Skip to content

Inauthenticity with atheism and theism

February 5, 2010

I am used often to hearing two kinds of stories. I hear stories of ex-Mormons, ex-Christians, and ex-theists who talk about how theism was so stifling. I hear stories of how people saw a reality with God as being hopely devaluing and depressing, or in some cases, how their belief in God reduced us all to pawns (not an empowering thought). Or perhaps they saw forcing a belief in deities as utterly incongruent with the way they saw the world/universe actually works, so they always felt drained trying to reconcile the two.

Some way or another, this gnawing doubt managed to become a throbbing pain. So these people are ex-whatever they were.

I see such stories as being stories of authenticity and inauthenticity. These people are raised in ways that are inauthentic to them…they are told and trained to believe something that to the core feels wrong. And their bodies, at every step of the way, seeks to reject such foreign invaders.  If they cannot cast of these viral cells, then they will grow sick (at least internally) and may die (at least internally). But if they can cast off the pathogens, they will become well and vibrant in an authentic existence.

The problem is that things aren’t quite as simple. To people who experience this, it seems clear: theism or Christianity or Mormonism or whatever was the pathogen, the disease agent. An objectively bad thing. But things just don’t bear out that way.

Many exes seem to talk past believing friends or family members because of this assumption. It’s a bit tragic, because oftentimes, as ex-members we believe that we have a unique “insider position”. After all, weren’t we the same as those others? So, now that we’ve moved on or moved past, we know what’s best in the chain.

This doesn’t work generally. I think the problem is because authenticity and inauthenticity aren’t about objectivity. Rather, they are deeply subjective. Regardless of whether Mormonism is or is not true, Mormonism can still resonate (or fail to resonate) within an individual. The same can be true of any other idea, worldview, philosophy, or concept. So, if something doesn’t work out with us, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it won’t work out with everyone else. We like to speak in terms of objectivity (Why shouldn’t something that doesn’t work out not work out for everyone? What is true is true for all, right? [Truth relativism will bring some problems]) The problem is that we are comparing apples to oranges. We are trying to speak about objectivity using the evidences of subjectivity. We are trying to speak about what is objectively true using what appeals to us and resonates within us. And the two very often differ.

So far, I’ve only talked about one story. But what is the other?

Well, from believers, I hear something rather different. I hear people who talk about how atheism was depressing, stifling, utterly “empty.” On Slightly Moderated Stream of Consciousness, there was a commenter who talked in these terms. I have heard other theists use stridently more criticizing terms. It seems to me that they are just as serious in their experiences too (many of these people have gone through doubting experiences), but they too are prone to confuse the subjectivity of their experiences as an indictment of objective qualities of atheism.

I think this is easily explicable if we use a model of personal authenticity and inauthenticity. I can easily admit that some people authentically are theists. That is what “fits” them. That is what feels ‘right’ to them. They see the universe (and various things within), and to them it makes sense to assign it to a God (or gods).

Although their position seems strange and utterly foreign to me, I think what is important is to try to understand the difference in inception of positions (what is the subjective experience of being in another person’s shoes. You can put on the shoes, but can you put on the other person’s experience of putting them on? [oh gasp, those dreaded qualia!]), because these differences warp everything else.

Advertisements

From → Uncategorized

10 Comments
  1. Thanks. This actually gives me some insight into my feelings about theism and atheism. As you know, I respect atheism as a position because I value authenticity so highly. I recognize — especially having been raised in a conservative religious setting — the courage it can take for certain individuals to admit that they just don’t believe in God or experience God the way others do. I am aware of individuals who want to believe, but simply can’t.

    I experience God in very powerful ways on a regular basis. What I’m pretty convinced I have no right to do is judge others who don’t have those kinds of experiences, or make assumptions about why they don’t. From my theistic perspective, I see it as possible that God chooses to test certain individuals by not revealing himself to them the way he’s revealed himself to me, to see what they’re made of, to see what kinds of choices they make even believing that we as human beings are existentially alone in the cosmos. I also feel that atheists provide a valuable service to the Church when they criticize hypocrisy or bad behavior. I hope this doesn’t come across as patronizing to non-believers…

    But the bottom line is I’m OK with just letting folks figure this stuff out for themselves. I have only one question for anybody — theist or atheist: Are you being honest with yourself? If so, I don’t have anything to criticize in you (so long as we can figure out some way of getting along). I don’t assume that you can only be an atheist by lying to yourself or being inauthentic in some way.

    I think at the heart of the problem you’ve identified here is insecurity on the part of individuals, who feel that their subjective experience has to be validated by having everyone else have the same experience they do…

  2. Thanks, Andrew. This post was a great way of explaining and exploring the subjective nature of our existences.

    I still swing back and fourth in my mind from atheism to anti-theism and back as I weed out the baggage of decades past of fitting the square peg in the round hole. I believe it’s those moments of anti-theism that connect me with where I’m at fault as it is the most hypocritical. Doing such puts me in the position of not accepting another person’s journey when I’m demanding that they accept mine. Hypocritical.

    John:
    You’re last paragraph, to me, expresses one of the core principles of why we humans are capable of treating each other with such great cruelty.

  3. I’m part of the first group, except that I never really found the church and it’s teachings stifling until after I decided it wasn’t true. I still think it would be nice if it were true, but it’s just so unlikely that I can never take this sentiment seriously.

