Pride and atheism

December 6, 2006 | Atheism | 28 comments

In all these discussions about God and proof, one of the things I’m starting to believe is that atheism is more of a personality trait than a belief system. As I said in my last post, it was only when I approached the possibility of God with humility, set aside my fears of looking like a fool or being wrong, that I was able to see the abundant proof in front of me.

As usual, former atheist John C. Wright says it best. Below is a comment he makes after mentioning that he had a series of profound religious experiences:

You might wonder why, if God can convince atheists to worship Him merely by dropping by for a visit, He does not do it more often. The reason is that it does not help, not at all, not a bit. When I suffer doubts, when my faith gets weak, my faith in my memory gets weak too. Faith and faithlessness have NOTHING TO DO with evidence presented to reason or senses. It has to do with a humble will and an upright heart. If God presented evidence to skeptics, all that would happen is that skeptics would doubt their evidence. If God gave a logical argument to prove His own existence, all that would happen is that skeptics would doubt the power of logic to prove anything.

(via Mrs. Darwin, who emailed me the link)

Read the whole thing. It’s wonderful.

His comment reminds me of an experiment I thought of recently: go to an atheist forum such as the Raving Atheist and ask the folks over there what God could do to prove himself to them. Then, take their responses, and spoof a site like Yahoo News or the New York Times and write a fake news article describing the breaking news that these events have just taken place. Now post this article at a different atheist forum and ask them if they now believe. Then just sit back and watch the atheists at the new forum attack the story and list reason after reason that it does not necessarily prove that God exists.

I’ve never done this because of logistical issues, mainly that it would be too hard to get a URL that would seem like a real news site. Also, it’s hardly worth spending the time to do since it’s obvious what the results would be. Let’s say that the atheists at the second forum believed that the article was real, that the events described actually transpired. Does anyone really think that the responses would be along the lines of, “How could I have been so wrong? I hope that God will have the mercy to forgive me.”

At least in my case, atheism was a defense mechanism. I was surrounded by proof of God’s existence, but in every case I looked away. I described myself as open-minded and skeptical; I was really defensive and cynical. I called myself a realist; I was actually just a pessimist.

All of this was ultimately rooted in pride and fear. Because of my pride, I had a great fear of being wrong. The prospect of seeming naive, vulnerable, or (the worst case scenario) unintelligent was intolerable to me. Believing only in the material world at hand, in things that could be reduced to mathematical equations or demonstrated in a lab, ensured that at least I was never wrong. People could say that I was lacking in spirituality, but at least they couldn’t say I was stupid.

28 Comments

  1. SteveK

    Pride is THE key factor in conversion / deconversion.

    Just as pride comes before the fall, humility comes before seeing the Light. I’m sure someone said it better but you get the idea.

    And you have it right about the atheist forums. This question has been posed many times and many of the responses go something like this:

    “Nothing will convince me because God doesn’t exist”

    That sums up the problem I think.

  2. Dennis

    “Nothing will convince me because God doesn’t exist.”

    That’s known as a tautology. People who claim to be reasonable should know better.

    Anyway, Jen, I was browsing your previous blog, “Reluctant Atheist.” Looks like you’ve come quite a long way in 18 months.

    Makes me feel downright lazy for not having finished seminary in that amount of time. But, 18 months left to go.

  3. Jeff Miller

    John C. Wright also has some more recent posts on the subject that are well worth reading.

    The part about pride is certainly part of the picture. I remember something miraculous happening to my wife that I refused to believe and just explained away as a natural occurrence. There was not doubt that I could be wrong.

    The song of Bernadette has a great quote in it.
    “For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible.”

  4. Anonymous

    You know, there’s an awful lot of pride in even contemplating an experiment like that…

    Why do you care? If what you’ve found is such a source of joy and fulfillment for you, why do you spend so much time pointing out where others are wrong or what you personally think their personality flaws are?

    That same post could apply to a religious group as well.

