I am an atheist. I was brought up a (very) strict Christian, but looking back, I don't think I ever really, truly believed, deep down in what I was told, however. As a teenager I spent many hours trying to decide whether I wanted to be a christian, and trying to reconcile the very hardline strand of christianity I had been brought up in with my sexuality. Finally, I decided I no longer believed in the christian religion, and became an atheist.
Then The God Delusion came out. I drank up the arguments that it presented for athiesm, and happily accepted that there was rational basis for my atheism – something which I had been unsure of before. But, slowly, an uncomfortable realisation dawned on me; I had become an atheist before I believed there was any rational basis for that belief. And I had accepted the arguments for atheism because I was an atheist. There could, therefore, be nothing rational about my atheism, even if the arguments in themselves provided a rational basis for atheism. But I began to suspect that perhaps many, if not most, if not all, atheists started with a psychological propensity for atheism before they developed or accepted the 'rational' arguments to support their position. We all start off with our own biases, prejudices and tendancies to prefer certain types of theories, ideologies and explanations, and these clearly make us more likely to think of 'evidence' in support of these theories, ideologies and explanations as strong support for them – even the most critical thinker will succomb. To me, the acid test of the strength of the arguments provided by The God Delusion is, how many people, picking up The God Delusion, and firmly believing in their religous viewpoint, were persuaded by the arguments you give for atheism – or even simply impressed by their strength?
So, I decided to look at some of the posts on converts corner. I was disheartened to see that the vast majority of 'converts' had very strong doubts about their religion long before they read The God Delusion, and that it simply gave them the reason they were looking for to embrace atheism. It helped them to escape from religion, but only because they were already looking for the hole in the fence. And there is nothing wrong with that – as I said, I am an atheist myself. But I am very sceptical that any religious belief – be that in the existence of God, or his non-existence – can be rationally grounded. And if that is so, the sense of rationality which The God Delusion has given these atheists is entirely spurious. And it is this sense of rationality which engenders a feeling of superioirity over the religious, and even worse, either pity or contempt.
Christians, muslims and people of many other faiths can nowadays accept that belief in their religion is based on faith alone – why cannot atheists do the same? Why the constant insistence that there is something inherently more rational about being an atheist, than in believing in God, Allah, or the spaghetti monster? I embrace my atheism – but I accept it is based on faith, not reason. I am an atheist not because good rational arguments won me over, but because I couldn't believe in God if I tried. My atheism is one of understanding, an atheism that encourages proliferation of multiple worldviews, religious and non-religious, an atheism which approaches all faiths as equals. There are many happy and fulfilled atheists. There are many happy and fulfilled muslims, christians and hindus. And, fundamentally, we all believe in the God (or non-God) in which we believe because of faith.
Obviously I have not presented any argument as to which faith/non-faith is 'better' in a utilitarian or pragmatic sense, nor which is actually correct – as in, which corresponds to the actual state of affairs in the world. But my email is getting overly long and I should probably leave it here. Suffice to say, I do not accept that atheism is better than other religions, and neither do I think there is any way in which we could ever access the truth of what is the actually state of affairs – and so (I'm afraid I'm being a bit of a logical positivist here) we should stop arguing about that and go to the pub for a beer.
P.S. This started off as a post for the converts corner, but it turned out something quite different. Hope it doesn't end up in the Bad or Ugly 🙂