In his book Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion, Phil Zuckerman breaks down the various reasons people leave religion. In the second chapter, Zuckerman offers the case study of a man in his mid sixties named Max. Max’s turning point, the moment that signaled the end of his Lutheran faith, was in his early teens, when a lay teacher told the class they were all born into sin. Zuckerman explains:
Apostasy often occurs when certain key religious beliefs, tenets, teachings, stories, creeds, or articles of faith simply stop making sense…For other apostates, it isn’t so much that their religion stops making sense in the light of scientific discovery, but rather, that it stops making sense in the light of their own moral reasoning. The problem becomes the perceived immorality of God. (Zuckerman, 35)
In other words, many atheists haven’t turned their back on their moral compass, but instead became atheists in deference to their moral compass. This has been my personal struggle with the god of the Bible. The finds of science haven’t had a particularly negative effect on my faith because I haven’t regarded the Bible (or any sacred scripture) as a reliable authority about science, or the history of the world, for some time. But the god-endorsed ethnic cleansing, discrimination, homophobia, and misogyny have battered down my faith in scripture as a moral authority. Most of my friends are the same boat.
Like Jodi, who once confided these words to me:
“I was reading the story of the Israelites and their escape from Egypt to the Promised land et cetera. And instead of the usual ‘yay god saved these people and brought them through the desert’ it suddenly occurred to me, the god of the Old Testament is a real dick. I mean you read the stories of the Israelites being commanded to kill everyone, men, women, and babies, and it’s pretty horrible.”
I know what my ministry friends would say to all this, their response can be found in Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path.” To this I respond, why? Why would I trust someone whose words seem so hateful to guide my actions? And what have I beyond my own understanding to determine whom I should trust? In short, why God? Why this god?
Related articles (from various perspectives):
- The Basis for an Atheist’s Morality (daylightatheism.org)
- The Terrible Texts (johnshelbyspong.com)
- Morality, God, and Knowing What to Do (atheistethicist.blogspot.com)
- Why You Don’t Believe in God – The Atheist’s Dilemma (incisivereview.com)
- Advice to Christian Philosophers