Why do people become atheists? Let’s take a look at some examples.
From this post on “Atheist Nexus“, there’s this blurb about Michael Shermer:
Dr. Shermer characterizes himself as a skeptic. As he confesses in his book, “What I want to believe based on emotions and what I believe based on evidence and empirical data may not coincide. I am a skeptic not because I don’t want to believe, but because I want to know. How can we tell the difference between what we would like to be true or what is actually true” (p. 2)? Dr. Shermer succumbed to skepticism after his girlfriend, Maureen, was critically injured in an auto accident and he appealed to God for her healing. “What finally tipped my belief into skepticism was the problem of evil–if God is all knowing, all powerful, and all good, then why do bad things happen to good people?” “A just and loving God who had the power to heal would surely heal Maureen. He didn’t. He didn’t. I now believe, not because God works in mysterious ways or he has a special plan for Maureen, but because there is no God” (p. 45).
Here’s what got John Loftus started on atheism, according to his own book:
Loftus starts off reminiscing on his deconversion story by stating that it was an appeal to the emotions, and not so much for intellectual reasons: “Some former believers have rejected their faith based upon the evidence itself. My initial reasons for rejecting the Christian faith are not the same ones that others have had…For me there were three major circumstances that happened in my life that changed my thinking. They all happened within the space of about five years, from 1991 to 1996. These things are associated with three people: A woman I’ll call Linda, Larry, and Jeff. It was Linda who brought a major crisis into my life. Larry brought new information into my life. Jeff took away my sense of a loving Christian community…” (first paragraph, pg. 25)
Not far off, things start to get a little weird: “I was the founding president of a shelter for the homeless in Angola, Indiana, where I was ministered. It was devoted to giving temporary shelter to people in need. I worked day by day with Linda, the executive director. She practically idolized me. She did everything I said to do, and would call me daily to ask for help in dealing with various situations that came up from running the shelter, along with her own personal issues. I was also having problems with my marriage at the time, and Linda made herself available to me. I succumbed and had an affair with her…”
Loftus does not hesitate to get into the details of his extramarital affair with someone who was an alledgely “a former stripper in her younger days” who “had it in for preachers.”
He complains that other Christians were “quick to condemn” him. He didn’t like being judged.
Previously, I wrote about Lewis Wolpert‘s decision to abandon God – because when he was a child, God would not help him find his cricket bat. (His own words in the linked pocast).
And here is the case of Dan Barker, who decided that wandering across the country singing for “love offerings” was a stable enough financial arrangement to support a family. When his sensible plan failed, he began appealing to more liberal Christians in order to make more money, and adapting his message to suit his audience. Eventually, the hypocrisy became uncomfortable and he dumped God. (This is my conclusion from his own words in the podcast).
I think [Dan Barker] abandoned his faith because he wanted people to like him and because he needed to be invited to liberal churches in order to make money to pay for the “real life” needs of his family.
He seems to have thought that Christianity is about having his needs met and being liked by others. I think he wanted to feel good and to make people feel good with his preaching and singing. He seems to have become aware that the exclusive claims of Christianity made other people feel offended, so he cut them out. He hadn’t studied philosophy, science or history so that he would have been able to demonstrate to other people whether what he was saying was true. It’s hard to offend people when you don’t really know whether your claims are true or not, and when you don’t know how to demonstrate whether they are true or not.
I also think money was a factor. It seems to me that it would have hurt his career and reduced his invitations from liberal churches if he had kept up teaching biblical Christianity. In order to appeal to a wider audience, (like many Christian singers do – e.g. – Amy Grant, Jars of Clay, etc.), he would have felt pressured to water down the unpleasant parts of his preaching and singing. Lacking apologetics skill, he instead abandoned his message. He needed to account for his family’s needs and “real life”, and exclusive truth claims and Hell-talk would probably have reduced his ability to do that. It seems to me that he should have scaled back his extreme schedule of preaching and singing, and instead gotten a steady job so that he could afford “real life” and a family without being pressured into altering his message.
There never was a cognitive process for these atheists. There was just the dashed expectations in a Santa Claus God. I think that every person has to decide for themselves whether they have done a fair assessment of the evidence for and against God. You decide whether God exists based on whether he is nice to you, and whether he prevents suffering for you. It is a blessing to suffer for the sake of righteousness, and even Jesus suffered for being obedient to God. Your level of happiness simply has no bearing on the arguments and evidence for God’s existence. When it comes to arguments about the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning and the moral argument, your feelings and needs are irrelevant.