I got a few comments recently from someone claiming his experience echoed mine, but in reverse. Once explained, it was quite clear to me not only that this person over-thinks things, his experience in no way really echoes mine. His (actually, it could’ve been a woman, but in my head it’s a man so we’ll go with that) was a culturally religious upbringing leading to a teenagehood of, apparently, trying to be atheist because that’s what the “smart people” were doing, then some sort of thought-process that led him back to belief. Mine was a mildly religious upbringing in which I was taught to think for myself and eventually came to the conclusion that there was no god by myself.
His comments were full of way too many philosophical terms. What do I mean by that? Just that the average person reads the following terms as, essentially, gibberish: arch-postmodernist, ontological naturalism, atheo-materialism, celestial potentate, denizen of a metaphysical no-man’s land, philosophical materialism, dogmatic reductionist scientism.
Not that these words or terms don’t have meaning, but they make the writer appear one of a few things – pretentious, over-educated, or overly obsessed with a thesaurus. These terms and words also suggest the writer is in the wrong place. My blog has never been and will never be a place where I discuss philosophy, mostly because I’m not that into philosophy. I think philosophy often (but not always) comes down to over-thinking things.
Then, of course, was the lovely insult he threw at me. Perhaps he is one of many believers that doesn’t realize how insulting, stupid and condescending this is – he suggested that my path to disbelief started when my prayers weren’t answered.
First, I want to put one thing straight about me. My prayers were never unanswered. I didn’t get mad that I didn’t get what I wanted and give up on faith. That’s incredibly stupid. There happened to come a point when I realized I was talking to myself. Not the good kind of semi-conversation that some people have with themselves, either. It was the entirely unproductive listing of people for the non-existent divine being to protect.
Second, let me go over, again, why suggesting that someone became an atheist because god didn’t give them what they wanted is insulting. Belief in god is not a default position. Culturally speaking it may be, but scientifically or whatever you want to call it, it’s not. Do children in countries where Santa Clause is not a tradition believe in Santa as a default? No. Moving on from that problem, what you are suggesting when you say an atheist lost faith because god didn’t answer a prayer is that we are angry at a being we don’t believe in. Did you stop believing in Santa Clause because he didn’t bring you that penguin you asked for? Did you disown your parents because they didn’t let you eat cake whenever you wanted to? Let’s face it, most religions cover the whole “god doesn’t always answer prayers” thing, and most people accept it. When coming from a state of belief, it’s rarely unanswered prayers that act as a catalyst because very few people actually have a powerful unanswered prayer (and let’s face it, if you are led to the path of disbelief because your son died in a fiery car crash 5 minutes after you prayed for his safety, you’re being pretty reasonable to doubt the existence of god).
The thing is that I’ve heard a lot of deconversion or losing faith or whatnot stories from a wide range of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, etc. I’ve read these accounts, I’ve heard them in person, I’ve heard them via video or radio. The vast majority of nonbelievers do not come from an angry place. They do not have “an axe to grind,” as the commenter arrogantly suggests:
Nevertheless, contrary to what many atheists say, it is often the case that the “free thought” part is largely sponsored by an “axe to grind” attitude.
Contrary to what we say? That suggests to me that regardless of how honest and open atheists are with this person, he will make many, many unjust and ridiculous assumptions about us. He’ll decide what really motivated us to question our beliefs. Clearly if we want the world to be more science-oriented it’s because religion didn’t make us feel good enough. It couldn’t possibly be that medicine and science is more helpful than religion for curing the sick or preventing mass infections.
The axes we do have to grind center primarily around what religions fuck up in this world. The children that die unnecessarily, the people that receive accolades they don’t deserve, the nonbelievers that suffer for thinking differently, the invasion of government by religious rules based on the beliefs of one subset of the population. These are things that usually come after our disbelief takes root. Things that our eyes are opened to upon throwing out the all-powerful idea that “religion is good.”
The commenter wants to know what led me to atheism. A lot of things. A lot of separate thought-processes. A lot of rehashing arguments in my head and trying to fit certain ideas into the frames already built as I grew up. And then throwing out the frames that were clearly wonky.
His Dark Materials made me think, what if God really were old and feeble, being kept prisoner by his angels? What if the story in this book is just as likely to be true as the Bible? Maybe the other religions of the world, the archaic and obsolete ones, are more correct than Christianity? I always thought Greek mythology was more fun than Christian mythology. The answers to these questions led me first to basically deism, then to agnosticism. It didn’t add up that there’s a god somehwere that’s all-knowing. He certainly couldn’t be omnipotent and omniscient. And why did it have to be a he?
Maybe, I thought, there’s a god that just sort of hangs out. Maybe he/she/it/hir/their noodliness treated the universe like an ant farm or those sea monkeys you can by. A sort of disinterested science experiment. Why would that be any further off from the truth than the more fleshed-out religions of the world?
I have an inquisitive mind. These questions developed further and went on for years. I became more agnostic than anything. I started to see the harm caused by religion somewhere along the way, and that’s when my thoughts about the existence of god started to run parallel to my thoughts about the silliness of religion. I started to see the benefits from freeing my mind from the heavy frame imposed by most religious world-views, and at the same time I started to find the idea of the supernatural more and more ridiculous. I didn’t simply reject religion and throw out the possibility of the divine with it.
There was a time when I wanted to believe, but the more I thought, the less a god or a divine universal force made sense. If the world/universe/whatever was created, then the being that did so was either horribly bored or terribly cruel or both. I rejected pretty much every religion for the tremendous failure to cover the vastness of the universe or the possibility of intelligent life-forms on other planets. If there were a “word of god,” I’m pretty sure that the god giving that word would be smart enough to make it more timeless than anything offered up so far. Particularly if it were an omnipotent or omniscient god.
I read about half of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion. I didn’t finish it because I had already hashed out most of his arguments in my head a million times*.
As it currently stands, I consider myself to be an agnostic atheist. The concept of god is quite silly to me – an oddly hopeful wish that your life is secretly being controlled by a higher power. Personally, I have no desire for their to be anything controlling the universe or my life. I like to take responsibility for what happens to me. It’s funny to me that one thing many religions suggest is that god will help you if you help yourself – it’s as if the people who made it all up suddenly said, “Shit. We told all these people there’s a god watching you so be moral, and a bunch of them realized if there’s an all-powerful being then they’re not responsible for the crappy stuff that happens to them!” I don’t care if love is only a chemical reaction because I enjoy that chemical reaction. It still means something to me, even if it’s just the inner-workings of my odd, human brain, just as there is still beauty in the world even if it’s just the workings of the universe.
Freethought is associated with atheism because atheists have released the belief in the divine. We have, if you will, freed our minds to consider the numerous other possibilities and even the new possibility that there is a higher power separate from anything humans have come up with. Sure, that possibility always falls short of being acceptable, but I certainly reconsider it on occasion. Freethought, to me, is more associated with moving away from dogma than moving away from belief in god(s), anyway. You can be a believer and a freethinker; it’s when you constrain your world-view by a frame made by others (re: religion) that it becomes impossible to think freely.
I’ve had enough of this whole explaining thing. From now on, just accept my atheism as a far-foregone conclusion. It’s been so long since I’ve figured this all out that I’m not sure I could tell you exactly what thought process got me here anyway. All I can say is I’m constantly thinking, constantly considering. While it’s leading further and further away from belief in the supernatural and particularly further away from any existing explanation offered by the religions of the world, that doesn’t mean I would reject any new evidence offered to me. Good luck finding any.