Religionists often remark that they do not see a way to live without religion. Apparently they are unaware that approximately 2 billion people around the world live lives free of religious control. It is not difficult and now a new book by Eric Maisel tells you how it is done. Here are the reviews from leading freethinkers and authors:
“Eric Maisel is clearly the atheist’s Wizard of Oz to have created a book with such brains, so much heart, and a lion’s share of real courage.”
— Dale McGowan, PhD, editor of Parenting Beyond Belief and 2008 Harvard Humanist of the Year
“Millions of people lead happy, moral, loving, meaningful lives without believing in a god, and Eric Maisel explains in exquisite rational and compassionate detail how we do it.”
— Dan Barker, author of Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist and copresident of the Freedom from Religion Foundation
“I find Maisel’s writings more witty than Hitchens, more polished and articulate than Harris, and more informative and entertaining than Dawkins. A 5-star read from cover to cover!”
— David Mills, author of Atheist Universe
“The Atheist’s Way offers a meaningful approach to life that is sublime, eloquent, and inspiring. This book is a true breath of fresh air.”
— Phil Zuckerman, PhD, author of Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us about Contentment
“Maisel provides a foundation for making meaning and living purposefully without supernatural intervention. A book to be relished by atheists, skeptics, humanists, freethinkers, and unbelievers everywhere.”
— Donna Druchunas, writer on Skepchick.org
“How do you bravely face the world as it is and create meaning for yourself without the crutch of a divine benefactor? Eric Maisel’s wise suggestions, musings, and insights are a wonderful resource for your quest.”
— John Allen Paulos, author of Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up
“Eric Maisel has given us a lovely, thoughtful book about belief outside of the narrow confines of organized religion. The Atheist’s Way offers an uplifting positive answer for anyone interested in how to live life without gods, superstitions or fairytales.”
— Nica Lalli, author of Nothing: Something to Believe In
“With this book, Eric Maisel does what none of the New Atheists have succeeded at doing: elaborating what atheists do believe.”
— Hemant Mehta, author of I Sold My Soul on eBay
Product DescriptionIn The Atheist’s Way, Eric Maisel teaches you how to make rich personal meaning despite the absence of beneficent gods and the indifference of the universe to human concerns. Exploding the myth that there is any meaning to find or to seek, Dr. Maisel explains why the paradigm shift from seeking meaning to making meaning is this century’s most pressing intellectual goal.
- Martin Pribble’s Interview With Dan Barker (camelswithhammers.com)
- Dan Barker Interview – Prominent People Project (martinspribble.com)
- The Purpose-Driven Atheist (friendlyatheist.com)
- Book Review: Godless (spaninquis.wordpress.com)
- Robert Ingersoll: Prince of Atheists (new.exchristian.net)
- Hemant Mehta on Identifying Oneself as an Atheist (theperplexedobserver.blogspot.com)
- “Atheist v. Theist” – A Humanist’s Response (thehumanistchallenge.wordpress.com)
- The deity by any other name: Army resilience program gets a thumbs down from atheistsa (scientificamerican.com)
You cannot end the religious indoctrination of vulnerable children
People argue that parents and religious entities will not cease the practice of preying on vulnerable children to maintain their tribes. Religious indoctrination of children has been going on for centuries and is a universal phenomenon. Like child battering, it is a syndrome protected by an extensive protective meme complex. Parents were most likely indoctrinated, making them excellent practitioners of childhood religious grooming. They know all the techniques and evasions to use on their own kids. Likewise, adults who were physically punished will strenuously defend this cruel treatment and turn around and physically punish their own children.
- Salvation is not a legitimate argument for indoctrinating children (endhereditaryreligion.com)
- Who Cares About Atheists? (camelswithhammers.com)
- Quiverfull Atheists (dangeroustalk.net)
- Questions for Those Raising Their Kids Without Religion (atheistrev.com)
- Indoctrinating Children In a Religious Faith is Abusive (atheistrev.com)
- “Aha!” Moments (new.exchristian.net)
An insightful personal narrative of an apostate
It is generally common for atheists to consider that the arguments against religion boil down to science, the facts, debate, etc. It puzzles many why someone when faced with all the evidence for evolution for example would still choose to ignore it. I think that many atheists are ignoring the REAL issue, the true reason why it is hard for someone to reject their religion.
