I put this as the ﬁrst reason for not being an atheist, not because itʼs most important, or because it is representative of how someone stays out of atheism — itʼs not. But because for many atheists this is the great explanatory factor behind my theism.
Only a fool would deny the inﬂuence of parents and society. Itʼs a helpful analysis of the way in which we come to believe the things that we believe — the sociology of knowledge.
But is that sufficient to sink my “non-atheism” right in the beginning?
Well that would only be the case if in fact other forms of knowledge were free from the same kind of sociology. But all knowledge is sociological to one degree or another. Only a fool would say that every thought he ever had, heʼd come up with himself. Most of our thoughts come from others. We all belong to a community of one sort or another that reinforces the plausibility of some beliefs and discourages other kinds of beliefs.
The atheist PR machine likes to talk as if itʼs the exception — it talks as if atheism is the conviction one arrives at when you start thinking for yourself.
But the more I look at atheism, the more it seems to me that there are plenty of others to help you do your thinking. Richard Dawkins writes about the aim of his book like this:
“My dream is that this book may help people to come out. Exactly as in the case of the gay movement, the more people come out, the easier it will be for others to join them. There may be a critical mass for the initiation of a chain reaction.”
Dawkins aim is not simply to present the arguments, and let the arguments speak for themselves. Rather his aim is, one might say, a sociological one — he hopes to give people courage to own their convictions through the knowledge that there are others who share them. And through that, others might be encouraged to join the thronging crowd.
But Dawkins is not being deceptive. Itʼs the way all human knowledge works. We are not just rational beings — we are also relational beings, who depend on each other for all sorts of things, knowledge included. The fact that I depend on something for my knowledge does not make me irrational, it makes me human.
I talk to a lot of university students who are atheist or agnostic, who all use the same kind of arguments. Did they all really, somehow astonishingly, come up with the same arguments independent of each other? No, the majority have just bought into intellectual trends of the day — they have been ʻindoctrinatedʼ, and most donʼt have the sense to see it. (They really think they think for themselves!) They disbelieve, in other words, because they were born in the West! If theyʼd been born in Iran, odds are, they would believe something completely different.
Luckily for atheists, their beliefs might still be true irrespective of the fact that they got them from their culture — but that would need to be demonstrated in some other way. Which is how I treat my Christian convictions — theyʼre not true because my parents believed them, but neither are they deceptive just for that reason either.