6 Aug 2009

Natural Born Atheists

An interesting short article from the Proud Atheists blog. Not merely a rant about the lunacy of the Pentecostal church with its unwavering message of "you're going to hell!", but picks up on the idea that there are people just born unbelievers. Religious indoctrination starts at such an early age that it is very difficult to investigate how, or even whether, the average human goes through phases of religious thinking and development. From the comments, there are a few out there who do not recall lapsing from any religion but rather have always been faithless skeptics.

As some religions would dearly love to find some 'God spot' in the brain, thereby connecting us mere mortals to some alleged metaphysical eldorado, so they wish to claim that we are all 'wired for God', thereby adding yet another lame metaphysical proof of God's existence. I mean, if you find a door then it must lead somewhere - building a door on a brick wall is slightly surreal but does evolution include such aesthetic pranks? I'll come back to this door in a minute.

So are people born with a natural sense of religion or are they just indoctrinated into their parents' cult? There are some for whom belief is just not part of the program. I, for one, do not recall ever believing the stuff spoken by priests. Not only did the words not mean anything but I saw how people behaved in both church and outside it and, apart from the rampant hypocrisy, I was left bemused as to what exactly they were doing. Kneeling down in a gesture of prayer was easy to imitate but what was going on in their heads?

I suspect - or perhaps hope - that most young children go through a process of thinking through who they are as their brain goes beyond learning how to walk and starts to focus on where to walk to. I also think parents do their kids an injustice by not listening to what they try to tell them about life, the universe and their dreams. I do recall having an intense period in which it was very important for me to figure out who I was, what was it that made me conscious of being me, and so on. I had nothing that could be called 'faith' in any great gig in the sky. I was the doubting Thomas - show me! However, the revelation that eventually appeared was very interesting and best described in Buddhist terms as naked awareness - a kind of atomic consciousness. Unfortunately, I knew nothing of Buddhism at the age 6 or 7 but I did know that such experiences were not part of the Catholic canon. My natural born faithlessness grew into a conscious rejection of the whole racket. Not only was Christianity wrong (people are wrong about many things all the time, it's called learning) but it was actually a lie, which struck me as a more serious charge.

So coming back to that door. The attempt by some religions to distort neuroscience into locating some God-terminal in the brain has already started. The structure of our mind is a fascinating and important area of research, both from a scientific and personal point of view. The structure of our deepest and most basic part of the mind is normally left unconscious and yet in some individuals under some circumstances it does manifest. Such experiences are often life-changing and hence should be treated with respect. In my opinion, the delusion propagated by religions is not the delusion of such experiences but in the mind-map propagated to explain such experiences. The mental door is not a gateway to a metaphysical deity but the opening up of previously secret areas of our mind.

Are we, in the end natural born fideists or atheists? We are undoubtedly conscious. We can choose to open those doors and explore our consciousness - explore what it means to be human - or we can get faith and close all those doors, lock them up and throw away the keys. Thankfully, those keys can always be found again if one starts to wonder about those locked doors.

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