The prodigal atheist

You may remember that Julian Baggini wrote a piece about the destructiveness of the ‘new’ atheists a few months ago and then another urging them (or us) to turn down the volume at Comment is Free. I disagreed with him at the time in more than one post. He sounds like a new atheist himself in a new piece for C is F.

It’s another C is F ‘belief’ question: how did you find or lose your faith? Julian starts off by saying that people who lose their faith ‘do come to see as absurd beliefs which once seemed clearly true, or deeply mysterious.’

That was certainly true for me. As a teenager, I increasingly had questions about religion to which I found no good answers. For example, I was baffled by the role of intercessory prayer in church services. Surely, if God were good, and it was good to help someone recover from illness, he wouldn’t wait until someone asked him to do so. Yet no one gave me a decent answer to even this simple question…Questions like these tend to be dismissed as simplistic, but that kind of response is no answer at all. It’s like when people roll their eyes when you raise the problem of evil: how can a good God allow so much suffering in the world? Yes, the problem is old, but it’s not the challenge that’s tired: it’s the person who has given up trying to give it a decent answer.

Yes, quite. But isn’t this Basic ‘New’ Atheism? Isn’t this just the kind of thing we keep being chastised for?

Julian went to some kind of Methodist youth jamboree at the Albert Hall and it started making him feel sick as soon as he got off the bus, so he was feeling ill and out of it while he watched the Sunday worship.

Instead of being caught up in the emotion, I was observing at a distance. That confirmed the perceptual shift from believer to non-believer was now complete. For what from the inside had looked like the holy spirit at work, looked from where I now stood like a humanly-constructed exercise in mass hysteria…To simplify a little, the convert adopts a religious faith because he or she comes to inhabit it from the inside. The infidel rejects it because she or he comes to see it from the outside. And the further you zoom back from religion and see the big picture, the more absurd it seems.

Again – yes, quite, and isn’t that just the kind of thing that ‘New’ atheists are scolded for saying? So…welcome aboard, or welcome back, Julian, but do admit – either the ‘New’ atheists aren’t all that naughty after all, or you are yourself a ‘New’ atheist.

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