Friday, June 14, 2013

Path to Atheism … and back?

My reading of atheist ‘de-conversion’ stories and following atheist blogs bring me to the conclusion that most Christian denominations do more to facilitate de-conversion than adherence to Christianity. Perhaps, for those who really care this is a good thing, because once they get to atheism, if they take a rational, objective look around they will return to a theist position. A theist position, but unlikely to be back in their previous church.
Why so? First let’s start with what the various denominations teach. Teaching starts with kids and is seldom upgrade to adults (they just get the bigger words).

Kids get given:
· A false belief in the literal inerrancy of the bible 
· A distorted characterisation of God 
· A theology that is at best trapped in the dark ages and perpetuated by narrowly educated pastors. 
· All other religions are false 

· All you need is faith – it takes you where reason can’t.
The smaller evangelical and fundamentalist churches lead the way, but others are there too. Worse yet, some denominations are very loose structures with little or no control over what is taught, so work it out. 

The result is that when these ‘bright and shiny’ Christians meet an atheist their beliefs are seriously (and in some cases validly) challenged. For instance; the bible is not the literal and inerrant truth, evolution is real – it happened, God will not fix all your problems. OK so what they have to adjust their thinking. Well yes, but the problem is bigger than that. Christians received their teaching from people they trust(ed) and had faith in. For most their beliefs were not built up gradually from a rational base. They were just given the whole 9 yards at told to believe it – it’s true. 

So for most they developed a ‘faith’ in the often used (but wrong) sense of a belief without evidence. Adopting this sort of faith requires a considerable emotional investment, far more than taking the final step in an evidence based belief system. With high levels of emotional investment comes a fair level of cognitive bias. So we see our ‘bright and shiny’ Christians being quite emphatic and a bit irrational on occasions. Problem is the more they re-enforce their position the greater the emotional investment. 

Then BANG. An atheist brings it all down. God is not good, the Trinity is really complicated, the bible is wrong etc. Our ‘bright and shiny’ Christian has never been given the information with which to respond rationally and confidently to these usually flawed atheist argument – heck I know I was initially over whelmed. 

Now the real problems set in – trust is broken. Some of their teacher “lied” to them, the bible “lied” to them, the ones they loved and trusted “lied” to them. My “” on lied are because in most cases the “lies” were either simplifications for children or passed on out of genuine ignorance by those they trusted. With loss of faith, perhaps a big part of their lives, the breaches of trust result in a pretty traumatised person. Yet be sure that the atheist is there to pick them up. Another is lost to the dark side. Had the churches brought up their believers differently they could have been protected from this traumatic experience. 

How? Why? 

Simply because most of the atheists have fed our ‘bright and shiny’ is no more (at best) valid than their original Christian education. In truth what the atheists did is far more dishonest than the faults of their Christian teachers. The atheist claim to have done the study, done the rational analysis, to have sceptical. In most cases that is simply rubbish! 

 If the atheists had applied themselves they would have realised that it sound Christian teaching agrees with much of what they say – bible is not inerrant literal truth, evolution happened, shit happens – even to Christians, some self-professed Christians are scumbags of the worst order. 
Above all a truly scholarly or even just a conscientious one would have discovered that sound Christian teaching is that faith and reason are one – truth is truth and there is only one version – and where faith and science conflict good science wins.

Have the atheists have created a similar problem for the ‘bright and shiny’ new atheist? Certainly their emotional investment in atheism is not as deep as it was in Christianity (less depth of trust in atheist teachers, more logic (albeit pseudo-logic)) they are still vulnerable to getting that belief shattered too. But atheists do mitigate this by promoting the view that they do not have a belief, merely an unbelief – and you can’t lose your unbelief can you. Still the whole de-conversion had a lot of emotion tied up in it. Emotion that brings with significant cognitive bias. 

So it is quite hard to re-convert an atheist, quite hard to break through the emotional; resistance and cognitive bias. 
But there is hope. The thinking, conscientious , scholarly, sceptical atheist will eventually discern the flaws in the atheist arguments. They will research a wider theology, including scholarly Christian theology like that of the Catholic Church (read the catechism online – well try parts of it and can be a bit heavy going) . They will, God willing, emerge on the other side, back on the light side with a well-founded, rational, defensible belief that there is a God. 

From the conclusion that there is a God they will most likely move to consider how they should live their lives in response. They may adopt a religion as the vehicle for their journey – they will have realised that there is a huge measure of local context and enculturation in all religions, but there are valid elements to most. 

I find the apparently deliberate intellectual dishonesty of many atheists reprehensible, until I realised that for many they are still trying to heal the scars of their de-conversion and they cling desperately to their new faith hoping to never having to admit they were wrong twice. 

 Hamba kahle - peace