I Get Why You Doubt God’s Existence–But Why Do You Doubt MINE?

Hold on tight to the arms of your chair, atheists. I am about to blow your minds. I am going to give you extraordinary evidence to back up an extraordinary claim which many of you regularly insist is too unbelievable to believe. Some of you actually have already seen this astonishing evidence and understood its implications, so this will not rock your world quite as much. But hopefully I have something of use for you too in what follows.

So what is this extraordinary claim that most atheists, being superior skeptics in all respects, simply refuse to believe? Before I state the claim, promise you will not stop reading. I know many of you will be tempted to see the claim and just leave the blog and never come back, thinking, “anyone who even tries to prove as ludicrous a claim as that should never be read ever again by anyone.” Please bear with me. I know the claim is extraordinary but I assure you, so is my evidence!

Okay, so here’s the extraordinary and unbelievable claim. Religious people are capable of critical examination of their beliefs. And they are even capable of actually abandoning and repudiating them too.

I know what you’re thinking but stay with me, please! I know that this is impossible to believe for many of you. You have come to the extremely rational, evidence based conclusions that religious people are stupid and so, on that account, incapable of learning. I know, since you tell me that you’re master skeptics, that this conclusion must be based on some rock solid evidence that it would take extraordinary counter-evidence to overturn.

Well. Behold. I am that evidence.

This is not something I talk about much. I am never sure how my fellow atheists will take it if they found out about it. But I was not always an atheist. I was not always one of the superior few who know the mystical ways of critical thinking that have only ever been documented to be known by atheists, practiced by atheists, or taught by atheists. I know this is not making any sense to you, but I was once a devoutly religious Christian. I was, a theist.

Now, I know your minds must be reeling. You must be thinking, “But, it’s impossible! We have seen Dan engaged in critical thought! How could he have ever been a theist? If he was, he would have never engaged in critical thinking and so would still be a theist. Theists cannot learn critical thinking. One must be born an atheist and trained by atheists in order to learn the dark art of godless questioning. Have we been deceived then by Dan’s apparent critical thinking? Was it a trick? Is he still a theist? Or, wait. No. Does Dan not really exist? Have we been duped into believing in Dan?”

I know these thoughts must be confusing. But I assure you, I exist. I also assure you that I am an atheist and that I was a theist.

I know that there are no known documented cases of the art of critical thought being practiced by religious people. But I thought it was time to put myself on the record. It is time that I informed my fellow atheists that critical thinking is actually not completely inaccessible to religious people. They can sense a variety of contradictions between their beliefs with amazing powers of logic comparable to your own. Sometimes, though always in secret and in shame, they have noticed discomfiture between their beliefs and the world and taken steps to modify their beliefs. Some have even very secretly changed their religions from those of their initial brainwashing because different belief events were happening in their brains.

Some have even become atheists. Yes. I said “some” and not just “I”. For I am not alone. There are others like me. They are just too ashamed to speak up. Or to remember their own past. You, atheist reading this. Even you may very well have once been a theist but forgotten. You may have actually engaged in critical thought to extricate yourself from your erroneous beliefs though you have since suppressed the memory because it is too painful to remember. All you see of religious people is such obvious stupidity, that you are sure you could never have actually been one of those evil and unteachable simpletons.

I come to remind you, that you were one of them. But you were not unteachable. You were not evil. You were not unreachable.

And neither are your former brethren.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Chris B.

    As an atheist who was once a Christian I have to agree with you. Unfortunately, since becoming an atheist I have also dealt with a lot of irrational Christians who will not hear any evidence or arguments that conflict with their beliefs. One of the things that helps me persevere in this frustrating conversations is the knowledge that I was once in their place.

  • Gordon

    One of the things that started me examining my beliefs was the look of incredulous disbelief on a co-worker/work-friend’s face when she asked me “you don’t really believe all that do you?”

    I didn’t deconvert on the spot, but I did take her up on her challenge that I read The God Delusion and within a few months I realised I was an atheist.

