Posted by: nimbu | January 15, 2007

On the verge of Atheism

I’ve known people to do this: Assemble all the evidence to push them over the edge and declare their rejection of organized religion or even god “himself”, only to return from the edge back to their religion – apparently with stronger faith. This has always puzzled me. How can you conclude that the Quran and Bible were written by men, and not by God, and then submit to following them again? You know of all the evil and injustice in these books, yet you go back to it? I’ve pointed out to people that both the Bible and the Quran promote slavery; there’s no outright banning of it, but rather, a “how to” treat your slaves. Once you’ve opened your eyes, how can you put blinders back on?

I think it’s just simply too hard to take that final step. It’s too uncomfortable. I think people would feel that they’re all alone. They’re leaving behind beautiful traditions like Eid, Christmas, Ramadan, etc. Plus, their entire lives they’ve heard that Atheists were evil, soulless, etc. And now they’re about to become that very thing they’ve been brainwashed into hating.

It wasn’t until I found out that more than 90% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences don’t believe in God/gods. Wow. I’m in great company.

And for the record: Darwin and Einstein were both Atheists!



  1. As a Buddhist along with several million like minded persons we do not follow the theistic slavery of the other major religion.
    However mindfullness of ones actions and their consequences is required if one is not to submit to the discipline of the so called higher being.

  2. good questions. as a theist (of the Christian variety), i’m not in the least troubled by historical-critical methods of biblical interpretation. it’s unfortunate that many evangelical christians feel it necessary to attribute more to the bible than the bible attributes to itself (all the infallibility, inerrant in the original manuscripts stuff). historical Christianity (in the tradition of Augustine and other church fathers) doesn’t make the claim that the bible be read literally in every sense of the word. stories like those in genesis and job and revelation are more poetic in their literary scope – “why,” (asks Augustine in particular) “don’t we read them like poetry, full of metaphor and ambiguity?” not only do the stories become more meaningful, but their beauty is given a stronger (and dare i say, more holy) voice.

    to answer your question (assuming it was not rhetorical) i teetered for a few years on the brink of atheism in college, (as a philosophy and literature double major) but came to realize – to paraphrase the theologian Paul Tillich – doubt is not the enemy of faith, but a crucial expression of faith.

    despite what Dawkins, Dennett, and Harris might write (I’ve read the first and the last) it is quite easy to have a reasonable faith that accepts and is enriched by the best in science. it’s not as they simplistically assume a matter of being afraid to “face reality” or of inheriting a “meme” which forces my hand toward faith. for me, it was the simple truth that i’d experienced an exodus from a life that was spiraling nowhere – and i simply couldn’t deny that it was God that brought me back (no matter how much i wanted to).

    I’m certainly not surprised that, as you write, 90% of the members of the NAS are either agnostic, indifferent, or atheistic in their outlook – if one begins with dogmatic assertion that the empirical and material world is all that there is – there’s not really any room for dialogue, is there?

    just some thoughts from a random passer-by. best of luck.

  3. I’ve often wondered this too. I think one possible explanation is that this is a variety of the “Stockholm syndrome”.

    When people feel pressure to accept something distressing, whatever it is, they have two options for alleviating that distress: either they escape it or they convince themselves not to be distressed in the first place. Another name for this is phenomenon is “cognitive dissonance”. In extreme cases, when escape seems impossible, people will actually over-compensate on the other option and become fervent proponents of whatever it was they initially found so distressing.

    Pyschological studies have verified this phenomenon in general. In fact, the more distressing the initial situation, the more convinced the subject becomes that it was actually pleasurable.

  4. Thanks dogma; I had totally forgotten about the human psychology aspect of this discussion. Time to revisit those old college psych books!

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