I am no longer an Atheist
Originally posted June 9, 2011
A Question about Religious Identity
How would you describe your stance on religion? I am a religious person. I am an Atheist I am an atheist
As a high school student, and for my early years at MIT, my answer would have been a firm "I am an Atheist" (with a capital A). Part of my identity was based on my explicit disbelief in a God. I frequented Atheist blogs, read Richard Dawkins, and engaged with creationists. In the years since, I haven't felt the urge to engage in debate with creationists. I still keep some Atheist blogs on my RSS feed, although I usually don't read them through. The conflicts, the rallying points, the issues that atheists take up seem so unimportant and trivial to me now. For example, the fight to have "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance seems so trivial. How pitiable is it that someone can make their life's legacy the removal of two words from a pledge? Although my determination as an Atheist waned over the years, I still considered my atheism a part of my identity.
There is a question that I've heard many, many times in my debates with creationists. "What evidence would it take for you to believe in God? If no amount of evidence can convince you, then isn't you belief based on faith just as much as ours?" This question used to get me fired up and heavily annoyed - partly because the question implicitly framed the debate as religious people being absolutely correct and trying to "help" the atheists by helping them believe (no thanks!). But I think it also irked me because I couldn't really think of any evidence that would convince me, and if that were true, then maybe my belief was really based on "faith". Today, I stumbled across a video of Dawkins responding to exactly this question. His response was that "yes, there would be evidence that could convince me, but I can't possibly imagine what it would be". In my opinion, it seems like a clever rewording of "No, there is no evidence that could convince me".
I think that this question that irked me so much had some grain of truth to it. Of course, I had plenty of objective reasons to disbelieve and didn't need "faith" to disbelieve, but I also had a stake in the outcome of the debate - "This is who I am, and how dare you deny my existence?". I let my identity as an Atheist cloud my judgment. Today, as I listened to the audience member ask that same question, I felt a little bit of that old adrenaline rush, and I felt slightly upset and annoyed that people so stupid still existed in this world. But unlike in days past, I recognized that response, and let it pass.