Atheism and religion are topics that frequently pop up in social media. Personally, I love discussing the topic. My friend Chad posted an audio clip about why college students choose atheism. While I think the speaker was pretty accurate regarding the specific group of college kids, the podcast really can’t be generalized to all atheists. The podcast did cause me to pause and reflect on my own decisions that led to atheism, most of which are common among my atheist acquaintances.
Note- this is my own personal rationale and is meant to serve as a window into one perspective so my readers, both theists and atheists, may gain a better understanding of the issue. This in no way represents what I believe to be the “ideal” for anyone. In other words, I’m not trying to convert anyone.
Quick and Dirty History
I was raised in a Catholic family in a predominantly Catholic community. For the most part, religion was mere window dressings… a place for people to show off their new clothes. I more or less hated attending. In high school, I had a brief embracing of religion, quickly followed by apathy. College brought the realization there were other religions around the world. As a history major, I learned of the history of the major religions outside their dogma. As a psychology major, I learned about the workings of the brain and what we know about “religiosity.” All of that conspired to turn me into a militant atheist. Over the next few years, I mostly mellowed out once I came to see the positive religion provided to different individuals.
So… what is the rationale I used to reach where I a today? Here’s a list:
Why I Choose Atheism
1. Christianity has a poor explanation for suffering. This one is specific to the Abrahamic religions, but their God seems… well, like a dick. It’s a biggie for me, though. Why do good people have terrible accidents? Why do kids get cancer? Why do natural disasters kill thousands of people?
The standard answers to these questions, to me, are entirely inadequate and seriously turn me off from religion. This quote is overused by atheists, but it sums up my thoughts on the matter:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” -Epicurus (341-270 B.C.E.)
2. I don’t like authority figures or absolute rules, nor the associated hypocrisy. I’m a bit of a lone wolf that doesn’t like to follow rules, nor do I have a need to be “led.” In fact, I’m a terrible follower. I have no problem following as long as the leader and/or group’s ideals match my on, but the moment there’s a disagreement, I need to either take the lead or leave. This isn’t specific to religion as I tend to do it in every facet of my life.
3. I don’t like the rituals. I find the ceremony of religion to be annoying. If there was a god, it seems silly he’d insist we follow the pomp and circumstance that is the “church” experience.
4. The hard-core followers scare me. I find great comfort in the unknown. I like gray areas. People that insist they have “the answer” are just shutting themselves off from alternate explanations. Once we adopt an extreme position, we also lose the ability to empathize with others. This goes for anything from exercise to parenting to diets. It even includes atheists.
5. History of religion. The development of any religion seem to suggest religions developed to explain natural phenomena or gain sociopolitical control. This includes the wide variety of schisms that occur with established religions. In light of that, it is exceedingly difficult to accept the dogma within any given religion as the “truth.”
6. Low internal and external reliability, no means of assessing validity. This is related to #5. There a thousands of variations of religions world-wide, many have dramatically different stories. The very general themes are the same (“Don’t be a dick.” – a quote from Doug Evick, the dude that planted the ultra seed in my head years ago.) Still, the hows and whys are MUCH different. Also, there’s no way to “prove” if any religion is right or wrong. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as it’s the very definition of belief… but it does set up a situation where we get to choose a religion that’s the best “fit.”
7. Need for moral code troubles me. I live by a moral code that’s internally generated. It’s developed by moral reasoning of various situations. In my head, there is no “right” and “wrong” a the situation my fluctuate. That’s part of the reason I love debating and discussing… it helps me see things from other perspectives which gives me more data points to assess moral issues. I always assumed everyone did this. However, the older I get, the more I realize it’s pretty rare. Many (most even?) people rely on an external moral code, usually provided by their religion. This scares me a bit. I don’t like to invoke Godwin’s law unless I’m being snarky, but what happens if your religious leaders decide to commit a horrific crime? Many of the people that carried out the Holocaust claimed they were just following orders. Contrary to popular belief, they weren’t being threatened… they willingly went along. They were told their actions were moral. It scares me to think a large number of people are willing to base their morality off an source outside their own head.
8. Logic of the spreading… what about the isolated tribes? Why weren’t hose isolated tribes in the jungles of Brazil God’s “chosen people?”
9. Absence of skepticism. I have a very difficult time taking anyone seriously if they’re not willing to admit they could be wrong. I value skepticism, and self-directed skepticism is the best. The same rule applies to religions. I would be a lot more likely to follow a religion that would acknowledge they may be wrong. Instead, almost every one claims to be right.
10. Most followers can’t answer questions outside their particular flavor of dogma. I have a VERY small number of friends that are intimately familiar with the history and workings of their particular religion from a perspective outside the religion. Like skepticism, I value this mindset. It allows the to answer questions without relying on more dogma. If you need to quote scripture to answer a question, I have a hard time taking you seriously.
11. The idea of prayer seems ridiculous. There are tangible benefits to prayer, including receiving prayers. However, I see A LOT of people using prayer for ridiculously selfish stuff. During the ALCS (baseball for you non-sports fans), my Tigers were playing the Red Sox. It seemed whenever the camera panned to the crowd, people were praying. About the outcome of a baseball game.
This is a partial ist of the rationale that I use to choose to be an atheist. None of it is especially well-explained, so feel free to ask questions or engage in discussions in the comments section of this post.
Why Atheists are Douche Bags
While I like to poke fun at my religious friends and occasionally post Jesus humor, I’m a pretty pro-religion atheist. My philosophy is simple- figure out what works for you. Hard-core atheists, from my perspective, aren’t better than the hard-core religious. Here are a few of my annoyances:
1. Dogma. Once atheists start to organize, they start to develop their own dogma that begins to take on religious-like cognitive biases. Indeed, this was the topic of the podcast linked at the beginning.
2. Invoking science without understanding science. As an undergrad psych student with aspirations to be a researcher, I had the scientific method drilled in my head. Repeatedly. That included the idea of skepticism, the need for research to be falsifiable, and a host of other such ideas. A good scientist will understand there is no such thing as “proving something right” or a “truth.” Everything must be able to be tested and falsified. As such, we have to consider anything as a possibility, even if it’s remote. While we may not be ale to measure it today, we may develop an instrument that will allow measurement tomorrow. Let’s take the evolution versus creation science debate. Based on the nature of science, evolution wins (Occam’s Razor, and CS isn’t falsifiable via empiricism.) HOWEVER, a good scientist won’t completely dismiss the possibility that the CS hypothesis is what really happened. Of course, there’s probably as much possibility of CS as the FSM, but that’s beside the point.
3. Fail to understand how personal liberties work. This is more of a Unite States-only issue. The separation of church and state doctrine produces some weird arguments. Atheists tend to fight to strip religion from public view. The religious tend to fight to interweave religion in every element of society. Both parties fail to understand a very basic idea- their freedom to do so is entirely dependent on their willingness to allow the other side to express themselves. If you demand to have prayer in school, you have to be comfortable with any religion expressing the same right. Likewise, if you’re trying to stifle people’s right to religious expression, you’d better be wiling to give up your right to things like free speech. This issue gets tricky because people can’t seem to see beyond their own perspective.
This post rambles a little more than I’d like, but it conveys the basic idea. Atheists tend to have a wide range of reasons to reject religion, and many are misunderstood by the religious. My ope is this post will start a discussion on the topic. To that end, I welcome any comments, questions, or other discussion in the comments section.