Closet atheist / backlog journal entry 3
I am convinced now, more than ever, that we don’t choose what we believe. What I mean is, we don’t get to choose what is convincing to us. We can choose to expose ourselves to new information and experiences, which may impact or alter belief, but belief itself (being convinced of a proposition) is not chosen. We’re either convinced, or we’re not.
Belief entails both knowledge and faith. Knowledge is a belief strongly supported by evidence. Faith is a belief supported by no evidence.
There are two different kinds of faith. Convinced faith (being convinced a god exists without evidence and living your life as if he does) and unconvinced faith (not being convinced a god exists, but living your life as if he does). The latter is a very cognitively dissonant position.
In my case, I want a god to exist. I’m not convinced, even a little, that he does. If we don’t choose our belief, then there is nothing I can do about this, save staying open to new convincing information and experiences. But in the meantime, I could employ the second kind of faith– unconvinced faith–and live as if a god exists without believing it.
But why? Why would I do such a thing? That’s something I can’t fully answer, but I can come close to an answer.
Family. Desire for it to be true. Mortality. Friends. Convenience.
I’ll take these in reverse order.
On convenience: It would be highly inconvenient, even in our own secular democracy, to live a declared atheist. Socially, especially in this town, you’re automatically suspect by the community. Atheists are among the most distrusted demographics in America, just above rapists and pedophiles.
On friends: I don’t want to lose them. Friendships are more important to me than declaring belief, or lack thereof, in a deity. I don’t, however, believe that my friends place the importance of belief in a god as low on the pole as I do. That puts me in the curious situation of pretending to believe something I don’t in order to avoid the possibility of a terminated friendship over something neither party has a choice over: belief. It boils down to not trusting their judgement.
I don’t see this as avoiding a problem or necessary conversation or confrontation. I see it as counting the cost of friendship (silence on belief) with these people and paying up.
On mortality: this is obvious. I don’t want to die. But I have accepted the reality that I will in fact die, and have come to preliminary terms with it, hence its being in the number three spot on my list instead of holding the number one slot. No, number one, my primary concern, is much more important to me than death.
On the desire for God to exist: I am not like Hitchens in this regard (or in respect to the elegance of my prose). I want an all-loving god to exist. Hitchen’s “celestial dictator” is not all loving, though it is far from a caricature of the Christian/Jewish/Muslim God put forward for thousands of years: it’s the orthodox view. Hitch is right about this god. (RIP to you both.)
But what I want doesn’t matter when it comes to reality. It’s what X and Y can’t seem to get through their heads. Human experience is highly important, yes! But human experience doesn’t always equal reality. Story and narrative are important, yes! But story is not always–in fact, story is often not–reality.
X and Y seem to want to simultaneously hold God in the realm of story when he’s called to task by science, and pay mere lip service to the importance of reality and how we know what’s real (science). When reality conflicts with their idea of God, they evade by using this one word: mystery.
And X and Y are arrogant about this. They think appealing to mystery is somehow a mature thing to do. They fail to see that appealing to mystery is only mature when you resolve to solve the mystery. Mystery is the adolescence of an idea. Knowledge is the idea fully grown. Exalting mystery and looking down on those who pursue an answer is exactly in opposition to any kind of progress. And I will confess that X’s combined ignorance and arrogance on this point (with his sneers and chuckles aimed at those “silly atheists”) is starting to get to me.
Obviously, some things are best talked about and taught in story. Shakespeare is arguably one of the best sources for learning about the human condition. Love. Hate. Power. Depression. Desire. No one would argue that the best place to learn about these things is in a lab. But the point is, these things can be observed in the lab. These things are supported by empirical evidence. The very base and testable assumption before writing a story about love is that love exists in the first place.
Theists want to put God in the realm of untestable human experience, but fail to realize that place doesn’t exist (much like the god they consign to it).
On family: my wife and child mean more to me than anything. I remember the guilt driven impulse to qualify that statement with “well, after god, of course.” How revolting that anyone would impose such a guilt. Over and over in the church, it’s “if you love your family more than you love God, then you’re not loving your family in the right way.” Such a petty and disgusting way to prey on a man’s instincts. “Want to be the best man possible for your family, do you? Well, that requires loving Jesus enough to leave them (Luke 14:26) or YHWH enough to put the knife to your son’s neck (Abraham).”
“FOUL! FOUL! METAPHORS!” cry the theists.
Yes, I’ll take my metaphors without the divine injunction to leave or kill my family, thank you.
My church, at least, tries to mend this obvious piece of drivel by saying “the way to love God is to love your family more than anything.” Though you won’t find this idea in scripture, it’s at least a step better. But why not just stop at “love your family”? Why the need tack on God as a carrot on a stick? Anyone needing God as a justification or reason to love is either emotionally damaged, or unaware of their own capacity to love because they’ve been told by the church that they’re inately evil (original sin).
This is why I’ve decided I’m going to be open with my wife about this. First, because I love her and we’re honest with each other. Second, because she’s been told the same lie I have: “keep God at the center or you won’t make it.” I think she understands that statement is vacuous, but I have to be clear. After a few conversations about this, the smile on her face was uplifting and comforting!
I said, “if God doesn’t exist, you’re all I have! Isn’t that more of a reason to love you with all I have?” She smiled and whispered a relieved, hushed, “yeah…yeah, it is.” We proceeded to make out, and hot damn it was amazing.
God as a carrot on a stick trivializes love. He doesn’t make it more meaningful.
But to come out as an atheist would be an earth shifting move for her. I’ve seen firsthand the pitied looks on people’s faces when a woman tells her church that her husband is an atheist, and I refuse to place my wife in those crosshairs. “You poor woman, raising a child as a spiritual single mom.” It’s actually quite a brilliant strategy to protect the herd. Drive a wedge between a woman and her husband. Sow discord in a marriage to break it up, getting the atheist out of the group. Better to sacrifice a member’s marriage than to have the atheist infect us with intellectual poison. This is what those looks and statements are subconsciously conveying. It’s a brilliant defense mechanism of religion, disguised as pity and love.
That’s why I stay quiet in her account.
Maybe one day I’ll come out about my lack of belief. I guess I’m aware that beliefs change, and the lack of a god believe isn’t necessarily exempt. Why cause damage now when I may be convinced of a god’s existence in the future?