Based on sheer numbers, why do so many people reject atheism?
I've been thinking about this for the last two days. As you can imagine, there are numerous potential responses. I made a list of the reasons that came quickly to my head and realized that many of the initial responses can be different due to the vast differences between people (age, experiences, etc.) as people are not simply multiple clones of an original. Three thoughts came to me after pondering this for a while:
- The overwhelming majority of first responses are "programmed" or "superficial" once analyzed.
- These responses aren't limited to talking to others about atheism -- these are responses they are telling themselves, as well! Acknowledging this, what are the reasons? Is there -- or can there be -- a common denominator?
- I finally settled on this very unscientific core reason: FEAR. The fear of there not being a god. The fear caused by coming to the realization that there is not a god -- any god -- especially late in life can be a life-shattering experience ... especially for those who have been devout believers.
When a person comes to the realization that there is no god, eternal redemption or heaven (or any other form of afterlife), making "life count" based on self-determination becomes a daily way of living.
If you have a different primary reason for most people rejecting atheism, what is it? I really want to know your thoughts.
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This is a profoundly important question. I agree that fear is huge in explaining why so many reject atheism. Fear of non-existence after death. Fear of a meaningless existence in this life. Fear of making a mistake and winding up in hell for an eternity. Fear of social rejection and the destruction of personal relationships. I'll have to think more about your question, but fear is huge.
Michael Shermer, who is a writer for Scientific American and publisher of Skeptic Magazine, has described Type A and Type B mistakes, and how evolution favors individuals who make Type A versus Type B mistakes. To explain, let's say that a bushman is walking through the savanna 50,000 years ago and hears rustling in the high grass. He understands that it might be a predator or might be the wind. If he operates on the assumption that it's a predator and runs, only to find out it's the wind, that is a Type A mistake. If he operates on the assumption that it's the wind and ends up killed by a predator, that's a Type B mistake. There is a cost to running from the wind all the time, but it is a lesser cost than making a Type B mistake. Michael Shermer argues that while neither is optimal, individuals who make Type A mistakes generally live long enough to reproduce, while those that make Type B mistakes don't. Evolutionary forces tend to create species that make more Type A mistakes than Type B mistakes. So when an individual considers god and hell, that person has a predisposition to make a Type A mistake. That means they operate on the assumption that hell awaits and run to safety. He makes a compelling argument which I think has merit.
Another point: Once a person believes in heaven and is convinced they'll be in paradise for eternity it is exquisitly painful to lose it. And it is a loss. Not in absolute terms, but in the believer's mind they have just lost everything. That's a pretty heavy anchor that binds people to their dearest wish: eternal peace and happiness.
Many people have been brain-washed into religion ever since they were young. Basically for them, accepting Atheism is like telling them to forget everything they've believed every since they were young and accept the better resolution (presuming). In short words, for them, it's like telling a cow to stop producing milk or telling a bird to stop flying, to stop them from doing their everyday thing.
Also, many people show fear towards the theory about "life after death" and Religion comforts that zone with promise of Heaven, while at the same time, the doom of Hell (to create obedient followers).
If we'd tell them that there's no one guarding us, no one protecting us, no one actually helping us in our life, what would be the outcome?
People are fearful of things they don't know yet and Religion covers that up in the simplest way. Atheism, the complete contrast of religion is the Reality they fear the most. So when people are put in the shackles of decision, they'd rather follow something that they can at least "hope" for rather than accepting a "harsh" reality. I'm not saying that Atheism is a harsh reality, I'm saying that Atheism needs to be understood more thoroughly by the religious people as they (not generalizing) think we're just immoral (since the freaks think Morals came from religion), nihilistic etc. But Atheism is the lack of belief in God, atheists don't hope for a better world when they die (as religious people do), they know that this is the only World that they will live in and thus they do their best to make the most out of it here.
I mean, we Atheists help others because we're Human and that we should care for each other, while Religious people help others because through that deed, they will secure a place in Heaven. Which by my standarts is more like helping someone out of interest than selflessness and humanism.
First, let's define "Reject Atheism'. I assume that this refers to someone who is unwilling to change their current belief. What confounds me is that so many people continue to hold onto this belief in spite of the information and evidence available today. Most believers don't seem to be able to apply rationality or logic to God and/or Religion. In some cases I believe 'Fear' may be a factor, but in most cases I think its an unwillingness to let go of whatever belief they may have. I believe the same unwillingness would be encountered whether that person was contemplating a change to a 'different' God/Religion or a change to 'no' God/Religion. This would be a good survey if someone could extract true feelings and reasons from those surveyed.
The reward for theism is the prospect of eternal life after death. I wonder how many Christians, etc., have really thought deeply about what that means. The prospect of spending eternity singing in a choir to please a mass-murdering tyrant is actually horrifying.
Atheism offers more of what we experienced before our birth. No more pain, sorrow, sickness, worry, debt, work.... No more time.
In my personal opinion:
First, atheism isn't rejected. It's the default position but unfortunately many people seem to have a problem accepting reality. Instead the question should be, what makes people cling to religion and superstition? What makes religion so successful.
- Fear of death is a major factor for clinging to religion. It is common denominator in as good as all religions (and even some beliefs that doesn't qualify as religions). I suspect this one is the most primal, most powerful reason for the success of religion.
- Fear of hell and hope of heaven.
- Accepting that there is no one watching over you, no guide, no enforcer, seems to be problematic for some.
- Loosing invested time and trust in loved ones. Accepting that the time spent on worship and belief, and accepting that what you have been told by trusted people have been wrong, seems incurmountable to many.
- Indoctrination, tradition, ignorace and a need to belong in social groops seems like other major factors.
- That those in power happily feed the flames, because religion gives them sway over the masses.
Wow, Pragmatic is right when he described lost years invested in religion. That's a tough one. For my own circumstance I had to come to terms with the decades that I invested in nonsense. I also had to come to terms with the fact that my father, his father, his father and his father were all wrong. Seriously. My great, great grandfather traveled to Texas in the mid 1,800's and set up a church south of San Antonio. My ancestors were mistaken about what they ordered their lives around. My years and their years invested in a mistake was a pretty bitter pill to take.
And you deserve a lot of credit for managing to break through such a profound mental obstacle.
Thanks, Pragmatic. Words from you and a few others are surprisingly important to me. Thanks again.
For many of my in-laws, accepting atheism and rejecting christianity would mean an almost total loss of community, friends, family, social support and in some cases, employment. Some of them work in church schools and have very few non-christian friends.
Additionally, their identity, who they are and how they view the world, is all bound up in belief. For these reasons, and those cited by others, they could not even contemplate a non-christian existence. They would be totally destroyed.
As Prag said, kudos to all those who were in deep and have broken free.