December 29, 2011

Too Weak To Be An Atheist?

Atheist CatYou've heard the saying "ignorance is bliss." For many people, it rings true. Perhaps not everyone is cut out to strike out on one's own and pursue truth no matter how unpopular it might be. For many people, moment-to-moment comfort, even false comfort, is far preferable. It is indeed easier to adopt the position of the majority and not question it. If we want to "go along to get along," it is easy enough to turn on the TV, shut down our minds, and refuse to ask the difficult questions.

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard something like this, I'd be one of those filthy rich "job creators" the Republican Tea Party loves so much:
I could never be an atheist. I need something to believe in.
Once we get past the obvious problem (i.e., the speaker's assumption that because atheists do not believe gods, we do not believe in anything), we arrive at the question of weakness. Is the speaker saying that he or she is too weak to be an atheist? I have had several Christians say this to me over the years (i.e., that they are too weak to be atheists).

My initial response is usually to suggest that the speaker is being too hard on himself or herself. But that probably reflects my hope for them more than any external reality. I must acknowledge that some people may indeed be too weak to be atheists.

It does take a decent measure of strength and courage to throw off the shackles of religious belief. Not only does one become a member of a hated minority group but one loses the false comforts offered by religion. And because religion can be psychologically damaging to youth, one may also have some repair work to do.

I think what troubles me about the notion of people being too weak to be atheists is that it makes me uncomfortable to suggest that individuals with a strong need to belong are somehow weaker because of it. In my experience, many religious believers cling to their faith because of the social connections it confers. I have a hard time seeing them as weak because they want to belong.

What do you think? Are some people really too weak to be atheists?

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