This one is for all of my God-fearing friends who believe that God is all powerful, yet can’t make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it.
I’m out of the closet.
No, not that closet.
I’m out of the other closet. You know the one I’m talking about. I’m talking about that big, dark, sin-filled closet. The one no politician, professional moralizer, or conservative talk show host wants to be seen stepping out of. The closet that once you step inside you’re destined for fire and brimstone and eternal damnation.
The closet with the label written in great big shiny letters “non-believer”.
I’m out of the atheist closet.
I will no longer tell people that I’m an agnostic or “spiritual”.
I will no longer say I am a “skeptic”.
I am an atheist.
I do not believe that God exists.
So far, I have not been struck by lightning.
I haven’t always been an atheist. I used to believe in God. I went to church (some) Sundays. I believed that Jesus is the reason for the season, voted Republican, and listened to nothing but contemporary Christian music. When people sneezed, I said “God bless you” –
And I meant it.
For a couple of years, this was my favorite song:
I believed that Jesus Christ was my personal Lord and Savior. I believed that His Father so loved the world that he sent his only Son to die for my sins.
I don’t believe any of that now.
Every atheist has a reason for why he or she doesn’t believe in God. I guess if I had to name exactly what got me out of believing in God, I’d say the reason why I no longer believe in God has something to do with studying philosophy.
I’d tell you that studying philosophy caused me to develop the philosopher’s habit of overthinking.
I’d tell you that I literally thought myself out of believing in God.
My explanation would go something like this: as a philosopher, I was dedicated to a life according to the Socratic Method. That, therefore, invariably led to questioning everything. And in turn, asking questioning everything lead to doubt. And in doubting what you you’re thinking – I stopped believing in God.
Really, it went just like that.
I can only describe my atheist conversion as nothing short of mystical. I was sitting right there in the church pew when I was suddenly hit by a revelation: God does not exist.
Since that day I’ve had no doubt that I don’t think that God exists.
I know that this all might sound like I’m anti-God. I’m not. I’m not even anti-other people believing in God. But then, I also don’t have problem with anyone not believing in God. And, as I said before, I don’t. I just never saw any reason for believing that God exists. Believing in the existence of an Omnicompetent Creator may be a satisfying answer to all of life’s mysteries for some, but as far as my immortal soul goes, I’m more than quite content with the fact that I’ve chosen to live without daily prayers, knowing that Jesus is the reason for the season, and living without that feeling of paranoia and guilt whenever I’d pass along the offering tray without putting anything into it.
Even though I knew I had exactly 28 dollars in cash in my wallet.
Being an atheist means not being afraid to look a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ face and I tell her that I not only refuse to accept her copies of the Watchtower and/or Awake! (Lord knows I wasn’t going to read them anyway), but that I also find the whole believing-in-God-and-accepting-Jesus-as-my-personal-savior-thing quite unbelievable.
I’ll tell you the truth, though. It’s not easy to tell other people that I don’t believe in God. To come out as a non-believer in a self-proclaimed Christian nation can be a bit of scary thing. I’m not just talking about feeling the fear of falling into that old philosophical trap of confirming the existence of God by denying that God exists.*
It’s scary because once you’ve confessed that you don’t believe in God, your mom, your former alcoholic, born-again, on fire with the LORD uncle – even complete strangers are compelled to inform you that rejecting God means your immortal soul is lost and doomed to burn in hell – forever.
It’s hard sometimes to hear that Jehovah’s Witness say as I’m politely slamming the door in her middle-aged face, “God loves you even though you don’t believe in HIM.”
The funny thing about being an atheist is, is despite my own comfort with my current state of godlessness, sometimes it seems that everyone else out there has a problem with uncloseted nonbelievers like me.
I’m not imagining this.
Americans on whole don’t think very highly of the godless. In a survey conducted by the University of Minnesota, 47.6% of respondents said that they would not approve of their child marrying an atheist, and less than half of Americans (45%) say they would vote for a qualified presidential candidate who does not believe in God. In that same University of Minnesota study 39.5 % said that atheists are the group least likely to believe in the ideals of American society.
This means that according to a significant portion of the American public, more Americans believe that card-carrying communists, anarchists, and Al-Qaeda jihadists are more committed to American principles than people who don’t believe in God.