I was raised Christian all my life, in a VERY fundamentalist home. I was taught the earth was 6,000 years old created out of nothing, heaven, hell – the whole thing. I was taught how important it was to witness and attempt to “convert” others. I was taught that even bad things, really bad things, had some sort of divine reason and plan attached to them. I believed this into my early twenties.
When I was finally faced with the irrefutable facts, and raw science behind them, I let go – very reluctantly – of my cherished beliefs. It was not easy, It was like wrestling a priceless gem from someone who would just not let go of it.
When you reject religion, its not like – rejecting the earth is not flat for example. With something like this you can say “Oh ok, now I know” – but religion has a much darker and deep rooted hold on a person, and a much more profound effect.
There were times I was actually in tears thinking about the fact that there was no “afterlife” – and that those I had loved who had died – were really dead. They weren’t watching me, or having some hand in guiding me. They didn’t still “love me”. That was pretty depressing.
It is strange how religion gives you a way to reject the reality of death – which I guess does help to ‘ease your suffering’, that you “know they went to a better place” – but it also prevents proper mourning. When someone you love dies, and they tell you on their death bed that they will see you one day in heaven, you are more prepared for them to “die” because you know they aren’t really “dead”.
To reject heaven and accept atheism – is not merely about science, facts, beliefs, etc – it is about accepting the reality of all those who have died – being really dead. It is accepting the same reality about everyone you love NOW one day being – really dead. It is accepting the same reality about YOU one day.
The older you are, the more dear loved ones have passed away, the harder it will be to reject the notions of religion. To reject religion requires the re-mourning of everyone who you love who has died.
Death is just one piece of a very complex puzzle. If you have spent your whole life “living by faith” – and you have made decisions “by faith” that have resulted in really bad situations in your life, you now have to own up to the fact that these situations came about because of YOUR choices. You do not have God to take the burden of this. You can no longer say “This happened because God has some plan for my life”
By rejecting religion, you must also reject the notion that you can avoid responsibility for poor life situations. That too is a hard pill to swallow.
Next, you must reject the idea that your path is somehow guided, that God is walking with you, that you are not truly alone as you walk through life. Imagine a man walking through a room on planks of wood suspended over spikes with large holes to fall in if you take a wrong step. He always manages to take the right next step, but he is never afraid because he “knows” that this is a solid wood floor he is walking on. Now turn on the lights.
To reject religion means to accept the idea that you CAN fall – and fall HARD. It means you have to recognize that up until now you have been fortunate – but now you have to force yourself to think about your next steps.
If you have been spending your life “following Christ”, or witnessing to people, to the extent of even studying this in college, or spending hundreds and hundreds of hours reading and studying the Bible, praying, etc – only to find out that ALL of it was utterly and totally useless, then you have another hard pill to swallow. Imagine swallowing that pill as an older person.
To accept this means to accept that you have lived a large part of your life in vain, while thinking it was purposeful. Talking to such a person about atheism is similar to telling them that their whole life is without purpose, misguided, and that they have missed out on the only opportunity they will ever have to live life.
Surely one can then see why the concept of atheism is offensive and infuriating to so many people.
Then there is the concept of a personal relationship with God. The idea that God and you are “friends”. That you are somehow “above the world”. That you are living in a bubble safe and protected by God himself.
To reject religion, means accepting that you are just like everyone else – and in fact, worse off than most and behind the race because of your past religious belief. To someone who has spent a lifetime believing they are special in this regard, a piece of them is gone, never to return.
Worse than this, such a person values their imaginary relationship with God more than any aspect of their REAL personality. Who you really are takes second stage to your supposed relationship with the almighty.
Rejecting this is surely very difficult, as it entails rejecting a large part of the perceived value someone has in themselves.
I know I have not covered it all, but I hope I have helped to show that there is more to the picture of “religion vs atheism” than merely science, and facts.
The emotional side of religion is by far a larger and darker obstacle than any other that would stand in the way between someone’s freedom from delusion and accepting reality.
There are professional people who specialize in “deprogramming” those who have been captured by a cult such as the Moonies. Society grudgingly approves, with reservations because cults are judged to be “dangerous” and harmful. But try to deprogram someone from a mainline “religion” and now you will encounter blatant open hostility from every quarter. This means there is a double standard. A person who succumbs to the mind control program of a cult deserves help to extract themselves. The theology practiced by Catholics, Mormons and other mainline religions is just as non-nonsensical and can harm the mental state of adherents just as much as the most superstitious cult. Why doesn’t the principal of harm apply here?