    It seems I’m couching things in slightly different terms from your post though, because although I don’t think we can ever grasp Truth or the thing-in-itself or whatever you call it completely, there are varying degrees of verisimilitude, and for me science seems closer than religion, but I’m biased. I guess we all are. I just feel that there are many things that are true not just for a given individual, but independent of any of them.

    The thing that concerns me about subjectivity — which allows us to choose what is authentic or not(?) — is that each person becomes a law unto themselves, or at least they have the potential to be. It’s not like this is inherently terrible – the freedom to choose is a massive part of being human – but it can be. Some people may think that what really fulfills them is chopping up other people. So, what feels authentic seems like it’s a matter of opinion and a mixture of environmental and hereditary factors. It would be nice if there is an objective measure of what is morally acceptable at the very least. Yet in spite of my reservations, I do my best to live (usually) according to what I feel is authentic, regardless of what other people think. Life is very strange.

  4. Sorry for the reply delay…was travelling!

    John G-W:

    From my theistic perspective, I see it as possible that God chooses to test certain individuals by not revealing himself to them the way he’s revealed himself to me, to see what they’re made of, to see what kinds of choices they make even believing that we as human beings are existentially alone in the cosmos.

    I have heard this idea before and have chewed it over a bit…but I can’t really seem to get at what this could be about.

    I mean, what is the “passing grade” for the test?

    If the test is to see who will live good lives, then I think most people would do that, even (or especially) with the thought of human beings being existentially alone in the cosmos.

    If the test is to see who will have faith in God despite his (purposeful?) absence, I don’t see too many people who are doing that.

    Now, if the test is the former rather than the latter, then that’s pretty cool…but it kinda turns religion and faith upside down.

    TGD:

    I believe it’s those moments of anti-theism that connect me with where I’m at fault as it is the most hypocritical. Doing such puts me in the position of not accepting another person’s journey when I’m demanding that they accept mine. Hypocritical.

    I also have these moments. For me, I am most humbled when I realize it. How can I ask anyone to accept me in my path when I dismiss others and theirs?

    loren:

    Some people may think that what really fulfills them is chopping up other people. So, what feels authentic seems like it’s a matter of opinion and a mixture of environmental and hereditary factors. It would be nice if there is an objective measure of what is morally acceptable at the very least.

    I think there are two concerns buried here…the first is (if I were going to address it)…can authenticity lead to something harmful to others’ authenticity?

    Unfortunately, I would have to say I think so. We can chastise the person who wants to chop others…we can lock him up…try to reform him. But if such a person truly enjoys that, then to do any of these actions would be to annihilate him. As a society, we may deem that to be a worthy casualty.

    The second thing I would address is the objectivity of moral acceptability. I think, yes, it would be nice if there were an objective measure of what is morally acceptable. But I think this is missing the mark. What I think would be nicer is if humans were “tuned in” on the same frequency of moral acceptability. We don’t have to all be tuned in to the right frequency…but if we can agree, we can at least get along. (Why do I talk about “being tuned in”? Well, think…what if there is an objective measure of morality — but we don’t have the tools to discover/ascertain it?)

  5. nktrygg permalink

    ex anything – be it ex-theist, ex-drinker, ex-smoker, ex-gay (well, until they get caught)

    are the most virulent against what ever they enjoyed and now hate.

    nina
    http://ntrygg.wordpress.com

  6. That’s an interesting thought. I mean, in many ways.

    When you say that, what is the context. For example, when you say “ex anythings are most virulent”…are you saying that they are more virulent in comparison to someone who never was that thing (e.g., an ex-theist is more virulent against religion than someone who never was a theist)? Are you saying that all ex-es are going to be virulent (e.g., all ex-smokers will be virulent against smoking)?

    And what do you mean by virulent?

    Do you mean that an ex-something is most hostile *about* what they were ex?

    or

    Do you mean that they are most effectively deadly *against* what they are an ex to?

    For example, is an ex-theist most hostile about theism…or is he most effective in arguing against theism? Or both?

    Finally, the “what they enjoyed and now hate.” Is it possible that they “never” enjoyed? Or that they don’t now “hate”?

    Thinking about writing a new post about this one…this comment made me think; thanks!

  7. nktrygg permalink

    yes, that is what I mean by virulent

    an ex-smoker is far more adamant against smoking than a non-smoker who’s against smoking

    I think it’s an underlying guilt over compensation

    I think that the more devote a theist was who became an ex-theist would be more opposed to theism than a person who was more causally involved or invested and drifted out.

    Would be be a smoker, drinker, theist, drug user or whatever else people become ex-es of, if you didn’t enjoy it?

    I can’t imagine a straight man living gay for a while and then being an ex-gay

    I think that the more devoted or invested a person was to a behaviour or belief, the more they will argue against it if they cease engagement

    gay is a bit different than the rest, since the only choice is being honest about it – not the sexuality itself.

    it’s true that some gay people would rather not be – it’s not an easy path because of the discrimination

    but there’s no cure, only fooling yourself for a while – and usually hurting other people by doing so.

  8. If someone were socially pressured into being something, I could easily see them being that thing without enjoying it.

    • nktrygg permalink

      I imagine it starts with the parents – if they push the kid into groups and activities the kid isn’t interested in, then they will probably be more susceptible to the pressure

      I’ve always followed my own path and can’t say that I have many recollections of ever being peer pressured…

      I’ve never felt comfortable in anyone else’s shoes – and I think that that is an individual characteristic, because my sister was hugely influenced by whatever circle of friends she’s had.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. My atheist declaration « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: