Posted by: Kimber Terese | March 6, 2009

The Atheist Delusion

My first close encounter with an outright admitted atheist was in a discussion with a good friend of mine. Although we interact often, and worked together frequently, religion was not a topic we discussed. I had heard before that he was an atheist, but never approached him directly about it. When we finally addressed the topic, he tells me that I had a typical reaction, a surprised look. He told a story from when he mentioned his atheism to a classmate who replied in shock, “but—you’re a nice guy!”

As I was reading “The God Delusion” earlier this semester, I found myself acting in an unexpected way. When I pulled out the book, my first thought began: “Maybe I shouldn’t read this in public here—people might think I’m an atheist or something!” I couldn’t believe the thought even came into my own mind. This personal reaction reveals my own hesitations with beginning this project.

To say the least, I have gained a crucial perspective on atheism and the overall impact of religion on the world. Without much of a scientific background, their arguments and applications of theology immediately seemed foreign to me. With the help of classmates and theologians I have been given the opportunity to dissect these arguments and find either truth or weakness within them. This seminar thus far has been enlightening in significant ways.

The challenges proposed by the New Atheists are intimidating at first, but I soon found how intellectually unsound many of their arguments are. Class discussions have given me the chance to battle out the questions they ask. To mention one particular question that still lingers in my mind, I have trouble with the argument for a personal God. It is clear that the majority of New Atheists would come closer to admitting a Creator God than they ever would admit a loving, personal, intimate God. At this point, I am not taking a stand on either side, but will allow the seminar to continue to provoke my own thoughts and beliefs.

I greatly look forward to the second half of this semester. As others have noted, many of my previous theology classes have not exactly sought out to challenge my faith. The depth of these classes only barely touched below the surface. This seminar is clearly different. Being involved in this class is like having someone tear you away from home, strip you from all your beliefs, stand you alone in a desert, look directly in your eyes and say: “Now- What do YOU believe?”

And how do I answer that question? Well…it’s only been half a semester. I’m still figuring it out 🙂

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Responses

  1. I think it’s funny that you hesitated to read The God Delusion in public. I did, too, but for very different reasons. My thoughts usually went, “I hope people don’t see me reading this, and then come up and ask me to debate!” Not that I would shy away from a challenge, but I really believe that atheism is more prevalent in our society than we like to admit (probably hiding behind insincere religious practice) and if an atheist came up to me, wanting to debate my belief in God, I wondered whether or not I would be able to respond intelligently. I have my faith and I’m an intelligent person – and I’m sure those two facts seem oxymoronic to many. Regardless, I am an intelligent, faithful person, and I am also grateful for this opportunity to look more closely at what I believe and to gather some evidence to support it.

  2. I also have a story concerning our booklist of atheistic titles. A few weeks ago when my mom asked me what I was studying this semester, I mentioned the senior seminar topic of the New Atheism. After describing this class in what I felt was a detailed way, my mom replied with, “So, you are learning to be an atheist? That seems a little counterproductive in a theology class.”

    At first I was a bit upset with her for not listening to my description of the class, but then I realized that her response was part of what we were studying in class. My mom, as the stereotypical good Catholic, had immediately stopped listening after I mentioned the word atheism. She did not want to hear what I had to say. At the word atheism, all dialogue ended.

    I believe the fear of atheism that I saw in my mom and which I believe exists in many other believers, is the main reason for the lack of discussion between atheists and believers that I have repeatedly encountered this semester. If only more believers and atheists could have the opportunity that we have in this class to examine the debate between atheists and believers, everyone would benefit. In the end, from this class I have learned that open discussions are what is needed. Overcoming the close-mindedness and stereotypes that each side of the debate have is necessary for any learning to take place.

  3. Going off of these comments, I often find myself ashamed to have these books with me in the airplane or out on campus. Must be my pride or something, but these books rather than challenging to my faith bore me with their level of professionalism. And by reading it I am somehow giving credit to the ideas of someone like Sam Harris who I would like to say: “Come back to me when you’ve grown up a bit.”

    I don’t think these guys deserve much time. I’m being an ass, but I think we read them, hear their ideas, do what we got to do and MOVE ON. They can come back when they are true atheists and ready to deeply, honestly and openly discuss.

  4. I think it is very interesting hearing everyone’s concerns about the image reading the atheism books have projected. I have not felt the same, but I understand what you all are saying. I think the reason I have not felt self-conscious about carrying around a book that boldly displays “Atheism” is that in being a theology major I have often found myself self-conscious about publically reading the Bible or a book that boldly displays “God” or “Christianity”. I have kind of had to coach myself out of these sub-conscious feelings and not worry about what people think when I am reading about such topics. Thinking about it I am surprised that reading about Atheism has not projected these sentiments in myself. But I think these responses are understandable because as Christians it is not really the image we want to project to the rest of the world. In fact, I know few, Christians who would feel okay with being mistaken as an atheist, even if just because they were reading a book about it!


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