FAQ #3: Why Did You Decide to Become an Atheist?

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WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO BECOME AN ATHEIST?

Whoa, whoa, whoa!  Hold up there.  “Decide”?  I did not decide to become an atheist.  I became an atheist but it wasn’t a active decision.  Why do you think becoming an atheist is a choice?

WELL YOU AT ONE TIME DECIDED TO BELIEVE IN JESUS, AND NOW YOU HAVE DECIDED TO NOT BELIEVE IN HIM.

No.  I did at one time decide to believe in Christ, but now I can’t believe in him.  It’s not that I won’t believe or choose not to believe, I have lost the ability to believe in God.

Losing my faith was a very strange experience for me.  I felt like it was something happening to me, against my will.  I did not want to lose my faith.  I had everything a Christian could ask for; meaningful ministry, growing church, faithful wife, 3 wonderful kids, a decent salary, and a reason to live in service of God everyday of my life.  Losing my faith put all that in jeopardy.  Now that my faith is gone it’s put stress on my marriage, it will mean the loss of my job, I will lose the community that supports me and my kids in their development, I will lose friends, and now I have no god to rely on for the stresses that tomorrow will bring. I literally gain nothing by being an atheist, except the honest truth.  And you know what, the truth freaking sucks.  I have received no benefit to my life by losing my faith.  Why on earth would I choose to be an atheist?

But here’s a better question: When did you decide to believe the sky is blue?

You didn’t decide to believe the sky is blue.  You learned what the color blue was and can see that the sky shows a shade of that color.  You don’t need to believe in facts that are plainly obvious.  They’re obvious facts, you know them to be true, you don’t believe in them.  It has become obvious to me that there is no personal god who watches over me.

WELL, THAT’S DIFFERENT. WE CAN ALL SEE WITH THE NAKED EYE THAT THE SKY IS BLUE.  YOU CAN’T SEE WITH THE NAKED EYE THAT THERE IS NO GOD.

Burden of proof aside, ok then, when did you decide to believe the Earth is round?  The curvature of the Earth is something that you’ve never directly observed yet you know, not just believe but know, that the Earth is round.  Is this a conscious choice you are making to believe?  Or is it simply the facts and evidence line up in such a way as to put to rest any doubt?

When did you decide to believe that lightning is made of electricity?

When did you decide to believe that earthquakes are caused by tectonic plates?

When did you decide to believe that there is Oxygen in the air that you need in order to survive?

You don’t make conscious decisions to believe these things, and you’d be crazy to reject them.  But here’s one better:  When did you decide to not believe in Santa Claus?  HEAR ME OUT!!!  I know how frustrating the Santa/God connection can be, but think about it. “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake.”  Santa is a supernatural being who judges people based on their morality and rewards those who have done good while punishing the immoral.

And we were taught, as kids, that he was real.  To make matters worse, we are bombarded by movies and stories that attempt to demonstrate the folly of adults and cynical kids who no longer believe in Santa.  220px-The_Santa_ClauseBut at some point you were presented with the truth; there is no Santa Claus, it’s just your parents.  One day at the play ground in school, maybe you overheard some big kids talking about how Santa wasn’t real.  Perhaps you rejected this assertion at first.  No, of course Santa is real!  He brought me a bike last year.  What about the reindeer?  The sled? The stories?  The songs? The North pole?  Heck didn’t the US government track Santa every year using radar?  If Santa isn’t real then why does everyone (from your perspective) believe he is? And wait a minute, you met Santa at the mall one year.  And your parents after all were the ones that told you he was coming.

When did you decide to stop believing in Santa?

You didn’t decide, you came to an irrefutable conclusion.  In a sense, your faith in Santa was taken from you by the stark reality that there is no good reason to believe that Santa was real.

Now losing faith in Santa verses losing faith in God are not the same thing.  For one, losing God is immeasurably worse.  But the process was similar for me.  You are a taught that God lives and he loves you.  But then you hear of people who don’t believe in him.  After some investigation you realize the doubters have a vastly more compelling case, and all your left with is some stories, songs, and movies.  And no matter how beautiful the concept of God is, it’s still a lie.  Beautiful fiction is still fiction, no matter how bad you wish it was true.

