March 29, 2009

To What Degree Is Atheism Voluntary?

trace in the grass
trace in the grass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Looking out my window, I see grass. It is mostly green and will become greener as spring deepens. Suppose someone were to try to convince me that this grass was not green at all but a bright royal blue. I am not sure any amount of argument, pleading, threats, favors, etc. could persuade me that the grass I see was blue.

Under torture, I would certainly profess that I believed it to be blue, but it is difficult to imagine that I could actually convince myself that it was so. With sufficient rewards, I would certainly agree publicly that the grass was blue, but I would not really believe it. By learning about the science of vision, I could be convinced that the grass was not inherently green but reflected light in such a manner that I perceived it as green. Still, I would not be able to stop believing that I was perceiving it as green. In many respects, this is how the atheist experiences god belief.

I could no more convince myself that the Christian god was real than I could convince myself that my front yard was full of blue grass. It is observations like this which lead me to question the degree to which atheism is voluntary. Don't get me wrong, I am not claiming that atheism is an involuntary response or somehow predetermined. I am merely suggesting that atheism seems less voluntary than many other beliefs.

Sitting here today, knowing what I know, experiencing what I have experienced, living the life I have led, I am not sure that I could now convince myself to believe in the Christian god or associated dogma even if I desperately wanted to do so. It is as if I have passed a point of no return.

For years, I managed to convince myself that the Christian god about which I had heard so much was real. But I have never been one to take things on faith. I ask too many questions, and I seek genuine answers. Atheism, the gradual erosion of my willingness to accept the truth of the claim that gods exist, was the eventual result of such inquiry. My eyes are now open, and I seriously doubt that I could close them no matter how much I wanted to.

Perhaps uttering a magic incantation of some sort would instantly transport me to blissful mindlessness, but I doubt it. Besides, I'd much rather my eyes remain open.