Monday, July 8, 2013

Pathways to Atheism

Atheists are a diverse bunch.  We really only agree on one thing, which is agreement on a non-thing.  In every other way we won't necessarily agree.  Likewise, we come to our non-position from many directions.  Social pressure to believe in the prevailing religion is so strong that for most of us deconversion is a gradual and personal process.

Family ties:  some of us had the good fortune to grow up in freethinking homes.  As religion is ubiquitous in society (currently), this is the best way, because children will have the option to convert if they want but won't feel they'll go to hell if they do.

Skepticism:  this was my pathway.  After developing critical thinking towards New Age nonsense, I realized the religion of my childhood was no more believable than homeopathy or alien abduction stories.  Some people are just naturally more skeptical, and I think I was as a child but social pressure to believe was so intense I went along with it.  I just didn't think too hard about the blood of Christ or the hallucinations in the Bible.

Reading the Bible:  The more you know the Bible and the more you know about it, the more you see its problems.  This is why churches have "Bible Study" and selected brief readings during services: if you read it without "guidance" you would reject it.  This is also why so many pastors have become atheists.

Seeking:  Before I discovered skeptical thinking, I was a "seeker."  I investigated the world's religions, and read some of their holy books.  The only one that appealed to me was the Tao Te Ching, which is not very supernatural or personal.  I had also taken two Anthropology courses in college, which put the culture I live in into perspective. I've known others who have looked into other religions, too.  I suppose some seekers settle on one religion as being "true" but the conclusion I came to is that they're all based on folk tales.

Meeting an atheist:  If you've never known an open atheist, it may not even seem like a viable option for you.  Even worse, churches teach falsehoods about atheists (aside from the Hell-threat).  At the time I fully embraced non-embracing of religion, I had only met two "out" atheists in my entire life, and I was about 28 at the time!  I'd known a few wishy-washy deists and some befuddled agnostics, but only two people had told me they just didn't believe in any god.  Meeting one atheist could be all it takes to self-identify when you realize your disbelief is not so unique.

Science (?):  I wonder how many scientists become atheists after starting their careers.  Richard Dawkins deconverted long before he chose his career path.  I'm not familiar with enough others to know if this is common.  It would certainly be difficult to reconcile astronomy or evolution with the stories of the Bible, but there are many scientists who are believers.  The power of rationalization keeps many believers in the pews.

Here are some ways we typically don't become atheists:

Anger toward God:  If a Christian's prayers are not answered, or something unexpected happens, they may feel some anger toward God, but self-blame is so hard-wired into the theology that the typical Christian turns that anger towards themselves.  They will decide they didn't pray for the right things, or that they are too ignorant to know what's best.  They soothe themselves with trite consolations:  "In the end, it's God's will."  "He needed another angel in Heaven."  "One door closes, and then another opens."  If you don't believe in any god, it's impossible to become angry with one.

Bitterness:  We aren't bitter about life, though we are sometimes bitter and angry about being fooled by religion.  People who have been in cults may feel they were robbed of life experiences during that time, and who could blame them?  But that won't turn someone against God.  People who are angry with one religion or bitter about the way they were treated by their church will find another religion, denomination, or parish if they feel put-out but still believe.

Disillusionment with church leaders:   The Catholic church's pedophilia problem is just one of many problems endemic to a group of people with virtually unlimited power over another group of people.  Mega-church leaders and televangelists have been caught with their pants down in sex scandals, too.  I have known a lot of Christians who are forgiving toward these "fallen" leaders, or at least rationalize their behavior as being individual weaknesses rather than an indictment of belief.  One Catholic friend converted to the Greek Orthodox church after the pedophilia charges came out.  Hypocrisy is something the believer can live with.  The only thing they can't live without is belief in a deity.


Infidel753 said...

A lot of Christians seem to think the "anger toward God" thing is the main reason people become atheists. This doesn't make any sense since it wouldn't logically lead to atheism if there were any reason to think a god existed in the first place (lots of people are angry at the President, but that hasn't led to a movement of people believing the President doesn't exist). But it fits their world-view better than just acknowledging that we've concluded there isn't any god.

For me it was the family. My parents weren't religious and I grew up without religion exactly the same way I grew up without a belief in ghosts or dragons. Of course I learned about religion eventually, but it was obvious from the start that it was merely silly. To this day, the struggles that those who grow up brainwashed have to go through to cast off this obvious nonsense seem utterly alien to me. I've just never been there.

L.Long said...

the "anger toward God" thing is believed by them because when many of us talk about ye-ow-way and accepting for the moment that it is true, we or at least me can't use negative terms that are to strong. So they get the idea we are angry with gawd, the imaginary sky-fairy.

Christopher B. Camia said...

I was mostly #2. I pretty much gave up religion, but really couldn't articulate it until I learned how to debunk new age-y stuffs. Awesome


Loren said...

Reading the Bible can give one a lower opinion of it even if one was already an atheist. That's what happened to me -- I found it shockingly immature that Jesus Christ cursed a fig tree for not having figs for him when he wanted to eat.

Your discussion reminds me of a classification of types of atheists that I once came across and that I've elaborated: Types of atheists - Atheism

Nihilistic: never thought about it, don't care, waste of time, lazy, troll, royal-lie, party-line.

"Mad at god": includes mad at religion, proud (I couldn't stand it if there is a god), depressed (how terrible, terrible, terrible my life is).

Philosophical atheists: includes logical atheists, emotional atheists, religion-deficiency atheists.

Scientific atheists.

Reared atheists.

These categories, like your listed reasons for deconversion, are not mutually exclusive.