    • Cool Breeze

      That too is exactly how I was able to finally take a leap! A male friend had the audacity to say “Oh you are one of those” and I must have been darn ready to move on to really remember that precise moment. So I currently take chances they same way he did to help others make that leap that they have surely contemplated a time or two. The God Delusion was I think, my first book and I’ve been devouring those types of books ever since. Yay for rational thinking. Great post!

  • http://skeptimusprime.com Dylan Walker

    I was once a fundamentalist Christian myself, I even write a lot about my experiences on my blog. Thanks for writting this, so often we make the false assumption that theists are stupid.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    I’m not quite sure what point you are trying to make.

    In any case, sure, I deconverted (a long time ago). I know quite a few people who remain Christian, but who seem quite capable of clear thinking.

    I’m inclined to think that part of the problem we see with some religious folk is one of group dynamics and group psychology. They feel more strongly bound to their group than to evidence. They are more worried about disapproval from their peers within the group than they are about being factually wrong.

    • Troglodyke

      “I’m inclined to think that part of the problem we see with some religious folk is one of group dynamics and group psychology. They feel more strongly bound to their group than to evidence. They are more worried about disapproval from their peers within the group than they are about being factually wrong.”

      THIS. Thank you. I have realized this slowly, but it’s a huge part of the equation for a lot of people. Most of the Christians I know honestly don’t believe that the bible is real. It’s allegorical for them, and they stay Christian because they like the community.

      And I understand why.

  • Hitchslapper

    The first step is to realize that you’ve been lied to. The second step is finding the courage to realize that you have got to change…. you have to seek the truth.

  • http://markkoop.blogspot.ca Mark

    I know a boatload of Christians who are thoughtful and smart. And I also know that most of them will NEVER leave their faith. I can’t tell you which ones will, but the evidence does seem to point out that most of them won’t. And while I can resolve to continue to dialogue with humanity, I also need to learn to stop losing sleep at night over this fact.

  • InvincibleIronyMan

    What a horrible exercise in stereotyping atheists. Frankly, I am insulted by your one-sided assertions of what I supposedly think about theists, and your patronising delivery of what you assume to startling revelations. Sorry, but none of this is news to me.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      What a horrible exercise in stereotyping atheists. Frankly, I am insulted by your one-sided assertions of what I supposedly think about theists, and your patronising delivery of what you assume to startling revelations. Sorry, but none of this is news to me.

      Are you being ironic or sincere, InvincibleIronyMan? Like I said in the beginning some atheists wouldn’t find the revelation astonishing. In fact, my point was none should. It should be obvious. I didn’t at all expect these to be startling revelations, just a tongue-in-cheek reminder to those who get it and a sarcastic retort to the considerable number of atheists who insist on telling me that religious people are (a) stupid, (b) pointless to argue with, and/or (c) incapable of critical thinking.

    • InvincibleIronyMan

      That’s how I felt, your sarcasm sounded a little too sincere! You are right, nobody should be that stupid. If people want to claim that arguing doesn’t work I suggest they go here and have a read before they embarrass themselves: http://old.richarddawkins.net/letters/converts

    • proudatheist

      I agree with invincibleIronyMan you need to look at yourself and realize you are a naive, disolutioned, patronizing christian. Go back to church and stop spouting filth you know nothing about

  • Dianne Leonard

    Yes, I was once a Catholic, and my transition to atheism started when (1) I realized I was being lied to and (2) I was being forced to lie. My parents had always brought me up with two “no”s: no lying, and no crossing picket lines. So the first step is causing cognitive dissonance. Nobody likes this, and even the most sturdy fundamentalist (as I was: the first thing I memorized as a child were my prayers) will begin to look for answers that make sense. Maybe people won’t go all the way to atheism–only part way–but that’s OK. Any questioning, any discomfort is better than none. Amazing: I keep hearing how the educational system is going downhill, but I also hear how more and more young people are abandoning religion. Teachers must be doing something right!

