Hello everyone, my name is James. My wife Rebecca has kindly allowed me to write a guest post on her blog, discussing the end of my Catholic faith and the birth of my atheism. My usual writing topic is video games (here and here) so when I wrote a long email about atheism and Rebecca suggested I put it online, I did not have an appropriate channel through which to share it. This is why she gave me permission to put it on this blog as her first ever guest post. Thanks Rebecca!
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As I showered this morning, I was thinking about the genesis of my atheism.
The process of losing my faith completely was a long, gradual one. At 21 I was a devout Catholic – anti-abortion, homophobic, and everything else that goes along with it. A couple of years ago, around the age of 34, I was surprised by my sudden realisation that a mostly unnoticed process of transition was complete and I was indeed an atheist.
I don’t remember the specific circumstances, but I will filling in some kind of survey or a form (the last census, perhaps?) and I was asked for my religion. Without even thinking about it, I ticked the box marked “atheist”. I then stared at the choice I had made, a little stunned. “I’m an atheist now!” I thought, shocked by the undeniable truth of it. “When did that happen?”
In my reminiscences this morning, I realised that there had been a little termite in the timber of my religious faith for almost two decades, nibbling away invisibly, until one day I found that the once solid structure had been replaced with a hollow shell. That termite was a single powerful idea that I never put into words until this morning.
In essence, that idea is this: God is omnipotent, omniscient, omni-everything-else, and he exists outside our human perception of time. All times are now to God, and all places are in his presence. This means that when he was a spirit floating over the water before the world began (if you subscribe to biblical literalism) he was aware of everything that was to come.
God made humanity and the world and everything in it, already knowing that Adam and Eve would sin, the human race would fall into damnation, that he would have to sacrifice his own son (technically himself!) to save humanity from a punishment of his own devising, and that this salvation would be scattershot at best, saving only a fraction of the people of the world.
God made humanity and the world and everything in it already knowing that the future would hold the Crusades, the Holocaust, the Killing Fields, the Black Death, two World Wars, the Jonestown massacre, and countless everyday atrocities and horrors.
God made humanity and the world and everything in it already knowing that human beings would suffer a multitude of cancers, blindness, brain tumours, strokes, heart attacks, and birth defects ranging from crippling to fatal.
God made humanity and the world and everything in it already knowing that human beings would persecute each other based on features outside their control, that in fact God himself had built into them – the colour of their skin, the place where they were born, the religion of their parents, the sex or gender of their bodies, the sexual orientation built into their brains, and any of the other multitudes of ways in which we make our sisters and brothers into “the other”.
This supposedly supreme being, with the power to make every whim become truth and the ability to foresee every consequence of every action before he has even begun to perform it, could literally have made any world at all. Physics, chemistry, biology, and even logic and causality are subject to the will of the Judeo-Christian God, and any world we can imagine would be within his ability to create.
Yet this is the world he made, with its wars and diseases and injustices without end.
Frankly, any God that believes that this world is the best of all possible worlds is must incompetent, evil, or (and this seems to be the most likely option) simply non-existent.
Without even realising I had been debating silently with myself, I had reached the conclusion that the cruelty of the world we live in is a reflection of its chaotic, unguided development, and the occasional horrific behaviour of my own species is psychological residue of its evolution in a brutal, uncompromising, and competitive environment.
I quote Marcus Cole from the great SF show Babylon 5:
“I used to think that it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”
How terrible a place would the world be if all of this horror was planned? If some invisible deity were wilfully causing murder and death and famine and drought because it aided in the completion of some opaque plan that would only reach fruition in some unhinted future?
No, like Marcus I find randomness far more plausible and comforting that a murderous and vengeful man in the sky who blames me for the very faults he built into me, like Geppetto casting Pinnochio into a bonfire as punishment for his own flawed workmanship.
The wonderful folk musician Penelope Swales said well in her song Monkey Comfort:
Can you see, my friends, why I don’t find my insignificance frightening? Oh, no! I find it comforting. It steadies me. /
When I’m hounded by fear, grief or loss, frightened by my death or yours it grants me some serenity. /
Coz I’m knowing that I will die and take my place in eternity. Ah, just one more monkey that lived on a rock where 10 trillion monkeys lived. /
No more important, nor less essential, than any other snake, bear, insect, or monosteria /
And when I go, it’ll be a compliment to me if some other monkeys grieve.
8 thoughts on “Guest post: The genesis of my atheism”
That’s a great quote from B5, and I can *hear* Marcus saying it.
I’ve done the transition from cradle Catholic to atheist, and the random cruelty of the universe was something that drove my thinking too.
Fantastic blog! Really enjoyed it.
Truth comes to us in many ways. Sometimes it finds us, but more often then not, we have to find it. Simply because we don’t understand, doesn’t make it untrue.
If one believes there is no God, then one is free to live in whatever manner they choose. There are no universal rules. No universal morality. There is no right or wrong that applies to everyone. By this very fact, the person who condemns God for behavior they don’t understand, condemns themselves by their own standards. Obviously this is completely illogical.
There isn’t anyone who has walked the planet that hasn’t become confused by the lack of answers they receive to the questions they ask, concerning God. Including Christ. Mark 15:34
Testing peels back part of the onion. Testing shows flaws and weaknesses. Testing produces a superior product. Testing transforms.
Seek the path less traveled. Allowing the temporary comfort of taking life in it’s randomness will be fleeting. There is only One who has the true words of life…whether we understand or not. Be transformed.
If there were only one, that’d make life a whole lot easier, but there isn’t. There are a multitude of Gods on the Earth who are or who have been believed in, in the past. How can you possibly know which one is the real god and which ones are false? Don’t use the circular argument of “The Bible says so” either, because that’s a massive logical fallacy. As long as humans have inhabited the world, there have been a multitude of gods. I refer you to this excellent post by Greta Christine (http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2010/12/can-atheism-be-proven-wrong.html)
How about treating atheist’s lack of belief in your god with some respect – the same way you hopefully treat those who follow a different god.
Oh, and stop appealing to a higher power as a form of logic. TO do that debases my intelligence, empathy and understanding of others, when you suggest that morality can only come from a deity wielding a big stick that will punish us if we transgress others. Why can’t I be moral and ethical because I am? Isn’t it more wonderful that humans, without a big stick of hell, or bad karma, or any other otherworldly punishment, can be moral and ethical creatures? Did you know that it is believed that Aristotle, Socrates and the other philosophers of the time, who actually are the parents of Christian morality (and not the bible as such) are believed to have been atheists?
Bah, I’m going to go and write a blog on this very topic.
I have lived through cancer, my own and that of family and my lovely animals, all of this suffering finally ended any slight faith that I had, not that I had much to begin with.
A man is told to build an Ark to hold several (not two apparently) of each animal. Now when you consider this from the point of view of someone in the Middle East over a thousand years ago, sitting there and reading this, then yes, it’s plausible.
It’s also plausible to a child of today, as we could probably name up to about fifty species at a guess.
Here’s a question, When watching a David Attenborough program, Can you name each animal correctly before their names are mentioned?
That odd Monkey, that strange Lizard?
Unless you’re an expert, it’s unlikely.
Now if you read the Ark story as depicted in childrens books, you will note the inclusion of Tigers from Asia, Pandas from China, Kangaroos from Australia.
How many land animals are there?
I have read something in the order of two million, which means there would have to be at the very least (if there were just two) four million creatures on this massive boat… built by a small family, in double quick time, out of Wood.
I’m sorry, but if I must give credence to this story, then the Easter Bunny is just as real.
Now someday maybe will you realize your a person who doesn’t need to define himself with a check in a box, or maybe you won’t.
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