Confessions of a Former Internet Atheist
As children grow into being adults, a rebellious phase is often part of that process. And for somebody who grows up in Catholicism, the ‘rebellion’ seems fairly obvious- become a full-blown atheist.
I certainly hadn’t become a atheist as a conscious way of rebelling. My parents aren’t religious, so they didn’t care. My schools were Catholic, but they weren’t the type you see in films where Nuns smack pupils’ wrists with rulers.
Before going further, I should stress that this isn’t going to be a ‘I found God’ blog. At the time of writing this blog, I am not attending a church or praying to any God or deity regularly.
I’m not sure where exactly I fit on the spectrum of belief, but I wager that if 10 was full-blown Richard Dawkins and 1 was Ian Paisley, I’d probably be a 6 — or a 5 if I’m feeling particularly optimistic.
I should also note that what I’m writing about in this blog is a very specific brand of atheism. I’m not talking about the run-of-the-mill person who doesn’t believe in God. When I say ‘Internet Atheist’, I’m talking about somebody who actively seeks out religious debates on the internet and builds an identity around their opposition to faith, like I used to.
My Internet Atheist phase lasted from when I was sixteen to eighteen, and came as a result of a very sudden loss of faith. It also coincided with the rise of ISIS on the world stage, which only bolstered my sense of righteousness.
I can’t say I disavow everything I said during this period, but I certainly regret the way I went about expressing my views. I imagine I alienated a fair few people by being so forthright and cut-throat, and I could have done with letting some things slide.
A weird bed-bug of mine was when gay people called themselves Christians. For some inexplicable reason, I felt the need to try and ‘convert’ my fellow homosexuals over to the atheist side. Did I feel they were letting the side down? Who knows?
I fulfilled a lot of the Internet Atheist cliches. I held up Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins as intellectuals, despite their many dubious viewpoints (More on that another time).
To me, Bill Maher was hilarious and at one point I even said that he should run for president (Yeah, I’m cringing too, don’t worry).
My favourite YouTuber was Jaclyn Glenn, who made a lot of videos mocking Christian apologists. At the time, that was as intellectually stimulating as it got for me.
It definitely didn’t help that I had a friend with strong religious views at the time. In hindsight, his outspokenness definitely pushed me into rebuttal mode, and we had a longstanding tic-for-tac relationship.
So what changed?
Ultimately, as my political views shifted, my hostility towards organised religion began to thaw. With a more conservative perspective, I began seeing the benefits that religion brought to society, whether it be through charity, community bonds or just by helping people live with purpose.
No longer did I feel empowered to spout the old cliches — ‘What about the Crusades?! What about the IRA?!’.
I had truly began to adopt the ‘Live and Let Live’ attitude that my formerly liberal self had supposedly lived by.
Now that I’m more conservative, I see the benefits that faith can bring to a person’s life and to society as a whole. I feel like, on average, people with a spiritual core live more responsibly and with a clearer sense of right and wrong.
Now, to be absolutely clear, I am NOT saying that you need religion to have morals.
But as I’ve gotten to know more religious person, I notice that their daily lives are imbued with deeper moral questions. Whereas the people I know that were most stridently anti-religious are either deeply unhappy or chasing instant gratification.
Again, this isn’t applicable to every single person. It’s a purely anecdotal observation.
I’ve found that my religious friends part the best advice and wisdom, and they aren’t the close-minded bigots that our wider culture paints them to be.
So I’ve unsubscribed from Jaclyn Glenn and unfollowed Bill Maher on Twitter. But where does that leave me spiritually?
Short answer: I don’t know.
I probably am a existentialist (Read: Over-thinker) and do spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the ‘big questions’. I’d like to think there’s a grander purpose to life, and that I have something to contribute.
But figuring out the answers to these questions that have intrigued men for centuries is, unsurprisingly, quite a difficult task.
Often times I find myself approaching these topics with a humbleness that I didn’t have in my days as a focused atheist and anti-theist. I am more than willing to admit that the answers might be beyond my comprehension — if there any answers.
My parting advice to any ‘Internet Atheists’ would be this — switch off that Christopher Hitchens compilation and look at the opposing side with a open mind (Might I suggest his brother’s book, The Rage Against God?)
If you do find yourself in discussions with religious people, ask questions. At the end of the day, they generally have good intentions. Most will sincerely believe that their faith has improved their lives, and they want to share that with you.
Steamrolling through a conversation with bluster about how God can’t possibly exist, because of cancer or poverty, will do little good. If you take the time to listen to people, you’ll find yourself learning more and being less inclined to try and turn every discussion into a argument.