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Atheism and Choice

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I was always taught that the reason non-Christians don’t believe in God is because they do not want to believe in him. They want to continue in their sinful ways. They have consciously made a decision to reject God, when deep down, they know he is real.

My experience of de-conversion has really challenged me on this view. I now think it is pretty bullshitty. It is my experience that beliefs are formed through what an individual has been taught and exposed to, and the relevant evidence they have seen, not their wants or desires. At least that’s how my beliefs changed. Matt Dillahunty from The Atheist Experience puts it like this:

To me, belief is acceptance that a claim is true, and acceptance is a result of being convinced. Now you can be convinced for good reasons or bad reasons, but I am not convinced that you can be convinced simply by an exercise of will.

I agree.

Faith is a different story. By definition, faith is believing something when the reasons for believing it are not substantial. This is something I do not understand. How is believing something against the evidence a good thing? It seems basically synonymous with stupidity. Christopher Hitchens seems to make a lot of sense on this topic:

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This idea of belief being a product of free will is an especially important consideration when it comes to the idea of Hell. If I haven’t become an atheist through a choice of my own free will (as I believe is the case) it means I am going to Hell not because I chose to reject God, but simply because I was convinced by the wrong argument, despite my vigorous attempts to find truth. How can a good God punish me for what I believe (or don’t believe) when it really isn’t my choice at all?

Honestly, being an atheist has actually been a massive inconvenience to me. It has made me an outsider at school, at work, in my family. It means I’ll never be able to have my dream job at International Justice Mission. It means I can no longer be a student leader or youth leader. I would not choose this for myself. I never wanted it. I just wanted truth.

In many ways, I want to believe in Christianity. The comfort of having a cosmic all-powerful daddy, the promise of eternal life, peace with my parents; it would all be so nice. But I can’t force myself to believe something I don’t believe, and if you love a God who would send me to a place of eternal torment because of this, I think maybe you need to reconsider. Something has to be wrong here.

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26 responses »

  1. I like this rephrase:

    “Honestly, being an atheist has actually been a massive inconvenience to me. … I would not choose this for myself. I never wanted it. I just wanted truth.”

    Can I quote you that way?

    Reply
  2. Yep, the last year or so – hell, the last 10 years – would have been so much easier for me if I could have just believed it all. But I didn’t, I don’t, and I couldn’t believe how liberating it was to accept that fact and stop trying to convince myself that I can make it true if I just try hard enough.

    Reply
    • criticofchristianity

      Yeah, it was so hard to accept that everything I had believed my whole life was wrong and I couldn’t do anything about it. Once I got used to that idea, I realised how wonderful it is to actually think for yourself. I realised how lucky I was to have the critical thinking abilities to work out my own opinions. It really is liberating 🙂

      Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  3. I doubt any Christian would define faith as believing something ‘against the evidence’; they just accept different grounds for certainty than you do.

    Also, on the “idea of belief being a product of free will”: “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”–Romans 9:16

    Reply
    • criticofchristianity

      Of course they don’t define it like that. That would seem really stupid. But the dictionary defines it like that, and that’s what I’m going with.

      Also, this post is more about what I’ve been taught by Christians than what is written in the Bible because I don’t feel like I have enough knowledge to interpret it correctly, so I have to listen to what other people say and work it out form there as best I can, within it’s original context.

      Yeah, I’ve heard that idea of belief coming only from God a lot. Verses like the one you mentioned and ones like Ephesians 2:8 support this idea.

      However, I think it makes the picture of salvation even worse. It must mean that God choses some people to give faith, and not others. Trust me, I’ve prayed for faith many many times, but I still cannot believe. It seems God will not give me faith, will not give me “compassion” or “mercy”. If I can’t achieve salvation through free will and God refuses to give me faith, I must be destined for Hell and there is nothing I can do about it.

      But this is inconsistent with verses like 1 Timothy 2:4. And it would make God seem like quite an asshole.

      I’m totally confused now. Haha! Thank you for commenting.

      Reply
      • “Against evidence” is not the same as “without evidence,” which is what the dictionary often defines it as. ‘Against evidence’ would assume that there is evidence/proof that God does not exist, and that they believe anyway; ‘without evidence’ would instead mean that there is no proof either way, and they believe regardless.

        I’d also point out that the ‘sinner’s prayer’ type conversion isn’t present in Scripture – believing the story is all that is ‘required’ – and the passage I quoted absolutely does mean that God chooses some people to give faith, and not others. The misconception comes in thinking that people start out neutral or that anybody deserves the grace at all. When you start from the Biblical assumption that giving everybody their just desserts and God playing fair would result in everybody going to hell, it becomes an act of great mercy that He would give grace to anybody.

