Rebellious spirits

A common theme in conservative apologetics is that atheists fundamentally disbelieve as an act of rebellion. Infidels don’t have any real reason to doubt, god forbid, so there must be some psychological pathology or moral depravity behind it all.

There is some point to this accusation, I suppose. The conservative Christian or Muslim God often comes across as a disagreeable character, if you have a certain kind of temperament. I have to admit that the Biblical or Quranic God, especially as presented by conservative traditions, seems to me to be an arbitrary, tyrannical sort of authority. Hell and damnation and a collection of asinine thou-shalt-not’s do not, for me, indicate a deity I particularly want to believe in. God is understood, very often, as a Cosmic Bully.

Apologists push this point too far when they suggest that rebellion against a moral authority is a major, even determining, theme in nonbelief. “God” is an extremely elastic concept. There are no end of variations on God that emphasize divine love rather than submission to authority. If I wanted a notion of God that fit my rebellious temperament better, I would not have much difficulty. These days, I could just custom-design a God if I so desired. If I dressed up my notion of the divine in enough philosophical cant I could even call myself a theologian.

Still, I’ll grant that I am not the sort of person who takes well to obedience and authority. As a good modern person, I can be administered well enough; I don’t give my department chair or dean an unusual number of headaches. But I don’t particularly recognize superiors who are entitled to give me orders. In that sense, I have too much ego.

So yes, I imagine conservative apologists do face an extra hurdle when they try to convert a prideful, rebellious bastard such as myself. They’re not selling a particularly attractive package. But at best, this reminds me to attempt to hold back my distaste when examining whatever reasons they put forth for their version of God. I still end up thinking that their reasoning is, by and large, poor. And I also refuse to be bullied into thinking that I therefore must be so rebellious, so full of pride, so depraved that I’m blind to evidence of their God.

Now, I might still concede that my tendency to look for reasoning and evidence reflects a temperament that is not entirely comfortable with cosmic authorities. Perhaps this is so. I just don’t do leaps of faith. The idea of submitting to some authority with no reason does offend my self-conception. It violates a sense of independence, of self-sufficiency, that I prize. And I suppose that the sort of religious person who insists that wisdom comes from our realizing our total dependence on God will see this as a willful, even depraved, attempt to separate myself from God. That, after all, is the root of all sin.

At that point, I think, the conversation ends. I can’t deny that religion is capable of becoming a closed loop, providing a standard, self-justifying answer for everything. But if we reach the point where an apologist is leaning on little but accusations of bad character and demands of submission to a closed system of thought, conversation is pointless. I’m not interested in playing that game. And if this indicates an unwillingness to stop asserting independence, well, then I guess I’m a rebellious person and that’s all there is to say.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06394155516712665665 CyberKitten

    Resistance is character building.


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