I never experienced any religious beliefs in my life. So it's quite a normal thing for me to be an atheist. I never lost friends or family because of any conversion. I know the opposite is true for many people. But maybe there wasn't any conversion at all, maybe the circumstances determinate how people had to think. There will be stories of oppression and abuse of power also. I consider myself very lucky being raised in a liberal family. I had the opportunity to create my very own model of the Universe. I know many people hadn't.
And for the sake of language: is the word "conversion" the appropriate way to describe the process of becoming a non-believer, a person that doesn't depend on belief to create his own model of Reality?
There must be a difference between refuting religious beliefs in general and refuting your own.
Or is it more like a difference in character? For instance: do romantic people have a certain tendency towards "believing"? Or the opposite way: are non-believers also non-romantic people? A lot of people have freed themselves from religion at an older age, 30+. What has kept them so long?
Hear me well, I'm not into division between categories, it's just about understanding the different routes that have led people towards the method of not using religious dogma to get a grip on life.
I'm looking for the connection, but I'm also aware of a difference between people who had to fight against religion and the people who had the privilege to be born free.
A lot of people have freed themselves from religion at an older age, 30+. What has kept them so long?
I've often wondered this question myself. I officially became an atheist when I turned 20. I used to wonder how it could take longer than that to lose your faith. I suppose some people's faith is just stronger or more devout or beaten into them. Another thing I've often pondered is what the ratio for turnover for the different religions are. I'm willing to bet there are fewer muslim and mormon atheists than there are christian and catholic atheists.
First, let me say that everyone is an atheist by birth. It's the default position. We are taught about god by parents, teachers, the church, evangelists, etc. I can only speak about Christianity but most Christians are taught by their parents and others are converted later by something like the "Four Spiritual Laws" or the "Roman Road" or "Evangelism Explosion" or some nice people from the local church. I was converted at 23. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do at the time. Once you are converted and you are serious about it you get involved in a church and then you are hooked. You enter a fantasy world where everyone believes the same fantasy. This is reinforced by the Pastor, through sermons and Sunday school and through your friends, all of which should be Christian. The church is your life and the world is your enemy. It all seems so real. Now you are emotionally hooked. You are kept there by family, friends and guilt. You can't turn your back on god after all. And, as time goes by, there is pride. It's very difficult for most people to come to a position that something they held to for 5, 10 ,15+ years was a waste, especially if you devoted a lot of time and energy to it.
It often takes some kind of wake-up call to force someone to re-evaluate what they believe. It took me 27 or so years, even though I was uncomfortable with some aspects of Christianity. Strangely, people can compartmentalize really well and can actually hold mutually exclusive beliefs without much conflict. In fact, the more intelligent you are the higher your ability to convince yourself that stupid beliefs are actually good beliefs.
What if the ability of the human mind to accept religious beliefs has been hardwired into "successful" human models, those that continue to live a life long enough to reproduce? Religion in history tends to protect the herd, so they survive more often than loners, and reproduce more. Can we really be 100% atheist? Are we overcoming the successful gene of religious belief?
Good question Amy. There is a lot of research on the evolutionary basis of belief. The classic work is Religion Explained by Pascal Boyer. Another good book on this is In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion by Scott Atran. I love his definition of religion:
"passionate communal displays of costly commitments to counterintuitive worlds governed by supernatural agents"
But to answer your question, yes we can overcome our religious "nature" if there is such a thing. We aren't preprogrammed robots. One's environment is a strong modifier of our genetics.
That's a really interesting point. I always thought it'd be neat to raise a bunch of kids in communities that are isolated from the rest of the world and see what happens. We'd leave all of our technology/science/current knowledge in the mix, but strictly control everything to keep out as much cultural conditioning as possible. No religions, no gender roles, no class system, not a speck of racism, etc. I think it'd be cool to see to what extent, if any, magical thinking would thrive without a support system. Thousands of years ago, people had to make up myths because they didn't have any other way to explain natural phenomena. I personally think that starting fresh with all the answers would kill the need for gods or magic.
Sucks that it'll probably never happen!
I have started to wonder if religion actually can be genetically inherited. Now, this may sound like utter bullshit, but hear me out before judging such a crazy theory.
I am a Korean, was adopted into a Swedish family when I was 4 months. During that time, it is nigh impossible my original culture could have influenced me so much that I would later develop my religious beliefs I have now. However, Sweden is a Christian country. Either you are a Christian, deist or theist. While our country is also very liberal (I do consider myself a Swede and if someone asks me where I come from I wouldn't hesitate to answer Sweden) my grandmother is quite religious, though she doesn't display it so much. She believes in god, angels and hell. I spent most of my childhood with my grandparents after my mother died (did I tell you that funerals are the worst things to ever attend?, it's not you do for honor, it's just... horrible) and my father is working in the police and he often had patrol shifts, which means he couldn't properly take care of me. You can't leave a 6-year-old child alone for over 8 hours during day and night. When I was really small, I also kiddied myself a little about this with god, like all children do. After my mother died though, I started to think, this just doesn't fit into the rule that god is all good, so thus I started to disbelieve. I couldn't see the reason of believing or at least trying to believe in something omnipotent who could do such bad things and let people die.