Although atheists, secularists, and nonbelievers are an estimated 1.1 billion of the world’s seven billion human inhabitants, most Americans surveyed say that they are less likely to vote for an atheist political candidate than to vote for a woman, a minority, a Jewish, Mormon, or even an openly gay political candidate. In a study conducted by the University of British Columbia, researchers found that there is only group the public despises more than atheists.
Care to guess who?
You guessed it: Rapists.
The public trusts people who sexually violate others more than they trust an atheist.
I guess if you don’t like God, people don’t like you.
For the record, I find it comforting to see that a majority of Americans are willing to vote for a woman, a minority, or an openly gay candidate.
Honestly, one doesn’t need to know the stats on American attitudes towards atheists to know that things are bad out there for the average John Q. Atheist. We know that in the minds of (some) God-fearing folks, not believing in an Omnicompetent deity is un-Americanly bad enough, but there is a worse kind of unbeliever – the COLLEGE EDUCATED ATHEIST.
It seems that as much as people dislike run-of-the-mill atheists, they especially dislike non-believers with a post-secondary education.
In my book, Mindless Philosopher: How Philosophy Taught Me Everything I Needed to Know About Popular Culture, I purposefully evaded the topic of religion and philosophy of religion. In that book wrote that if time travel were possible, I would go back in time and tell myself under no circumstances should I take a philosophy of religion class. I wanted to avoid religion not because I’m anti-religious. I think if you have a personal belief in something, that’s fine.
We all gotta serve somebody, as Dylan sang.
My reluctance was due, in part, to my belief that: 1) any serious discussion on the topic of religion and/or philosophy of religion would fill a book in itself, b) religion is a topic best discussed by priests, ministers, and theologians – not by academics and philosophers, and, more importantly, 3) I don‘t believe God exists.
I once said that if I ever experience a spiritual crisis I would more likely turn to my local clergy rather than a philosopher.
Well, unless that philosopher was Cornell West. He’s got a degree in theology.
The reason why, I think, is because unlike the average non-believer, who may or may not carry his atheism with a sense of shame, pain, or personal failure, the college-educated atheist has one special ingredient that makes him immune from any sense of humility: a college-educated attitude.
I actually said this to a professor in a philosophy of religion class. He told me I was in no “epistemic position” to make that kind of judgment.
After years of post-secondary training, the college-educated atheist not only believes is there no God, but he’s delusional enough to believe that he’s right (and has the right) to say there isn’t.
I remember when I was a freshman in high school, my English teacher told the class that the college campus is a place where a believing man is doomed to lose his religion. He proclaimed, “If you start college as a Christian, you’ll come out godless.” I think he was trying to be helpful. He told us that college will turn you into a skeptic and that losing ones belief in God, at least so far as college is concerned, is inevitable.
America’s universities were no more than full-blown God-hating atheist factories.
After having gone to college and doing the philosophy thing it’s no surprise then, how I’ve turned out. According to what some folks, including my old freshman English teacher, believe about college-educated people, my atheism is typical of both college grads and philosophers. Most philosophers (including most philosophy professors) don’t believe in God.
It’s estimated that 73% of philosophy professors are atheists or lean towards atheism.
Looking at my high school English teacher’s prophesy, I’m beginning to think he wasn’t being overly pessimistic about our ability to maintain a belief in God in the face of academia-based anti-religiosity as much as he just plain got it right – many people do stop believing in God on college campuses.
Really, it’s true.
If you’ve never stepped foot on a college campus, here are a few stats you should know:
Individuals with a post-graduate education are more likely to identify themselves as atheists (This group also included self-professed liberals, Democrats, Independents, and people who live on the East coast).
A Pew Center study estimated that 20% of adults 18-25 (aka college age kids) classify themselves as either atheist, agnostic, or nonreligious, and more than one-half of non-religious Millennials (those born after 1981) state that they no longer practice their childhood faith at all.
According to recent data, church membership has steadily declined among younger Americans, with a growing number of young Americans professing no faith or belief in God at all. One fourth of Millennials identify as religiously unaffiliated. However, the number of older Americans who believe in God has remained relatively unchanged. And college campuses have seen noticeable increase in the number of atheist groups and secular organizations.