  • Chris Looye

    As a life long atheist… I doubt any of you exist. I will require more evidence than just one post on the internet. =P

  • Zugswang

    It’s good to occasionally remind ourselves of that, especially if we’ve just been though a long string of discussions with theists who are (at least on the surface) completely intransigent; it can be frustrating, and lead us to becoming overly dismissive and quick to make broad generalizations that are unrealistic and unhelpful if our goal is to convince or at least make salient arguments.

    One thought usually keeps me grounded when I get to that point: when I was still a believing Catholic, I used to carry a rosary, a Gideon bible, and a bottle of “holy water” in my backpack.

  • Rain

    “But I assure you, I exist. I also assure you that I am an atheist and that I was a theist.”

    Atheism exists, therefore has a cause. A greater theist than a former theist cannot be imagined. Therefore an atheist that was a theist must necessarily exist. QED.

  • Michael

    Belief in a generic god probably doesn’t indicate stupidity, but anyone who falls for the teachings of an organised religion is pretty close to being stupid – certainly gullible:
    - Jesus walked on water
    - Demons cause illness
    - Lazarus rose from the dead
    - Dead people climbed out of their graves and walked around Jerusalem
    - Mustard seeds are the smallest seeds on earth
    Or maybe the Christians are not so much stupid and/or gullible, as they are fearful that their imaginary leader will dong them on the head if they display any signs of rebellion. (I’m thinking of Matthew 12:30 “He that is not with me is against me.”)

    • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

      You’re interfering with the practice of my religion: believing, with supporting evidence, that a zombie apocalypse was narrowly averted in Judea 2000 years ago. I feel hurt and oppressed.

  • Charlie Illingsworth

    I am one of the lucky few who somehow liberated myself at the age of 15 from the claws of theism. I am now nearly 17 and, though I shall always strive to seek the truth, I am convinced never find it again in theism. I come from a very religious upbringing and the apostasy took hours of agonising research, watching my whole life’s beliefs crumble before me into illogical, irrational dust.

    But I am a now a more intellectually honest, truth-seeking man because of it.

  • Danny Klopovic

    I’d also invert it and say “But I assure you, I exist. I also assure you that I am a Christian and that I was once an atheist.” :P

  • http://www.reason-being.com ReasonBeing

    Well said Dan. I think it important to remember that many of us were theists, questioned our faith, and became atheists. I often try to get theists to see that. I have to believe that they can skeptically question their faith or they become “not really worth my time”…which does happen to be sure.

    I think it also important to point out that not all atheists are great skeptics. I have seen some atheists completely fail to apply skepticism to some of their beliefs. When I try to point this out to them, as a fellow atheist/skeptic, the response I get is often not that different from a theist who is refusing to do the same thing.

    Irrationally held beliefs can be a hard thing to shake free…

  • Mike Hitchcock

    Mis-informed – or even ignorant – does not necessarily mean stupid. The first two can be corrected, the last is harder.

  • norman rorqual

    When I read the first two paragraphs, I thought this was going to be about Santa Claus. As in, Santa wrote this post to ask why people didn’t believe in him when there is so much evidence for his existence. (The weather stations even track him using radar!) Then I read your claim (Religious people are capable of critical examination of their beliefs) and I still thought it was about Santa, since plenty of religious people eventually ‘deconvert’ from Santa belief even if no one ever tells them straight up that it’s a lie.

  • Karen

    Yes I too was expecting something really big. NOT! There are plenty of folks out there who de-converted. The ones who came from a strong religious background are the most devout non-believers in most cases because they have both sides to look at. I didn’t have any religious upbringing and never believed in a god nor did I think of myself as an atheist. Only when I went in search of the Christian god in 2008 did I end up realizing he/she just doesn’t exist. Anyway, this at least provided some good and informational comments. That is always a good thing ~ communication with respect and no vulgarity and calling names.