Why Would I Not Want To Believe?

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



9 Responses to Why Would I Not Want To Believe?

  1. Amanda S. Moores says:

    I would describe myself the same way. This is very well said. I have passed it onto a close friend who will also very much appreciate it. I suspect she will have some thoughts to contribute once she’s had time to read it! 🙂

  2. tmso says:

    I agree except for your last thoughts, I’m not so sure we (as a society) are ready to let religion go. Though, it would be nice to see in my lifetime, I kind of doubt it. 😉

  3. Cari Osborne says:

    Thank you, Mandy, for passing this on to me. 🙂 and Thank you, thank you, thank you, for this post, Rowan! I couldn’t agree with you more. Why would anyone CHOOSE to not believe. My interactions with many friends and family would be so much easier if I was a believer. I spent so much time struggling with the concept of God. Learning about different religions, talking to spiritual people, etc. And it was a constant source of pain and struggle in my life. I did not find peace until I realized I was trying to MAKE myself believe, and I just let it go. Why would I waste precious time struggling with something that I already knew deep down inside. I did not waste time trying to make myself NOT believe. Quite the opposite.

    • Amanda S. Moores says:

      You are quite welcome! I knew this would resonate with you!

  4. Brilliant words again, my friend. I don’t believe in Santa Claus either, because he’s not real – not because I’m mad that he didn’t give me the blue BMX I wanted when I was 7. God is the same difference, it’s not that he didn’t answer my prayers so in turn I’m being spiteful… he’s just simply not there, he was made up by early humans to explain previously unexplainable concepts.

  5. cgosling says:

    I became an atheist because science discredited religious superstition and a belief in God. If God really does exist, all he has to do is make his presence evident, and I will believe. As long as he chooses to hide, I choose to not believe in him. The same was true with Santa. I have an open mind and am willing to examine the evidence, but I expect your debating friend is untouchable in his beliefs and unwilling to examine all the evidence contrary to bible teachings.

  6. the persons thought process for that comes from Romans 1:18-22

    18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[a] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him [or choose to reject God], but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,

    Because of this, many christians believe everybody has knowledge of god. And some believe we all have this knowledge of God from Birth.

    If you check out my post on the Bible Study of Atheism, you can learn more about it

  7. aynway says:

    Christians often want to know why I’m so angry with God. But I can’t be angry with an imaginary god anymore than I can be angry with Santa (as others have already noted here) for failing to provide the gifts I wanted.

    I AM angry, however, with the Christian “leaders” in my youth who spouted platitudes in place of real answers to my serious questions about God. Although I don’t harbor that same anger toward my parents for pretending that Santa exists. I suppose that’s because I actually did receive gifts for Christmas…

  8. A number of comments to respond to, could get a bit messy if I reply to all seperately so I’ll try to put these all in 1:

    1 – To Amanda, Cari and MTG, thank you. I’m glad you liked it. There’s a lot more to come when I get the time, sorry I don’t post that often but it takes me a while to get my thoughts together in one go and I can’t do it over 2 days, it gets disjointed and doesn’t flow properly.

    2 – To tmso, I think it depends what you mean by we, humans in democratic societies such as Japan, Australia or Scandinavia have managed quite well over the last 30 years or so in an almost wholly secular way. It is only fear that holds us back not evidence.

    3 – to cgosling, I’d have to add a rider that his presence must be documented by a number of sources and those papers must be peer reviewed before I believe. Just appearing in front of me is not enough. I’ve seen things in the sky that could be described as UFOs and I’ve had a few out-of-body experiences but I don’t believe in either.

    4 – To TBR, by this reasoniing god is either racist (prefers Europeans over all other races) or punishes people for the sins of their parents (ie. Asians are much less likely to be brough up as Christian). This, to me, is not a god worth worshipping. I’ll have a look at your post soon.

    5 – To anyway, If they can hate the sin but love the sinner; we can hate the belief but love the believer. This is how I love my wife yet despise the Catholic beliefs.

    Also, Santa was an arsehole (asshole if in US/Can), or my parents were tight. Same difference but I still ended up wondering why I was only worth about £5 when my schoolmates received over £20 worth (1980s), I actually used to believe that it was because I was naughty and that it was a punishment. Still I suppose its better than my parents calling me a witch or telling me I’ll burn in Hell for eternity!

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