why people are atheists, part one

Recently I have read several book written by atheists or about atheism. I am noticing a few recurring threads, a few persistent reasons behind people’s unbelief. Ultimately we could point to Romans 1:18-19 as an explanation, but here I’m looking at penultimate explanations (nontheological). I’d love to hear your thoughts (it would actually be helpful to me). Here is what I have noticed so far (this turned into a mulitpart post, so stick with if for a few days):

1. Many, it seems, reject the idea of God because they crave moral license, especially in areas of sexuality. Many have rejected the idea of God because they see him as a cosmic killjoy, especially in areas of sexual freedom. In the 18th century Marquis de Sade wrote about sexual gratification through the infliction of pain (sadism). In his writings it is clear that de Sade views the notion of God and religion as sexually repressive and standing in the way of man’s enjoyment of life. For de Sade, “atheism made sexual experimentation legitimate and interesting” (McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism, pg. 35). In the second half of the 19th century AC Swinburne repeated much of de Sade’s arguments. The man’s sexual appetites were insatiable and perverse. McGrath writes, “When rumors of his homosexual antics began to circulate, Swinburne supplemented them with what everyone hoped was invention (but nobody could really be sure) – such as his passionate declaration that he had brought an evening of sexual depravity with a monkey to its climax by eating it” (pg. 134). He regarded the Christian God as a sadist who created a desire for pleasure and them “slays desire with shame”. Others have been very forthright in saying that they had sexual motives for rejecting God and the morality he subjected humanity too. When motivated, they were able to find reason enough to oust God from their worldview and live lives of license.

Certainly not all atheists are depraved. Some have clung to morals; yet, they have done so inconsistently. Many have followed George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) in believing man can still be good and moral without God. Nietzsche, however, was quick to point out the inconsistencies in Eliot’s compromise. “When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident: this point has to be exhibited again and again, despite the English flatheads. Christianity is a system, a whole view of things though out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole: nothing necessary remains in one’s hands” (McGrath, 132). For Nietzsche this was a source of great anxiety, yet for others it seemed like (seems like) liberation. If there is no God, then man is god and the sole determiner of what is right (if the word can even be used anymore).

2 thoughts on “why people are atheists, part one

  1. the neo-atheists, like richard dawkins and hitchens pose a problem, because their reasoning behind atheism is the danger (and rightly attributed) of religion. unfortunately, their arguments pose a significant consideration due to their popularity, arguments, prose, and fervor. in many ways, they are the evangelicals of atheism…oddly enough. any further thoughts on this perspective?

  2. Will,
    I’ll mention Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens in a later post. After reading them I conclude they have nothing new to say, but the certainly say it vigorously. I felt stupid reading God Delusion, not because his arguments were profound, but because he kept calling me stupid and his sarcasm was disarming. I found him intellectually dishonest (i.e. “atheists don’t have faith”. Really. I’m sure he’s read Polanyi who argues convincingly that science is deeply faithbased, as is atheism) and dismissive, but I’ll get to them in subsequent posts. I’ll finish outlining the major ’causes’ of atheism and then offer response (eventually).

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