Monday, July 25, 2011

How I Became an Atheist

I came to be an atheist by an unusual path: I had a period of intense religious satori when I was 25, lasting several months, during which I realized that the experience of prophetic or messianic consciousness was mundane--that is, anyone could experience it, and that the essence of the experience was emotive rather than propositional. The ineffable was truly ineffable; the emptiness of the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem equated to Socrates claim that "All I know is that I know nothing." This meant that the worship of historical messiahs, prophets, and their utterances was bald idolatry. Those who did claim that their experience of the ineffable was unique were taking expedient advantage of their followers. This experience also led me to a position of radical apophatic theology, via the Tao te Ching; "The way that can be spoken is not the true Way." All of the scriptures were merely subjective reports of personal ruminations. These had contemplative and psychological value, but held no epistemological weight regarding objective reality.

It took another 15 years for the other shoe to drop. You see, I desperately WANTED to believe. Peter Hitchens' claim that atheists are atheists because they don't want to believe in God is patently false--like me, most of the atheists in my neck of the woods fought tooth and nail, at great personal expense, to remain believers. Hitchens the younger would, of course, like to imply, as all believers do, that it is our wickedness that leads us astray; we don't want to believe in God because God would impose morality upon us. But he ignores the laments of many atheists, like Sartre who said "God doesn't exist... the bastard!" What is pathetic, and indeed tragic about this, is that not only does he not understand atheists, but he does not even, nor can be bothered to, understand his own brother. Lifetime atheists like Christopher Hitchens take their conception of God by survey from the majority of believers, who really do, as the elder Hitchens has pointed out, worship a celestial version of Kim Jong Il. Believers, and former believers like myself, cherry picked from their religion a version of God that was far less totlitarian and much more kind. Only when we give up the need to believe in it do we take a serious look at what our religion really had in mind. It's really no surprise that we don't want to believe in a cosmological petty dictator. The wonder is that anyone would think we would want to.

My rejection of God and religion rests, not on my wish to disbelieve, but on my desire to believe--it's too damn convenient. In the absence of evidence, the only thing left to be explained is the persistance of the belief, and in a battle between faith and the truth, I have chosen the truth. Faith, after all, is the deliberate maintenance of a confirmation bias. Knowing that, one must abandon it to see things as they really are, and let the evidence speak for itself. But the evidence is silent, because there is none. Believers claim that we atheists know nothing about theology, but what they really mean is that we do not take speculative ramblings of theology as proof. They believe that the evidence is somewhere in their theology, but none of them can point out exactly where. A dozen weak arguments constitute a strong argument only to those whose reasoning is motivated--that is, to those who already agree with the conclusion. But in reality, a case is only as strong as its strongest argument.

Most of the current weak arguments rest on ambiguous definitions of God, by which God is "so powerful that he doesn't exist", and similarly nonsensical deepities. If God can mean anything, then the word means nothing. But whenever you define God, you claim to know what you cannot, and you commit idolatry. On the one hand everything you say is nonsense, and on the other, everything you say is blasphemy. There is no room, in philosophy or religion, for belief. As for "the God beyond God", the defense of this vaporous idea falls to people who begin their argument with the words "I'm an atheist, but..." These are the atheist butts, or the Newfangled Atheists. Believers and atheists alike have contempt for the lot, and the contempt is well deserved. This is often touted as the best argument for theology--but if it doesn't even convince the people who advance it, how can it be considered the best argument?