For the last few years I’ve had a secret. I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in god. Not even slightly. I wasn’t trying to infiltrate Christianity, I just changed some beliefs and figured most of the people around me wouldn’t understand.
Atheists are the vegans of the spiritual sphere – you know they probably have a point but they just seem so damn smug. It’s probably because it’s their opening line when they meet you.
In fact if I haven’t met you:
“Hi, I’m Luke, and I’m an atheist. Do you believe in god?…”
This is a difficult post to write. Most of my family and friends are very religious, and for the longest time so was I. For years I believed that Jesus Christ was my saviour. I was in the church band. I ran the youth band. I ran a home-cell group (people come to your house and we talk about god once a week). All in all I had one evening off per week where I didn’t have any religious obligations. I usually spent my off-days with my friends, who also had the night off because we probably had similar responsibilities at church.
By writing this I know I will probably alienate some people. That’s ok. If you feel alienated because I’m an atheist, then ask yourself why. Does it really make that big of a difference to you?

Ok, now to the why part

If someone asks you where your faith comes from, you should be able to tell them.
So I started asking myself questions. The first problem is that unless the person asking already had faith in god/s they’d probably not find my answers convincing.
It comes down to first principles – there aren’t many. If the answers to my questions are “Because the Bible tells me so”, then that’s not convincing enough. Belief in the Bible is predicated on some level of faith.
So I kept asking questions, and am still asking questions, and who knows, maybe down the line I find god again. All I can say for certain is these are the facts that seem the most  scientifically and statistically plausible. I could be wrong, this is just my journey, if your’s has been different, that’s good for you.

Belief in god is meant to be ambiguous

Say for instance that god does exist, and wants us to worship and love him of our own volition. Well, then he can’t make his existence obvious or we would be insane not to worship him, he is god after all – if he wants his creations to worship him then they probably don’t have a choice.
So then there has to be faith that god exists for us to love and worship him because we want to. So basically, we need believe without proof because if there is proof then it’s not really our choice.
If I said to you that if you love god you had to let your soul leave its body when an astroid came past our planet, you’d think I was flat-out nuts. But what if a close friend, whom you admire, told you the same thing, and brought you to a meeting where lots of other people really believed it. You might think they were all nuts, but hey, these people actually seem to believe this stuff, and none of them seemed whacko. Actually most of them were really down to earth (pun not intended) and seemed interesting. Ok, maybe they’re onto something, you think. You might go to a few more meetings just to check it out a bit more. Six months later you’re dead. You and all your new friends are drank poison because a rock came close to our planet. This is loosely the story of Heaven’s Gate (read about it here), a religious group that committed mass-suicide.
This sounds far fetched but as a species we tend to rely on the knowledge of others. If a person has all the credibility indicators to show that they know something, then we typically believe what they have to say. As people start to believe, credibility grows. After all a whole group of people couldn’t be wrong, surely not!

What religious debates get wrong

I wanted to hear from the best minds on both sides of the argument. Most of the time the atheist seems exhausted, and the religious leader infuriated. I guess it’s probably because for the non-believer, it’s not that important (unless they’re writing a book or something), and for the imam/priest/rabbi it’s an attack on their identity and way of life, so there is more likely to be offence than open mindedness.
It seems you can’t really gain much insight watching people duke it out.
Again, because existence in god can’t be proven, religious debates tend to become debates about where morality comes from, or whether it’s beneficial to believe in god, and not gods existence, and if god exists then which (if any) religion do they belong to?
Religious debates are a great way to help you settle into whichever argument you subscribe to, so that’s useful. However, confirmation bias isn’t a very good avenue for finding truth. That’s unless you happen to believe the correct thing from the get go, and chances are, you don’t.
From the religious side of the debate, everything that confirms your beliefs are taken as factual and everything else is from the devil trying to mislead you into spending eternity with him. So basically, if you allow yourself to have an open mind you are inviting satan in for a cup of tea.
Even though I subscribe to an atheistic view, what they get wrong is that they often try make fools out of religious people. This only serves to alienate, and frustrate believers. I’m sure that does the opposite of what was intended.