There are many self help groups on the web that offer advice and encouragement. But woe to the person who sets out to forcibly separate an individual from a religious faith. It has to be because there is wide spread denial that the fear mongering and guilt inducing methods used by mainline religions are not harmful. If only that were true.
Science vs. Religion: Ideology and Methodology
I’ve had several private correspondences over the last couple of days dealing with what I’ve started calling the Church of Dawkins. A significant number of theists and atheists seem to believe that there’s some sort of cult forming around everything that comes out of the mouth of the “King of Atheists,” or some nonsense like that. This also ties into the hubbub over the New Atheists and The Four Horsemen and all the other monikers earned by various atheist writers over the last few years.
To begin with, let me say a few things about what is happening in atheism. I’m tempted to put atheism in scare quotes because atheism is not a philosophy or a worldview, but I will let that stand for the moment. Just please realize that when I talk about “atheism” in this sense, I’m talking about a vaguely defined social movement, not the ordinary epistemological position.
Atheism is a movement of a sort. We have conferences and book signings and student associations. There are “factions.” Some atheists don’t believe in the in-your-face style of Dawkins and Harris. Writers like Michael Shermer favor a much more passive and accepting approach to spreading freethought. Ayn Rand was an atheist, and promoted objectivism, which is fervently espoused by a small number of atheists, but discarded as so much claptrap by most rationalists and positivists.
There are “leaders” in atheism. Margaret Downey has been at the forefront of many social and free-thinking issues for years, and is the founder of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia. She was largely responsible for taking on the Boy Scouts for discriminating against atheists and gays. Richard Dawkins is a prolific author and a compelling speaker, and he has an extensive speaking circuit as well as a very popular website. Sam Harris frequently editorializes in the country’s most widely read newspapers.
It’s relatively easy for me to understand why a lot of people see what’s going on in atheism and think it’s cult-like. Had I been a theist when a lot of these folks became big news, I’d probably have thought the same thing. The thing is, it’s not a cult. Certainly every popular author has his or her fanboys. That cannot be avoided. But the thing that makes this movement special, and I believe unique in Western History, is that it is a seemingly paradoxical movement. Hundreds of thousands of people are working together to encourage every individual to think for himself and not follow the group! How can this be possible? There are two main reasons I can think of: The Principles of Science, and The Convergence of Truth.
The Principles of Science
If you haven’t read my article on the scientific method, now would be a good time, as I will only summarize briefly here. If you understand science, you know that its greatest strength is its independence from authorship. That is to say, if I give you a list of instructions for performing a scientific experiment and you follow the instructions precisely, you will get the same results as anyone else on the planet who followed the same steps. There need not be any attribution or author’s name on the study for you to know the facts demonstrated by the experiment are true.
As humans, we admire scientists who make breakthrough discoveries. We all know the name Albert Einstein, and we all hold him in high reverence, as we do Isaac Newton, Marie Curie, and Jonas Salk. It is important to remember, though, that the discoveries made by these men and women were truths waiting to be discovered. Einstein did not create general relativity. He described it. Salk was the first to observe the truth that a dead polio virus would successfully immunize children against polio. Curie observed that uranium radiation made the surrounding air conductive.
The important point here is that had any one of these scientists not been born, the scientific truths associated with their names would have been discovered by someone else. Perhaps Einstein was ahead of his time, but it is hard to imagine that no human would have put the same pieces of the puzzle together and reached the same conclusion — ever. That’s the beauty of science. The pieces of any puzzle are available for anyone to see. If a thing is true, it is true for Einstein and Hambydammit and Joe Plumber. Neither of us needs the other to see the truth. We just need the scientific method.
The “Four Horsemen” of atheism, as well as most of the lesser known authors, and most bloggers like me, are staunch advocates of the scientific method. In many ways, we are not so much concerned with converting someone to atheism as we are convincing them of the truth that science is the only reliable way to discover truth. Indeed, there are atheists in the world who believe wacky things. As many theists are quick to point out, Stalin was an atheist. So was Mao Tse-tung. These people believed in a political ideology that doesn’t work. They caused immense suffering because they believed an ideology instead of empirically verifiable facts.
As a matter of fact, Sam Harris himself has been quite critical of using the word “atheist” to describe this movement. Paul Geisert and Mynga Futell co-founded the term “Brights” in an attempt to unite everyone who believes in naturalism and science. I only refer to myself as an atheist because the word is accurate in describing my lack of belief in a deity. Given the choice, I call myself a naturalist or a materialist, for both of those words give a far more detailed description of what I do believe, rather than simply mentioning one thing I don’t believe in.
Science, then, is the central support of the growing atheist movement. Since science is results-based instead of personality based, we should expect the movers and shakers to come and go. We should recognize that so long as any particular figure in the movement is espousing independent, empirically verifiable science, we will not be heading down the road towards a cult of personality. Similarly, we should demand that no matter how well-established a particular figure is, he should back up every positive claim he makes. Tenure does not reduce the burden of proof.
The best example I can think of is the laughable tactic used in the movie Expelled. In one scene, Ben Stein is interviewing Dawkins about the origins of life, and Dawkins explains that even if life were seeded on earth by aliens, it would only push the question of origins back one step. We would still have to account for the beginning of the alien life, and the only plausible explanation is gradual increasing complexity as described by evolution. Theists have jumped on this bandwagon in an attempt to discredit Dawkins. “SEE!” they proclaim. “The Grand Poo-Bah of Atheism Believes in Aliens!!”
Granted, this is stretch, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Let’s suppose that Richard Dawkins believes aliens seeded life on earth. Fine. He needs to get to writing, because he’s got a HUGE burden of proof to overcome before anybody believes him. Oh, sure. There will be a few thirteen year olds who will hang their hats on alien seeding without demanding proof, but every scientist worth his dissertation will demand overwhelming proof.
When Antony Flew succumbed to dementia and espoused belief in a deistic god, the reaction from the brights and atheists and naturalists was mostly sympathy. He has been a prominent figure in the freethinking movement, and it is sad from a human perspective to see that his faculties have dimmed and that he cannot form coherent arguments anymore. He is still highly respected as a member of the freethough community, and his serious work still stands as strongly as it ever did.
The broad point is a simple one. This movement, unlike any other ideological movement, has its roots in something outside of the word of man. Ironic, isn’t it? For centuries, men have told us that the word of God was outside of the word of man, but there was no way to verify that except for trusting the word of men. Now, with the discovery of science, we truly can discover reality without trusting men. The independence of the scientific method is the escape hatch from the cult of personality.
The Convergence of Truth
If you know something about evolutionary biology, you know what convergent evolution is. Simply put, some solutions to problems are better than others, and evolution, being based entirely on the success of design, tends to discover particularly good solutions over and over. The eye is one of the best examples. At least eight independent times, evolution has stumbled upon the solution of light detection. In many environments, creatures that can detect and react to light are significantly better equipped to survive than those who can’t. The eye has developed in different ways. Just as there are multiple ways to build a camera lens, there are different ways to build eyes. At the heart of all eyes, however, is the inescapable truth: Seeing is better than not seeing.
I want to take the same principle and apply it to living as a human. When we look around the entire world, we see many remarkable convergences of truth. As a very mundane example, we observe that virtually all cultures go out of their way to make tools designed for human rear ends to rest upon. The truth is simple: Humans expend less energy while resting than standing, and sitting on one’s rear end is one of the best forms of resting. Of course, there are thousands of designs for sitting devices. I’m sitting in a faux-leather office chair with wheels. There are rocking chairs, swings, settees, pillows, lumbard support cushions, and divans. The angle of inclination, comfort, height, and other variables change significantly between designs, but all of them address the same truth — it is good for people to sit sometimes.
We should not suppose for a minute that one human thought up a chair, and every chair since has been a copy or adaptation. How foolish that would be! When anthropologists discover a new tribe of humans that has never had contact with the outside world, they observe sitting devices of some sort. Shaping the environment to make a comfortable sitting surface is so obvious an action that we hardly think of it as requiring intelligence. Even so, this is a good analogy for more complicated convergences of truth.
I have mentioned before that a naturalist philosophy essentially demands atheism, if followed to its logical conclusion. This, of course, is because of the incoherence of all god-definitions when applied to naturalism. This understanding hasn’t been easily accessible for most of human history. Modern epistemology, ontology, and symbolic logic have given us the tools we need to make the observations of naturalism with justification. Therein lies the key to this growing movement of diverse yet convergent atheists. Any one of these fields demands answers to questions that lead to other related fields. If I begin with logic, I must at some point address the question of how far the rules of logic apply. To answer that question, I must study ontology. To study ontology, I must study epistemology. If I thoroughly grasp these subjects, I will be pulled very strongly towards naturalism. (It’s my belief that naturalism is the only justifiable position, but that’s another blog topic.)
