My name is Tim, and I’m an atheist. That was hard for me to write, and the purpose of this post is to examine why. Why is it that writing a simple sentence, that no one other than myself has read, was such a challenging task?
I’m still quite new to this deconversion process, but my deconversion comes after a period of trying to be as honest with myself as I possibly can. Sometimes honesty is painful, and most of the time, self-honesty is not pleasant. As one of my heroes, Richard Feynman was fond of saying, “the easiest person to fool is yourself.”
For many years, I was quite afraid to even pose the question: Is there really a God, or am I deluding myself?
I’ve since gotten past that problem, and I’ve begun to reflect on what the underlying reasons were for my fear to engage in this blasphemous thought crime.
I think there are a lot of reasons why people are afraid to use their better judgement in evaluating origins of the Earth, and what their specific place in it is. Even harder is to imagine a universe completely different than what you’ve been taught. My thoughts on why these matters are so difficult are these:
1. Physical and Social Safety – Aside from the concern of eternal hellfire, there are many cultures around the world where failure to practice the “appropriate” religion can result in death, property loss, and imprisonment. In the Western world (at least, in the US), failure to accept the family-sanctioned religion can result in one’s family, or entire community, shunning them.
2. The infinite death – It’s not a very pleasant thought to imagine that your existence will eventually be nullified forever, and within a few dozen years, no one will ever think about you again. This isn’t a pleasant thought, whether you’re thinking about it in first-person, or whether you’re concerned about someone else’s legacy. The idea of an eternal theme-park that casts away all the unfairness of the world is particularly appealing to most, and it would have been even more appealing to an earlier age of people (think the dark ages) who only knew pain and suffering, and where people were lucky to survive to be 35 years old.
3. The infinite universe – If you’ve ever really given any thought to the size of the universe, it quickly becomes apparent that humans are somewhere south of a speck, in terms of their relevance in that universe. Coming to terms with one’s insignificance is a tough task, particularly if they grew up in an atmosphere that stressed to them that they are important in the eyes of God.
4. Reality constructed on a lie – It is no wonder that people have come to look at science as the enemy of religion. The particular branch of science, upon which most other modern science relies, is the theory of evolution. There are 2 specific reasons why it is important that religious people reject evolution: evolution implies there is no original sin AND evolution implies that people can exist with some harmony without religion (ie ethics and morality precede religion). Original sin and the moral authority of God and the bible are the cornerstones of Christianity (the religion I understand best…which is not saying a lot).
5. Cognitive Dissonance – Most people don’t do well when confronted with facts that are inconsistent with their world-view. In fact, sometimes it seems that we’re hard-wired to ignore this situation. Most hypotheses put forward by Christianity are patently absurd when framed in the context that decent human behavior is not possible without religion. But people continue to ignore it, because it’s easier not to think.
6. Cherry-picked arguments – One of the challenges in being honest with yourself is assessing the honesty of a philosophical argument. If the implication of an idea results in an impossibility in real life, then it’s at least partially wrong. For example, if I said that all people who wear yellow shirts are jerks, this claim is invalidated the second I meet someone with a yellow shirt who is not a jerk. This is a simple example, and it gets more difficult when you’re talking about an ideology with many claims.
The point of #6 is that the Christian bible seems to me, on its very best day, to be a tremendously immoral document; that is, it advocates immoral behavior. This immoral behavior includes slaughtering people who are not “God’s chosen people”, slavery, rape, human sacrifice, and infanticide through the word of God. These biblical moral failings are the tip of the iceberg, as far as what’s wrong with the bible, but the implication when an ideology fails on particular grounds is that the ideology is not perfect; therefore, the bible could not be the ultimate moral authority, because it advocates immorality which is plainly evident to anyone who can exercise any bit of morality on their own.
I have a lot more to say about why I think modern theism is faulty, and why that is not the same as why I am skeptical of the claim that God exists. But these are my first thoughts on the matter.