But can I still be smart?
An interesting thing happened earlier this week that made me realize how susceptible to peer pressure I am in this religious quest of mine. I was at a playgroup, chatting with the mother next to me about politics and world events, and she casually threw out the statement, "obviously we all know that the Bible is a bunch of made up stories, not to be taken seriously."
My first reaction was almost a sense of guilt that I'd been gullible enough to believe these silly fairy tales -- I KNEW these Christians were full of it! This reaction was totally ridiculous on a couple of levels:
1) I have now done enough reading and research into the historical accuracy of the Bible (in particular the New Testament) that I feel pretty confident that I could take almost anyone to the mat who says it's not a reliable resource. 2) This is a woman who I've known for a while now and who I do not think of as being very intelligent. I've heard her ramble on enough occasions that I'd formed an opinion of her as an illogical thinker with a limited intellect. It's amazing that someone who I had such little respect for intellectually could make me feel insecure with a flippant, poorly-though-out comment (I am 100% sure that she's never put any critical thought into that statement and could not defend her position for a minute if questioned.)
On the way home I thought about why I'd reacted the way I did. Had she touched a nerve? Did I secretly think that all this Jesus/God stuff was totally baseless? It wasn't exactly that. I do have major doubts that still linger but I honestly find Christianity to be very compelling. I thought some more and realized that what bothered me is that I had no interest in standing up for my opinions and arguing with her for fear of seeming stupid.
In our culture (at least in certain non-religious circles), atheism is shorthand for being smart. Rolling your eyes at God and people who go to church is a great way to show everyone how scientific (i.e. smart) you are; and using God's name in vain and making profane jokes about Jesus gets you the extra bonus points of showing that you're *such* a logical thinker that you don't harbor secret superstitions about divine retribution. "No irrational fears here! I base my beliefs on science and logic only because I'm educated and intelligent."
And in this materialist environment it's easy to appear to intellectually one-up any Christian who you might be arguing with since atheism has the crutch of "proof" to fall back on -- because they limit their beliefs to that which can be measured by human-created instruments, atheists have the impressive-sounding credentials of being able to prove many of their beliefs on paper. Though Christians can make compelling, fact-based arguments of their own, at some point it does come down to the fact that their lives revolve around an entity that cannot be seen or measured.
I think this is one of the bigger intellectual blocks I face. Many Christian writers have posited that atheists have mental blocks against Christianity because they don't want to change their lifestyle or they're afraid of God's judgment or something. I don't think that's the real problem, at least it wasn't for me. The big problem is letting go of the "atheism = intelligence; Christianity = superstitious, weak intellect" mindset.
Those of you who run in mostly Christian circles may find this hard to believe, but anyone who knows many atheists will most likely agree that the emotional attachment atheists have to their beliefs is the feeling it gives them of being smart.
I think this is the big fight Christians have to face in the mass media: to break down the stereotype that atheists are just so logical and intelligent and emotionally strong that they don't need silly crutches like God to make them feel better.