Reflecting on the God/Santa connection I just thought of a really depressing truth.  How many Santa movies involve orphans hoping for Santa to bring them for Christmas?  In real life there is no Santa to make an orphan’s day bright.  How many lonely and hurting people are praying to God to fix their lives?  In real life there is no God to rescue us.

I want to believe in a god that loves us, but I can’t.  There is just no good reason to suspect that god lives.  There is no heaven, there is no Kingdom of God, there is no hope outside of this world and outside of ourselves.  I’d like to be wrong, but I’d also like to believe that Santa will bring my children presents.

This song is relevant:

Daughter, I once thought that I had angels in my room.
They were sleeping on my fan while I was dreaming of you.
And daughter, I once had such desire to believe
That our lives had been planned out by an unseen deity,
But you don’t have to waste your time holding on to beautiful lies.

Daughter, I once knew that everything that I believed
Was good, and fair, and true, and consistent with my needs.
But daughter, I am wrong almost as often as I’m right.
So daughter, just be strong enough to make up your own mind, Because you don’t have to waste your time, holding on to beautiful lies.

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28 thoughts on “FAQ #3: Why Did You Decide to Become an Atheist?

  1. Speaking of parenting and Santa…have you come across Dale McGowen’s book _Parenting Beyond Belief_? A great resource for atheist parenting. And I think the Santa analogy is very appropriate and resonates even on an emotional level; I remember being sad when I found out—but even so, I couldn’t go back to believing in Santa once my eyes had been opened. And I grew up a bit more as I “put childish things away”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Can’t…restrain…inner…Grammar…Nazi…

    Lose or losing, not loose or loosing. What’s weird is halfway you started using it correctly. I suspect you’re toying with those of us who lean OCD. Feel free to delete this comment.

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  3. I remember my process of disbelief with Santa. It was a long, drawn out one, though for me it was more starting from a position of doubt at a young age and contining to look for evidence to prove myself wrong. Funny enough, I was very sure of my doubt in God long before I had finally given in to doubt in Santa. Santa brought presents, so at least there was some sort of sign he existed; God didn’t even have that much going for him.

    Some see this sort of thing as sad, typically calling it a loss of innocence, and it is a bit initially. But many forget to think about the full implications. For all those years as a child, your parents gave you gifts, spending their money and time to make sure you had a happy holiday, and at the end they kept giving the credit away to someone else that didn’t even exist the whole time. That kind of selfless love is just heartwarming. And once you realize that, it just makes you appreciate your family and the holidays even more.

    The same applies to God. All those miracles that people keep giving credit to God for – all the doctors and rescue workers making a difference every day, even all the regular people who just happened to be in the right place at the right time to help with a bad situation – there’s no cosmic deity guiding those events. It’s all just people who have stood up and done the right thing when they were needed.

    You don’t need the rose tinted lenses of a belief in God to make the world beautiful; it’s beautiful enough on its own with plain sight.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. You’re still looking for a job, right? Who am I to give advice, but it seems you should just keep writing. Rally your ability to explain emotional or passionate topics with a certain rationality that avoids insulting those who may disagree. Of course, it’s one of the talents that makes you a good pastor. BTW, my Dad was a pastor for about 10 years, then became a very successful life insurance salesman. I joked that it was the same business. Not eternal life insurance, just life insurance.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Santa has always been a big deal for me. You could say he’s the reason that I’m an atheist. Well, probably not, but he was definitely the start of things for me. Santa was actually the first to fall for me, but he was quickly followed by the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and then God/Jesus.

    God and Jesus took a little longer because when I pointed out to my parents that Santa didn’t exist, they just smiled and said, “Don’t tell your brother!” When I pointed out that God and Jesus weren’t real, the reaction was startlingly different. Different enough that I relegated my thoughts and questions on the matter to my head for many years.

