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Atheist by default


Over on Sean Hannity’s blog there’s a thread entitled “Anybody else here a reluctant atheist?” Someone calling himself Poptart posted the following, which happens to explain my own thinking rather well:

I didn’t choose to be an atheist, because I am without belief by default. I don’t “choose” my beliefs. My beliefs evolve from a combination of experiences and/or evidence which convince me that something is logical or reasonable to believe in. Just because your (theists’) claims have not convinced me to leave this default state does not mean I have made any kind of “choice” to be what I have always been. I would have to have convincing evidence for me to leave the state of unbelief.

… I can’t make myself actually believe in god. My beliefs are arrived at based on something convincing me of its truth. I cannot just choose to believe out of the blue. Nothing has convinced me yet of god’s existence, so I do not currently believe. It doesn’t matter if I “want” to believe in god …, because my beliefs aren’t arrived at based on what I “want” to believe in. Heck, there are some things that I believe in that I would rather not believe, but have no choice based on the overwhelming evidence.

Even if someone were to offer me 10 million dollars to believe that I was a porcupine, for example, I couldn’t make myself actually believe. Would I want to believe it? Heck yeah! Could I “try” to believe? Yes! Could I pretend to believe it? Sure! But would I actually believe it? No. Like I said before, wanting to believe something does not change the fact that I do not actually believe it.

Of course it would be nice to believe. It would be convenient and, I assume, comforting. It would make me part of the majority instead of part of some nebulous minority that seems so scorned and hated by so many people that I rarely even mention the subject. After all, what’s there to discuss? I don’t happen to believe what most people believe, but why should that concern them? It has always seemed to me most uncharitable and un-Christian to revile someone for not believing something, for being unable to believe; I would think pity or sympathy more in order.

I suspect part of the revulsion and hate comes from some fear that “godless atheists” are organizing to take over their churches or their country or something (“organized atheists” is a great oxymoron). In any case, I’m not part of any organized group and don’t want to be. Why should others care what I believe or don’t believe, as long as I don’t bother them?

Some of their concern may stem from the notion that somehow atheists cannot be moral, ethical, good people if they don’t believe in a god. Why would they think that? I have free will and I choose to try to be a good person because that’s who I am; that’s how I was raised. Life is easier and more pleasant if I play by the rules, am kind and honest, and try to get along with others. That’s how human society evolved, actually. Cooperation helped ensure everyone’s survival and well-being.

I don’t want people preaching to me or trying to “save” me, and I’m certainly not out to convert anyone else to my way of thinking. It does puzzle me though, that so many people can’t seem to grasp the concept of someone not believing in something. They should ask themselves how easily they could choose not  to believe in God. (Or, perhaps, how easily they could convince themselves they are porcupines.)

It’s not like I didn’t try. I was raised Presbyterian and was taken to church almost every Sunday. The church had 18 years or so to make its case with me, and failed. I went off to college still trying to believe, still trying to find the “right” church where something would finally “click” and suddenly I’d be a believer. But it never happened, and eventually I stopped going to church. It seemed the height of hypocrisy to go when I didn’t believe, to parrot a bunch of responsive readings (don’t think, just read), or to recite prayers to something or someone I didn’t believe existed.

When my dad died, I’d have given anything to be a believer, to have that comfort, that solace, that conviction that I’d see him again. I struggled to find some consolation in memories and in the things he’d done that will remain long after I’m gone. And I found some measure of peace in knowing that I am very much who I am today because of him, and that in that way he will always be with me. And while there may or may not be a heaven, there is most definitely an incredible universe all around us. We all began as “star stuff,” Carl Sagan once said, and we’ll all eventually return to that state.

Star stuff in lieu of heaven? I can live with that.


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