You can probably see where I’m going with this. Atheism is a convergent truth. It may be reached in a variety of ways, but it is the logical conclusion to a great many lines of thinking. Most importantly, it is the position demanded by the scientific method. If there is a god, there is evidence for this god. Science has yet to uncover one scrap of evidence for god, so it must conditionally conclude that god-belief is unjustified. Put simply, anyone who meticulously and precisely follows the scientific method ought to arrive at atheism if he ever addresses the question of god(s). In the same way that any two people on earth, given a description of a basic science experiment, will achieve the same results, the rejection of the god theory is also a predictable result of the application of the scientific method. It is a truth accessible to anyone on the planet, independent of whether it has been discovered elsewhere before.
The Uniqueness of the Atheist Movement
“Atheism” (or “New Atheism, if you must) is a unique movement in human history. Never before have we had access to so much information about the universe and the nature of reality. I don’t see the atheism movement as a political movement, or an ideological movement. Instead, it is in large part a realization by millions and millions of people that science gives them the freedom to shake off the yoke of personality. They need not follow Sagan or Dawkins or Dennett. They can instead avail themself of the independent and objective yardstick of science and logic. The truths they discover may have been previously discovered, of course, and if it turns out that they find like minded people who have also made the same discoveries, so much the better.
This isn’t about atheism. It’s about realizing that we have the justification as humans to throw off religion and superstition and do the best we can at working out the nature of reality ourselves. There will be quacks and fakirs who will come and go. They will gather their own followers, but in the end, their ideas will be discarded when it becomes obvious that they cannot stand up to independent scrutiny. If ever there was a movement that was truly about the individual, this has to be it. It is about belief in the reliability of truth outside of the word of any man, no matter how intelligent or powerful he might be. It is what religion has claimed to offer and failed. Where religion only offers the word of man to testify to the “Truth,” science offers itself as the path to truth, and anyone can discover the truth without indoctrination or threats of punishment.
Ironic, isn’t it?
I realize that I’m setting myself up. Theists will jump on the bandwagon and say, “See! It’s just like a religion! You’re religious!” When they do that, I will quietly explain to them — again — that there is no end to the chain of heresay in religion, and science is its own end. There is an unethical experiment we cannot perform in reality, but can easily imagine as a thought experiment. Suppose we take a hundred children and raise them in complete social isolation. That is, we ensure that they are not taught any religious concept whatsoever, or ever hear the word “god” or “science.” When they are old enough to manipulate their environment creatively, we put them in an isolated environment with various problems to solve. They must find shelter from the heat and rain. They must find food. They must not defacate where they sleep or they will soon have to find new shelter.
Most of the children will solve these problems, assuming there are things to eat and places to hide. Most of them will use tools to accomplish their purposes. Supposing we leave them existing tools, they will probably discover their uses. If, for instance, we leave a lens to focus sunlight, some of the children will learn to start fires. Not all, of course, but many. If we leave an umbrella, most of the children will figure out how to open it, and will use it as a portable shelter.
Now, let us ask ourselves: How many of these children will come up with the Gospel of John? How many will come away from their isolated existence believing firmly that Jesus Christ is the son of god, and they must believe in him or suffer eternal hellfire as punishment for disbelief? The obvious answer is that not one child will come to that conclusion. Not one. Yet all of them, to some degree or another, will convergently discover truths of science. Nobody will discover Allah, or Thor, or Zeus, or Ahura Mazda. To discover these gods, we must learn of them from other men.
After this objection has been dealt with, atheists and theists alike will aver that there is more to life than scientific observation. Human life is about culture and love and emotional entanglement. Science can describe these things empirically, but it cannot tell us what to do with them. To that, I will reply, “Precisely my point!” Science can and does describe culture, love, and emotional entanglement. We discover truths about being human. We are evolved creatures with instincts and intelligence. We all desire companionship, mating, and social acceptance. We all tend towards conspicuous consumption. All of this information is useful to us in deciding how to act.
Human culture is diverse and in some ways quite unpredictable. Science doesn’t promise utopia. It promises truth. Sometimes the truth is ugly, and that is one of the scariest things about abandoning myth for truth. Tsunamis will strike. Hurricanes will devastate cities. Charlatans will rob people of their life savings. But science at least gives us a clear window into why these things happen, and offers us the chance to potentially change what we want to change, based not on guesses about what Jehovah might want us to do, but on the way the world works, as verifiable to anyone who cares to look.
