Why I’m not an Atheist #1 – Because my Parents weren’t

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.


Stephen says:

I actually have found that to be quite common in the support of atheism (ie. freed from the shackles of religion, saved from ignorance and waste). Atheism, at least in the popular culture form, contains all the trappings of the metaphysical points of view they left.

There is a seeming "atheist salvation story" at work, reflected even in the language of "deconversion" (when in fact, people are simply being converted to yet another worldview), "free thought" (meaning theists do not think freely), etc.

Part of the story also seems to be the narrative that people who disagree with them are "deluded", "ignorant", "suppressing their intelligence", etc. as opposed to simply being wrong. This seems a possibly unconscious use of psychology to buttress the opinion by making disagreement a personal failing, rather than simply in error. This seems yet another sociological similarity to religion.

Kutz says:

Top post Nath. Absolutely.

It is interesting that those in the West believe that they've been taught to 'think for themselves', and yet in that process are also taught what it means to 'think for yourself'.

The greatest thinkers of history always recognised that they stood upon, reacted against and bought into the arguments and thoughts of the giants before them.

st_eutychus says:

The credit for this post goes to Dave Walker – he wrote it. It's part of a series.

AndrewF says:

It's a good series, and I'm enjoying it very much.
You might be interested in this transcript I came across recently (oddly enough, via Richard Dawkins' twitter feed) where he gets just a little bit nailed about his dismissal of the NT documents.