Wednesday, September 26, 2007

That fateful comment

It's not often that posting a comment on someone's blog has a substantial effect on your life, but this one crystallised a lot of stuff for me.

The backstory: for various reasons, Amanda is feeling that she'll be better off if she stops agonising over God's existence and just takes it as given for the moment. Although of course I defy God and all of His works, I can see where she's coming from, because I've been feeling the same way about my atheism.

After several years of arguing about God's existence and/or involvement in the world, I'm in the process of realising that one of the accusations directed at atheists is actually true of me: I'm actually rather insecure about my atheism. That's why I go looking for religious arguments, why I spend so much time creationist-battling online, why I read so many books on the subject, why I'm so obsessed with it all. It's a very Freudian situation.

But here's the thing: I don't need to feel insecure. I've put an insane amount of effort over the years into understanding the philosophy, science, history, psychology etc, enough that I can have near-total confidence in my chosen religious stance. I can stop wondering whether the next evangelical I meet will pull a valid proof of God's existence out of their hat. I should remain open-minded, but there are better uses I can put my energy to.

I feel like I've been waiting for this realisation to strike for a long time now. In just a day, I can already see differences in my outlook. Last week I was approached by a proselytising Christian, and the conversation inevitably devolved into deep discussion of evolutionary biology. Today I bumped into the same guy and found I was more interested in his experiences as part of a faith community.

Last week I was horrified that people were more persuaded by good marketing and a sense of community than by rational skepticism. Today I find myself pleasantly impressed at how much effort some Christians go to to make potential converts comfortable. There's a lot that I can learn from this.

Last week I was pondering how someone could be weaned away from religious groups. Today I'm more interested in how such groups are set up. What would it take to plant a "church" of skeptical atheism?

I'll still keep up my usual level of science self-education, because I've discovered that I thoroughly enjoy evolutionary biology. I'll carry on reading up about the early Church (my current area of investigation), because I'm struck by parallels between the Christians' situation then and the atheists' situation now. I'll happily discuss religion with anyone who raises the subject, because I am in serious need of non-cyberspace debating practice. But although my behaviour may be unchanged, the driving force is becoming very different. I don't need to prove myself to anyone any more.

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