I was wondering earlier today (in the shower, which is where I usually come up with these blog topics) about how different folks arrive at their philosophy of life. Some grow up in a religious household (actually,most do, at least in America), and retain those same beliefs when they leave home and start their own life. Some grow up in secular households (a sad minority) and retain their secularity into adulthood. And of course there are those who grow up in one or the other types of home environments, who turn away from their inherited beliefs by looking to the opposite, atheist turns religious, religious turns atheist. I will concede the varying degrees of either system as being considered autonomous, but will also point out that an equal claim can be made that all variations (Pantheist, Deist, Agnostic, etc...) are simply that, variations on one of two themes. Isn't it interesting that there is no neutral ground in which a child, living in America (or anywhere in the world for that matter) can grow up. Either a child is reared as someone without religious beliefs, or they are raised with some form of religious belief. It is not possible for someone to come to either side of the table from a neutral place. Isn't it also interesting that to come to atheism or religiosity from a place of complete neutrality, would be the most valid route, not being polluted by any particular view, towards possession of a belief (whatever it may be). There is either belief or unbelief, there is no middle ground. Again, I willingly concede that agnosticism, buddhism, taosim, skepticism and all the other unmentioned forms could lay claim to the phantom middle ground; but, if you get down to brass tacks, they are only "types" of one or the other. Skepticism is a degree of atheism, so is agnotiscism. Buddhism is a form of religiosity, so are the milieu of native american belief systems. Either you believe in a higher power, or you do not.
But isn't there a different way of looking at this? Knowing there is only belief or unbelief, perhaps unbelief is a more neutral satnce than belief. Atheism means unbelief. Religiosity means belief in something bigger than us, that is not us, but has or has had a measure of control over us. So unbelief in such a thing would, semantically, satisfy the criteria of "in opposition". Are atheism and religiosity diamteric opposites? Maybe not. Maybe atheism is the neutral ground we are looking for. If so, then what would be the opposite of religiosity? Perhaps anti-religiosity? Christianity vs Satanism? No that can't be, because satanism is a form of religion. We are all born as atheists, aren't we? I, for one have never heard tell of, nor witnessed a newborn infant proselytising about the evils of unbelief and/or the wonders of religious belief. As infants, our lack of language capability is an understandable impediment to our being immediate prophets. From this argument, we can see that from birth until some unknown age, which differs for each child born, we are atheists. It is the natural state of birth. We aren't born into sin, we are born into atheism. God is small potatoes compared to the mammary glands of a hungry, newborn's mother (or the other assorted methods of nourishment available to mothers today). How could an infant give a rip about an invisible god, when Mom (or Dad) is around to comfort them, to make them feel safe and happy? Ironically, these attributes are exactly what god is supposed to be the (non-physical) embodiment of. He is a father-figure, there to comfort us when we need it. Funny how, as parents, we provide these services to our children through our physical presence, but god supposedly provides these services to us , while being conspicuously, physically absent. How does he do this? Atheistic belief is what we all begin life with. Religious belief is a choice we all are confronted with in our later lives. For sure, many parents, teachers, or preachers, hijack that choice from us at our most impressionable ages, stealing, what can be a valuable lesson in choice and consequence to our young selves, but regardless, the decision to live a religious life is a voluntary one. Afterall, god "gave" us freewill, with which he expected we would "choose" the life he wanted us to, didn't he? So, assuming the mantle of atheist for a moment, how would the choice made by someone to live unreligiously, be a change from the life already being lived by the chooser? Answer, it would be no different. People come to religion, for many varying reasons, but they always come to it from atheism, whether they realize it or not and regardless of whether they would like it.
What about those, who walk away from religion? Aren't they "coming" to atheism just as those who receive religion do? Perhaps secondarily, but at the beginning of our lives, we all (including those who eventually walk away from religion) approach religion from atheism. Whatever happens subsequent to the initial drawing of religion, is just that, subsequent action on our parts.
Atheism, as it turns out, is more neutral than we initially thought.
It's interesting, that the decision to be religious, is made by those from a religious home, most often prior to the time that they become conscious of themselves, others, and how their actions effect everything and everyone around them. It seems cognitive maturity is not all that important to the process of coming to religion. If left alone, the atheistically-born child, will grow into cognitive maturity, and at that point, having been left alone, they will be able to decide on a path for their spiritual lives, one way or the other. The key point is the decision can be made after cognitive maturity is reached, not before.
Sometimes, people will be allowed to come to their own decision regarding religiosity, after they have reached a level of cognitive maturity, but other factors, sentimentality, familial ties, tradition, etc... will interject a strong influence over the "decision" and the individual may not come to the chosen path with complete intellectual honesty. This decision usually comes back to haunt those who make it, either by instigating severe guilt, shame and regret, or by pulling the individual away from the false path. Those who never choose to be religious, having examined the tenets from a cognitively mature vantage and having purposely rejected those tenets, are perhaps the most fortunate of all of us. For everyone else, we must decide on our own at the correct time, overcoming or succumbing to the intellectually dishonest advice and direction offered by those we have been surrounded with our entire lives, i.e. family and friends. To return to our atheistic roots is, from my view, the best course to take, but only if we supplant religiosity with concern for humanity and our place in the sphere of earth life. If this doesn't take place, and atheism allows us to contribute nothing to the betterment of anyone (even if it is only ourselves), but religion does allow us to contribute positively to human life, then it might seem religion would be an accepatable platform to standupon, but that platform is built on ground which covers more problems than we might know. Religious belief may help some, but it does not help all. It cannot, for there are many differing beliefs, and only one can be right. They can not all be correct, many are contradictory by their very natures. Similarly, atheism may not help everyone, but unlike the world's religions, there is really only one type of unbelief, UNBELIEF. Therefore, since it is the natural state we are all born in, and there are no contradictorial variations of it, atheism offers humanity the best option for bettering our lives while we are here. And remember, we are only here for 100 years, give or take. Is it really worth it to sacrifice those years, for something no one on the earth has any concrete reason to believe in? Wouldn't it be better to live life as we were born to live it? Giving credit only where it is due, and not relegating our worth to something other than ourselves? We are atheists, let us celebrate that and live that life.