Maybe Not So Little

Image - portrait of Voltaire
Voltaire, looking cheerful.

An article showed up in my Flipboard feed yesterday, “Little Things Can Make an Atheist.” I read it, because I was curious to see what the “little things” were. It struck me that the “little things” the author referred to were specific theological claims, rather than propositions about defensibility of the reality of [any version of] God. I don’t know that the theological claims are “little,” really – at least not to the people who affirm them. Relative to basic principles, like “metaphysical claims are necessarily false because they violate our assumptions about truth” or something like that, however, I can see how the “little things” moniker might seem reasonable.

What I wonder is why people find it more reasonable or feasible to give up assuming God than just to modify their theology.

Is it because the very idea of God is fused with a specific theology in such a way that they can’t be separated, so that if the theology fails, the premise of God has to fail as well? What leads to that fusion?

Or is it because the premise of God seems to entail some theology, and no theology seems to pass the test?

Or that theological speculation begins to seem tedious or unproductive, so it’s given up, the way a person gives up a puzzle that doesn’t seem to have a solution or a book that stops being entertaining?

Or does it have something to do with an unsatisfied desire for evidence? Or, for a particular kind of evidence? [Because it also persistently seems to me that there is a kind of evidence – personal experience, individual stories, etc. – that religious people accept that is discounted by rejectors of religion; and conversely, that the kind of evidence demanded by religion rejectors – experimental data, logical necessity, or both – is not demanded by religious people, who are willing to go along with their preferred narratives as long as they’re not irrefutably ruled out. I leave aside those religious people who go along with preferred narratives that actually have been definitively ruled out!]

In other words, what I wonder is what all this has to do with preference and desire, and the directions they take. It’s hard for me to believe that the “little things” of the article are really at the bottom of whatever it is that distinguishes people who persist in their preference or desire for God, and those who pursue a different preference or desire.

2 responses to “Maybe Not So Little”

  1. I think that article is definitely more along the lines of “little contradictions about Christianity” since most of it is about Jesus. However, I still sort of get what they were going for. Becoming an atheist is a slow process where little thoughts chip away at your religious beliefs until you finally start to reject belief in God. It’s a gradual process of a lot of little things; at least, it was for me.

    As to your point about adjusting your theology instead of just abandoning religion altogether, I think you definitely have a point. For a long time I just chose not to agree with some of the things the church said though I was still a believer. However, as an atheist, it reaches a point where the whole system just starts to feel wrong. For me it was learning about the origins of my religion and then other religions, and it’s a sort of compounding conclusion.

    Anyway, hope this gave some insight. I think you make some really good points.


    • Thanks for your comment, Travis – and yes, I’d agree, the quotes do seem to cluster around Christianity. The degree to which Christianity is assumed in discussions of “religion” is astonishing, even in academic religious studies, and I’m guessing also in atheist discussions.
      It is precisely the “feeling” element, which you mention, that strikes me as probably important. I have asked (and answered) lots of the questions in the list myself, and I suspect lots of Christians have, but with different results, so this makes me suspect that motives and desires come into play in the outcome(s). Not that I have a theory of exactly how.

      Liked by 1 person

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