The following is an interview with TWF of The Wise Fool and Speaking in Foolish Tongues.
Before you became an atheist, you were Christian. From reading your blog, it sounds like one of the main factors of your current skepticism of religion was the lack of divine interaction. You honestly believed, prayed and listened for God--to no avail. What do you think is the difference between you and those who claim to feel God’s presence and have their prayer’s answered?
I don't think that there is much difference, except perhaps a slightly more determined drive to validate and verify experiences in the religious arena. Ironically, that was spurred on by fear of demonic influence (Satan always looking for ways to ensnare us) and self-deception (listening to my own little voice in my head as opposed to God). I never could really discern any Satanic influences, but as I grew to better know myself and others, self-deception was rampant, and not just regarding God. It is far too easy to accept your perceptions without scrutiny when they seem favorable to you; far too easy to fool yourself.
I asked the previous question because believers often claim that atheists have never opened their heart and tried to believe. They also claim to know more about the Bible than atheists. It doesn’t seem like either accusation applies to you. In fact, a close reading of the BIble helped you move to atheism. Was their any one thing in scripture that made you take the final step away from faith?
I'm an engineer, so you might think that the plethora of scientific data contradictions; creation of man, creation of multiple languages, creation of rainbows, etc., would play a major role, but they didn't. It was seeing God's humanity through Scripture which was the end for me. God wasn't some perfect, all-loving, all-knowing, benevolent but just deity, like I had been taught to believe. God was just like you and me; petty, loving, vengeful, caring, etc.. And when He dwelt in the negative emotions, which was often, He seemed to be the most pernicious person I had ever read about. At least, He would be, if He truly understood what we were and what He was doing.
Like many of us, your choice of church was led by your loved ones. Was there much friction for you adopting the faith of your significant other? For the other atheists out there, do you recommend they stick to their infidel guns when dating a believer, or should they try to share the church experience?
Fortunately, none of my loved ones were fundamentalists, so I didn't have any problems. They didn't seem to care what flavor of Christian I was, and just accepted me for who I was. As for atheists dating believers, it's tough to give a blanket recommendation because of all of the different varieties of both atheists and believers. However, two things do come to mind: One, when you understand our human nature, then you understand why people believe, and why they do so with such conviction. From there, you can have the compassionate patience to get you through any friction which may be cause by a clash of beliefs. Two, when it comes down to the activities which really matter in life, metaphysical beliefs do not really factor into your enjoyment of the time spent together.
You write a Bible blog with a skeptical eye. In your opinion, which book or verse is the most meaningful and which is the most nonsensical?
At the book level, that's mostly easy. Ecclesiastes is a clear winner for the most meaningful, despite the obvious and heinous God-biased addition to its ending. While many books have nonsensical parts, for the whole book I would choose short one of Malachi. It has similar content to other prophets, but what makes it stand out is that Malachi is the prophetic book which claims that Elijah would come back and set things right, and part of setting it right was restoring the Levitic priesthood, replete with tithes and sacrifices. It becomes nonsensical when you see Jesus claim that John the Baptist was Elijah, doing so through quoting a cherry-picked, context-neutered verse from Malachi. My choices change with my mood and current events at the verse level. For example, Jeremiah 5:22 is pretty nonsensical in the wake of the Japan tsunami. One of the most meaningful verses I had recently discovered was Psalm 78:39:
"[God] remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return." NIV
As atheists, we often talk about the harm caused by religion. What do you see as the primary benefit of religion, if any?
Religion has many benefits, for sure. As tainted as it can be with judgmental people fostered by the spirit of ultimate judgment, building of a community is probably the primary benefit to religion. In its best form, it provides the platform and the impetus to bond with people outside of ourselves, meet on a regular basis, and look after one another.
Who is your atheist role model? Why?
I've been kind of a loner, by design. As I explored the question of religion, I didn't want to be overly influenced by eloquent atheist scholars such as Dawkins or Harris, so I avoided most atheist outside influence, and thus never picked up a role model. However, I am in great admiration and debt to Steve Wells' work in producing the Skeptics Annotated Bible website. I dream that my own Bible book summaries on my blog would be at least half as useful as the site Steve has put together.
Is there anything that would convince you that there is a god? If so, provide an example.
I am a little less hard-lined than some atheists, in that I have little trouble conceiving of a real god (as opposed to God with a "G"), but such a god is under no obligation to make its own presence known to us (and seemingly has not so far), and it would not care whether or not I think it exists. However, I consider that such a god unlikely, and that we have a better chance of discovering alien life on other planets in my lifetime than we do in ever finding such a god. Back to your question, though, a personal appearance would be nice proof. :-)