June 24, 2019

If You Could Believe Again, Would You?

lavender field

Back in 2008, I wrote a post about how miracles work. In response to this post, a reader (Melissa) left a comment in which she said that she would gladly return to Christianity if she thought she could do so. For those of you who were raised in the Christian religion and who once believed in it but are now atheists, is this a desire with which you can relate? If you could snap your fingers and return to being a believing Christian, would you do so? Why or why not?

Personally, I would not return to Christianity if I could do so (which I can't). As for why, I suppose the easiest way to explain it is that I have find my post-Christian life to be more intellectually rewarding and less plagued by fear than my former Christian life. I recognize that this probably isn't fair. After all, I was about 16 when I stopped believing in gods. There are far too many differences between my life before 16 and my life as an adult to give me much confidence that religion was the sole culprit for the perceived improvement. Although there are some things I miss about being a Christian (i.e., being regarded as morally virtuous merely because I was Christian), I don't find any of it so appealing that I'd try to convince myself to believe things that clearly aren't true.

I do not belong to the large camp of atheists who insist that their lives are significantly better because they are atheists. It isn't that I doubt that has been their experience. I am just not sure that it was religious belief that was holding me back as much as other factors. Still, I cannot deny that there is something so much more genuine about facing the world as it truly is, free from the trappings of superstition.

Some things probably were easier about being a Christian. As Melissa put it,

Honestly, if I could successfully lie to myself start believing in God, I would in a heartbeat. It makes life so much easier to believe that someone is watching over us and helping us along the way, but it's just not the case. Life runs its own course and you make your own decisions in life. Its called responsibility.
I can relate to this, at least to some degree. I do sometimes miss the complete lack of responsibility religious belief involved. I could do anything and still be forgiven for it. The "get out of sin free" card certainly was appealing. In some ways, I imagine that this would have been not unlike the experience of having wealthy parents who would have bailed me out of whatever trouble I got into. Since that was not my experience, I can only guess.

In many ways, accepting the delusion of supernatural oversight is reassuring and brings both emotional and social benefits. There are times, especially here in Mississippi, where I find myself thinking how nice it would be to feel accepted rather than demonized once in a while. The feeling passes quickly but seems to return at inopportune times. In these moments, I can imagine how some atheists might be tempted to go back if it was possible to do so.

Still, even if I thought I could convince myself to believe again, I would not do so. How about you?

This post originally appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2008. It was revised, updated, and expanded in 2019.