29 Nov 2012

A Descent Into Atheism

I’d like to begin this article with a quick note, perhaps even, a disclaimer. That is that I completely and unequivocally support every individual’s right to freedom of religion, and additionally, recognise that religion can in fact, in certain cases, be a resoundingly powerful force for good in a person’s life. This aside, it has not been so in mine. During my childhood I viewed Christianity (and I will use Christianity in my anecdotes since it was the religion closest to me personally, even though any faith could have taken its place) as something which existed deeply engrained within society, not in parallel to it. Christian beliefs were indoctrinated into me from the very beginning of my school life. You only have to look at the compulsory Christian assemblies during primary school in which I was expected to pray, and the harvest festivals in which we thanked God for our supermarket bought tins of baked beans through yet further recital of the Lord’s Prayer in our local church. This was England in the late nineteen-nineties, and though God did not have quite the command over our lives as he would in the deep south of ‘Bible Belt’ America, looking back, it certainly seems like the establishment was trying. You can probably forgive a six or seven year old me for believing that religion was something which I might as well embrace; indeed I did so until my early teens. It is without any particular pride that I can declare I have read every word of the New Testament; though its archaic stories did little to impress any deep spirituality in me, I still for some reason expected to have a grand revelation. I sadly, did not.

In 2012 however, the world is rather different. Mass immigration has meant a huge widening of the number of religions on public show in our country; this has had the effect of reducing the dramatic hold which Christianity once enjoyed. My movement away from the belief in God though was not a result of these extraneous forces; it was due to my own personal intellectual development. If you can follow my perhaps disjointed train of thought, it became apparent that the fact one cannot prove the falsity of God could never prevent oneself from calling themselves an atheist. Agnostics may maintain their stance that they are open to religion since no atheist has ever proven to them its falsity… but no-one can empirically state that God does not exist, and if this was a requirement of atheism, then no-one could rightly call themselves atheist. That is a rather long winded way of saying that I believe it is almost certainly right that there is no God, but not definitely right. I would be lying if I said I could prove that no God existed, I simply am not swayed by the arguments, if there are any legitimate ones, in his favour- and that’s why I call myself an atheist.

I cannot address exactly the elaborate causes of this descent into humanism, atheism, perhaps even existentialism, because I don’t really know what amalgamation of influences my mind has been exposed to in its decision making process; so rather, I will address what I believe to be the effect of calling myself an atheist. Other people may say that they don’t feel particularly different, like it is akin to the passing of an age, merely symbolic; I do not share this experience. The rejection of God has reared its head in my everyday life most obviously in the small things. I may no longer unconsciously pray for a couple of seconds in my head for an outcome I desire, nor may I use the expression ‘God help us’ or ‘by the grace of God.’ I may not take comfort that my deceased grandparents are together in heaven, or that indeed, there is a place after this life. The position with such religious festivals as Christmas is a peculiar one too because I do not reject them outright; I merely view them as a celebration of family, generosity and relaxation, and look upon the tale of the nativity as a pleasant and traditional story. I have perhaps also begun to give myself permission to act a little immorally at times, without the subconscious threat of a supreme being breathing down on me and refusing to grant me an eternity in heaven. Additionally, atheism brings with it a grand levelling of the human down to its base roots. Rather than viewing ourselves as something made in God’s image, we view our existence as something quite natural, a little magical in a different way, but being brought about purely as a result of chance. We are fantastic creatures, but this perfection does not preclude our creation from being natural or find its explanation purely from God. The Grand Canyon or Niagra Falls do not look at their splendour and come to the conclusion that someone must have chiselled them from the clay. We exist because we exist and I can find no evidence to the contrary.


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