In case you are a Christian wondering why one atheist doesn't have faith.....

A coworker and I recently had a conversation in which she said, "Well, you don't have to hold on to your atheism, do you?"  I found myself without a good answer.  It doesn't matter what answer I gave to her - I could not immediately come up with a satisfactory response for myself.

I think I eventually said something like, "No, I don't have to.  It is where I am though.  I can't be where I'm not at."  She didn't seem to care one way or the other but I thought it was a very interesting question.  I asked myself, “What kind of a hold do I have on my atheism?  How much of my identity is wrapped up in not believing?” I like to think my mind is at least open enough to recognize a deity's existence if incontrovertible proof comes my way. 

In the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, some dwarfs, animals and men are tossed into a stable at the end of the battle.  The men and animals generally find themselves on the other side of a doorway into a new, more real Narnia.  The Narnia they had known before was a shadow of this paradise.  The dwarfs find themselves inside the stable, unable to see the new Narnia because they don’t believe in it.  The talking lion-lord Aslan and some of the other main characters try to get the dwarfs to sense Narnia instead of the stable, but the dwarfs maintain they are in reality while the others are insane.  Their lack of being convinced of something they cannot take on faith is their doom.  They are eventually destroyed when the door closes on the old Narnia forever.

I wonder sometimes if theists view us atheists similarly.  Do they feel they try to tell us what it is like to be in their world but since we cannot sense it we deny it?  I am thinking here about people who say they “know” God in the here and now.   They must be so frustrated with us atheists who, like the dwarfs, will not take their word for it. 

They say we need to have faith in order to experience the joy they have found.  I personally have been told my intellect gets in the way of having faith, that it is something so simple I can’t grasp it.  Yet, confusingly, many intelligent people are believers.  I have been told that I am being stubborn and rebellious by not believing.  Here’s the important part though: I still don’t believe.   

I have been told I need to ask for faith since I don’t have any.  To them, the willingness to do that could seem like having the door open just a little to what they believe is real.  I am wondering how open-minded it is safe to be?  Being led toward believing in imaginary things scares me.   I have opened that door before and indeed I saw what I wanted to see.  I felt what they told me I would feel.  I began to believe there really was a supreme being who, mostly, could protect me. 

I was spending more and more time with evangelical Christians when I was at a very vulnerable and pivotal point in my life.  I was praying and wearing a crucifix and I began to think that the crucifix had some kind of magical power, like a talisman.  My sister, seeing this unfolding, told me, “Stay away from them.  They are nuts.”  And that was that.  The spell was broken and I came to my senses again.  Since then I have become very protective of myself and others.  Like the dwarfs, I have become skeptical, but I hope not to the point where I refuse to even begin to believe in a deity when there is evidence of one.

When theists accuse me of being close-minded, they usually have no idea how open-minded I have been and what has happened as a result of it.  I have had to find a balance between being open-minded and gullible.  I have learned and lived so much since then.  In not being willing to ask for the faith to begin to believe in God, I am not simply being defiant.  My knowledge and experience prevent me from having faith in something that I know to be a colossal mind game.  I have been willing, however, to go to the edge of reason again in an attempt to make sure I’m not missing something.   I think that is good enough.  If I am doomed because of it, so be it.  Until and unless something happens that actually convinces me, I am satisfied with my level of open-mindedness.  I do not have a death grip on my atheism, but I do hold it close.

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Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on August 4, 2013 at 7:34pm

The main problem with faith based “knowledge” is that it has offered nothing new over the last few thousand years. The premise is the same. The only thing that changes is the theology and the dogma. But there is nothing new to study. We are open-minded when it comes to considering something new but I don’t suspect this will never happen.  I have considered what I have seen so far and I have dismissed it as myth and see it as a relic of human endeavour that some people still cling to with blind faith. I have no faith in any god existing. 

Bob if you have any evidence for the existence of your God please reveal it or admit you too believe without any evidence. I will convert to Christianity if you do. Is that open-minded enough? I will remain sceptical but will give your data my full attention.

Comment by Dr. Bob on August 5, 2013 at 12:16am

See, Bob, that's the problem.  It seems that unless I go experimenting endlessly, I will not be considered open-minded.  When is enough enough?

That's an interesting question. 

