From the blog

Why I Don’t Think Much About Atheism Anymore

So I’ve been on this YA kick because I’m researching a writing project.1 As such, I started on Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.2 The prologue did a great job of setting up an enticing premise. Then in the first chapter, the protagonist–a teenager from a dystopian future trailer park–gives his personal philosophical manifesto. For some reason.3

The speil was predictable new atheist talking points: how evolution is true, and how that somehow disproves the supernatural. How humanity is on its own and we should just deal with it. How all religion is just fairytales used to manipulate the non-enlightened.

At age twenty, this sort of thing would have sent me into a cocoon. I would have journaled my inner thoughts and doubts, constructed arguments and counter-arguments examining the issue from all sides, and stared in horror at the unblinking stars as I contemplated being alone in the universe.

But that didn’t happen this time. I shrugged it off and continued on. My main emotion was irritation that such a silly argument could have such widespread acceptance.4

Is it bad that Matt of 305 doesn’t spend as much time with this stuff as Matt of 20? Have I become intellectually lazy or stubborn? At the risk of being self-serving, I don’t think so. Here’s why:

  • I’ve already thought deeply about this. Nowadays, I don’t think much about whether God exists. But from about age seventeen to twenty-four, I thought about it ALL. THE. TIME. I read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins6 when I was twenty. After finishing it, I went for a long walk behind my house to process everything. At college, I used to go to a creek behind my dorm. I sat by the gurgling waters, squeezed my eyes shut, and willed myself to think through the issue of God’s existence with all the brainpower I could muster. I was figuring out whether there was a God–the most important question possible. I had to think through everything.

The point is, I’ve already thought about the topic a whole lot. And at a time when I had the freedom and desire to do so in the best way possible. I’m well past the point of diminishing returns.

  • I want to move forward. When you’re young and have your whole life ahead of you, it’s both valuable and important to examine your beliefs. After all, before you take too many steps down the path, you should make sure you’re on the right path.

But after you’ve stared at the path signs long enough, you eventually need to start walking. After all my thinking, I remained convinced, through some amalgamated web of intellectual and spiritual reasons, that Christianity is true. I suppose I could keep examining and re-examining this conclusion to be *extra* sure that that this is really my conclusion. But that gets exhausting. There came a point when I wanted to stop defending my decision to be a Christian, and actually start walking as a Christian.

  • I’m more comfortable with my beliefs. I’ve noticed something about myself when I hear an argument I disagree with. If I secretly worry that the other side might be right, I get defensive–I can hardly stand to read their argument, and I spend whole evenings brooding over the reasons why the other side is wrong. But when I’m sure the other person is actually wrong, I relax. I can hear the other person out, and I let go of the issue afterward. The more comfortable you are with your beliefs, the less you stew over them.

That’s how I’m starting to feel with Ready Player One-type arguments. I’m so convinced that this particular form of unbelief is incorrect, that I don’t feel the need to dwell on it. I can just shrug and go about my life.

Of course, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to examine your beliefs. Doing that is both good and healthy. Just don’t feel the need to do that forever. You can reach a stopping point. Then you can relax and join me in chucking insults at YA books….


1  Yes, I’ve been working on a YA novel. And yes, I would love to tell you all about it in agonizing detail. Because of this, I strongly recommend not asking me about it.

2  Yes, Steven Spielberg recently did a movie based on this. I’m only a few chapters into the book, and I haven’t seen the movie. But as a snobby former English-major, I’m obligated to say that the book is soooo much better.

3  Philosophy aside, this was a weird literary choice. The speech is about three times longer than it needs to be, and grinds the story to a halt for no good reason. True, giving this kind of grand theory of everything is a very teenage thing to do (I gave more than my share of soapbox manifestos as a teenager). And yes, it is revealing about the way this character views the world. But it still feels like the author indulged in his own philosophical stump speech at the expense of the novel. I’d go into more detail, but that’s for my other blog, “Matt Gripes about YA Literature.”

4  In case there are any atheists reading this, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I’m fully aware that lots of atheists acknowledge that the “new atheism” arguments from sources like Ready Player One are bad. I don’t mean to paint the whole worldview with that brush.

5  Okay, okay, 31.

6  By the way, if you’re looking for a helpful example of today’s best arguments for atheism, I encourage you to read…..something else. Dawkins is a talented writer, but he’s a really bad philosopher.


Photo by Federico Soffici

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