About 12 years or so ago when I was still religious, I had a “crisis”. I had a sudden realization that I didn’t really know if God existed. I was pretty upset and barely holding back tears as I talked to a friend about it.
He had a story about having a big crush on a woman he worked with and God helped him not cheat on his wife. Now, it’s great that he didn’t cheat, but I now see that story means zero as to proving God’s existence. But back then, I had what I wanted: a “reason” to keep believing. So I went on my way with my confirmation of what I wanted to believe.
I didn’t know not believing in God was an actual option. To the extent that I may have thought about that possibility, I guess I thought it would make you a bad person. I don’t recall if I even knew the word “atheist”.
I don’t know if my faith ever really recovered after that. I’ve come to see that belief is not a black and white issue. We “believe” many things to varying degrees of certainty, and what we may think we believe… well, we may or may not.
I was recently in a discussion with a Christian pastor relative. We’ll call him Bob. Bob said he wished I had talked to him when I was “teetering” toward non-belief, and he could have answered the “intellectual obstacles”. Could he have? Perhaps, perhaps not. My wife talked to her dad, a pastor with a doctorate in theology and an emphasis on counseling. His answers to her “intellectual obstacles” were absolute garbage. Then he got angry and stopped talking to her. I had expected a better argument.
Bob has experience in apologetics though, while I don’t think my wife’s dad does. It seems prevalent these days and is probably a standard part of theological training. So could Bob have brought me back? Again, I don’t know. At that point I didn’t really have a big desire to believe. I didn’t want to NOT believe, and I didn’t know then how vile religion and the god of the Bible are, so I really just wanted to know what was actually true.
After I deconverted, I started looking into the apologist arguments. Some of them seemed like they could be valid. Others I knew weren’t, but I couldn’t figure out why. That’s the main strength (possibly only strength) of apologetics: to bamboozle with bullshit. So I researched and found that none of the arguments for God are valid and sound. They can sound good if you don’t understand them, but none of them hold up to scrutiny. It could be true that what we might classify as a god does indeed exist, but regardless, all apologist arguments I’ve seen to date are invalid.
Obviously we’ll never know what could have happened. My feeling is that my deconversion may have been delayed, but the train had left the station.
But this is why it is important to raise awareness of atheism. Had I known it was an option, I may have left the faith all those years ago. I probably knew people who were atheists but I didn’t realize. Knowing that people you associate with: friends, family, co-workers are leading happy and productive lives without a belief in a god may be the most valuable tool there is.
Not everyone can openly state they are atheist. Many could face reprisal, hostility, or outright aggression. It is still not safe for everyone in every situation. Some may lose friends or family or even jobs. There are very real consequences. All those who can be “out” and open help in working toward making the world a safer place for other non-believers.
I wonder how many people are out there, unaware that not believing in a god is an actual option? I wonder how many do realize they don’t believe, but don’t feel safe?