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The Case For Atheism: Part 2

November 24, 2009

I trace the roots of my questioning of faith in general to my first psychology class. As I learned about the physiology of the human brain, it became apparent to me that all human drives are biological in nature. All societies across time have believed in a higher power, be it the sun, Zeus, Buddha, or God. This drive to seek out an entity that wasn’t human, an entity with divine, unearthly powers, was universal. Surely, this was the human brain at work. I became convinced that it was our brains – our biology – that was responsible for the need to believe in something greater than ourselves.

My classes in philosophy, sociology, cultural anthropology, and even the psychology of religion all further cemented my burgeoning understanding. It was clear to me that we are hard wired to conjure up fantastical beings because the human condition is so painful and constrained. It is no surprise that ancient peoples prayed to a higher power for rain, to stave off their enemies, for healthy crops. When the pain, need, and questions become too great, we search for solutions outside of our limited human capabilities. When the solutions improbably appear, we attribute them to an outside source. It was clear to me that modern religions were created to fulfill this need and to provide structure and order to society.

The most intriguing question to me is if we accept this premise, that there is a “God” center of the brain, does it make God any less real? If God exists, why wouldn’t he have created this function to ensure we all have access to him? I remember my instructor of my psychology of religion class discussing this issue and she basically said that it, in fact, made God no less true. I have a hard time getting past this one.

What I know is that the existence of God can neither be proven nor disproven. I briefly dated a man a few years ago who was rabidly Catholic. He had attended seminary, went to church and confession countless times a week, and practiced celibacy (he was also addicted to porn and masturbated constantly, and we even had sex once, but that is another story altogether). We discussed my beliefs – or lack thereof – and debated religion at length. He was very versed in the bible and Catholic doctrine, and had the strongest arguments for faith out of anyone I’ve ever met. Yet in the end, after all his examples of so-called empirical evidence proving God’s existence, even he had to concede that it came down to a matter of faith: simply choosing to suspend some disbelief and overlook some improbabilities, and believe.

I don’t doubt for a second that faith brings great comfort and security to the vast majority of people on the planet. It gives them structure and a context for living. I don’t know what moral compass I would have if I’d never had any religious instruction, but I know that I now live my life trying to do the right thing because it is right, not because some stone tablet tells me to or because I am trying to get to heaven. I believe when we die that is it: finito. Our synapses stop firing and our lives stop. There is no soul, no spirit floating off to heaven or hell: we’re done. Yet I can still find happiness in this finite existence without being overwhelmed by the futility of it all. I can be a good person and find fulfillment in this life, I don’t ask “why me?” when bad things happen, and I don’t believe God is helping my team win the Sunday football game.

We are the only beings on this planet with the capacity to question our own existence, which is why we are the only beings who worship Gods. I reject religion, spirituality, or belief in any magical, mystical higher power because I don’t need it and it adds no value to my life. I would have to ignore too many unanswerable questions and insurmountable holes in logic in order to believe again. That may change at some point. They say that everyone prays on their deathbed. But for now, there is no God for me.

UPDATE: How timely!  On the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species,” here is a link to an interesting opinion piece on evolution, science, and atheism.

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