Now of course there are many causes for atheism–personal, intellectual, emotional, societal–and I respect them all in varying degrees, but the one I come across a lot is this: a bad experience with a particular Christian or with a particular Christian institution. In other words, I believe that hypocrisy and setting a bad example accounts for much of it (not all of it, much of it). (I tried to research the causes of atheism in academic journals but didn’t come up with anything…so this is just my anecdotal opinion).
What I’m saying is not to be confused with the reasons for Atheism, the justifications and arguments that support it. That’s a different topic. And as I’ve said in the past, explaining the cause of something doesn’t explain it away. Theism has psychological causes too. What’s interesting about atheism is that only 2 to 11% of the world is atheist, and many in China apparently, making it an anomaly.
Atheism is the view that there is no God and that religion is generally false; but when you talk to most American atheists, 90% of what they say is actually just about one religion: Christianity, and usually a particular version of it – fundamentalism. Chances are they think Buddhism is super cool (most people do). That’s a hint. Atheism is the drawing away from something, a revolt, a critique.
Update! I stand corrected. The title should rather be “What Causes Agnosticism?” I was told by someone, and I agree with him, that religious hypocrisy can and does lead a person towards agnosticism, away from organized religion – but not necessarily atheism. That’s a good point.
What hypocrisy? Hating gay people and abortion, just to take two big examples. If you are gay, you probably were judged and hated by Christians throughout your life. I don’t blame any gay person for being hostile to Christianity; it’s only natural. And as the world moves on and young people are more and more okay with gay people, and as Christianity drags behind on this issue (except the new Pope and more progressive forms of Christianity), this will still be the natural reaction. Now hating abortion is one thing (hate the sin, not the sinner…right?), and I think there is a compassionate way to be pro-life, but Christians have taken this to another level. To the point that I don’t want to be part of that crowd anymore. Sometimes pro-life is thinly veiled sexism or classism. Also, where’s the perspective here? On the one hand, there are real people dying from hunger, war, and poverty all over the globe. On the other hand, there are potential people being aborted for various reasons (including rape protection of the mother, or poverty). Hmm…I wonder where we should spend our resources, and time, and judgment on? I wonder what Jesus would do? When we have solved all the worlds imminent problems (hunger, poverty, discrimination, war), then maybe we can start yelling about abortion and how terrible it is. It takes up too much of our moral outrage.
Alas, this is how it was, is, and will always be. A significant percentage of the Christian population will be hypocrites. That’s human nature and math really, and Jesus predicted it:
“For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Religion tends to set the bar pretty high in terms of morality, so, for example, loving your enemies will be difficult for Christians. This goes for any religion. Calling yourself Christian is very easy, but it should be the hardest thing to call yourself. This explains why Jesus called out the hypocrites, chastised the religious people who were keeping people from God. It made him angry. I suppose he was judging them, but it was by their own standards (Jesus teaches that God judges people by their own words). I suppose Jesus loved the hypocrites too, and would easily forgive them, but they were blinded by their own self-righteousness; the same blinding, ignorant self-righteousness that infects religion today.
Judge ye not, yet Christians love to judge. When you are constantly around religious people, it’s very tempting and natural. Keeping my distance from religion, while accepting its teachings, is one way I try to cope. The only perfect Christianity is the one in your heart.