I remember the end of the first year and beginning of my second year of uni. I remember sitting in church, shivering, in the the midst of one of several seasons of doubt,and realising that this was it. I didn’t believe in this anymore. In between the stories of resurrection, talking animals and parting seas,I had found the ridiculous. I imagined telling my parents that this faith that they had grounded their whole lives on, that they had taught to my brother and I and practiced with consistency was something that no longer seemed plausible. I felt a sense of relief – no more confusion or questions. No more guilt over sins. No more struggling against the part of myself that wanted to do the wrong thing.
I had awkwardly a few years earlier, asked a friend at the time, “Do you ever doubt whether God actually exist?”. She looked at me strangely.”No..” she said, and shrugged.It was then that I decided that doubt wasn’t something that a lot of Christians coped very well with.
How I regained my faith is another story, but I will say that nothing miraculous happened (in the traditional sense of the word), there were no angel sightings, voices or divine coincidences.
Throughout my experience with faith though, I’ve had more than one person ask me how as someone who appears to value reason, I can believe in the God of the Bible. There are a host of websites which give reasons for faith, who offer answers for the difficult bible passages and scientific questions, and they do it far better than me.
What I do want to challenge, is this idea that the majority of people who identify as atheists are atheist because of some sort of rigorous thought process.
There is a new atheism that peaked in popularity a couple of years ago, before it’s patron saint -Richard Dawkins, went a bit doo-lally. The new atheism revels in painting believers and belief as a festering pustule of dangerous stupidity that has come to a head, and must now be eradicated from the planet if human beings are to ever progress. It delights in taking passages out of historical or social context, painting every moderate believer as a potential extremist, and making massive overreaches from science into philosopy. It prides itself on reason and intellect, and scathes at anything that hints at the spiritual.
But a lot of atheists are more apathetic than atheist. It’s become almost a badge of honour for 20 somethings to smugly proclaim that they are atheist. They are above the infantility and naivety of virgin births and bearded prophets, but when you start to probe more carefully you find that their atheism isn’t very well substantiated. Not that there aren’t very good arguments against belief in God – there are – but they’re not familiar with most of them. They aren’t budding Bertrand Russells. They haven’t read David Hume and the New Testament and then come to a conclusion. Given the fact that belief in the existence or non existence of a God or gods could potentially be a life-defining decision, they haven’t given it much thought at all.
You see, some atheists tend to paint the decision to believe in a faith as an one that primarily rests in our emotions or as a result of cultural norms. It’s comforting to think that Sky-Daddy watches over you and there is something more than atoms, cells and oceans. I would argue though, that our natural instinct to self determination and our dislike of guilt are emotions that are just as powerful, if not more so.
It’s not the idea of God that is necessarily offensive to some of us, it’s the idea of a God with rules. There is a reason why many of the new atheists tend to be less vociferous about Buddhism and some of the Eastern religions. They would contend that it’s because these religions are the most peaceful, that monotheistic religions cause wars and tragedy, (Which frankly, is a load of bunkum. People cause wars, many wars have little to do with religion and are largely cultural or economic with religion as a scapegoat)
I think a large part of the reason is that these religions appear (on the surface at least) to come with far less difficult terms and conditions. Western middle class interpretation of Buddhism appears to be mostly confined to meditating, various attempts at vegetarianism and a sense of ‘being a nice person’. This is a lot more simple and less guilt inducing for the average young westerner. If they discovered that included in Buddhism was no sex before marriage, no alcohol, modest clothing, some variation of kosher food laws, Saturday night clubbing being frowned upon, no lying under any circumstances, and a duty to actively share your faith with people you meet, they would have far less interest in Buddhism. (I can’t remember enough from R.E school lessons to comment on how many of these things do apply to Buddhism and to what degree)
Few people, even atheists, have a problem with spirituality, as long as it doesn’t prevent them from doing all the things they want to do or encourage them to do things they don’t want to do. Simply put, even if Christianity was true, many of them wouldn’t want to believe. This assumption that atheism or belief is solely to do with reason, logic and intelligence or lack it, it simply that – a massive assumption.