After that, I didn't think of it so much more. I guess during that time I was rather atheist, however, when I became like 13, I started to wonder more about faith again. My thought still stood, anything with Christianity and a Christian belevolent god was piss. As a childish rebellion I called myself a satanist, I liked the fact that it was about self-improvement, but I was also at that time drawn to Wicca which a friend of mine introduced me to. I didn't get to know so much though and I didn't do much research on my own. After that I left the teenage angst I entered some kind of agnostic void, since I am deep down a doubter, and I was thinking how we can be so sure whether a god exists or not. Then I did a religious assignment about Wicca for school, and I rediscovered what made me so hooked about it. I had to look for more, then I saw the Final Fantasy: Advent Children movie, and I also realized, this is also pretty similar to what I actually believe, and I started to wonder whether this isn't what the sort of thing I have been believing in all along. I have always cared strongly for animals and nature, I also consider myself a pretty much a naturalist person.
Now, the all interesting is, such pagan/pantheistic beliefs are common in Asian culture, but we can already nullify that my biological culture could one or another way have affected my will-be-religion. I was simply too young. A child of 4 months cannot understand such things as religion. The fact I also was sort of theistic as a very small child also rules out that my biological culture could have affected me more. Still, here I am with a religion on my own, despite all the heavy Christian influences which have bombarded me during my life. To add, a religion which is very similar to those found in Asian culture.
This made me question whether religion somehow actually can be inherited on such a level we cannot determine or know yet. It could just be a coincidence, a fluke, whichever it is we cannot tell and never know today.
As you may or may not know, the word convert is used by Christians because of its meaning. They really believe that they have changed into something else. They have been "born again". They believe they are "new creatures in Christ". This stuff is stranger than fiction, but it is believed by millions.
I "converted" to atheism, but I wonder about some who claim to have been born atheists. Not all. But many that I've heard talk really just don't care. They are not atheists because they've thought through the issues and weighed the evidence, but just because religious belief would "cramp their style." I wonder if those who deconvert are more decided. Think about all those supposed atheists who convert to Christianity and write books claiming that they were atheists and now they know the truth (i.e., Lee Strobel). Most of them never wrote a word about atheism before and there is no indication anywhere that they actually held that position. Anyone else see this?
"Think about all those supposed atheists who convert to Christianity and write books claiming that they were atheists and now they know the truth (i.e., Lee Strobel)."
I'd guess that they really were atheists before converting, but they weren't skeptics. Honestly, I think it's kind of disingenuous of them to allude to their "atheist" past when trying to convince others that X religion is some sort of obvious truth. They're banking on the fact that most people think of atheists as skeptics when they say that. They use it to imply to the reader that "even a big, god-hating logical skeptic such as I changed my mind once confronted with the Awesome Power Of God!" Really, what they mean is, "I never really thought about it, and then this guy told me I'd spend eternity in a lake of fire if I didn't acknowledge the Awesome Power Of God, so there you go!"
They could also be part of the 21% of atheists who believe in a higher power, probably because they misunderstand the meaning of the word. For example, maybe they think that because they never belonged to a church, they were "atheists." Either way, I think they're the kind of atheist most likely to convert to religion or buy healing crystals or whatever. In fact, they're probably more apatheistic than atheistic.
I've been an atheist since about 13 or 14. I used to defend my beliefs rather vehemently ( i was raised Catholic) and then one day came to the realization that i was arguing for something I didn't really believe in. I was young so I didn't know much as far as the natural world goes, but I did know that I didn't feel any love or faith in God, my defense was just habit ingrained in me by my family. Being a "convert" I can't really give you the whole perspective, but I find that I'm stronger and more active in my beliefs (or lack there-of) than some people I know who were just raised without religion. Its almost as if they're indifferent and we who lost our faith have a sort of hitch in our step, almost as if we resent the church for lying to us all those years.
Like you, I grew up without acquiring religion. David Eller, author of Natural Atheism, refers to folks like us as "natural atheists," to be distinguished from those who once believed in god(s) and then shed that belief.
The main reason for taking note of this difference, he posits, is to recognize the different life experiences of these two types. For one thing, some, perhaps most, of those who "converted" to atheism after once believing in god(s) have experienced some emotional pain, trauma, or other difficulties associated with that transition. For some, it was smooth and easy, but for many it was hard and difficult. So-called natural atheists typically have not had that sort of experience.