Saturday, December 10, 2011

Atheists? Maybe Not

Sponge-headed Scienceman reports on a Rice University study revealing that 17% of atheists attend church at least occasionally, most of them "for the kids."  He comments on why this might be.  I concur with his reasoning, but would add that this group may indeed be one which is open to different ideas, as they claim about themselves.  Rather than being "believers" in some unexamined sense, who declare they believe in God but somehow never get around to doing anything about that, this group might have decided that on balance they cannot believe, but allow the possibility there might be something to it, and are the sort who are quite intentional in tying their behavior to their beliefs.  Perhaps I am painting them too rosily, imagining their thought to suit my own beliefs.

I am reminded of Michael Novak's essay of four years ago about different types of atheists - he identifies six.  These are not entirely distinct, but overlap, and in some cases overlap with believers.  I have known people in each of the first five categories - no one comes to mind for the sixth.  I suspect one would have to be a very thoughtful person, aware not only of the beliefs around one but one's own character as well, to make it through to this conclusion.


jaed said...

There was a Pew poll a while back, one of whose results was that 21% of atheists believe in God. (To be strictly fair, most of this group said they believed in God as an impersonal force, so something less than 10% of atheists believe in a personal God.)

The poll gave responders options for atheist, agnostic, secular nonaffiliated, and religious nonaffiliated, so this wasn't just a case of people who didn't belong to a particular religion being lumped in with atheists.

Texan99 said...

I've been enjoying reruns of a show called "Supernatural," which involves a pair of brothers who go around fighting supernatural bad guys of various sorts. Early on, the episodes were all about hauntings and werewolves and so on, but later it developed more metaphysics, complete with angels and apocalyptic theories. This being Hollywood, if Christianity enters into things at all, it's to deliver gimmicks like exorcism charms, or the occasional mad hypocrite. At the same time, our two brothers live by an iron-clad moral code and want very badly to find themselves on the "right side" in an increasingly metaphysical battle. Again, though, this being Hollywood, God is nowhere to be found, and no one has ever even heard of Christ. There's a lot of worrying about whether it's really wrong to rebel against God, or more of a sign of healthy independence of spirit. The scriptwriters are clever in most ways, but seem entirely unaware of what a long tradition that particular doubt is a part of.

I still enjoy the way our heroes, unable to feel any religious conviction or sense of God's presence, continue to try to do the right thing at great cost to themselves.

Thanks for the Novak link. I quite enjoyed that. I think I was a #1-type atheist. In the end, I couldn't deal with the essentially nihilistic roots of the frame of mind. The only way to lead a tolerable life as that kind of atheist is to subsist on the unacknowledged convictions of reason and order that are left over from our forebears' Judeo-Christian teachings.

Donna B. said...

A third reason atheists allow their children to go to church and end up there themselves sometimes is for socialization and/or social pressure. I think this is more likely in some locations over others.

A fourth reason atheists might go to church is "for the parents" as I occasionally attend with my father. Or "for the family" since 90% membership of the little church he goes to is related to me.

A fifth reason atheists might go to church is an appreciation of ritual, pageantry, and beauty. I think this is why some believers choose particular churches to attend also.

In Novaks list, #5, practical atheists are really quite horrible people, closely related to the #2 type. The difference is that one group makes believers look bad while the other makes non-believers look bad.

I'm probably a combination of Novak's 1, 4, and 6 types with a tiny dash of 2.

The reason I say I'm partly a #6 type with no "ear" for religion is best illustrated by my "ear" for music. The more I learn about music, the more I appreciate it. The more I learned about religion, the less I appreciated. Learning about it reduced joy.

The reason I say there's a dash of #2 is that I do not think life has to have meaning for it to have value. Randomness and chaos are unavoidable and give the appearance of "meaninglessness" but are also necessary for joy. Morals are behaviors humans have learned to maximize the joy. Immoral behavior is that which reduces joy.

Or, maybe I'm just nutso crazy or something. For sure, I'm not a deep thinker.

Gringo said...

Then there is the line,"I am an atheist, and I thank God for it."

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Self-referential humor, such as the suggestion that Kirkegaard believed he was the one destined to refute the doctrine of determinism,