By the time I was thirty I had gone through my De Sade phase of Atheism where I was acting like an injured person lashing out. I had reached a stage where vilifying believers wasn't satisfying. I felt a need to understand why so many people believed in god. To do this I used the faculty I had learned as a philosophy student and motorcycle mechanic, empiricism. As an empiricist I observed god the only place I could find him/her/it, other peoples beliefs. The predominate pattern that emerged was anthropomorphism.

The earliest beliefs in gods gave almost every force a human or animal personality. As we observed the material nature of the world around us, anthropomorphic explanations were increasing eliminated. The pattern that emerges is one of psychological traits accommodating the material nature of the universe. 

So what is it that causes people to indulge in anthropomorphism? If we imagine a person's consciousness coming into existence, the only thing it would be aware of is its own existence. We would be pure Ego. The next thing we would become aware of would be the existence of a caring personality, our mother, protecting us and taking care of our needs. We are conditioned to believe in a protective, caring person. This conditioning is expressed in anthropomorphism.

After thousands of years of materialism displacing anthropomorphic idealism, many of us have benefitted to the extent we no longer believe the universe has a personality and belief in god has been eliminated. If all this conjecture has some truth to it, then being religious isn't entirely an evil attempt to subjugate others. It is largely an indulgence in primitive, natural psychological traits. Atheism is the achievement of gaining control over those impulses. 

This is all preliminary conjecture, but I feel it is important for Atheism to move on from the De Sade to one of developing understanding. How do you understand why people believe in god? Do you feel it is time for Atheism to move to a phase where understanding should be more the centre of our concern?

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Comment by AgeOfAtheists14 on December 21, 2013 at 5:08am

are they really people anymore after .. selling out like that? hrmmm?

Comment by Jason Blair on December 21, 2013 at 4:39am

Peter - Most fascinating discussion here - kudos to you for proposing this though provoking issue.  As a self-designated 'reformed atheist', I thought I could understand why people believe in the presence of a higher power.  I think people want to believe that there is something more out there waiting for us.  All of us on this forum now understand that is certainly not reality, but that does not stop the masses from believing.  Even in the midst of, as one poster has already lauded to, the atrocity of the Holocaust, people still believe.  Like many on here, I do have numerous friends that are religious - Muslim and Christian among them.  While I could never be converted, I work hard to maintain an objective mind and I will aways accept them as my friend.  Religious differences aside, they feel that they must believe in God in order to feel whole and justified in this world.  On the other hand, we believe that we must believe in the humanist nature of the world in order to have a better understanding of why we are here an how we came to be.  In the end, it is two differing opinions that can never intersect, and certainly never will.  As you mention, this belief in a god has been around for centuries and, with all the evidence that he or she does not exist, people still believe.  So, to your question, I do not believe we should concern ourselves with the matter.  That does not mean, however, that it shouldn't be discussed.  Like many others, one of my more liberating moments in life was as an adult when I made the conscious decision that there was no god.  There is no questioning and I do not worry about the hereafter.  That, my friends, it true freedom. 

Comment by Sharon Fox Nichols on December 20, 2013 at 2:00am

I lost my belief when I was 7--or younger.  It was when I saw the black & white tv films of Jewish bodies being bulldozed into pits after the camps were opened.  I thought to myself that if according to the bible, the Jews were the chosen people, then why would god let them die? Six million!  Plus, I thought to myself, "I bet most of them prayed during their ordeal and just before their deaths.  So what kind of a god wouldn't help his people who were praying to him?"  I also noticed at football games how the players and coach kneeled and apparently prayed just before taking the field.  I'm sure both sides prayed the same things. I had a (crazy, evil) aunt who took me to an evangelical church where people pulled their hair, cried, screamed, faked talking in tongues, and ran up and down the isles acting crazy.  This frightened me so much that supposedly normal adults would behave this way.  From the age of 7 on, I was skeptical, but like most, I tried to make myself believe.  It just wouldn't come!  I remember in the summers during Jr. HS I went to vacation bible school with all my friends--for the cupcakes and coolaid!  The only thing I liked about church (and  my 3 siblings and I visited just about every kind of church/synagogue imaginable) was the singing.  I figured I didn't need to go the church for that!

I was married for 13 years to my 1st hubby and he was Methodist.  So for the sake of the family & our 2 kids, I tried, I really tried.  But I just could no longer stomach it and quit going.  I was so happy to say outright, for good and all time, I am an Atheist!  And I'm proud of it.  The atheists I know are very thoughtful, learned people, who have spent a good deal of their lives educating themselves to the extent that most know far, far more about religion, in general, and the Abrahamic religions in particular, than believers do.

Comment by Gus Heist on December 19, 2013 at 3:31pm

I agree with Peter Martin Page.

The happiest day of my life was the day I was finally able to absolutely know that there wasn't a god.  I still can't prove it, of course, but I know it to be a fact.

That relieved me of so many scary beliefs, foolish beliefs, and fars of the unknown future.  August 22, 2002 - I think I'll remember it forever.



