June 15, 2012 9 Comments
A discussion I had on twitter the other day went along the lines of me taking my usual stance, that I am unable rather than unwilling to believe in god while my opposer was adamant that I had actively chosen to reject god out of some sort of spite or bitterness based on my previous experiences. It can be difficult to argue against someone who supposes they know what you think and why, not only because their opinions of how you formed your views have already been decided but also because they almost always seem to patronisingly put your views down to negligence during your upbringing or teenage rebellion that you never grew out of. Without knowing someone personally, one cannot truly know anything about someone and it is very difficult to see another’s position without using the murky glasses that cloud one’s own judgement.
The debate continued and he again accused me of knowing the truth of god deep down but asserted that I was choosing to suppress my inner beliefs, again some sort of extended teenage rebellion, to which I responded that I could not think a single valid motive for suppressing that belief. Why would anyone make a conscious decision to not believe? I can’t think of one. Some of you may be reading this and thinking ‘I chose to be an atheist/believer on ….’ and to that I would respond by telling you that may be the day you realised your feelings but it was no more a choice than it is was for you to choose that stealing is wrong. One can certainly make a choice (I don’t believe in free-will either but that’s an entirely different argument) to learn more about a religion, one can choose to act in a pious manner and one can choose to profess a belief in any divinity (or political point of view) but actually believing what you say you do is not purely a matter of choice. Think about it, when did any of you choose to reject Vishnu? You’ve probably never been a Hindu because you know very little about Hinduism but even if you do, it’s never been presented to you in a way that is eminently believable to the point of relegating all other belief systems to the incredible (sorry to any of you who are Hindu but I could substitute any other god/religion in its place and the argument still stands).
“What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite” – Bertrand Russell
The point remains as to why anyone would choose to reject a religion they actually believe in. I can understand why a person would decide that the way their church or congregation was practising was wrong or incorrect and would change denominations as a result but this is a different point. To reject the entire notion of a god you actually believe in while in full knowledge of the consequences would seem to be a quite ridiculous position to take, surely only a sufferer of mental illness would condemn themselves to eternal damnation willingly? Of course many believers will insist that this is exactly what I and others like me are doing by refusing to acknowledge the divine inspiration contained within their holy texts but this is clearly not the case. Nobody who believes to the point of ‘knowing’ rejects god.
This goes back to my point in the first paragraph, the believer can only see my point of view through their own eyes. In order for them to openly reject the notion of god, they would have to be acting in rebellion, whatever they may say or do they would never actually stop believing, that would be unthinkable. Any worldview that doesn’t include an inbuilt presumption of god’s existence is incomprehensible to anyone with a strong, unwavering faith in god. They may be able to understand the frustrations felt by oppressed minorities around the world and the violence this can generate, they may be able to appreciate the ‘good intentions’ of people who worship in a way they find idolatrous but they cannot understand how anyone can live their life without any input and guidance from god or gods messengers. Of course this is not true for all religious believers but I have had contact with many who do fall into this description, unable to fathom why I express the opinions I do about their beloved god. ‘Why don’t you just go around killing people then, if you don’t believe in god?’ Is one that I’ve heard several times, I’m not going to justify it with an in-depth answer here but I think we all know that dietary and other ritualistic laws aside, morality is not god-given.
Does any of this mean that I am sitting here in mental agony, yearning for my teenage faith in god to return so I can continue on my path to heaven? No, anyone who wanted to believe but was unable would have to consider why it was what they wanted. Why would one want to believe something that was by definition unbelievable (to them)? Is it a fear of death or Hell that causes a desire for faith? If a person truly fears what will happen to them when they die, they have not lost faith in god per se but are just worried that they may be worshipping the wrong one. This fear is wholly understandable when considered through the mindset outlined in the last paragraph but is not compatible with actual atheism. Any of the reasons that are sometimes given to explain the consoling and comforting nature of religious belief in times of mental hardship can work equally well with any delusional mindset, there’s no reason to choose a religion for mental support. I have found that it is learning about religions and their history rather than any specific atheistic texts that have brought me to and reinforced my current belief system. The more one learns of the facts, the closer one gets to the truth, at last that’s how it’s supposed to work.
I always say I’m not unwilling to believe in god but am unable. I also think that both god’s existence and also our belief in him are unnecessary now that as a society we have matured enough to be able to take the first tentative steps on our own without the reassurance of our imaginary parent’s hand to guide us.
Thanks for reading