    I just don’t see anything of God in this post. I see a lot of ego, a LOT of pride, and a lot of self-congratulatory, self-serving BS.

    And, no, I’m not an atheist.

  5. Professor Chaos

    Wow, what a straw-man, flawed, illogical, self-righteous load of crap this is.

  6. R and all

    Congratulations, now people can’t say you’re lacking in spirituality, but they can say you’re stupid!

    You believe in a magic sky daddy who knows and controls everything yet still somehow allows free will, who knew from the moment of creation exactly how everything would turn out yet still gets pissed when someone is smart enough to not accept his existence without evidence, whose holy guide to the faithful is full of contradictions and inconsistencies, who can’t even be meaningfully defined, and yet atheists are the intellectually stubborn ones?

    Get a grip.

  7. Rhinoqulous

    “His comment reminds me of an experiment I thought of recently: go to an atheist forum such as the Raving Atheist and ask the folks over there what God could do to prove himself to them. Then, take their responses, and spoof a site like Yahoo News or the New York Times and write a fake news article describing the breaking news that these events have just taken place. Now post this article at a different atheist forum and ask them if they now believe. Then just sit back and watch the atheists at the new forum attack the story and list reason after reason that it does not necessarily prove that God exists.

    I’ve never done this because of logistical issues, mainly that it would be too hard to get a URL that would seem like a real news site. Also, it’s hardly worth spending the time to do since it’s obvious what the results would be.”

    So, you have a thought experiment to prove atheist rationality isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, yet you’ve never done it, but you claim the legitimacy of the results. Yup, sounds like faulty reasoning to me.

  8. Anonymous

    If someone played the same trick and baited Catholics in much the same way with a phony story about Christ has actually returned and has blasted the Catholic Church from start to finish, would you believe it?

    And yet you fault atheists for not buying a retarded internet joke that you’d play? All while reminding everyone how much more clever you are than they?

    Honey, you need a whopping great dose of getoveryourself…

  9. Anonymous

    Here are a couple of things to consider about we-silly -prideful atheists–

    1) I could be convinced that god exists–it would take more than a news story–even a real one.

    2) If he did exist–he would have a lot to answer for.

    Even if you did prove the existance of god–which you cannot do–you still have given no reason for worship of said god. Other than the fact that he what? Can kill you? Damn you to hell? or is it that he created autumn and flowers and smiles and little fluffy kittens so we should forgive all of the pain and death and sorrow?

    There is false pride–pride based on smug assumptions and patronizing assumptions of revealed “TRUTH.”

    And then there is the quiet pride of an individual who has accepted the fintiness of their life. The fact that the only meaning is the one they make. And that regardless of the temporaroty of life or the smallness of one existance–it can be measured and great in and of itself without submission, fantasy or self delusion.

  10. SteveK

    I see my friends at the TRA forums have discovered this post. Hey Professor. Hey Rhinoq.

  11. professor chaos

    Howdy, Lurker.

    So Jen, you seem to know a bit about our forums and claim to have spent some time there.

    Care to let us know what your username was there?

  12. professor chaos

    Let me rephrase, one should infer that you spent some time there, you don’t actually make the claim.

  13. Jennifer F.

    Prof C –

    I never posted, just read others’ comments.

  14. Anonymous

    Hey Prof.

    So how are the forums these days now that your divorce from RA is final?

    Also, did any of you guys notice that this post is a personal reflection on her journey and thoughts vs. a ‘proof’?

    Phrases like ‘At least in my case, atheism was a defense mechanism.’ and ‘I am starting to believe that atheism…’ are throughout.

    There is no application to all atheists. It’s not a proof, or even an argument. Just a reflection. Isn’t that obvious?

    Why are all the responses attacking it as if it were something else?

  15. professor chaos

    Hi, Steve!

    All is well at the forums these days, you should drop in sometime!

    I was going to respond to your post here, but all you need to do is read the follow up to realize that my point stands.

