The Importance of Atheism

Atheism is nothing more than not believing in deities, so I often question why I devote so much time and energy to mere disbelief. The activities are mostly devoid of positive content, consisting mostly of critical thinking applied to this one very controversial topic, and therefore almost entirely reactive toward religion rather than creative. And when I try to be constructive, as when I focus on Humanism rather than just atheism, I still concentrate heavily on the atheistic aspects rather than on the purely secular aspects. I’ve come up with a few possible explanations for this phenomenon.

Atheists, especially explicit atheists, are a rather small minority worldwide, even smaller in the United States, and smaller still in the southeastern part of this country. What’s more, theists make their presence known through churches and a thousand other ways that atheists generally don’t, for vocal atheists are the smallest minority yet. Indeed, many atheists have no interest whatsoever in their atheism and even consider expressing one’s atheism, except perhaps upon direct questioning, to be inappropriate, in bad taste or simply ridiculous. Given this extreme minority status and the constant reminders of it, it’s not surprising that I sometimes feel slightly insecure in my position despite feeling such confidence whenever I actually examine the arguments on both sides. In fact, this dichotomy explains the situation almost on its own.

When I think about how as an atheist I believe the rest of the world is not only mistaken but very badly mistaken, I feel the need to remind myself why I think this and to make sure I’m not the one who’s mistaken. And although I don’t get many opportunities to have sincere, honest and good faith discussions with believers on the topic of religion, that’s why it’s something I really love to do when I can. Whenever there are two sides to a debate, which is essentially always, I don’t feel comfortable dismissing the other side unless I know exactly why they’re mistaken and can present specific errors in their thinking. I want to show them these errors, in exactly the same way I would like others to show me mine rather than simply dismissing me as an idiot. Dismissing others and disengaging from the debate is generally unconducive to the search for truth.

There’s an additional reason stemming from my past not only as a believer but as a scrupulous believer, deathly afraid of hell. Although I haven’t really felt anxious about the possibility of being wrong about Christianity in over five years, the indoctrination certainly left an indelible mark on my psyche that will probably remain until I die. I’ve never for even the briefest moment feared that Islam was true and that Allah would send me to hell, so I know the only reason I’ve ever feared Christianity was true is because it’s part of my past and part of my culture. But whenever I see a new book at bookstores claiming to justify belief in God or Jesus, I immediately feel a little bit of anxiety at the possibility that I’ve somehow overlooked something. I know this reaction isn’t rational, especially since it’s emotional and almost reflexive, and I sometimes calm myself by picking it up, thumbing through it, and seeing that it’s the same arguments theists have been making for centuries. It's notable, however, that I've never felt the urge to do this regarding other religions.

Sometimes I feel like I really should fully dismiss all belief in the supernatural, completely disengage from all discussion about atheism, and focus my energies elsewhere. But atheism is an important hobby for me and sometimes reduces anxiety, though disengaging may be more effective, for all I know. And someone needs to help fly the banner of atheism, as it were, so that religious doubters have somewhere to turn for help. I’m very happy all the people who helped me on my road to deconversion didn’t just decide to focus their attention on something “constructive” after they personally decided religion was false and instead actually took the time to express their atheism and their reasons for disbelief. Without them, I would very likely either still be a very miserable scrupulant with no life or a suicide. Atheism, not Humanism or any other positive philosophy, has been very constructive in my life and made me very happy comparatively, and I want to help offer other people that option if that’s what they need.



Vestigial Prayer

In religions whose gods are less than perfect, the purpose of petitionary prayer is simple and clear: People ask their gods for something because otherwise they might not grant it to them. If the gods are not omniscient or even forgetful, people need to inform them or remind them of what they need. If the gods are not omnibenevolent, people need to beg the gods repeatedly so they will grant them favors. If the gods are not omnipotent, maybe they can’t do anything unless enough people ask long enough and sincerely enough to grant them power. In this context, asking makes sense.

In religions whose gods are perfect, such as the Abrahamic traditions, however, the purpose of petitionary prayer is totally unclear. An omnimax deity knows exactly what his creatures need, cannot forget it, has the ability to give it to them, and loves them perfectly such that he always wants to give it to them. Furthermore, as infinitely perfect, such a god’s will cannot be changed. In this context, asking makes no sense. Of course, the Abrahamic tradition hasn’t always been monotheistic, much less believed their god was omnimax, so it appears that petitionary prayer may be a vestige from this earlier time since it’s completely incompatible with its theology over the past couple of millennia.

It baffles me to understand how billions of Jews, Christians and Muslims have spent their entire lives engaging in, thinking, preaching and writing about petitionary prayer without realizing its absurdity in light of their beliefs. The logic involved is extraordinarily simple. I suppose at least some have recognized the problem, but it’s a tiny minority, and most of them probably still use the actual form of petitionary prayer with a different purpose in mind. If one believes his gods are perfect, it’s irrational to ask them for anything, ever. It also baffles me to realize that this issue didn’t cause me more trouble than it did before my deconversion. The truth is that I was probably too afraid of being sent to hell for doubting and tried not to question it, even though I could never understand it. At least I now understand why I couldn’t: it just doesn’t make sense.


Afraid of Nothing

It’s been almost exactly five months since my last post. There’s no special reason for this; I just haven’t had much to say on the topics of religion and irreligion so far this year. I still receive occasional comments on my prior posts, and there’s one particular type of feedback that draws me back in and makes me want to write more. It comes from former or current scrupulants who tell me that my blog has helped them in their suffering and given them hope. As a former scrupulant, I can identify with their struggles from my own experience, and I’m certainly much more aware of their plight than most others. The vast majority of scrupulants avoid anything questioning their faith, at least during most their time in that condition, but the few who do when the time is right, like me, truly benefit from hearing someone address their exact concerns and show them the path to mental freedom. I don’t know how to reach this target audience better, but they’re certainly a major part of my desire to write more and provide them with more resources if and when they find my blog.

Scrupulosity is not a disease. It’s a perfectly rational reaction to the threat of eternal damnation. The solution is to realize the threat is false. There is nothing to fear.