Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Are There Wrong Reasons for Becoming an Atheist?

Most atheists including those who were previously religious are nonbelievers because they have used reason and logic to reach the conclusion that there's no evidence  for the existence of god(s) and therefore theism makes no sense . Yet, there are others who lost their faith in a supreme being due to disappointment that their prayers went unanswered or because of some affliction that beset them or  their loved ones.  In other words, the motivation for their non-belief is based on emotion and projection (narcissism?): "God let me down; therefore he must not exist."

So the question is: how sincere and committed are such former believers to  atheism?  Not very, I would wager.  It seems to me that genuine atheism  is based on objective considerations, not subjective  feelings. In other words, those who arrived at their non-religious  perspective through discontent with a supreme being's "performance" may not really be atheists at all, but just mad at God and may be prone to regain their religious faith if he makes things right again in their eyes. (I also explored the "mad at God" concept in my post  "What's God Got To Do With It? Fallacies of Theistic Belief" )

Some atheists-by-reason  may assert that it doesn't matter how one became a non-believer or why (s)he rejects a supernatural explanation for the existence of the universe.  As a beleaguered and perhaps the most hated minority in America,  we need all the adherents we can get.  And besides, there's no membership  committee, vetting process, or test to determine one's dedication to atheism anyway. This is a tempting argument, but I personally I would rather have a "lean and mean" core of members in the atheist movement who arrived at their convictions of godlessness through due intellectual diligence. Those who claim to be non-believers merely as the result of  discouraging circumstances vis a vis the relationship with their god  may just be "foul weather" atheists who revert to theism when the sun shines again in their lives.


Andy said...

I've come across a few atheists who were simply wrong on a number of issues, and I gently pointed out relevant facts.

Secular Guy said...


Such as?

Ubi Dubium said...

I've read a lot of "ex-timonies" and I've run across very few atheists for whom unanswered prayer was the only reason they stopped believing. Usually, a lot of things like inconsistencies, doubts, cognitive dissonance, or unanswered questions built up in the back of a believer’s mind, even though they were trying to ignore them or explain them away. I like to think of it as “cracks in the dam of faith”. Eventually, one last thing broke through. Sometimes unanswered prayer was that last thing, sometimes it was something else. But usually, what happened next was not complete loss of faith, but the beginning of an honest examination of it. It was the start of their intellectual journey that ended in atheism, and by the time they reached that conclusion they had found a much more solid foundation for disbelief, not just “god didn’t answer my prayer”.

Secular Guy said...

You made a good point, Ub Dubium. I agree if unanswered prayers lead to a critical examination and re-evaluation of one's theistic beliefs that in turn lead to a rejection of theism, then this is valid cause for becoming a non-believer.

My concern is those who don't get their wishes and go no further in their conclusion that as a result of not getting desired results from prayer, decide that there is no god, and let the matter go at that.

Ubi Dubium said...

"My concern is those who don't get their wishes and go no further in their conclusion that as a result of not getting desired results from prayer, decide that there is no god, and let the matter go at that."

I would agree that such people might be a problem. But I can't recall ever having run into a person like that.

Secular Guy said...

One such group are the numerous Jews who lost their belief over the Holocaust.

ReasonBeing said...

Great post and quite timely in light of the Leah Libresco conversion.

I agree with you completely. I have found that that people who "reasoned" their way, as well as those raised by parents who "reasoned" their way to atheism are much stronger in their convictions than many who got there by some other means.

The more I write and mix with other atheists the more I come across people who claimed to be atheists but really have no idea what the term means.

Great post!

Tom DeWoody said...

I am an atheist from a Protestant family. I must ask, is the Holocaust not sufficient reason for a Jew to become a "true" atheist, as you might put it?

Secular Guy said...

Thanks, Reasonbeing. I think that almost any conviction that is arrived at through careful analysis has more staying power. That's why people who get caught up in the moment at religious rallies and give themselves up to god/jesus, etc are likely to backslide after a while.


Tom, good question. I think that the answer is no, and here's why: History has been a record of one long attempt at a "final solution" against the Jews at which the Nazis were just more efficient and successful than their predecessors.. Why didn't that loss of faith happen over the murder of thousands of Jews by the Cossacks (50,000 in one such pogrom)and other anti-Semites in Russia during the 19th Century not to mention the slaughters that took place in other pars of Europe including the Iberian Peninsula during the Dark and Middle Ages? So I wonder why is 6,000,000 the magic number for some Jews to decide that God doesn't exist?. In short to paraphrase Bob Dylan, "How many deaths does it take till we know that too many people have died?"

Alan said...


The people who leave religion because God let them down DID reason their way to atheism, at least in some cases. They had enough rational thought and skepticism to see the glimmer of truth behind all the BS.

Then you have the people who won't abandon God no matter what. I can't see how God's spotty record in prayer-answering is enough for them, but apparently it is. God's plan is a mystery, and they're willing to let it go at that.

Secular Guy said...


Good to hear from you, but I maintain that disappointment in God's "indifference" to one's prayers by itself is not a sincere reason for becoming an atheist. IMO becoming a non-believer under those circumstances is more like the self-centered response of a spoiled child. After all,why was this person still a believer when the prayers of friends and even of family members in dire need of God's grace weren't being answered?