Given the rise in the number of Americans getting college degrees and the popularly-held belief that atheists dwell in a godless moral vacuum, it’s no surprise that, in the minds of some believers, the prevalence of atheism among college-educated folks is a source of some concern. After all, how can America be “one nation under God” if we’re a nation of unbelievers? The college-atheism connection even led 2012 Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum, to say:
It’s no wonder President Obama wants every kid to go to college. The indoctrination that occurs in American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power in America … As you know, 62 percent of children who enter college with a faith conviction leave without it.
The accuracy of Rick Santorum’s comments and the public’s sentiments towards atheism aside, the belief that colleges are nothing more than atheist indoctrination factories is a real problem – and not just for believers.
It’s also a problem for philosophers.
Philosophers on whole are a bunch of non-believing people. God could point his finger directly into a philosopher’s face, announce his very existence, and he’d still be an ass about the existence of God. Anyone who has read the anti-theistic philosophy of Ayn Rand, Friedrich Nietzsche or Arthur Schopenhauer knows that it doesn‘t matter if God looks like this guy.
Or this guy:
Or this guy:
No matter what it looks like, most philosophers will never admit that HE exists.
73% of them as a matter of fact.
Unless you’re Alvin Plantinga.
Or this guy:
Of course this leads to the inevitable question: if the majority of philosophers and philosophy professors don’t believe in the existence of an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful being, and colleges are nothing more than atheist indoctrination camps, why would university-trained folks want to think about, much less conjure up philosophical theories about religion?
That, my friends, is the question, isn’t it? Why would someone – especially a philosopher who doesn’t believe in God – want to know about God?
Philosophy is defined as the love of wisdom. Philosophers believe that we gain wisdom through rational thought, reason and logical arguments. Religion, on the other hand, relies on faith. For the believer, religious belief and indeed, the beauty of religious experience, is the mysterious, spirituality and the supernatural; the unexplained. Something that can’t be explained or justified through the use of reason. Faith, unlike reason, cannot be mediated by anyone other than by God. One does not need logical proof; one simply believes.
The Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard argues we cannot rest our belief in God solely on reason. Kierkegaard states, if we choose faith we must suspend our reason in order to believe in something higher than reason. Kierkegaard doesn’t say reason is worthless, just that we can’t get to the truth of God’s existence through using reason alone. We require a leap of faith.
The problem with philosophy is that wisdom and reason are inextricably linked; one cannot claim to be wise if one’s wisdom is not based on reliable, rational evidence. As a consequence, faith and reason don’t necessarily go together. Religion and philosophy are like oil and water.
It’s often impossible to make them mix.
Philosophical inquiry is understanding why people believe as they do. If we look at what people believe, what they think, how they act, we see that one of the sources of ethics and metaphysics is God. God influences us and our behavior; our metaphysics, what we believe is true. God’s word gives informs us the meaning of life. So does philosophy.
That means we can’t discuss philosophy without at least considering the role of religion.
No matter how any atheist, college educated or not, feels about religion or God, the majority of the Earth’s population, whether they bow to Jehovah or Allah; whether their God is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Jain, Hindu, Invisible Pink Unicorn or Pastafarian, believe in the existence of an all-powerful being.
So it’s probably not a good idea that philosophers should totally ignore the influence of religious belief on philosophical thought.
Wait a minute. I’m an atheist. I don’t want to say that.
I need to rethink this.
* The “old trap” , for those who haven’t stepped into it, goes a little like this: by naming an object (in this case God), I am asserting that there is some object in the real world to which the name “God” corresponds. If I say that “God” does not exist, I am saying that that named object to which an object in the real world corresponds (God) does not exist, thus I am contradicting myself. So to avoid such contradiction, I will not name an object but state that I lack a belief in the existence of a being that is described as an all-knowing, all-seeing, omnipotent, perfectly good being (I shall steal a word from a former professor and use the word “Omnicompetent”). If you want to know what I just did to avoid the trap, read up on Bertrand Russell and definite descriptions… or not.
5) Pew Center stat: Joanna Sharpless. “Faithlessness On the Rise?” 11/07/07. http://www.secularstudents.org/node/1848
6) The number of Americans with a four-year degree as of 2011, is 28%. http://chronicle.com/article/Census-Data-Reveal-Rise-in/126026/
7) Stats on Millennials: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/05/more-millennials-losing-their-religion_n_1571366.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009