The Role of Trauma as a Cause of Atheism Is Overstated

Little angel on child's grave

I have heard many misconceptions about atheists from Christians. The one I'll address here is one I've always found interesting. It is the idea that all atheists have had traumatic experiences with religion. That's why we are atheists. Our atheism is a negative reaction to religious trauma.

This claim seems to appeal to many Christians because it means that atheism will pass. If we worked on recovering and gave religion another chance, we'd believe again. We'd see that we were responding to hurt and that our atheism was little more than a tantrum.

This misconception strikes me as a twist on an even simpler one. The simpler version also posits a traumatic experience as the root of atheism. Where it differs is that it does not allow religion to take any responsibility for the trauma. It excludes religious trauma from consideration.

But does trauma explain all cases of atheism? Of course not! Some atheists have experienced trauma, including religious trauma. For some, trauma may have been a factor in their atheism. It wasn't relevant for others.

It is true that many atheists have had negative experiences with religion. But what about atheists who grew up without religion? Some people were never indoctrinated and have been atheists their whole lives.

And what of atheists who identify very different reasons for being atheists? Some have clear reasons that have nothing to do with trauma. Are we to assume they lying or lacking in insight? Should we ignore them because we want our suspicions about trauma to be true?

Believe it or not, there are atheists who are quite fond of religion. They don't believe in gods, but they attend church. Some even enjoy doing so!

I may not understand it, but I've heard from too many of these atheists to claim that they do not exist. They grew up in religious homes, and it feels familiar to them. They haven't found anything traumatic about religion. Some may even find the thought of life without religion to be traumatic.

I appreciate how some Christians are willing to acknowledge religious trauma. That's an important step. It is nice when Christians acknowledge that Christianity hasn't been good for everybody. But this still can't explain why every atheist is an atheist.

Some atheists have experienced trauma that affected their atheism. Others have experienced trauma that did not affect their atheism. And some atheists have not experienced trauma at all. At best, trauma is a partial explanation that applies to some atheists. I doubt it is why most of us are atheists.

Image by Goran Horvat from Pixabay