One thing I have realized very clearly since the time I went public with my skepticism toward all religions last June is that we unbelievers get kind of a bad rap. This is especially true when we find ourselves in the group of people that once believed very strongly in the idea of god and the supernatural realm. Some objectors will just say flat out, “you should know better” or “we’ve been giving you a free pass because of this difficult time you seem to be going through.” Granted not all of my believing friends are that “charming” and I’m all the more thankful to know that some will even call out others who make these kind of bold statements.
It didn’t take me long after to realize that I fall into the spectrum of what is commonly labeled as Atheism. Atheism itself carries a lot of baggage in the minds of many believers. We are a very misunderstood and mischaracterized minority both in America and throughout the world. For instance: If you think that Atheists are just a bunch of immoral god haters that are deceived by the devil, chances are you haven’t even had a chance to befriend a friendly skeptic in your neighborhood. Try that first before you make any judgements, but even if you meet a bad egg just remember all the bad eggs that claim to be believers too! Food for thought.
My deepest doubts flooded in as a result of many internal battles that I was unable to reconcile for years. I was an evangelical Christian from the time I was 15 years old and the way I came to embrace faith was in no stretch of the matter a combination of verbal coercion and subjective emotional experiences that I attributed to an unseen god.
This verbal coercion that I am referring to is not done out of malice by most Christians, I believe it is done out of ignorance and sometimes even fear. The very urgency with which many Evangelicals approach their unbelieving friends is in itself driven by an unfounded dogma about the human condition. At the heart of this ideology the believer affirms that human beings are utterly depraved and in love with sin. Sin is then conveniently defined as anything that stands in opposition to the authoritative nature of the bible and the picture of god that it conveys.
As an Atheist I am also concerned with deception because if the believer is wrong, and if these beliefs are not in line with reality then they are actually harming and hindering many people from acquiring and coming to know actual truth. Just as many believers are distressed about people essentially wasting their lives away on frivolity and meeting their final demise in hell, an Atheist is just as concerned if not more, that believers are creating a false dilemma for themselves and not taking the proper informed steps toward effectively bettering the world in the one life we know we have.
The lynchpin in all of this is where we as human beings draw the line in the endeavor of defining actual knowledge about reality or the lack of it. Is faith really a form of knowledge? If so, why does it remain so carefully nestled outside the realm of testing and objectivity? To be fair many Christians do acknowledge the collective agnosticism that humanity has in relation to demonstrating the existence of a god. In some way these folks are okay with leaving god in the realm of unaccounted for abstractions.
My subjective experiences were nothing more than repeated instances of getting goosebumps in relation to a sermon, prayer, or a worship song. In addition to that I had one or two dreams that were motivated by my previous conversion to Christianity. Need I elaborate on how unreliable this phenomena turns out to be in establishing any kind of certainty?
In addition to this when we approach arguments for the existence of a god, most or all of them provide god in terms of a presupposition and proceed to define god as having inverted characteristics from what is actually observed and known to be true about the universe. The universe is material, so what is god? God is of course immaterial. Well, what does it mean to be immaterial? It means to be without substance does it not? What does it mean to lack substance or detectability? Well, for everything else the indication would bring us to the closest definition of nothing that we can come to, but for some reason when it comes to god he/she/it is still allegedly present in some unfalsifiable way.
This is what we Atheists like to call moving the goal posts back in the realm of supernaturalism. There is no mechanism provided from this perspective on how to bring god into the realm of objectivity. If this were the case Romans 1:20 would be stated more persuasively. A god would actually be clearly seen and acknowledged in our universe. Invisible qualities that are asserted and not substantiated are just that. They exist only in the realm of human assumptions and if my eternal welfare depends on this then an actual god would be less powerful, knowledgeable, and loving than his followers believe him to be.
Therefore the definition of an Atheist stays true to its Greek etymology. ‘A’ means (without) and ‘Theist’ of course refers to a god or gods. To lack belief in a god or gods is the logical response to a set of beliefs that consistently has failed to meet its burden of proof. We reject the notion of god not because we hate authority, or doing good things, or giving people hope. I am still personally a very optimistic and positive person. I still aspire to influence as many people as I can to live in such a way that truth is extolled, justice is served, morality is pure, and happiness is achieved.
Let’s all care about the truth enough to continually question our deepest convictions. It will ultimately confirm and strengthen many of them, and anything that remains irrational and unfounded will erode and be replaced by what is hopefully a more concise way of viewing reality.
(After some reflection I’d like to elaborate a little more on what I meant by the term “verbal coercion.” On first glance this may be a very insulting notion for some of my readers. I certainly don’t intend this phrase to be used as a jolt or a slam on anyone personally. However, for some of the individuals who were involved in proselytizing me into Evangelicalism, I believe this word accurately reflects their methods. The particular form of preaching and teaching that I was exposed to played very much on my own ignorance and fear at the time. Every Sunday the Pastor would preach himself into anger and later into tears. His anger was allegedly a reflection of the indignation of god toward sin and the need for us desperately wicked human beings to repent. He did this with such conviction and apparent certainty. His tears would stream down his face without fail at the end of his sermon as if god himself was pleading through this man to bring my lost soul to the cross. Yes, it was at the foot of the cross that I would be reconciled to god and know unconditional love for the first time.
After about three months of this kind of indoctrination is it any surprise that I was convinced? Especially considering the fact that no other opposing views were brought forth for me to consider? Later on it became crystal clear just how deep the ignorance and anti-intellectualism ran within the core thinking of these church leaders. I departed midway through my college experience from this kind of thinking. It then took a few more years of being challenged and evaluating my own subjective experiences before I realized just how bankrupt the concept of faith actually is in relation to acquiring knowledge. My final thoughts are that I am well aware of many Christians that do not preach and teach with such forcefulness. Yet, in spite of this there is still a bible that seems to directly convey and endorse these kind of methods for conversion. Where else would the phrase “repent or perish” be drawn from? Just some more food for thought.)