Reg makes a good point in that people only end up with the knowledge that they hear about.  Live in Yemen, you'll hear more about Allah than Christ.  Live in tribal regions of Africa and you'll hear more about witch doctors than science.   Hang out on TA, you'll hear nothing but negativity about religion (and one odd itinerant old fellow who comes by to play skeptic ;-) ).

I guess I'd say being open-minded means that each of us has to be willing to set aside the lessons of our background, whether those lessons are accepting the culture we grew up in or rejecting the culture we grew up in.  Or perhaps it means staying a bit skeptical of our own views, and seeking out friendships with people of different viewpoints.  Not just different data, different viewpoints.   There's nothing worse than the people who selectively choose their friends/news sources/data to correspond to their preconceived viewpoints, a la the Fox News crowd.

Comment by Ray R. on August 5, 2013 at 6:42am
Bob , you were asked to present evidence in support of your deity . As per your M.O. , you've dodged the question . I too , will convert to Christianity if you offer scientific evidence for the existence of your particular deity .
Comment by Diane on August 5, 2013 at 7:19am

@ Dr. Bob.   think I am alright already.  If I had gone with the lessons of my background, if I take that literally, I would be a Southern Baptist.  My parents had already rejected their own backgrounds by the time I started thinking about these things.  I rejected their rejection and hoped to find a deity after all.  I did go so far as to find Christianity and explore it for a while but now I have rejected the rejection of my original rejected background.

I do not feel the need to explore that all again, so I guess that about does it for Christianity for me.  Hell, I don't want to spend any more of my remaining time flopping this issue about any more.  I will happily continue learn facts about religion, science, nature, philosophy, etc. as interests me.  My views are subject to change, as evidenced by the amount of searching and changing that has already occurred.  I will not exclude data regarding Christianity and I would not exclude Christians from my life.  To me that does not mean that I am being close-minded if my Christian friend asks me to, say, go to a revival concert with her.  I use this example because it has actually happened to me.  I believe I need to politely say no and leave it at that.  Been there, done that, felt a little vexed sitting in a relatively unsafe neighborhood listeting to what amounted to more testimony than singing.  I loved the music though - I can't help myself there.  

I recently found my book Buddhism for Dummies, which deserves another look-through, I think.  there are some good ways to look at life to be found there, ways that are helpful for me and for which I do not have to sell my soul.  

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on August 5, 2013 at 7:22am

Bob - why do you still believe in your God's existence.

Comment by Sagacious Hawk on August 5, 2013 at 7:48am

@ Diane

"I recently found my book Buddhism for Dummies, which deserves another look-through, I think.  there are some good ways to look at life to be found there, ways that are helpful for me and for which I do not have to sell my soul."

Agreed. Buddhism has a philosophy that I think is probably the most useful and beneficial of all the world's religions... well, that I've encountered so far. I still need to study up on Taoism, Lao Tzu, and the I Ching.

Comment by James Cox on August 5, 2013 at 2:20pm

Sadly a theist can consider their belief as if it is a 'natural' state of mind. Atheism can be a hard won state of one's cognition, the easy path is theism, having it spoon feed us from childhood. Stepping out from under/out of the cloud/fog of theism is about personal integrity and honesty, theism seems mostly about comfort.  

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on August 5, 2013 at 2:46pm

Comment by Logicallunatic on August 5, 2013 at 9:05pm

You don't have to hold on to a lack of belief in magic-goblins either. 

Comment by Diane on August 6, 2013 at 5:46am

True!  If evidence of one comes to my awareness, I would have no choice but to stop not believing.in them.  Do you think I should go around researching it or just wait until evidence appears?  How much is enough?  Truly, I have had Christians tell me that the only time I  should stop actively looking for Jesus is when I have found him.  And then when I say I have neither the inclination nor the time to keep looking for one specific deity they have told me I am willfully rejecting God or that I'm arrogant.  Is it arrogant of me to not spend time seeking faith in magic goblins, I wonder? 

What I can't get over is the audacity of some Christians to tell me that I should devote endless time and energy into becoming deluded into believing that their god not only exists but cares what I, personally, am thinking and doing.  The methods they have suggested I use are nothing short of brainwashing tactics.  

Being open-minded is one thing.  Being duped is another.

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