«But Darwin may have done religion -- and God -- a favor by revealing a flaw in modern Western faith. Despite our scientific and technological brilliance, our understanding of God is often remarkably undeveloped -- even primitive.»
--Karen Armstrong Wall Street Journal
I was recently exposed to what can only be called atheist proselytizing on youtube by Fighting Atheist. He is a former southern Christian who, through researching the defense of religion, became an atheist. Like an ex-smoker, he now seems interested in helping his theistic friends "see the light of reason." His story is much like that of Bart Ehrman, who was deep into textual analysis of the Bible (that is, determining what the earliest, "truest" versions of the New Testament actually looked like) when the scales fell from his eyes. These fellows got me thinking about my own atheism and the daily struggle I have with magical thought.
Atheism is one of the most reviled belief systems in the U.S. today. Theists of all stripes tend to tolerate each other (more or less), but reserve a certain mistrust and antagonism for those who do not acknowledge the existence of an uncreated Creator. There can be little doubt that this antagonism is often returned by atheists. Of course, both sides would do well to simply tolerate the other and find common ground where it exists. I believe there is there is more overlap in the total of what theists and atheists believe than divergence.
But then there's that word again: belief.
Theists, of course, have an easier time than atheists. After all, to believe in something is a more comfortable position than to doubt the existence of something. Just look at the US in 2002. It was easier to believe that Iraq was building WMDs than to believe they weren't. To not believe is to doubt. Doubt is based on the absence of cogent evidence. Believe requires no evidence at all. Doubt is a fickle and silent friend while belief is a solid, supportive companion. However, there is more to life than comfort. There is also verifiable truth.
I do not claim to speak for anyone but myself. I find a world explained by cause and effect more congenial to my mental health than one run by magic. However, there is much that I do not understand about our world and the human condition. Religious myths have always been about men, not Gods. The Abrahamic myth stories are more illuminating of human nature than the divine. Used as a tool to understand the irrational way we human behave towards each other, religion is salutory and beneficial.
However, religion and myth cannot be used to override discoverable chains of cause and effect -- that is uniquely the purview of science. To replace science with myth is an abuse of religion and, ultimately, people. Those fundamentalists who seek natural laws out of holy books merely find rationalizations for what they believed before ever reading their texts. It's hard for a rational mind to see religious literalism as anything but a species of madness or self-serving deceit.
There is a saying: "There are no atheists in a foxhole." This is to say that under the looming threat of death, anyone will believe a supernatural savior. While I have not had this experience, I might suggest the following reformulation of that aphorism. As a kid, many of us become concerned that a lurking horror awaits under our beds. Most of us grow out of that notion. However when the conditions are right, say on a stormy and lonely night, this old fear of monster lurking in our homes still comes back to us.
Irrationality is strong component of humanity. It is folly to read too much into it. It is also folly to suppress rationality, since it is our only light in a dark world.