Why I am an Atheist

by Henry McQuale

For a while I have been thinking about the reasons for my disbelief in God -well,  any sort of gods. I have never been quite sure of what could be the right explanation for that, and I have been entertaining a series of hypotheses about it, but I think that only one really explains why I believe -or rather, why I disbelieve in what I disbelieve.

My first  hypothesis was that I was an atheist merely because I was a clever and skeptical person by nature.  That, as you can see, was also an arrogant hypothesis. For starters, I don’t think I’m substantially smarter than the average believer, and secondly, on further inspection that just doesn’t seem like the right cause of my atheism.

The real answer (or at least a big part of it), now I know, is much more simple: I was never indoctrinated into believing in God or gods. There was no real intellectual victory for me and my atheism. It has been with me all along. Yes I was exposed to religion in my interactions with other people since I was little, but the fact is that with no constant reinforcement and with no aggressive preaching about the infinite horrors of hell, my mind never needed to acquiesce into believing any religious doctrine at all. At worst I was puzzled by the strange beliefs and rituals of my religious friends and family members. That also brought a slight feeling of being an outsider, but thankfully -mostly to said friends and family members- it was never a truly alienating feeling, so I never felt the need to even just fake my belief to avoid a really unbearable feeling of loneliness (loneliness has been a constant in my life, but for different reasons).

So that is it. As vulgar as unheroical as it is, my atheism was, in its origins, basically the product of not being exposed to religion in a robust or aggressive way. It is a bit disappointing for me, because I have always been somewhat proud of my disbelief, not only on religious matters, but about everything that seems to be unsupported by evidence and reason. For some years, maybe not in a conscious manner, I have been styling myself as an atheist of the heroic sort, such as the one of two of my personal intellectual heroes,  Bertrand Russell and David Hume. But the truth is that I haven’t earned my atheism by embracing any principle of minimal rationality or evidence, as much as I would love that to be the case. There was never a rocky road from belief to disbelief for me, and  no sense of breaking any dogmatic chain: I was born free and nothing has really threatened to make me a slave of religion.

In  a way, that is also profoundly silly. And it is the kind of silliness that makes some people envy those that are tormented because they think that makes them deep.  I envy intellectual atheists because their atheism seems enormously valuable to me in the face of circumstances of intolerance towards those who dare to think for themselves even if those thoughts make them depart from the ways of accepted customs and mores.  If I were less silly I would find it that it is a wonderful thing that I was able to grow up in circumstances where my disbelief (and the disbelief of my mother) was not scandalous whatsoever. It is silly because now I believe that we should strive to foster societies where disbelief and atheism are no pejorative terms anymore, and what I lament in my glibness should be celebrated as a clear case of cultural progress.

As a consolation to my unheroic natural atheism, though, I still can indulge in thinking about my reasons for still being an atheist in the face of the more sophisticated arguments in favor of God that I have stumbled upon during my philosophical journey, which now can indeed contain some relevant intellectual components. I think I have remained an  atheist  in no trivial manner because of those intellectual reasons, but what those reasons are I will leave for later.

For now, I will just say that at least I’m no longer as embarrassed for being a natural atheist -although I will also  have to say some other things about my idea of “natural atheism” in the future.