Atheist Principles

The late Christopher Hitchens had an admirable knack for ferreting out the differences between religionists and infidels. Unhappily, he had a tendency to ramble. Sorting through his prolix rant God is Not Great, I have managed to distill his humanist principles into a fairly coherent list that works for me. Read Chapter One of GING for Hitchens’ original peripatetic treatment.

  • Our principles are not a faith.
  • We do not rely solely upon science and reason, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason.
  • We do not hold our convictions dogmatically.
  • We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.
  • We are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe.
  • We have music and art and literature and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books.
  • We do not believe in heaven or hell, yet no statistic will ever find that without these blandishments and threats we commit more crimes of greed or violence than the faithful.
  • We are reconciled to living only once.
  • We believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion.
  • We do not need any machinery of reinforcement. We do not require priests to police our doctrine.
  • We have no need to gather to proclaim our rectitude or to grovel and wallow in our unworthiness.
  • Sacrifices and ceremonies are abhorrent to us.
  • To us no spot on earth is or could be “holier” than another.
  • We know that religion has caused innumerable people to award themselves permission to behave in ways that would make an ethnic cleanser raise an eyebrow. To the ostentatious absurdity of the pilgrimage or the plain horror of killing civilians in the name of some sacred wall or cave or rock, we counterpose a leisurely walk from one side of the library or gallery to another or to lunch with an agreeable friend.

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