I Can No Longer Believe:
Now What?

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "AGRM Library"
Subject: Re: PA-via_Positive_Atheism_Index
Date: September 12, 2001 11:34 AM

Many Seminarians walk into Seminary full of faith and hope and walk out realizing that they really have no reason to believe that God exists. This fact is well-known. You were taught from your mother's knee to repeat slogans about God and Jesus. Then they taught you to tell people that these slogans are what we believe. They told you stories and showed you pictures so that you could know what these slogans and stories were supposed to mean. Nobody questioned these stories, and if they did, they were quickly silenced or demonized or ostracized. During childhood, you practiced rituals and rites of passage which reinforced the slogans and stories.

But since the slogans did not make much sense to begin with, perhaps you can honestly say that you never really believed, not really knowing what to believe. Instead, you only thought you believed! Sure you could tell the stories behind the mysteries, but what did the mysteries mean? What did the Cross mean and how did this affect our Salvation? And just what is Salvation, anyway? Salvation from what?

Now you find yourself in a position of scrutinizing these slogans and statements -- these god-claims -- for the very first time. Perhaps you entered Seminary assuming that there were answers to any questions you might have had, any doubts, any mysteries. Surely someone who has gone to Seminary will know the solutions to the knotty problems!

But this is not what happens to many who go to Seminary. Instead, we come face-to-face with the shortcomings of the Christian god-claim. We see clearly that the existence of Jesus is attested to only by the Gospel accounts, which themselves came decades after Jesus lived. There are no independent mentions of the existence of Jesus that existed before the Gospels were published. The Gospels are all we have to go on, and they were all written by the same group: the Christians themselves. The Gospels even admit that they were propaganda, designed to sway the reader's opinion: "These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name" (John 20:31).

The resurrection? er, which one? there were four of them! four separate and conflicting accounts of the same event! No two of them can possibly be correct, so why believe any of them?

And why does the Church want you, anyway? Does she want your money? your free labor? your loyalty and lip-service? your obedience?

It doesn't take much to undermine the claims of Christianity. As far as I'm concerned, the most amateurish atheist web sites that list just a few of the problems with the Bible do a sufficient job at raising all the questions you need in order to seriously reconsider your faith, and the most sophisticated Christian web sites cannot supply the answers to the atheists' questions. We don't need to settle with that, to be sure, becaue every angle you can imagine has been discussed at length in the two-hundred years or so that it's been legal to discuss one's doubts in the Christian religion here in the West. I am only saying that it doesn't take much to topple the case for the existence of the Christian godhead. They can huff and puff and pontificate and posture and accuse and denounce and change the subject and make all manner of noise, but they cannot provide the answers to our objections. If they could, there wouldn't be nearly as many atheists as there are. This is because there are no answers to these basic questions besides to admit that this is a fable designed to keep the populace in line.

All of this dawns on you, and you suddenly have a big question on your hands:

Now what do I do?

You have invested time and money in the Seminary. You love your family and wish to remain in their graces. But it sounds like you also have a firm commitment to yourself, to follow the dictates of your conscience and to live your life based upon what you see as the truth. You wouldn't be writing to me if lying to yourself or others came easily. It does for some but not for me. I (Cliff Walker of Portland, Oregon) cannot see myself telling people that something is true when I cannot demonstrate to myself that it is true. So I will ask, can you change your career plans? Many have had to do just that and many others have had to quietly do the best they can in what roles they've found themselves. How hard would this be for you do do?

Until a little over a hundred years ago, when a priest made the discoveries that you and I have made, he was forced to keep his mouth shut. He was forced to go along with the game because to do otherwise meant a sure and gruesome death for blasphemy. But today, in the year 2001, we have choices. Often a priest or a nun find honor and dignity and even fame by renouncing his or her religion.

So what to do is based upon what you want limited by what you think you can endure and tempered by what you think you are capable of accomplishing. In other words, welcome to the real world of working in a competitive market and earning a wage!

Some go ahead and quietly work in the Church because the Church does much more than teach religion. A missionary doctor, for example, can quietly work teaching third-world people about health and nutrition, spending her days combating disease. The Church, of course, is financing the missionary doctor solely to spread the word of the faith, to be an attraction to joining the religion and an excuse to propagandize. They wouldn't do this work unless people were being "saved" because of it. But the job description of the missionary doctor is to work as a doctor. I'm sure that more than a few missionary doctors have quietly spent their lives doing a world of good to people who would otherwise not enjoy those benefits. This, I think, is where a lot of the good that churches do comes from -- those who have lost their faith and have realized that any good that will be done must be done by humans.

