Courage

April 18, 2006 | Atheism, Background, Conversion | 3 comments

I actually have a long response written to the theological issues brought up in this old comment from “anon” but have decided not to post it. These arguments have been had over and over again and I don’t want to start a theological debate here because a) I don’t want this to turn into a debate blog where I have to deal with pissy atheist commentors all the time (I have enough of that in real life), and b) I am woefully unequipped to defend Christianity.

I do want to address one thing from his comment, though. This I can speak to since it’s a matter of personal experience.

“…Most people do not have the courage to just say ‘I don’t know’.”

First of all, most atheists (this commentor included) don’t say “I don’t know.” They claim to know definitively that there is no God. But whatever. Let’s not split hairs on that one. Let’s use the term “atheism” loosely here.

I’ve tried atheism and I’ve tried belief, and I find that the route that takes most courage is belief. For me, non-belief was a great crutch. I could do whatever I wanted because, hey, who’s to say what’s right and wrong? I could sit back and smugly judge everyone, live my life according to whatever brought me the most immediate pleasure, use people, lie, gossip — whatever! As long as I didn’t think about that pesky issue that all my hopes and dreams and happiness were nothing more than a collection of soulless chemical reactions that would one day cease to exist and it didn’t matter, life was good. And you’d be surprised, it’s surprisingly easy not to think about that stuff. I eventually came to terms with the fact that that was true, there was nothing I could do about it, and so if I didn’t want to kill myself immediately (which would actually make more sense and be more efficient based on that worldview), I might as well go out and have a damn good time while it lasts. And I did. After a period of depression I felt quite happy and fulfilled.

When I started looking for God it was not because I felt something was lacking or because I didn’t have the courage to face my life, but because my research and thinking on the subject led me to think that there’s something else going here, something more than just random chemicals and forces. I would read that all serious physicists agree that matter AND time AND space were created with the big bang. So what was before that? As I read up on DNA I had the shocking realization that this is information. I racked my brain to think of an example of information coming from nonintelligent, random forces and could come up with nothing. How do you get DNA (i.e. information/instructions for building a life) without intelligence?

I could go on but you get the drift. I just couldn’t answer these questions. I didn’t immediately jump to “so there must be one, monotheistic God!” but I did decide to open my mind to the teachings of various religions for the first time in my life. And, as I chronicle in this and my old blog, a long and winding road has led me to Christianity, the Catholic Church in particular.

And I’ve found this to be the most difficult intellectual endeavor of my life. Not just because some of the concepts are difficult, but because it’s risky. It takes courage. It’s risky to put my belief in something that can’t be proven on paper. What if I’m wrong? How ridiculous would I be for turning my life upside down and changing everything about myself for a totally incorrect belief system? And I may very well be doing that. In this life I’ll never even know for sure if I’m right or wrong, if all the sacrifices I have and will make for these beliefs are for naught. But with my atheist belief system it was actually pretty easy: I might not know what’s going to happen after we die, but I am 100% sure that making all this money and getting drunk with my friends every weekend is bringing me happiness right now!

I think that some people do use religion as a crutch. They don’t put their beliefs to the test of logic and reason because, understandably, they know that they need it to avoid sliding into utter despair at the meaninglessness of life. I think these people are naturally more deep, intellectual thinkers than people like myself. Because there are plenty of us out there who are shallow enough to live our lives in happiness amidst the elephant in the room that it’s all for nothing. And for us, atheism is the perfect crutch. It takes no courage. We can prove all our beliefs on paper so we’re 100% sure that we’re not wasting any effort on anything for which we won’t be rewarded.

Most religions (the monotheistic ones anyway) require great sacrifices of their adherents, often with no tangible payoff, all for something that cannot be seen or measured. You can say that these people are wrong, but you can’t say they don’t have courage.

3 Comments

  1. Catez

    Very interesting post Jennifer. I’d add that we have a faith that has come from outide of ourselves – we are saved by grace through faith as the bible says. And so we have these two things which human reason is incapable of manufacturing – grace for reconciliation with God, and faith in the originator of the universe. These are both gifts. Or to put it another way, spiritual things are spiritually discerned and the ability comes from a regenerated spirit. The problem with atheism is that it doesn’t account for our spirituality. It can’t disprove the spiritual aspect of our humanity, and yet tries to dismiss the millions of people who acknowledge and express their spirituality. We have of course the provision of Jesus Christ for our spiritual reconciliation – those who have eyes to see recognise him. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  2. Catez

    Actually… I wrote something recently that you might appreciate. Genetic Engineering, the Origin of Man, and Spirituality. It’s a group blog I’m also part of – we are mostly Protestants but we have a Catholic writer on the team too.
    Hope it’s ok to put the link here for you – the post discusses some of what you’ve menioned about information, and there’s a good discussion in the comments which in part looks at honesty. I think that as well as courage we need this honesty – the kind you have displayed in your post here.
    I used to drop into your old blog sometimes and will drop in here sometimes now too.

  3. SteveG

    Brilliant post Jen!

    For sure one of the things that gets me most ticked is when I see someone argue that faith is just like a big Teddy Bear to help get people through life.

    For the person who takes their faith even moderately seriously, nothing could be further from the truth. It is a challange like no other to attempt to grow to become something better than what we are.

    I agree with you, it is by far, the most challenging thing one can attempt.

    Great post as usual!

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