Posted by: cLamb | March 22, 2009

Understanding Atheism

Looking into atheism is something that is new to me. Up until this semester I have actually never really given much thought to the topic. I actually have a couple of family members who are atheists, but up until now I have not really had much of a conversation with them about it. The atheists in my family sit more on the side of agnosticism than with strong atheism, but they personally consider themselves atheists. What is interesting is that they were both brought up in strong Catholic Christian families, where the majority of their siblings have remained Christian Catholics. In fact their other family members, their siblings, are devout Catholics. Even before I gave much consideration to atheism this point has always seemed interesting to me because I never understood what caused such a strong shift that led them to completely deny the necessity of religion, when their siblings, who were brought up in the same environment, came to the opposite conclusion. This is still interesting because I do agree with Dawkins to an extent in that religious belief is largely a product of the environment in which one is raised. This is not to say that one cannot and should not stray outside of what they are taught in childhood, it is just less common than accepting the beliefs instilled beginning in childhood. I always questioned what led my atheistic uncles to move from being Catholic Christians to non-practicing Catholics to atheism. Though they do not have a definitive answer as to the mechanism of this, both have strongly concluded that we live in a world that does not have a need for a god.


Talking to one of my uncles about it has offered some new insight for me into the topic. He does not feel spited by god, there was no epiphany that suddenly brought him away from god, he has just never felt content with the conclusion that god must exist. He is a computer programmer and writes and tests computer software. To him the world makes sense mathematically where everything is black and white and has a distinct and definitive answer. Religion transcends this way of thinking so greatly that he thinks that it is not practical or even necessary. I think this is very similar to the thinking of the New Atheists who think rationality and science are the best way to find answers. Atheism rejects the abstract conclusions that cannot be concretely defended. My uncle thinks that religion provides more questions than answers. His life and profession are such that everything is calculable, answerable, and understandable. There is no subjective understanding of math. The answers it provides hold true always and are not subject to change. There are not as many ways to interpret or apply math as there are people like in religion. It is true that religion does not perfectly fit within this mathematical or scientific worldview. I can therefore understand, to an extent, how one who is so logically minded would come to reject religion. Yet I still do not conclude that the two cannot go together. Faith may not be supported by concrete, empirical evidence, but its purpose lies beyond such constraints.


I have been constantly trying to understand this semester and give some credence to the arguments of the New Atheists. I feel that if I can soundly reject their claims against religion then I am at a good place in my own faith. So in talking with my uncle I tried to understand where he was coming from and not find him wrong in his thinking just because it is different from mine. Ultimately I understand his perspective. He sees the world as definable without a god. Therefore why should he believe there is a god? I do not see the world as definable without a god and I think that’s why I have not been swayed by any of the New Atheists arguments. God makes sense to me. But for those whom God does not make sense then I think their denunciation of religion is logical. Some of my Christian friends have had trouble with my unconditional acceptance of such things because they think it is my responsibility to ‘show them the light’ so to speak. I see where they are coming from since Christians believe that those who don’t believe are not saved and therefore we should try to bring others to Christ. I get this but my attitude is that I do not want a Jewish friend or an atheist to try and force their beliefs on me, and therefore it is not my right or my place to do so to them. I think this is why I am comfortable with my uncle’s conclusion, for himself, that god doesn’t exist. Really I have found that I am fascinated with conversations between us on our different views and how we each defend what we think. I have really learned a lot from him


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