"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Friday, September 14, 2007

Why I'm here

With Alex off to commune with nature, I thought I'd step back from all the technical issues flying back and forth at the moment and take things down to a more personal, slightly self-indulgent level.

Why I'm an atheist:

It's been an interesting and enlightening experience for me to read through the accounts of how some people came to atheism over at 'The Friendly Atheist' and 'Friendly Christian' blogs. For many of them, the transition from religious to atheist was an apparently traumatic event which put them at odds with their family and sometimes their community.

The reason I find these accounts so interesting is that they bear little resemblance to my own experience.

Like most children in the UK I grew up believing that God had created the world and could apparently still be a force upon it. I sang hymns at school assembly, knew roughly what had happened in the Bible and went on school trips to the local church a few times.

Like most people though, I began to develop my own outlook and views as I grew older and started to learn more and more about the world. Between them, science and RE lessons caused me to question the Biblical explanation of the world – the fact that dinosaurs were more interesting than the Bible probably also played a part – and shifted me towards a more deist position: I believed that God created the world, but that the Bible (like most religious texts) was simply a metaphorical, poetic text rather than a reliable guide to the universe.

Actually reading the Bible, however, shifted my position to more of a deist-agnosticism. While it has some nice sentiments, nothing about it struck me as divinely inspired. Whatever wisdom may lie in it, there doesn't seem to be anything in the Bible that can't be found in other, man-made, texts: The 'Meditations' of Marcus Aurelius spring to mind, along with some of the teachings of Confucius, etc.

With nothing to firmly anchor it, the deist aspect of my outlook gradually drifted away, leading to the atheist-agnosticism I have now. Throughout, I've tried to approach the big questions as honestly and openly as possible. Doing so has led me to a provisionally naturalistic view of the world, devoid of absolute certainties and full of questions – some fascinating and some troubling.

None of this has caused any friction with the people I know, people who run the entire spectrum from church-going Christians to outspoken atheists. All of them hold to the opinion that what's important is how you treat others, metaphysics comes much later.

Being inclined towards scepticism, I like to challenge my beliefs as much as possible – so I deliberately seek out arguments for positions different to my own (on most subjects: political, religious, etc.), which is why I'm here.

I have nothing against religious belief in itself. I simply don't share it. My hope is for a secular world in which each individual enjoys the freedom to choose whichever outlook seems right for them, without having to worry about social or political pressure. I enjoy these discussions with those who see things differently to me – it makes me optimistic about the possibility of humanity overcoming its divisions and becoming more tolerant and democratic.

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Blogger Alex said...

Hey Matt,
Thanks for that post. I'm not going to go through and give it my analysis... as tempted as I am! ;-) Just wanted to say thanks for posting it. It's good to pull out of the thodicies from time to time and just hear a person's perspective. I very much apreciate how you approach our whole e-relationship thing. It's good to have you around.

(p.s. I'm on my brother-in-law's place. You know..."moe" They're dropping us off at the air port tomorrow.)

5:05 PM

Blogger Timmo said...

Have fun in the mountains, Alex!

5:46 PM

Blogger Alex said...

Thanks Timmo,
You can bet I will!

...so long as the rain holds off!

5:56 PM

Blogger Just Thinking said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:54 AM

Blogger The Tin Drummer said...

Good post, Matt. I appreciate the perspective and it's one many people I know have (or something similar).

I don't know if it's still available anywhere but the late journalist Martyn Harris published his thoughts on the subject as he was dying of cancer: he described his journey from religion to atheism and then some of the way back as he faced the end. I particularly remember his last article which ended something like: "...say it: No. Yes. Maybe. I don't know. No. Yes."

I mention this only because wrapped in it are some of my thoughts as to why i'm not an atheist: and as you may recall, some kind of existential wishful thinking is part of it. If I embraced the world as I see it, I would be an atheist. But I refuse to. Call it bad faith if you like, but I am large and contain multitudes, etc etc.

Thanks again for the post, though.

9:50 AM

Blogger Matt M said...

Thanks guys.

I thought that with some of the more technical debates getting a bit heated it was time to step back and make things personal again.

I've been involved in debates where the fact that it's real people behind the arguments gets forgotten and things rapidly go downhill. We're nowhere near that level here, but it still seemed like a good point to call a bit of a time-out.

Plus it's always interesting (to me at least) when people share their worldview in a more relaxed environment, I think we're able to be more open and honest that way.

And no JT, I don't think you're off your rockers. :-)

3:46 PM

Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Hear hear.

6:05 PM


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