If atheism is just rejection of irrational and supernatural explanations for the universe and life, what then are things that an atheist can believe in? This question is often raised. It just obviosly is really hard for some people to believe that other people can really live without beliefs that do not come from the outside of the realm of rationality.
However, I personally do believe even strongly in freedom, brotherhood of all human beings and equality or in other words in things like freedom of thought, democracy and social equality.
I am ready and willing to do work to achieve these things. I am also willing to defend these ideals with all the means that I have in my disposal. However, the fact that I find just these things more appropriate for my own society than inequality, dictatorship and censorship is naturally just a matter of opinion and personal history. It is not a claim for being a holder of some kind of absolute truth in these matters.
This opinion is not in any level based on any kind of divine revelation or supernatural visions. It is based on real evidence that has been gathered during the last centuries and which can be also rationally analyzed.
Anybody can freely compare the end results of different societies with different modes of government. They can look for themself which of them has brought the best results for the people who live under different types of government.
There is really a great deal of evidence of the benefits of democracy. This evidence starts from the real success story of democracy in the Greece of Antiquity. There the ideas of democracy and freedom of an individual were really formed.
If you cannot trust your own judgment, you can find scores of scientists and also philosophers who have been studying hard just these issues. The great majority of them has come to the conclusion that democracy has nearly always brought better end results for the population of a country than dictatorship, if things are seen from the vantage point of the ruled themselves.
Even some semblance of a quest to enhance equality and social justice do benefit the general population of a society more than just blindly accepting the social injustices that are undoubtedly always inherent in all societies. However, a completely just and completely equal society is just a pope dream.
So, it is not simply a matter of faith to say that the democratic system with its inbuilt error-correction system is a better way to rule complex societies than any other method of governing societies that have been tried throughout the long history of mankind.
Many critiques of western democracy see the ecological problems as a phenomena that have been created specifically in the western democratic societies.
It is too easy to forget that these problems were much, much more severe in the communist block before its downfall. There the system of error-correction, that is inherent in a democracy, was not working. Without the democratic process, there would not have been the birth of the ecological movement in the 60’s that eventually has already addressed many of ecological issues in Europe.
It is a horrible thing to think what would have been the end result if even the Western Europe had succumbed to the communist rule. Then the destruction of the environment would have continued even in the west in the way it did go on in the east. This would have happened without the democratic ecological movements which did eventually put enough pressure on the decision makers.
One can clearly see in China of today what are the results if a complex economy is ruled without the error-correction that is brought about by a democratic system and a society is ruled in a name of single dogmatic faith. However, democracy can well be criticized for the fact that not everybody have the same chances of affecting the democratic process. Democracy is always inevitably government by a selected few.
Be as it may, but the election process guarantees to a degree that the elected representatives have to think also of how voters will react in the long run to the different decisions they do make.
In a large and complex modern society that is based on the division of labor it just might impossible to create a system where everybody would have the same chances to take part in the process of decision making on the level of the whole society.
The de facto rule of the government officials is always a threat to democracy, as employees of the government are not under the same public pressures than the elected officials.
Therefore, a functioning democracy can be borne out only under circumstances where the final say lies on the elected officials. The only real alternative to democracy is always just some kind of dictatorship. I think that the voice of the ruled will always better heard in systems that even feebly tries to hear it, than in systems where there is no inbuilt official need to listen what the ruled think of the decisions that are being made.
Democracy and equality will not lead mankind to paradise or any kind of Utopia on earth. Societies based on a democratic system of government will always also make terrible mistakes and end in many kinds of political dead-ends.
However, experience has shown that in a working democratic system these mistakes can eventually very often be corrected before the society breaks down. The history of dictatorships, on the other hand, shows that they end all too often in violent and a bloody mess.
(This piece was completely refurbished in 14th of May, 2012)