New Statesman asked a number of prominent heathens why they don’t believe in God, including our own PZ Myers, and got some very interesting answers. I like Daniel Dennett’s answer:
The concept of God has gradually retreated from the concept of an anthropomorphic creator figure, judge and overseer to a mystery-shrouded Wonderful Something-or-Other utterly beyond human ken. It is impossible for me to believe in any of the anthropomorphic gods, because they are simply ridiculous, and so obviously the fantasy-projections of scientifically ignorant minds trying to understand the world. It is impossible for me to believe in the laundered versions, because they are systematically incomprehensible. It would be like trying to believe in the existence of wodgifoop – what’s that? Don’t ask; it’s beyond saying.
Wodgifoop is SO gonna punish him for that.
Probably the most fascinating answer came from Iranian human rights advocate Maryam Namazie.
I don’t remember exactly when I stopped believing in God. Having been raised in a fairly open-minded family in Iran, I had no encounter with Islam that mattered until the Islamic movement took power on the back of a defeated revolution in Iran. I was 12 at the time.
I suppose people can go through an entire lifetime without questioning God and a religion that they were born into (out of no choice of their own), especially if it doesn’t have much of a say in their lives. If you live in France or Britain, there may never be a need to renounce God actively or come out as an atheist.
But when the state sends a “Hezbollah” (the generic term for Islamist) to your school to ensure that you don’t mix with your friends who are boys, stops you from swimming, forces you to be veiled, deems males and females separate and unequal, prescribes different books for you and your girlfriends from those read by boys, denies certain fields of study to you because you are female, and starts killing indiscriminately, then you have no choice but to question, discredit and confront it – all of it. And that is what I did.
I think this may also help explain why so many Americans are nominally Christian without ever really giving it much thought and without ever having their religion affect their lives aside from participating in social rituals like going to church — sometimes — and getting married in a church. For most Americans, the church is just the social center of their own little communities of people. That’s the only reason they really attend. The actual beliefs have little to do with their actual lives.
I’m quite thankful to have been raised in a situation where that wasn’t possible, with one parent an atheist and the other a Pentecostal Christian. I didn’t have a default belief to fall back on, I actually had to think about the issue and reach my own conclusions.