        When you say you’ve prayed for faith many times, do you mean that you’ve prayed for belief in God? I take it you were originally a believer but ‘relevant evidence’ convinced you otherwise; may I inquire as to what the evidence was (if you have other posts which enunciate this you can just direct me there)…

      • criticofchristianity

        Fair enough, perhaps my terminology was a bit off. My apologies.

        Yes that is exactly what I mean. It’s not something I do anymore, but I have in the past. Faith is necessary for a belief in God so that’s what I prayed for. I didn’t get it.

        The reasons for my de-conversion are mostly based on the Bible, although, as I said before, I have a lot to learn about interpreting the Bible, so it is an ongoing process. It seems to me that God’s character is not good and therefore I cannot worship him.

        I’ve written about it here: https://criticofchristianity.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/the-evil-of-god/

        and here: https://criticofchristianity.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/unjust-as-hell/

        Those posts are a bit old now, my opinions may have changed in some ways since then so I probably need to write updated versions, but it will give you idea of why I no longer believe in God.

  4. Pingback: Shhh … Don’t Tell Anyone | myatheistlife

  5. I fully agree with you on it not being a choice what you believe. It’s what you think combined with what you’ve been exposed to. I’ve talked to quite a few people who have become atheists at some point in their lives and they all tell the same story: yes, there’s arguments and reasons, but there was a certain moment when they became aware that their belief was gone. Personally, I think that once you’ve reached that point, it won’t be easy to go back. Even if you find out later that you’ve lost your belief at great cost to yourself. I really admire you for your honest and courageous way to deal with all this, BTW
    You could become a hypocrite, of course. You might see yourself as ‘struggling’ instead of being an atheist, but it won’t change what goes on inside your brain.

    Reply
    • criticofchristianity

      Haha I hate it when Christians describe what I’m going through as “struggling”. They give me sympathy and act weird and emotional. I really don’t understand what’s so unfortunate and upsetting about searching for truth.

      Exactly, it’s a process that goes on in your brain, not something you can control or manipulate.

      Thank you for such an encouraging comment 🙂

      Reply
  6. I continue to appreciate your thoughtful writing, and I’m praying for you as you go on interacting with “the relevant evidence.”

    Reply
  7. I think you may find Carl Sagan’s “Demon-Haunted World” an interesting read. I haven’t yet read all of it, but he makes very good points about how it’s all right to have unfounded, illogical beliefs – as long as you know they are unfounded and illogical. He supports people having beliefs because it’s natural. It’s when people try to force their beliefs on and try to harm others that the problems arise.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: That god shaped hole | livelysceptic

  9. I’d just like to mention that I referred to this blogpost in mine, called “that god shaped hole”. What you write seemed very relevant. I hope you don’t mind.

    Reply
  10. I totally agree with your sense that atheism can come from a deeper place than simply wanting to sin. However, I don’t think this part is true: “faith is believing something when the reasons for believing it are not substantial.” In fact, I believe the exact opposite. I think I shouldn’t believe in anything for insubstantial reasons, and I have very substantial reasons for believing that the story of Jesus is true. Just my 2 cents.

    Reply
    • criticofchristianity

      Yeah, I understand that many Christians think they have good reasons to believe. But why call it faith if it isn’t about believing something without evidence?

      Thanks for commenting 🙂

      Reply
      • That’s what i mean. Faith isn’t the opposite of evidence. That’s a misuse of the word “faith.” Faith can simply mean trust or reliance on something, though you may have every good reason for that trust. Faith is not a blind leap. Thanks for the interesting blog.

      • criticofchristianity

        Okay, that makes sense, but I’ve always thought faith meant believing something without proof or evidence. I just looked it up on an online dictionary and it listed both of our definitions. I guess it’s a bit of a vague word, so misunderstandings may be a problem here.

        Thanks again 🙂

  11. I just want to second what Pastor Miller said about faith. Also, I want to make the point that if you have no choice as to what you believe, Christians don’t either. So, don’t be so upset by them 🙂

    Reply
  12. This is a fantastic post. I can completely empathize, and I found what you said about not choosing atheism to be very poignant. I certainly did not choose to lose my faith. I fought it, and I fought it hard. When I lost faith in Christianity (based on the Bible itself and the 18 units I earned in a graduate theology program), I even studied Islam. I just could not accept what I knew to be true: as Dawkins asserts, there is almost certainly no God. Accepting my unbelief was liberating, but I have to admit that I still have yet to tell many of my friends and family. One day, I hope to be fully honest about it. But, living in a community of under 10,000 people and 18 different churches really puts a damper on intellectual honesty when it comes to matters of faith.

    Reply

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