I've had some people express confusion over what my current beliefs are, and some even tell me that I've only expressed what my views are not and not what they are. So, I'll take this opportunity to try to articulate them properly. I believe that that all of the following labels apply to me, at least partially: atheist, rationalist, and secular humanist.
I am a rationalist because I believe anything that I feel has been supported by a sufficient amount of logic and evidence (which, would also make me an empiricist). That is, I believe anything that is logical and for which verifiable evidence can be produced. I accept as fact conclusions drawn from repeatable experiments, from logic and reasoning, and from my own senses.
I am not a materialist, since I do not believe that all that exists is material in nature. I am open to the possibility that there are things in existence which have no physical form or manifestation. What such things might be, I have no idea, nor do I believe I have seen any evidence to convince me of the existence of such objects. However, if such evidence were presented, I would gladly accept it.
I am an atheist in that I have no logical reason to believe in any god. I have seen no evidence in my own life that would lead me to conclude that some god or other exists. All of the arguments I have examined trying to reason that god does exist I have found to be flawed in some way or other, and therefore disbelieve them. So, my rational mind tells me that it is nonsensical to believe in such a being.
In my own experience in life, I have seen believers use their god as an excuse to control the behavior of other people (through indoctrination and dogma), to instill guilt in people for doing things that otherwise would not elicit guilt, and to condemn things that they themselves do not understand or are afraid of. I have seen people hide behind their god in saying cruel things to people that they would not otherwise say if they were actually speaking for themselves. I do not believe that a god such as the benevolent ones described by most religions would actually approve of such behavior, so I do not believe that people are representing their god when they say or do such things.
I am a humanist because I believe in doing good to all humans. I believe in treating all people with respect. I posted the ten commandments of humanism on my Facebook page a short while ago. I'll quote it here.
- Proclaim the natural dignity and inherent worth of all human beings.
- Respect the life and property of others.
- Practice tolerance and open-mindedness toward the choices and lifestyles of others.
- Share with those who are less fortunate and mutually assist those who are in need of help.
- Use neither lies, nor spiritual doctrine, nor temporal power to dominate and exploit others.
- Rely on reason, logic, and science to understand the Universe and to solve life's problems.
- Conserve and improve the Earth's natural environment--land, soil, water, air and space--as humankind's common heritage.
- Resolve differences and conflicts cooperatively without resorting to violence or wars.
- Organize public affairs according to individual freedom and responsibility, through political and economic democracy.
- Develop one's intelligence and talents through education and effort.
I have to say that I agree with every item on this list. I think that all people are inherently good--that they have tendencies to evil, but that they also wish to do good. Some people have different temptations than others. Some people naturally want everyone else to be happy, while others are naturally more selfish. But, I believe that until someone gives me a reason to mistrust them, I have the obligation (and the desire) to help them in any way that I can.
I believe that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that religion is harmful, which might make me an anti-theist. However, from what I have seen, it is not belief in a god that makes someone more cruel than they would otherwise be. Belief in a dogmatic religion can and does cause this all too often. However, I believe that the majority of believers are not participating in unkind actions deliberately, nor do they believe themselves to be doing evil when they do so, since they feel their god requires it of them (eg, banning gay marriage). I believe that the malignancy is on the part of the leaders of those particular religions, not on the part of the innocent believers.
From what I have seen, irreligious people are just as capable of being kind as religious people. In fact, in many cases it is the irreligious that are kinder, since they do not have the prejudices so often associated with those who believe in and follow dogmatic religions. To demonstrate this claim, I cite as evidence the Japanese people. I served an LDS mission in Japan for two years and during that time I witnessed much kindness from the Japanese people. One time, while my companion and I were picking up garbage alongside the canal, a lady came by and gave us some rice cakes (rice cakes are actually a treat in Japan, they're not the flavorless garbage people try to sell here). Several times while we were knocking door-to-door, people would offer us food or drink, even though they refused to hear our message. One time, when I was on the train I yielded my seat to a woman and she gave me a pair of chopsticks that were in a holder that she made herself. What's the point of all of this? The Japanese people are largely irreligious. They claim to be Buddhist or Shinto, but in fact they only visit their temple or shrine once a year at best. Most of them just don't ever think about religion at all. But they have tender hearts and, as a society, feel very strongly about being kind to others and treating everyone well.
So, the parts of scripture that teach to love other people and to avoid judging and the like, I believe are correct and ethical principles that I wish to use to guide my own life. The fables and fairy tales contained in scripture, I believe to be false, but I also acknowledge that many of them teach good morals--such as patience that we can learn from Job or meekness from Jesus. Whether any of the particular people in the Bible actually existed or not--whether any of the events mentioned actually happened or not--I could not say, having not studied enough history myself. Nor do I believe that I ever shall study enough to know with any certainty whether any of it be real or fictitious. Whether there really was a Jesus or a Yeshua or whatever his name may have been, I don't see as having a vital effect on me personally. I do wish to emulate many of the character traits that the biblical character Jesus had, and that certainly will have (and has had) an effect on my life. That is good enough for me.
I also believe there are many horrific things in the Bible (and the Book of Mormon), such as genocide, slavery, and many many other things I could never condone but the god of the Bible seems to. So, I think there can be gleaned from the Bible things that are helpful, weeding out those that are harmful, to humanity. I also believe there are many other books and other sources we can look to for how to improve individually and as a race. I intend to seek out good teachings and principles wherever they are to be found--whether they be from philosophers, physicists, religious teachings, or otherwise. I will seek out the good and preach it. I will weed out the bad and use it the best I can to avoid making similar errors in my own life.