This is Part 2 of a 2 parter describing my journey to atheism. You can check out Part 1 here. Dave
The beginning of the end
There’s lots of evidence (see note 1 below) that members of doomsday cults, when the world doesn’t end, find it easier to readjust their beliefs than face the more uncomfortable possibility that they were wrong. Usually this involves them believing that their actions/faith somehow saved the world.
The world has yet to end when predicted but one important part of my world ended when myself and my wife lost our unborn child in 2007. I no longer held an unquestioning belief in God, or more specifically, the nature and power of the God I believed in.
I’d no evidence for the existence of my God save that of my own experience. For most of us our experience is enough to confirm our beliefs whether these beliefs relate to race, education, politics, or religion. I didn’t seek empirical, scientific evidence as I felt I’d intuitive, personal evidence.
I’m no theologian but I had always imagined my God, and any God worthy of worship, as having two key traits. First, he/she should be benevolent and second, they should have more power than the rest of us. When faced with the loss of an unborn child I couldn’t help asking myself if my God was indifferent, or impotent. Neither of these options comforted me.
The more I questioned my beliefs the less sincere my praying became and in a similar but opposite way to how I had found my adult faith I found my adult atheism. Where previously I had seen evidence for the existence of God all around me I began to see no evidence when I looked. I had invested heavily in my religious beliefs and they didn’t leave without a fight but over time I began to see many of the actions associated with my beliefs as little more than superstition and habit.
The absurdity of my faith
I’d like to give two examples of actions associated with my faith that began to feel absurd.
- There’s a tradition in Ireland that you bless yourself when an ambulance or fire brigade pass you with their sirens on. The idea is that you offer up a prayer for the person or persons in danger. It’s a nice idea. Post 2007 I asked myself if I believed a positive thought and some hand movements would be of any practical help to the people who needed it. I didn’t.
- As I said previously I prayed for people every morning and every night. I prayed for those I loved and often for those I didn’t in the hope that my animosity towards them would lessen. Thinking of other people in a positive way isn’t a bad thing to do for your mental health but imagining, as I did, that my prayers made any difference to their earthly live began to seem like vain madness.
Atheism pros and cons
By 2008 I no longer believed in a God, or a higher power, or a divine order, or a deity of any kind. I began to identify as an atheist, not one of the aggressive, asshole atheists, but an atheist all the same.
I often miss my faith. When life is difficult it’s comforting to believe that the most powerful being in the universe is rooting for you! When people I love are going through difficult times I miss praying for them and my arm still twitches when an ambulance passes.
The main advantage of my atheism is the sense that I have honestly examined my belief system, seen it to be faulty, and had the courage to change it. This may be less romantic than Catholicism but using your reason to question what you believe is a responsible use of your life. Now I just need to get myself an atheist tattoo!. Dave
Note 1: Social psychologist Leon Festinger wrote a great book on the subject of failed doomsdays called When Prophecy Fails. Check it out here.