There will always be questions to answer, and there will always be people and cultures we disagree with. Science will not give us a One World Government, or a universal code of ethics. Instead, it will give us a way to understand the necessary and dynamic diversity we see in different cultures. It will give us the justification to call for the end of demonstrably harmful cultural practices. It will demand evidence before embarking on grandiose social engineering projects. It will demand that we give an empirically verifiable reason before imposing this or that law on a populace. It will demand an end to blind faith.
The Science Movement is about ending that which is demonstrably false and harmful, and about enabling us to find the best ways to pursue what we believe is right. This is no different from the religious movement in one very important sense — it’s still about doing what we believe is right. The crucial difference, however, is that it finally gives us a yardstick to test our beliefs against. It is literally a reality check to guage whether our intentions match our actions. It’s fine and good to intend good or to wish people happiness. It’s quite another to act in a way that actually promotes happiness. Science is the tool for determining the effectiveness of our actions. It is the only reliable tool. THAT is what makes science different from religion.
Indoctrination and “losing the faith”
One of the things that was drilled into me as a child was that I needed to attend church frequently so that I would not fall away from the faith. I was warned vividly (and often) that every member of the body of Christ was in danger of giving in to the “wisdom of the world” and succumbing to their evil human nature. Frequent reaffirmation of my belief, I was told, was the only way I could hope to keep my dark side at bay.
Now that I’m on the other side, this seems very strange to me. I have learned how science works, and more importantly, how evidence and “facts” work. (I use scare quotes when speaking of facts for the scientifically minded readers who will balk at its use in this context.) In this instance, the most important quality of knowledge is that it does not require reinforcement. Take algebra, for instance. When I learned how to do algebra, I saw that it worked, and that it was true. Since then, I have not had to go to algebra seminars to remind myself that it works. When I went to college, I learned that it was part of the foundation for calculus and physics and any number of advanced subjects which, when learned properly, help us to build bridges and buildings, and to send unmanned spacecraft to Saturn.
Since learning the truth of algebra, I have never once wavered in my conviction that it is a real, true part of the universe. Since learning that I must pay taxes each year, I have never once had to go to an IRS meeting to reaffirm my belief in taxes. When I was married, I didn’t have to attend weekly services to continually remind me that I loved my wife and she loved me. Since studying evolutionary psychology, I have not had to continually remind myself that human morality is innate and evolutionary.
Why, then, do Christians need to continually reaffirm their faith? The Christian answer to this is that man is inherently evil, and that the wisdom of the world is a lie. The true answer is that without continual reaffirmation, the faithful are likely to lose their blinders and see the world as it really is. Brainwashing is powerful, but it is not so powerful that it cannot be reversed. (Obviously, since there are atheists who used to be theists.)
We can look at this from another point of view to see the truth of it. If what the church says is true, shouldn’t we be able to look at the world around us and see the evidence? Shouldn’t everyone who is not a regular churchgoer be a degenerate? Shouldn’t primarily secular nations be addled with social dysfunction? Shouldn’t the prevalence of alcoholism, divorce, depression, STDs, abortions, and other social ills outside of the faithful make it patently obvious that it’s really important to go to church regularly?
Here, we can begin to see the whole thing start to crash down upon itself. The world is not as we would expect. Secular nations are remarkably dysfunction free. Atheist marriages are the ones most likely to last. Those who do not attend church show no particular predilection towards evil. In short, there seems to be no particular empirical evidence that church attendance does anything to alter our supposed evil nature. For that matter, there is ample evidence that human kindness runs rampant among the unfaithful. Some of the most generous philanthropists in the world are atheists. People are good to each other in Japan, where atheism is the norm.
Now, we can start to see what is really going on. Frequent church attendance is not necessary to keep our dark sides at bay. It isn’t necessary for moral strength. In fact, we really see only one significant difference between frequent church goers and those who have stopped going to church:
People who stop going to church frequently lose their faith.
So, the house of cards falls. All those ominous warnings when I was a kid weren’t about keeping me from becoming evil. They were about keeping me from losing faith. Where does this leave us? Well, it leaves us right where we started, only with a slightly different attitude. It’s true what they say — if you don’t keep going to church, you are likely to lose your faith, but not because you are inherently evil. Rather, leaving the church gives you a chance to see the world as it is and to learn the truths that don’t require reinforcement — the ones that stay with you precisely because they are true. To put it another way, one never needs to brainwash someone into believing the truth.