My thoughts on the book, 50 Voices of Disbelief, Why We Are Athiests, edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk. Written as I read them in no particular order. The page number of the essay is provided at the top of each entry.
p. 172 Greg Egan “Born Again, Briefly”
This one bypasses all the technical arguments with a very interesting story of a young person’s encounter with the Charismatic movement in America in the 1970’s. Like many of the other author’s, he had a strong intellectual curiosity but in this case that led him to rather than away from religion. Unlike most of the other authors, his parents did not push him in that direction, it was his older brother.
He was 12 and his brother was in his in teens. They would read and talk in their bedroom, even after being told to be quiet and turn out the lights. This was around the time of the musical Godspell. His brother’s Catholic community was more like a group of drug-free hippies, something new and interesting, not something old and musty to be questioned. Most unusual was that when he did ask his brothers those typical belief questions he admitted any answer would be inadequate; “you could not, he said, reason your way to God.”
Instead his big brother convinced him to kneel down and pray. Although not instantly convinced, he felt a great sense of contentment and continued to have strong upswells of emotion when he would pray. Invoking the name of Jesus gave him a sense of happiness, safety and love. Questioning this now seemed absurd.
As he went through High School, some rebelliousness kicked in and he had questions about heaven and hell and the silliness of official Christian teaching, but the “messenger living inside” him continued to convince him that God would save humanity. Even his interest in science did not trump his belief. Science also had unanswered questions. He saw no incompatibility.
There was no single insight or argument but sometime around age 20, his time as a believer ended. He posits that it may have been this question:
“Which was the most likely: that I had been born into a culture that, out of all the many religions on Earth, happened to worship the true creator of the universe, or that I had put my own spin on an emotional Rorschach blot that could easily be explained without invoking anything supernatural at all.”
He now suspects that neurologists will eventually be able to explain what he felt. He had accepted the whole package; that the universe has a purpose and the promise that it will be put right in the end. As he says,
“This is a powerful and appealing notion; once you have it in your grasp, it’s hard to let go, and some of us will go to very great lengths to rationalize holding on to it.”
I don’t think my comments could add much to this one.