A possible origin of the gods

I attribute religions to cognitive biases. On the one hand these biases kept us alive by attaching meaning to things, but on the other hand some of those meanings were wrong.

Imagine you’re an early farmer. You have a small family and live with 10-20 other people in a valley somewhere. You don’t travel outside the valley much because there’s no need, and you’ll probably get killed by the neighbours, so you Netflix and chill.

In winter it rains and it sounds like voices in the mountains as the wind blows. It would be natural to say that something bigger than yourself, a goddess maybe, sings in the mountains and brings rain. It’s an easy conclusion to come to. You’re not exactly incentivised to go find out if there is a lady in the mountains. It’s storming after all, and you could get eaten by wild animals. You let that mental connection stay. In fact, you let it flourish, because maybe your life is really boring and it’s a good story, or maybe it’s actually real so if you figure out what the mountain lady likes maybe she’ll bring more rain.

You try shouting into the wind, you try kissing the floor, you try kidnapping an neighbour’s kid and offering them as a sacrifice, you try anything you can think of. Then one day you find some old fruit that had fermented a little and you happened to be a bit drunk and dancing naked, making quite a spectacle of yourself in fact. Suddenly you hear the voices echoing in the mountains, and it starts to rain. Now you know that the goddess of rain likes it when you drunkenly dance with your junk out, so next time you’re going through a bit of dry spell you start looking for magical fruit while limbering up for the big dance-off.

And presto, now there are many gods

Now over time you start seeing gods everywhere and they all have distinct personalities. You pray to them all, and because things have been going well (i.e. you’re not dead), you teach your children about these gods, and they teach their children, until these are the gods of old.

Over time things get better with the neighbours. Someone invented money and now you can trade a bit better, but you don’t really trust strangers.

One day you get chatting about your gods to someone from far distant lands, a short drive away today.  Apparently they also hear the singing in the mountains when it rains, and the sea tries to hug the sky when there’s a full moon. You realise, these could be the same gods! Now you trust those strangers much more – they believe the same stuff as you!

Little side note: these gods aren’t like modern day monotheistic gods. They are more like patron saints. Some may have actually transitioned to becoming modern religious deities. Have a look at Brigid of Kildare for example.

A god with the best return on investment

Then one day you find you’ve spent hours of your day trying to appease the many gods. You ask yourself: “OK, I know all the gods are great and equal, but which god gives the greatest ROI?”, and so you pick one, the best one in your opinion, the one true god.

Presto! Now you have monotheistic gods. Along the same lines, Ricky Gervais summed up why there are so many gods:

“Science is constantly proved all the time. If we take something like any fiction, any holy book, and destroyed it, in a thousand years’ time that wouldn’t come back just as it was. Whereas if we took every science book and every fact and destroyed them all, in a thousand years they’d all be back, because all the same tests would be the same result.”

How do I feel now that I’m an atheist?

 At first, I was angry at religion. It seems so many atheists are angry, but I don’t think they are. Often angry people are the loudest so we notice them.
My anger dissipated once:
1.) I realised I couldn’t take back any of the time and energy I’d given religion, and
2.) people in authority, pastors/elders/etc.,  are just people. People are flawed.
Now when I hear people talking about religion with anger in their voices, I know where they’re at. Things aren’t as they thought, and maybe they’re having issues of identity, either way, they should get over it. Let other people believe what they like.

What I miss

Religion is the great unifier. Belonging to a church felt like being part of a tribe. When I left that church there was a time where I didn’t know where I belonged. Luckily, there are other things I can do with other people.
Other than that, when I was religious I thought there was a specific plan for my life. That I was chosen by god. That I was special. I’ve found these beliefs to be harmful, but that’s just me.

Disclaimer

*I am not against people believing in god/s. My aim in writing this is to stop pretending I believe something I don’t. Secondly, I hope this brings some value to whoever reads this – either it will strengthen your resolve, or it will help you decide for yourself if you’re on the fence.