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At an emotionally flat part of my life, I had the idea of being an atheist. I’m a scientist of sorts, and so I really ought to take the scientific view of everything, I thought. I’d been raised as a protestant (Methodist) but hadn’t been observant for years, and I no longer thought of it as an important part of my life. Looking back on it now I’m not certain how sincere I was about this. It doesn’t seem like I ever really got into being an atheist like some of them do. Things kept getting in the way.
For one thing, many atheists are ignorant of the religion they criticize. They think about religion a lot, especially Christianity, but most of what they think they know about it is wrong. I realize that there are plenty of thoughtful atheists who harbor no ill will against believers and respect their beliefs. The trouble was I kept running into the other kind.
The big names in atheism these days, Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, have ideas about Christianity that are so obviously wrong that it’s hard to see why anyone takes them seriously. They think Christianity is bad for people. Billions of people who believe and participate of their own free will and live full lives in harmony with their society don’t agree. They will nearly all tell you that they benefit enormously from their beliefs. One does not even need to evoke the prospect of eternal life to see lots of worldly, objective benefits in terms of fellowship and friendship, support, and wellbeing. Some people have bad experiences with religion. I think here in particular about the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, but those are rare exceptions. Pedophiles are no more common among Catholic priests than they are in the general population. Not being religious does not protect people from that sort of crime.
Other religions have their own problems, of course, but I believe that for the majority of believers their beliefs offer them many benefits. Being raised as a Christian, though, I’ll stick to that.
An ordinary conversation with an atheist inevitably would bring up erroneous ideas about Christianity, so I found myself defending it again and again.
“I would never believe in a God who is always demanding to be praised,” said one fellow. “What kind of egotistical deity is that?”
Mmmm, well… Believers think that God is complete unto Himself and needs nothing from us. He wants us to praise Him for our own benefit and the benefit of others. Everyone needs to know who to go to for salvation. God wants us back, but we have to choose to go to Him; He won’t revoke our free will.
This would be received with irritation, and the topic would shift to some other canard about Christianity.
There were, of course, those logical conundrums some non-believers come up with that supposedly prove that there can be no such thing as an omnipotent God. If God is all-powerful can He make something so heavy that even He can’t lift it?
Well, yeah. God made heavy stones, but I’ll bet Jesus could not physically lift one.
Some atheists celebrate the fact that Christianity is on the decline in Europe and think that this augers an age of rationality. But looking at the context of this decline shows that it’s part of a more general decline of European culture and society with falling birth rates, falling population of the relevant ethic groups, increasing suicide, economic stagnation, increasing deviance, and a loss of confidence in institutions of all types. The rising atheism might be one of these signs of degeneration, not rationality. Obviously, I didn’t say this out loud.
Some atheists are always congratulating themselves on being more educated and intelligent. Most of the scientists and university professors, they say, are atheists. Most of the intellectuals are atheists. It’s the hayseeds in flyover country that are religious, they say. But they are cherry-picking. There are plenty of non-believing poor and uneducated people. They are probably the majority of non-believers. A lot of them are in prison.
I was no better than any atheist at explaining why officially atheistic governments, those that were actually hostile to Christianity and other religions, were in the habit of killing millions of their own citizens. The dodges some atheists concoct for this are never convincing. Being conservative by nature, it seemed obvious to me that what happened in those nations was that the controls were taken off of human nature, and the result was inevitable.
Also, being conservative informs me that the new atheists are wrong when they say that getting rid of religion will usher in a Utopia of rationality and clear thinking. No, there is still human nature to deal with. Things would get worse, not better; less rational not more. Rousseau was wrong. The Marquis de Sade was right. Take away the restraints provided by culture, tradition, and religion and the result is depravity. To return to a state of nature is to die by starvation, disease, and violence. The more atheistic the chattering classes get in the US the more divided we seem, the worse the rhetoric gets, the more hostile and intolerant they are toward people who don’t agree with them to the point that they are seriously talking about getting rid of First Amendment protections. They are advocating a return to the type of democracy in which there are no minority rights, the kind that the people of Athens had when they voted to kill Socrates, the ultimate form of cancel culture. Those guys are getting worse, not better, as they leave religion behind.
So, I was a total failure as an atheist. I had to admit to myself that I’m a believer after all, and now I participate at my local Church on a regular basis.