Reasons Why Atheists Disbelieve Vs. Christian Belief
I would like to make a distinction between atheist and theist reasons for believing.
I hear the constant Christian argument that it is best to "accept Jesus Christ as your personal saviour" -- when you fall upon hard times or are suffering from depressing problems in your life. In Colorado Springs, where I live, I listen to "Focus on the Family" radio that is headed by "Dr." James Dobson (PhD in Child Psychology). Colorado Springs is a mecca for evangelical Christians. I listen to this station simply to know what religious garbage we are up against.
Many times, I will hear a commentator say something akin to, "It's a good time to meet the Lord when you're depressed."
In addition, I listened to a RRS show reviewing the movie, "Jesus Camp," in which "Pastor Becky" claims that children are the best candidates for indoctrinating Christian beliefs. (Apparently because they are easily influenced by adults and are weak.)
I would cite Dawkin's thought in "The God Delusion," in which he hypothesizes that religion began because there is a survival advantage for children believing all that their parents have to say. If your parents teach you how to hunt for food or build a shelter, they must know what they're talking about when they're filling you with religious delusions.
I would also like to site a book I finished recently called, "Why People Believe What They Believe," by Andrew Newburg, MD. Newburg posits that there are four interdependent mental modules for belief: cognition, emotion, social consensus, and perception.
It would appear to me that -MOST- Christians believe for emotional or social consensus reasons. Social consensus will cut a wide swath of Christians who are indoctrinated as children. The other "born-again" variety invariably "accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior" due to "spiritual" or "mystical" experiences.
I've listened to several RRS radio shows in which this is the case. "Kim" is one that comes to mind. The RRS spends maybe an hour with Kim learning about her crystal meth habit and the unfortunate plight of her child who was taken away from her. After "finding Christ," she wised up, kicked the drug habit, and got her child back. She claims she couldn't have done it without Jesus. One of the rational responders rightly pointed out that this was herself, not God, who pulled her out of the quagmire she was in.
Recently, in another forum that I engage in, I was able to tease out a salvation experience from a theist member. She had engaged in the forum trying to defend her faith (citing one biblical quote after another). I pleaded with her to post rational arguments, not regurgitations of scripture, that I obviously don't believe are the word of God. Why do Christians think that citing scripture is going to persuade an atheist? This is beyond me. It's evident after listening to the RRS that the Bible is far more damaging to Christian belief than it is supportive.
Anyway, this woman claimed that she was depressed and "asked God to be her husband." No joke. I asked her what this was supposed to mean, and she never responded. Apparently too personal. I know she's divorced and a single parent, so I'm sure it's tough. So a few days after this prayer, she's digging up soil in her garden and finds a ring. She claims that this ring was a sign from God that "God would be her husband."
Am I incorrect for calling her delusional? And why is it insensitive to call a spade a spade simply because the context is religion? The ring is completely coincidental. One guy on my forum said that he finds objects everywhere with his metal detector, including his own yard, where he has found numerous pieces of jewelry. In addition, I would cite that even if one acknowledges that this is improbable, how many prayers out there are NEVER answered? Wouldn't it be probable that a few prayers are answered in these coincidental ways that seem to be "signs" from God?
I converse with a preacher as well on this other forum. He has revealed to me that he had some kind of salvation experience in college when he had a drug problem.
Here is my point:
When people are depressed, ANY comforting belief that fills the void will be accepted whether it is true or false. I would even posit that this is a survival trick in the brain cultivated through evolutionary means.
How many theistic converts do you find who convert from atheism to theism on intellectual grounds?
How many people become atheists due to emotional experiences versus intellectual reasoning?
To go back to Newburgs book...
I would claim that emotion, perception, and social consensus are very poor mechanisms for discerning truth from falsehood. Only cognition -- armed with laws of reason and logic -- is able to TRULY discern fact from fiction.
And finally, I give my own experience.
I have personally struggled with some very depressing things in my life. I've even sought counseling. I was a theist before these things happened. And I confess that I succumbed to many delusions that made me feel better during those time periods.
But it was only reason and logic that allowed me to escape from those delusions (some of which were religious in nature) and become more happy and more sane.
A problem for which I struggle with constantly is this:
If a shrink arms a delusional patient with the tools of reason and logic to destroy and undermine his or her delusions, how does such a patient NOT prune away harmful religious delusions and belief in God. How would one fall -- just short -- of disavowing theism in a quest for eliminating delusions? It's not possible.
Once you embrace rationality, it's a slippery slope and there is no going back. Theism, along with all other delusions in such a patient, will succumb to reason.
I have had an experience in which I thought I was recieving "signs" from God -- and of a much grander sort than finding a ring in my front lawn.
But when I look back on this, I can find nothing that could not be attributed to coincidence, wishful thinking, or emotional crisis.
How many theists do you know who have had "salvation experiences" who were not depressed and susceptible to delusion? Also consider the movie, "Jesus Camp," in which the pastor tells the children in her camp that they are all liars and sinners. The children are whipped up into a ridiculous frenzy -- and caused to be artificially depressed in such a way as to mimic the depressing state necessary for a salvation experience.
You make somebody feel bad enough, and ANY emotion, ANY thought will be accepted that offers hope and deliverance from distressing feelings.
So, in conclusion; the only respectable means for becoming a theist or atheist is through reason and logic. There are far fewer theists who become theists based on rationality. And those theists who DO become theists based on rationality may be just as bad or worse than those who accept based on emotion or social acceptance. For they are simply errant in their rational thought processes.
One question I struggle with lately is, considering that many theists base their beliefs on irrationality and emotion, what is the best way to convince them that they are wrong? Is reason the best way? I hope it is for all our sakes.
REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM.