As I consider it, two reasons went to my deciding to write on atheism based on Clifford’s “The Ethics of Belief.” The first relies on the decision process itself, in that reading Clifford’s careful breakdowns of the layers of belief actually motivated me to apply the same reasoning to spirituality. My paper reflects that Clifford himself is no proponent of atheism; he is thorough in exploring the fallacies behind beliefs of all kinds, but he is as well committed to ethics, and clearly in ways linked to faith. In a sense, then, I chose to take the author’s thinking farther than he himself intended, and employ it to at least question the subject he does not precisely challenge. In my writing, in fact, it occurred to me that Clifford would likely object to the course I was taking, but I also felt that he had “only himself to blame”; his rationales are simply too strong to not be used in an examination of faith itself.
The other reason motivating my decision is connected to this foundation perhaps unintentionally provided by Clifford, in that his integrity does not allow for any actual disparagement of faith. I note this in my paper as well, because it seems to me a powerfully strong element in any support of atheism. Even scholarly atheists, I find, fall into the trap of denigrating belief in some way. They will often refer to weakness in man’s nature or an unjustifiable adherence to ignorance to classify believers. Unfortunately, denigration of any kind has the inevitable effect of weakening an argument. Clifford never takes such a view. In modern phrasing, it could be said that he does not judge; he is too analytical for that. He is also humanist and understanding: “We feel much happier and more secure when we think we know precisely what to do” (3). I was drawn to this “gentle” mode of questioning belief, and found it so confident that I felt it could all the more be used to validate atheism. Lastly, and much like the equitable perceptions seen elsewhere in Clifford, I admired his logical assertion regarding each person’s responsibility to others in maintaining a belief in any kind. This enabled me to support atheism through the ironically “Christian” component of caring beyond the self. Ultimately, and no matter his own intentions, Clifford presented to me a foundation for atheism too great to resist.
Clifford, W. K. “The Ethics of Belief.” From The Ethics of Belief and Other Essays. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1999. Print.