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  6. First time commenting. I’ve been reading for 3 weeks. I would like to thank you for writing this blog. It helps me and brings me a lot of clarity and a feeling that I am not alone. I also was a Christian up until about 2 years ago. My process of disbelief started about 5 years ago and I told my wife about 1 year ago. Most of my friends however, still do not know. I really relate to the aspect you wrote about of music/media/art pushing you to realize the reality that there is no God. (Actually, I find the most truthful realization is that we don’t know, therefore, I relate more with the agnostic viewpoint. Though, if I had to bet on it I would choose atheism over christianty.) Thank you also for introducing me to the Quiet Company album ‘We Are All Where We Belong’, it’s really great! The main album that helped me come to my realization was David Bazan’s ‘Curse Your Branches’. If you haven’t heard it I highly recommend it. After reading your posts for the last 3 weeks I can’t help but feel like you think of your conversion as a bad thing. Yes, it must be very difficult for you being a paster and being so rooted in christian life. But man, I hope you also see the beauty in what has happened. You are simply being honest with yourself – that is very admirable. The beauty here is that you no longer have the distortion of a fake god in your life. You can now be more honest and real than ever before. Making real decisions and treating all people in a way that is loving and human and honest.
    I will continue to look forward to reading your blog and following you along on this journey. All the best to you. ~ Jeremy

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I get such a kick out of your blog, but it makes each day that much more inefficient, so I am running behind. But I have to say that we all take things differently. I did not feel any loss when I gave up on god (little g, you son of a bitch), but I cried my eyes out when my frigging third grade teacher told me there was no Santa. That was 64 years ago. It’s a good thing she died before I found her.

    PS: I told you once before: go into sales. It’s where the money is, and all the independence you could ask for. I was not a “natural born salesman,” but I found a way to make it by being a friend/consultant to my clients instead of being a self-centered greedy jerk. After a good number of years, and without much effort, and no stress, I was making from $125 to $300 an hour. And if your needs are simple, that’s a lot of money you can give to charity or start an orphanage in Asia, as I tried (very naively). Now I wish I hadn’t retired!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve been following your blog ever since you were featured on Friendly Atheist, and I’ve cheered and raged and worried for you ever since. What compelled me to comment today was the Santa analogy, because it particularly resonates with my own experience.

    My belief in God was very much like my belief in Santa as a child: my parents, extended family, and everyone around me told me they were real, and I trusted them in the way that a small child trusts adults to help her shape an accurate picture of the world in which she lives. One year as it was getting on toward Christmas (I don’t remember how old I was exactly, but I know it was before I turned 10, because of the place we were living in), I went into the hall closet to look for a board game, and saw items that were obviously unwrapped Christmas presents — specifically, I remember a science lab kit. Distressed, because I hadn’t meant to go snooping, I ran and confessed to my mother, who quickly concocted a half-assed excuse for why they were there: “Santa’s sleigh is very full this year, so he asked us to hold onto some presents for him.” (In retrospect, since I received presents from both “Santa” and my parents, I don’t know why they didn’t just make those ones “family gifts.”)

    Even at my young age, I intuitively felt that this explanation was absurd, but I thought (erroneously) that if I didn’t believe in Santa Claus, I wouldn’t get Christmas presents anymore. So I *tried* to believe. I struggled to push away the cognitive dissonance and convince myself somehow that Santa was real, when deep-down I suspected that it was all a ruse. I was afraid not to believe. When my parents eventually came clean that Santa was all pretend, I was *angry* at having been put through that emotional torment and feeling like I had to force myself to believe the unbelievable.

    Needless to say, my belief in God followed a very similar pattern a few years down the road. But the fear, the anxiety, the guilt, the struggle between what I was told by people I trusted and what plainly appeared to be real… Santa introduced me to all of that. So while my religious deconversion was a lot less traumatic than many others’ I’ve read here, yours included, my elementary-school-aged self remembers at least a tiny bit of what you must have gone through.

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  9. Douglas Adams wrote some really good stuff on atheism, and on this subject in particular. One thing I remember from his articles was his distinction that while being a theist means you *believe* there is a god, being an atheist does not mean you *believe* there is no god, it means you are *convinced* there is no god. He then goes on the explain the importance of this distinction, which basically boils down to Bertrand’s teapot, burden of proof, and so on.

    You become a believer on faith, but you become an unbeliever through observation.

    Liked by 1 person

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