Just what is an ex-atheist?
Inspired by Staks Rosch’s blog today at http://www.dangeroustalk.net/?p=168, I wanted to add some of my thoughts to the issue.
I’ve never met a ‘REAL’ ex-atheist. No doubt your first thought (if you’re theist) is that I’m in denial. But no, I am pretty certain that I’m not, and I’ll tell you why with a few more memorable examples.
One- the man who chose to be an atheist for two weeks, to see what it was like. I can’t imagine that needs explanation, but … you cannot CHOOSE whether or not you believe in a god. You can choose to either investigate theology, or blindly accept it, but you will then be subject to whatever you personally conclude. This fellow actually walked into a gathering of atheists and proceeded to argue with us that he’d been an atheist. Now, he’s a very smart man in general; a teacher, highly literate, but he was so off base on this one it was actually uncomfortable. He actually BELIEVED that he stopped believing for two weeks, and therefore he understood atheism in its entirety and was going to show us the errors of our ways.
Many more simply don’t understand what ‘ATHEIST’ means. They think if they didn’t attend church for a while or think about religion, they were atheist. Or, if they went through a bad spell, (did ‘bad things’ like stealing, etc) they were atheist during that time. Upon deeper conversation, though, it always comes to the point that they never DID NOT BELIEVE a god exists, they just weren’t actively worshipping it.
Another… a man who was a real atheist all his life. He then had a series of massive strokes and heart attacks, was reduced to someone who grabbed any woman nearby’s breasts or genitals, repeated himself into absurdity, and was otherwise severely mentally incapacitated. He didn’t claim to be an ex-atheist, nor to believe, he simply liked to sit in his wheelchair and watch endless western movies and preachers on tv, so his family (not atheists!) insisted he’d returned to the fold – even though they understood that he was incompetent on all other counts, on THAT one, they were CERTAIN he’d been saved. Sigh. (In this case, those claiming ‘ex’ atheist were family, not the person himself.)
Oh, one more – a university PhD professor who claimed he was a ‘Christian Atheist’. On the surface, it appeared he didn’t believe in gods but chose to embrace the more positive tenets of Christianity, thus, he coined his christian-atheist persona. I got to know him pretty well. It turned out to be bullshit – a way to lay the most students. (Oh ethics!) He didn’t WANT to believe, because the intellectual side of him told him it was nonsense, but he couldn’t stop believing. He was embarassed by his belief, so he claimed he was part-atheist. What the hell can anyone even SAY about that other than how sad a creature he is.
Several others were ‘atheist’ in their rebellious youth – didn’t think a bit about the questions of whether or not gods exist, but only the ‘cool’ aspect of being an outsider. When they grew up, they went right back to the faiths of their fathers, unquestioningly.
Now, am I saying it is impossible for a ‘fully realized atheist’ (thanks to my close friend Rick Wingrove- http://www.flamewarrior.com – for that term – FRA), to have an epiphany and return to belief in a god? Nothing is impossible when one abandons reason for ‘faith’. I find it hard to buy, but I won’t say I KNOW it’s not possible. But, in EVERY case I’ve encountered (and 13 yrs as sysop on Compuserve’s Religion forum gives me a lot of latitude here, having discussed this with literally thousands of folks interested in the question of gods – for and against), I can honestly say that I have NEVER met a FRA who abandoned his or her atheism to return to religion.
I’ve met many very sincere questioners, too. Some folks who were quite torn up about it, so unsure were they that it became an anxiety for them. Many who were terrified of atheism – thinking that if they admitted they didn’t believe, they’d suddenly turn into serial killers. They hadn’t figured out that ethics and morality were already here… and if there was no god, then clearly you didn’t need one to tell you how to behave. People don’t like atheism. It scares them, because it challenges what they think is their core reason for being. So, they assign all sorts of negative traits to atheists. I’ll write about some of those behaviors in another blog, along with comments on where morality and ethics come from… and again and again, what atheism IS.