December 10, 2009

Atheism: Just a Phase?

william-adolphe-bouguereau-a-childhood-idyll-1900.jpgHave you ever been told that your atheism is merely a phase you are going through, something you will outgrow? Yeah, me too. Many times. In fact, my own mother spent roughly 15 years insisting this very thing! The good news is that I think she's finally given up. She may still believe it, but she has at least learned to keep this opinion to herself. For that, I am grateful.

My atheism, which I first begin to label as such around age 16, has been as much an enduring part of my adult life as nearly anything else about me. Many interests have come and gone, as have many relationships, jobs, places I have called home, friends, etc. And I have certainly been through my share of phases. Yet I remain an atheist.

This is not to say that my atheism today is exactly the same as it was at 16. That is hardly the case. But I can say that by about the time I turned 18, I have considered atheism to be one aspect of who I am. Since then, I have realized that I am not comfortable pretending to believe things I do not believe simply because doing so might reduce conflict. Sure, I have still had periods of my life where I did this, but I have long realized that it is not a permanent solution.

One of the things that always frustrated me about the "just a phase" perspective is that it characterizes atheism as somehow immature. Imagine a child questioning the existence of Santa Claus and being told by a parent, "Don't worry, that is just a phase. You will believe again." For me, believing absurdities without sufficient evidence was the phase. In fact, it was a developmentally appropriate phase that begin to fade as I developed the capacity for critical thinking and abstract reasoning. I'm glad to have it behind me.

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