Comment by Peter Martin Page on December 19, 2013 at 2:47pm

When you discover a belief of yours to be a delusion, you don't mourn a lost jewel since you realize it never actually existed. The joy at seeing more clearly seems like the more likely result of loosing a delusion. Whenever I discover phantom ideals I have improved my quality of life. I have always been surprised at those who have pitied me for having lost belief that was based on ignorance or error. 

I do regret the reaction of relatives and friends who have taken offence at my never or no longer sharing beliefs. When I went through a philosophical metamorphosis in my late twenties, moving from idealism to empiricism, many of my former left wing friends thought I had become right wing. They couldn't understand I had progressed empiricism and found left and right wing idealism equally invalid. 

With time I met new friends who mostly had gone through similar philosophical changes. They are more interesting and inspiring than my old friends. The pain of losing my old friends does not compare to the enjoyment I find with my new friends. My new friends combine a level of reason with their emotion that makes them more tolerant and perceptive. They share perceptions with me my previous friends were in capable of having. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity of meeting the people who are now my closest friends. 

Comment by Gus Heist on December 19, 2013 at 9:47am

In addition to what Gene Griffis says - it is also painful to hurt your parents, because most of us learned about their god at their knees (sometimes on their knees) and we know it is going to break their hearts if we come out and go against their god.  In their minds, we have just condemned ourselves to eternal damnation, and their first thought is sorrow (abject sorrow) for our condition, and second thought is "what did I do wrong that my child rejected God?"

I have never come out to my parents because of this speciific reason.  I think everybody else knows that I am non-theistic.  I know I can't change my dad's mind - there is no reason to hurt him unnecessarily.  (My mom passed away).  If he ever asked, I would tell him, but he doesn't ask - he suspects and doesn't really want to know.

Comment by Gene Griffis on December 19, 2013 at 8:38am

Interesting read. I can only speak from my own personal experience and I must say it takes quite a lot to get a person to deny their god. First of all if you think you have a personal relationship with god it is terribly difficult to turn your back on god. If you think god is your friend, comforter, protector, and loves you it is a kin to treason to turn your back on god. Second, if everyone you know also feels the same way then you have the added peer pressure, acceptance issues and the idea of being normal. Third, if you believe in all these things and you also believe in the doctrine of the religion in this case Christianity you fear, Hell, damnation, being a bad person, becoming abused by the devil and his demons. There are many other reasons it is difficult to get a believer to become and non believer. Country, heritage, etc. I think motivation is key. What motivations do people have to do the things I listed above? What are the reasons that they might even begin to question god? Curiosity is not as much of a motivator as some would like it to be. Hitting a dead end can certainly be motivational but many feel that somehow they let god down or that god has a reason or a purpose to the dead end. Wanting something that the religion isn't providing is maybe the most reasonable motivation that I can imagine and that would most likely be personal but I think if the Atheist and Agnostics offered many of the same things religion does without it being spiritual then you could convince some. But if we offer the same things and more and do it better we could encourage many. Counseling would be very helpful as some should remember when a christian looses their god it hurts worse than loosing their closest loved one.

Comment by Peter Martin Page on December 17, 2013 at 2:22pm

Sharon, I realize you are right. I know I have a problem with over estimating the impact of Atheism and the Enlightenment. Even in France, the centre of the Enlightenment, the Enlightenment was followed by the Romantic Conservative Reaction. Left wing Jacobins murdered all the remaining Encyclopedists. If I weren't so immersed in studying Enlightenment writers I would be more aware of the impact of Romantic Conservative writers, such as Rousseau. If I were to look in the local university bookstores I would probably find ten copies of books by Rousseau for each copy of one by Diderot or Condorcet. 

I have read, in Time magazine a few years ago, that non believers are the planet's third largest and fastest growing group. I tend to be drawn to Atheists so I probably have a distorted perception of the proportion of Atheists in my neighbourhood and their influence. When I do read statistical reports, like the one I saw in Time, I get the impression time is on our side.

Comment by Sharon Fox Nichols on December 16, 2013 at 11:31pm

Peter, I believe one reason why the US has pulled back from the Enlightenment ideals & trust in its methodologies (reason, science) is that there has been a long history of concerted efforts by specific religio/political groups & their leaders to replace religious diversity with theocracy.  A multitude of books have dealt with this tendency since the Enlightenment's inception in the Colonies, then the U.S.  I once developed a flow chart what showed the "genealogy" of American hate groups.  By "genealogy" I mean the literary and political trail from Timothy Dwight to David Duke to Christian Reconstructionism, etc.  These historical & living individuals influenced groups of people (religious congregations, general citizenry, voters...) that their extremist views were correct.  Their rhetoric,discussed in Richard Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics", shows a manichean world view, distrust of government, fear of democracy, and an American "Individualism" at the extreme end of religious AND political belief--tied inextricably together...  In this style, citizenry owe more allegiance to the extremists' versions of God/Biblical directives than to reason, common sense, inclusion (E Pluribus Unum), knowledge derived from facts (and a methodology for discovering those facts--science), or country.  They place their version of reality above all else and demand all others do so as well. 

Comment by Masereka Solomon on December 16, 2013 at 12:10pm

The desire to understand is at the heart of Atheism. Am learning a lot #Martin.



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