New interview at The Philotoric
Over at The Philotoric, I’ve done a new interview mainly about atheism, philosophy of religion, and the idea of a meaningful life. The discussion included my own experience of getting free from religion when I was young (I say a bit more about that process and experience in my essay “Unbelievable!” in 50 Voices of Disbelief). When asked about it, I have a fair bit to say, including the following:
The trouble at the time was that I “had doubts” – as we used to say – and they ultimately defeated my attempts to put them to rest. I could not make any Christian account of the world add up, and by the time my tenure as EU Vice-President was over I’d eventually abandoned any Christian belief. I didn’t make a fuss about it, but I dropped out of evangelical activities and concentrated on other aspects of my life. I had no ill-feeling toward my Christian friends, who were kind and good people; it was just that I, personally, could no longer honestly believe in the Abrahamic God, the Incarnation, the doctrine of sacrificial atonement, or any other Christian doctrines, including specifically Christian moral ideals. This makes it all sound simple, but it most certainly wasn’t. I was going through months of doubt and worry about the truth of my religion, it was a psychologically agonising period.
I expect that many people who go through a process of leaving religion behind find it psychologically difficult. It’s not surprising if they are resistant and if they demand a high degree of theoretical certainty that their religious beliefs are wrong before they will let go, even though that is not where the burden of proof should lie when seen from an external perspective.
The wrench from one worldview to another (perhaps one that is far less comprehensive in the answers it offers) should not be underestimated. Unless someone is already agonizing over the issues, they are unlikely to have the patience to hear out why they are wrong – and it is also not a matter for wonder that so many end up embracing some alternative comprehensive ideology. For some refugees from religion (and I am one of them), these ideologies may be unattractive because they have many of the same features that are unattractive about religions. But many people also seem to find it difficult to live with ambiguity and a sense of incomplete understanding. Comprehensive belief systems can help them cope with that.