Beliefs don’t have consequences

I’m not the first to notice that some people have developed the strange idea that beliefs don’t have consequences. Actor and comedian David Mitchell, in his autobiography Back Story, has the following to say about atheists:

Don’t they get it? Humans will always find an excuse. The avowedly atheist communist states of the twentieth century killed greater numbers than any regimes before or since and needed no religious justification. A politically ideological one served just as well. Humans don’t kill, or boss each other around, or say sex is evil and should be controlled or that certain people are wicked should be oppressed, or that certain clothes are inappropriate or compulsory, because of their religious beliefs – we do it because some of us want to and religion is a convenient excuse. Atheists are being incredibly naive if they that, in the absence of religion, other reasons won’t be found for disguising violence as virtue – or indeed that atheist belief systems aren’t just as potentially susceptible to murderous extremism  as any of the religions they oppose.

By stating that religion is a convenient excuse, Mitchell’s implication is that people either don’t believe what they claim to believe or that their beliefs are irrelevant. Any belief system is just as likely as any other to lead to murderous extremism because that’s just the way humans are and there’s nothing we can do about it.

I don’t think Mitchell care’s much about the issues at hand. If anything he’s reacting to the “trendiness” of atheism among his friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. Perhaps if atheism hadn’t sold out, in his view, he’d be a fan.

Mitchell’s position is symptomatic of postmodern values: religion can’t be defined; it’s just a historical thingamabob. Atheism is no different of course, which is why it’s so easy to pair with what its adherents claim to oppose. Even human nature is a recent historical construct, which we can either define or ignored at our leisure. We can’t really say anything useful about religion or irreligion. We should just give up and finally accept that we live in a postmodern (meaningless) universe.