, and would continue to pretend as long as he preserved his own power and authority. Yet if that priest of the gods really did believe in the gods, or whether he did not, would the political and social consequences have been any different? This is beautifully dramatized in Miguel de Unamuno’s story San Manuel Bueno, martyr.
The compelling logic in human affairs is not belief but actions, morals — or, if you will — psychology and personality. To believe in the gods does not justify the conquest of Carthage and Persia. To not believe in the gods does not justify the conquests either. How disillusioning to discover that a religious authority whom one has admired does not, in fact, believe what he has been saying for years. But how equally disillusioning to discover that the free-thinking believer in liberty against tyranny covets power and authority over others.