    She asserts her position even further, and merely tries to weaken her strawman position by inserting the word “most” before the word “atheists.”

  16. Anonymous

    I’ve been baited as a Catholic, but I always see it as an invite to educate and maybe inform them of something they haven’t thought of. To think of any valid concern to explain your belief in no God as baiting, only seems like you truly do not have a valid answer.

    As a Catholic if I don’t have an answer I do research and reflect, and yes even pray to the “big sky Daddy”. Usually I’m thankful for the bait, because I have learned something new about my Faith even if takes a week to get back to them.

    I’m not God or a saint. I just see ourselves on the same journey and I want help, even if one is reluctant or flustered with the concept of God.

  17. Anonymous

    Hmmm…so it’s perfectly okay to lie (which is what making up a fake story and posting it on a fake website is – it’s a lie – a deliberate falsehood, and one told to serve your own personal, ego-driven reasons) in order to provide yourself with an opportunity to tell a group of people what your personal beliefs are and why you think you’re right and they’re wrong…?

    What happened to Thou shalt not bear false witness (which is EXACTLY what reporting an event that never took place is)?

    Oh…wait…I know what this is called…moral relativism.

    And again with the assuming…you assume that if someone is either A) offended that someone has tricked or baited them, or B) doesn’t buy an incredibly retarded story posted on a highly suspect website (but not in any mainstream newspaper or other mainstream news outlet)), it’s because they don’t have a valid answer to the question someone is oh-so-manipulatively-and-dishonestly trying to ask them…?

    My God, the arrogance! You have got to be kidding! You think you can do whatever to whomever just because you’re Catholic, and you have the nerve to lecture other people on sin? How dare you?

  18. Adoro Te Devote

    Wow, anon,

    So glad you have the spine to so publicly spit on Jen…oh…wait…you’re anonymous. Right.

    Glad you can display so much courage in attacking Jen’s personal reflection. Get over yourself. She has not once claimed to be “holier than thou”, yet by your reaction, it seems she struck a nerve in you. Perhaps a mirror might help you recognize the flaws in your own reactions?

    Jen, I can’t pretend to understand your journey as I have never been an atheist, although I have been a confused Catholic! Yet the vitriol with which you are regarded is still amazing to me. Good for you for leaving these posts up…the posters speak for themselves alone, and their hatred is reflected back for all to see.

    I did not see pride in your post…only introspection. Only a hypothetical idea which you used to understand another concept.

    While it’s true that it would be “bearing false witness” to do such a thing, the fact that you were using this idea to explore a concept is not sinful, it does not make you a hyprocite, it does not mean anything. So for someone to jump on you all over this really only indicates their own insecurities.

    Your journey is fascinating…please keep sharing your thoughts, in spite of the beating you are taking. It takes courage to stand up to that, and you are doing so with grace…keep it up!

    God bless!

  19. Anonymous

    I thought I was talking to Renee…?

  20. Anonymous

    And where did I use the term “holier than thou”?

    I hardly “spit” on her, either, if you’re referring to my first post.

    I merely took exception to the notion that she was drawing conclusions about people based on some half-assed “experiment”, the results of which she had already assumed anyway.

    _I_ also never claimed _I_ was without flaws…

  21. Tony

    You know, Jen, I have come across a couple of different kinds of atheists in my travels. Most are reasonable. Others are rabid and seem to believe that any mention of God is a personal attack on them.

    These are the “true believers”, I like to call them, to borrow a term: “fundamentalist atheists”.

    They don’t simply not believe in God, they staunchly believe in “no God”.

    And you’re right, there is no proof that will work for them. Should Jesus Christ fly down to earth in a flaming chariot pulled by the three Archangels, they would simply think that they had a brain tumor, or someone has slipped LSD into their Ovaltine.

    Most of the pseudo scientific bloviating (and I call it pseudo-scientific, because eliminating a possibility without being able to disprove it is counter to the scientific method) is aimed toward shoring up their crumbling position.

