Saturday, June 4, 2011

Breaking Free

The vast majority of people who believe in god do so largely because they were raised to believe as children.  It is very rare to hear of someone raised as a non-believer who has embraced belief.  When those raised to believe in god do leave their belief behind, there is usually a process of breaking free of what they were taught as children.

One of the many biased ways in which the religious look at non-believers is to examine this process (and, indeed, the non-believer's entire life) for reasons to impugn his intellectual integrity.  To attack him personally in order to undermine his conclusion, because, as I previously pointed out, believers can't seem to separate the abstract from the personal.  What matters to them is the status (and number) of those espousing a particular position.

I have pointed out before that many, if not most, people who were raised to believe in a religion will experience a moment of truth when it dawns on them that the whole thing is made up.  Their reaction to this moment tells us a great deal about the character of the individual.  Some will embrace a realization of the truth.  Some will reject it.  What's most telling about that decision are the individual's true reasons for accepting or rejecting the truth.

Some will accept the truth for reasons of honesty and intellectual integrity.  Others will make their decision for emotional reasons--because it makes them feel better to do so.  The religious almost always accept their religion for emotional reasons, thus they assume that non-believers reject it for the same sorts of reasons.  In fact, this is one of their favorite tactics:  To accuse us of doing this sort of dishonest rationalizing--the sort they do themselves.

As much as it may be objectionable for many of us non-believers, we must acknowledge that there are a few of us who seem to prove this to be true.  What is not true, however, is the notion that all of us do this, which is what the religious (and even some non-believers) would say is true.  It is very common to hear people espouse the notion that all human decision making is merely rationalization.

While it is true that all human decisions will have an emotional component, not all can accurately be described as rationalizations.  Just as some people are more rational and less emotional than others, some decisions will be more rational and less emotional than others.

For most non-believers who weren't raised as non-believers there will be an emotional component to their decision--an emotional factor that played a role in their thinking.  This component, however, will not be their primary motivation in most cases.  In most cases, the emotional factor was simply the source of the non-believer's strength--the willpower he needs to swim upstream against the incredible pressure to conform.

Some non-believers come to their non-belief as a result of being "different".  This "difference" causes the person to be able to see the religious beliefs of his group objectively because his ego doesn't feel like part of the group--or, perhaps even feels rejected by the group.  This is one of the reasons that gay people often reject religion (and one of the reasons that the religious insist that homosexuality is a choice in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary).

What this indicates, however, is not that non-believers are simply taking a stand for emotional reasons but that the transition requires an ability to break free from the emotional bonds so carefully and diligently put in place by the religious. For a significant number of apostates (those who rejected the religion of their upbringing and embraced non-belief), the emotional component is that they were simply too honest and insightful to espouse what they had come to recognize as absurdities.  It is that honesty that the religious wish to deny when they try to impugn the non-believer's motives or character.

So, when a religious person mentions a non-believer's emotional motivations, you can reply with something like the following:

"That's what gave him (or me) the emotional strength to overcome all the brainwashing, bullying, and peer pressure that was deliberately trying to force him (or me) to pretend that the emperor wasn't naked."

The truth is that atheism is simply the correct logical conclusion.  The only issue is whether a person has the emotional strength to admit it.

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