Others use their education from the Seminary to build a unique career for themselves as a writer or a professor or a social worker, or go on to medical school or the like. Several notable atheistic speakers, educators, writers, and advocates went to Seminary with the intention of spending their lives serving their Lord. In Seminary (or sometimes afterward), they see that there is no Lord; that is, they realize that they cannot make a convincing case that there is any such thing as God. They come to the realization that human reason is but a flickering candle in a wind-swept storm, but it's the only light we have; as Ingersoll said, "Extinguish that, and naught remains." Having been trained in the best arguments for religion, they now can work through those and show others what they have discovered. Once you see where you've been and compare it to where you are going, you will probably want to spend at least some of your time sharing this with others or helping them make the transition from a faith-based outlook to one based in human reason.

Still others work from within the Church to try to change the Church herself, hoping to bring her to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Bishop John Shelby Spong, an Anglican in New Jersey, is one who challenged his own church (and others) to try to be Christians without a Resurrection, without a Virgin Birth, without even a personal God. Spong has written several books and has caused his entire denomination to rethink her ways and her beliefs. Christianity can never be the same after encountering the questions that Spong has raised, Christians can and do simply keep their heads buried in the sand, but to confront his questions is to walk away with a new perspective, having uprooted the foundation of the stories and slogans we learned as children.

Bishop Spong says: "Human beings have evolved to the place where the theistic God concept can be and must be cast aside. It has become an inoperative premise. If there is no other possible understanding of God, then surely God has died." Spong is ready to take any belief that he cannot justify and cast it aside perhaps everything he ever learned or thought about God and humankind. This, he suggests, is probably the only way one can find out if there even is something we can really learn about God. If we cannot, Spong says he is willing to cast aside even the idea of God, willing to say that the statement "God exists" is a false statement. He does this because truth, to him, is more important even than his church, even than his religion.

Bishop Spong is so close to atheism that he can almost taste it. He is so close that he might as well go ahead and say, along with the atheist, "I have no reason to believe that God exists; if I encounter a compelling reason to believe then I will, but right now, I am aware of no god-claim that is worthy of my assent."

Other religious leaders who have faced the ultimate religious question include Gerd Lüdemann. Lüdemann later renounced his faith altogether and now calls himself an atheist. Today he is a professor and sometimes writes or lectures about the corruption in the state churches of Europe.

If you lack a god belief, however vaguely your doubt or uncertainty may be, if you cannot say to yourself, "I believe that God exists," then you are an atheist. If you wish to call yourself an atheist, then you do well to learn that an atheist is, at minimum, somebody who lacks a god-belief -- for whatever reason. In other words, if a person is not a theist, then she or he is an atheist. We do not necessarily state that no gods exist (though many of us do) and we don't necessarily rise up against the Church (though some of us do).

Having defined your lack of belief and having worked through how to justify your position, you will more easily find a group of like-minded people in your city or country. With your fellow-atheists and humanists, you can share experiences and trade stories, helping one another to make this difficult and absolutely liberating transition from a faith-based outlook to one that is daily constructed with nothing but human reason and human passion.

Not everybody can find a group. Even then, not everybody can fit into their local group or even organized atheism. I didn't fit in with the group I was with, and of the others in my area that I have checked out, I don't think I could fit in with them, either. I have yet to try the Unitarian Church, which accepts atheists as members. But finding a group is not easy, and finding a good group is even more difficult.

This is why we put all these resources on the web, so that you can work out the transition on your own. You can talk about it on our Forum and even ask questions (which I usually answer, but the other readers also chime in). You can study your heritage as an atheist, and see those ideas which led to modern atheism. Most importantly, you can find out why atheism was not an intellectually tenable position until Darwin solved the Argument from Design.

With a firm grasp of what atheism is and is not, followed by a good handle on its history, you will have little need for support from others in this respect, but will be able to stand on your own philosophically. After all, philosophy is the only school of thought where each student must confront all of the great questions for himself. In other sciences, we can start where other scientists have left off, building on the edifice of what they have discovered. But with philosophy, each philosopher must start from the ground level, going over each of the great questions, and deciding for him-or herself what (if anything) his or her stand will be, and why. It's one thing to be able to state your opinion; it is another thing altogether to be able to justify each of the opinions you hold.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.