Perhaps you've seen all the headlines today describing a Pew Forum which shows that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than believers. The religious community seems to be puzzled by this revelation. As the non-believing community continues to hold the title of largest American minority and as it seems this trend is in no danger of slowing, I think it's crucial to understand the reasons for this new information.
Although it's true that all human beings are born atheists (without gods) it is an unfortunate reality that by the age of five, the most fundamental years of psychological development, most Americans are either indirectly exposed to or directly indoctrinated with religion. Most religions target children for this very reason, at the age when appeals to authority are absolutely imperative for survival. But just like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, there comes a time in a person's life when they must, for themselves, weigh the evidence of certain claims.
The adult atheist in America has a lot to lose by rejecting religious claims. Family ostracism, professional discrimination, the narrowing of social community, etc. Atheists are commonly likened to dogmatic mass murderers like Hitler and Stalin as well as being accused of all base immorality. George Bush Sr. even pronounced the unbelieving community as unpatriotic sub-citizens.
While considering these remarkable sacrifices the atheist must make sure that her decision to reject religious claims is built upon the firm ground of reason. This naturally involves a studious education of the holy books as well as a sober view of how the teachings of these holy books play out in the world around us. For many these observations are so unlikely and scientifically unverifiable that the most reasonable response to the claims of religion is agnosticism. We just don't know. For others of us the claims of religion are so devastatingly irreconcilable that we simply must reject the claims out of conscience.
The Catholic church in the pre-Reformation/pre-printing press era built their empire on the ignorance of the masses. Why was this? I submit it was because they knew that, left to think for themselves, the masses would see enough of these holy books to warrant a safe amount of skepticism about their claims.
A philosopher once said that the only book you need to suggest for someone to convince them that Christianity is not true is the Bible. This is my story and the story of many of my beautiful, unbelieving friends. It doesn't mean that there are not intelligent Christians or that there aren't dumb atheists. It just means that most atheists have weighed the evidence. We know our holy books. We've sat in the pews and read the theology books and paid the tuition fees for seminary.
And as much as it may rub the religious, the evidence indicates that we've taken it a lot more seriously than the believers. That should be a sobering thought. Lots of love and kind thoughts to you all as you continue to investigate the truth in this strange, beautiful world. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of belief, we're in this thing together. I hope this finds you well.