    It’s a lot like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz muttering to himself: “I don’t believe in spooks, I don’t, I don’t, I don’t believe in spooks!” (because he is really afraid of the spooks, and is trying desperately to convince himself otherwise).

    The pouring over here to comment on your post is not the actions of someone who is comfortable in their atheist skin, and can chuckle at the poor deluded Catholic with her “sky daddy”.

    Oh, BTW…

    You might be a fundamentalist atheist

    #41 When you’re shown that your view of origins is silly, you can only respond, “Well…at least it’s better than believing in some invisible SKY DADDY!”

  22. Anonymous

    “Anonymous said…
    I thought I was talking to Renee…?

    December 07, 2006 9:08 PM “

    I have no idea what this is about. I was just commenting in general what is like to be baited as a person that’s all. You know, when you got lemons, you make lemonade type thingy. As a Catholic people have lots of questions for me, usually they have misinterpetations of my beliefs. Even if in the end of the discussion they disagree me, they have a better understanding of what isn’t Catholicism.

  23. Anonymous

    Oh…excuse me, then. I must have been totally wrong all these years, thinking deliberately baiting, lying to and manipulating people is wrong according to Catholic teaching, and being honest, straightforward, open and kind is not Catholic teaching.

    I guess it’s not.

    So sorry. My bad. Gotcha now, though.

    *note to self: Catholics are okay with deliberately baiting, lying to, and manipulating other people as long as it provides them with an opportunity to “discuss” their beliefs with those people…

  24. Anonymous

    *is, as opposed to is not.

    The bad grammar and punctuation is catching…

  25. Anonymous

    You are angry, probably at something rightfully and obviously frustrated at a specific thing or act. Blaming a group or picking out a random commenter with a sarcastic rant won’t bring you contentment. In all honesty, I wish you well. And even though you are a nameless person on the Internet, I know there is a real person typing away on the keyboard.

  26. Anonymous

    Um, okay, hon…

    I’m angry at your thinly disguised superiority and hatred towards homosexuals. All of whom are real people, too.

  27. The Judge

    One small thing “Jen” and that is that your “experiment” is simply a wind-them-up-and-watch-them-go endeavour…and that’s it. It proves nothing other than the ability of thoughtful people to apply Occam’s Razor and logical reasoning to critique things that we know to be impossible such as so-called “miracles.”
    It certainly doesn’t prove anything about this “god” character you talk about.

    Also, Steve K, I think you’ll find that pride has nothing to do with atheism. Intelligence maybe. A will to learn; to discover the immense and incredible, awesome beauty of this world and the space in which it resides, but not pride.

    To believe that pride is “THE factor in de/conversion” is in itself one of the most pride-filled utterances I’ve ever read. To suppose that one knows it all is prideful. N.B. atheists for the most part (who are a very disparate group) do not do this despite what theists may think; they just know more about the way the world actually works and the inherent inconsistencies of organised religion to call “bullshit” when they smell it on theists’ breath.

    Theists conversely tend to say that THEY have all the answers – “god did it.”
    This makes no sense to rational people.

    Jen, your “faith” may have blinkered your worldview, but all you have done is merely sacrificed the only chance you have to learn something about this world before you are gone.

    If that doesn’t make life special and worth living to the fullest then I don’t know what does.

    Being intellectually lazy, sitting back, giving up and saying, well this is just too hard – “god” must have done it is denying yourself the opportunity to REALLY find out what is going on.

    You may be happy with a “god-of-the-gaps” but all that says is that you are intellectually weak – you simply cannot handle the endeavour that is constant learning and discovering.

    I sincerely hope you are happy, but given the choice I’d choose to be wise, because I know too much about the hypocrisy of religions and the absurdity of their claims to ever feel like I have found any truths in any of them.

    Maybe I just can’t partition my mind like you have done, Jen (which is no more than a sophisticated method of self-deception) and I don’t think that’s a question of personality (as you stated), I’m just being honest with myself.

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