From a religious point of view, actions are either good or evil. For an atheist, there is no such clear distinction. An atheist is one who accepts that life in the universe is a complete mystery and does not try to encapsulate that mystery in metaphors. An atheist acknowledges that as our knowledge is incomplete, all our actions are pragmatic – what we do for the moment because it makes sense in the moment. But we cannot know for certain that it is the right action. Truth, therefore, is relative. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna makes that clear to Arjuna who is reluctant to make war against his blood relatives, though he knows them to be destructive and cruel. Even Bhishma, the soul of integrity, cannot be spared because he fights on the side of destruction and cruelty. Krishna’s argument is an argument for capital punishment; a pragmatic argument that demonstrates the relativity of truth.
Religious texts are human attempts to find meaning in existence. They provide absolute rules, e.g. the ten commandments, to give weight to what Milan Kundera calls “the unbearable lightness of being” i.e the uncertainty of our existence. These absolutes, which allay fears about uncertainty, help human beings to place their feet firmly on the ground and create the societal structures that take on a concreteness that keeps themgrouned inthe realm of the finite, within clear definitions that remove all doubts. This makes society a metaphor; a fortress against uncertainty.
Today with our advancements in scientific knowledge, our understanding of the universe is changing. But while space programmes have not taken human beings beyond the moon, Science Fiction has already peopled the universe with a variety of humanoid characters. Having extracted the universe fromthe unknown and uncertainty, Science Fiction like religion, has given us a way to overcome our angst about existence. Though very different in content, it too answers the need for security as does God, the supernatural father-figure.
Religion is a metaphorical explanation of existence in the world and universe and God is the certainty principle that gives stability in an uncertain existence. An atheist is one who accepts the uncertainty of existence and searches for reality under metaphors.
The Bible, like so many religious texts, is a source of inspiration for all forms of art because it presents life in artistic terms, symbols, metaphors, analogies etc. Symbols, metaphors etc being abstractions, help to create a supernatural aura; they place understanding of our accountability to one another on a spiritual rather than a human plane. And we make God responsible for our actions and misfortunes.
The African concept of Ubuntu which means “I am because we are,” sums up for me our connectedness to one another and summarises the whole socialisation process and what community is about.It places responsibility for who we are, for our actions and our relationships on ourselves. We can’t cop out.