Monday, August 10, 2009

The Disgruntled Believer

One common criticism levied against atheists (by theists) is that they must be angry with god or dissatisfied with the church in some way. Perhaps that is true for some atheists, but I don't think it is true for many, and it certainly isn't true for me. I do understand why this criticism is made, however, because theists simply cannot imagine a world where their god does not exist. To them, an atheist must be like someone insisting that the sun is imaginary.

This was something that I actually dealt with when I was in the process of losing faith. I could not shake the feeling that god was real, even though all the evidence pointed to him being an imaginary figure. Because the idea of god is so ubiquitous in our society it truly is difficult to think that one does not actually exist. To theists who express this thought to me, I have to explain it like Santa Claus. I'm not angry with Santa because he forgot me one year or because he exploits elves and reindeer - I simply don't believe that he is real.

Now that I have lived for several years as an atheist (defined below, to avoid confusion) I have rid myself of nearly all subconscious assumptions about the physical, real existence of god, the devil, heaven, hell, angels, demons and sin. I'm sure that some residual elements remain - I did spend about 25 years, including the extremely important first decade, believing and being taught about god. But my perspective on these things has changed dramatically. As such, I find much amusement and interest in watching large groups of people engaging in prayer. Since religion is a wholly human and social endeavor, there is real value and meaning in the various things that define religion. Sermons and prayer are not simply fan fiction and mumblings. They serve to teach people things about the world and about themselves. Some of these things are false (I know that atheists are not alone in this - Baptists, for example, also think that many of the central tenets of the Catholic Church are wrong) as they are based on flawed assumptions.

Prayer will not solve anything. Nothing in the world will change because of the prayer. However, things may change because someone prayed. I'm not a psychologist by any means, but it does not seem too far to guess that the action of prayer can have some mental and emotional benefits, more if the pray-er believes that the deity is real. Aside from that, however, nothing real comes from praying. So a massive congregation (about 1,000 this morning at the hotel) engaged in collective prayer is a little silly. And to those theists who still can't see where I am coming from, imagine instead that they were praying to Aslan instead, or all signing a long letter to Santa.

My atheism, defined.
When I say that I am an atheist, it means that I do not believe that a god exists. It does not mean that I think a god does not exist. I am not trying to express anything nearly that specific. Specificity comes in when I reject particular gods, such as Yahweh or Allah: their stories are inherently flawed and (to me) transparently false. I can find no reason to believe that, if there were a god, it has revealed itself to us and requires anything of us. I acknowledge that there may well be a god, but its existence has nothing to do with my life and even less to do with the Bible.

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