Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why I Am an Atheist

I became an atheist after becoming a Sunday School teacher and reading the Bible. I was never a very good Christian so the first thing I had to figure out was exactly what would I teach. I found some dusty old books that said we weren’t descended from monkeys and some more contemporary curricula that talked about how to prepare for the second coming. I modified those lessons while I went on searching.

One of the first things I came across was a quote from Nicholas Humphrey,
If it is ever the case that teaching this system to children will mean that later in life they come to hold beliefs that, were they in fact to have had access to alternatives, they would most likely not have chosen for themselves, then it is morally wrong of whoever presumes to impose this system.”
This really narrowed down what I could do. I found some history, some ethics and I was allowed to say that the Noah story was mythology, so I got by. Some days I put the Bible aside and talked about Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr. One thing I could not get around was the story of how Jesus died for us. No matter how you word it, it involves some sort of miracle. If you change it to a story of a guy who stood for peace and justice, then it is no longer a Christian story.

What I saw when I got down to that one story, is that we don’t need the separate discipline. You can call it religion or theology, we just don’t need it. The discipline of history has informed us who wrote the scriptures and who decided which are included in the Bible. We have archaeology to tell us what was happening in the Levant while the scriptures were being written. We have science to explain rainbows and tell us what food is healthy and understand homosexuality.

A truce was made between religion and science some 700 years ago. William of Ockham said any man can recognize patterns and try to understand nature, but only the church can comment on the miracles of God. This allowed science to continue to be taught in a religious world. But now we live in a scientific world. In most of the world, the church has been tamed. The church is now fighting to maintain sway over what science can or cannot comment on rather than science fighting to make any comment at all.

The final question was the question of morality. I knew science was not informing me on that but religion was failing too. What I found were many ideologies and political processes that have been in play for centuries to inform us of how best to live harmoniously. None of them has proven perfectly successful. A few have done better than religions. Religion only plays a supportive role in this process and often it has backed the wrong horse.

All religion has left for me is community. It is a club. I suspect that this too shall pass. Every purpose that it once served or currently claims to serve is better served by another discipline. No matter how much it cleans itself up, dresses itself up with modern trappings, acknowledges its crimes and invites in new data, it is just not necessary. 


  1. You've pretty much summed up my thoughts, although I would not hang the title "atheist" on me just yet (but those George Carlin videos on YouTube have me leaning that way lately!) I have found it interesting how Christians feel the need to indoctrinate their children; if Christianity were the one true path, would people not find it on their own?

    1. I try to avoid labels, but people put them on you anyway. I figure it is best to embrace it. And with this, explain explain what it is that I am against.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Interesting stuff. I don't want to fight, so please don't read this that way, but just as a little light-hearted "push-back" on your dramatic final paragraph. Specifically, in re your comment that "Every purpose that [religion] once served or currently claims to serve is better served by another discipline," here are a few purposes that religion once served or currently claims to serve:

    - not only explaining how our universe came to be an existent one, but why
    - not only directing us to love one another, but answering the non-trivial question of why we should love and why other people are worth it, even when loving them comes at great cost to ourselves or sets back the prosperity of society
    - shedding light onto why we all fail to live up to our own moral standards; I don't think evolutionary biology can explain why no moral system, particularly if they're all just man-made systems arrived at pragmatically, is actually able to be followed perfectly by anyone
    - providing a place for the billions of people who intuitively believe in God to explore that notion together (thus making religion necessary for them, even if it doesn't seem so for you)
    - offering an explanation (that doesn't lead one straight to the edge of a cliff) of what happens to the human soul/spirit/consciousness after physical death
    - presenting a coherent worldview; non-religious worldviews seem bizarrely impossible to live out, e.g. the moral nihilist is offended when wronged

    Anyway, I'm only trying to say that religion is necessary to some people. Even if you have well-reasoned rebuttals to all those bullet points, I can at the very least say that it's necessary to me.

    1. I don't see my blog as a place to fight, so your thoughts are welcome. I struggle with the "religion is necessary" thing. I know some people who found help there when other things failed.

      I usually tend toward fixing things even if it means giving up what I currently have. Except with girlfriends, but that is a different story. Unfortunately that makes me appear to have a very negative outlook, although I see it as forward looking.

      I like your ideas about exploring and shedding light. Evolutionary biology is a new science and a little beyond my ability to comment at the moment. But I do have some notes on it.