Saturday, 11 June 2011

Psychology of an atheist


When I was an atheist I didn’t feel any need for Christianity.

I didn’t feel any need for it. I certainly felt alienated, but merely wanted relief from alienation, and conceptualised this in terms of relief in pleasure, or at least in distraction – in absorption, in leisure or in busyness.


I strongly resented the assumption that I had a need which Christianity would satisfy. I denied any such need.

I resented the idea that I was in a state of sin (whatever that might mean) from which I needed to be saved.

I regarded Christianity as being like psychoanalysis – something which itself created the pathology which it then claimed to cure.


I didn’t see that my alienation was a matter of perceived reality – that I felt alienated because the only things that seemed to matter were wholly subjective (unrelated to objective facts) hence delusional.


The un-alienated life was merely (I thought) a successful delusion – a game of ‘let’s pretend’ where you are able to forget that you are pretending.

I learned that hunter gatherers were, apparently, un-alienated and well-adjusted to their reality; but (I thought) precisely because hunter gatherer reality (animism) was a successfully self-gratifying delusion.

Hunter gatherers believed that the forest (or whatever their environment) was a benign parent, that theirs was a perfect world where they had ‘always’ lived, that they were always surrounded by aware and purposive agents with whom they had a personal relationship (trees, stones, hills) that things were as they should be – full of spirits and powers.


I regarded hunter gatherer beliefs as objectively wrong – but successfully self-gratifying. I envied them their happiness but regarded it as a delusion. The meanings which hunter gatherers perceived were projected meanings.

In reality I believed that there were no such meanings.


I believed that human reason and investigation had not discovered any link between human subjectivity and objective reality – indeed I believed that we moderns had discovered there was no such link, in the sense that the rational default inference was no meaning – and anything else was to pander to wishful thinking.


I did not believe in the reality of science, nor even of reason – but I believed that they were internally-consistent, un-contradicted and therefore (for some reason) preferable.

In a sense, I regarded the only reality as present gratification, and that the understanding of present reality was ultimately underwritten by the power of reason and science to enhance present gratification (e.g. more comfort, more stimulus, longer life…).

Yet, at the same time, I believed that hunter gatherers had greater personal gratification...


Therefore the human situation was tragic. We were apparently addicted to our present delusions – even though these delusions were (by comparison with hunter gatherer life) sub-optimal.

The main hope was therefore that humans would gain control of their own subjectivity – so that we could perceive and experience as we wanted.


I regarded morality – for example altruism, caring for others – as ultimately explicable as a contingent consequence of natural selection – therefore its imperative was pragmatic, but not ethically compelling (change the instinct, by science or maybe training, and the morality would change – so I was forced to admit, when trying to be consistent).

Why not be a selfish psychopath, then? That would be consistent? Why not exploit the world and other people for personal gratification?

Why not indeed?...


Yet I found myself constrained (and it could only be regarded as a constraint, ultimately) by Natural Law – by spontaneous human morality.

In a sense, I resented the spontaneous presence of ‘Natural Law’ in myself as a barrier to self-gratification.

At one level, I wanted things to be as I wanted them to be; but was frustrated that mind and body would not go along with this desire: that instinct and pathology (as I interpreted the phenomena) would contradict and often thwart me in trying to attain self-gratification.

So, in that sense, evolved instincts and the constraints of ‘the rest of the world’ (both experienced as two sides of the frustration of evolved instincts) were the only realities.

But all this had no moral implications – unless morality was re-defined as the relation between evolved instincts and the current environment (either or both of which might at some point be changed).


So, reality was self-contradictory, paradoxical.

But then why not? Who said reality had to make sense?

(Especially to a contingently evolved animal such as myself.)

Whatever the nature of reality, all I knew were my preferences and the constraints on their gratification.

Yet, how could I even know this?

Somehow I ‘knew’ that hunter gatherers were deluded in their contentment; but the criteria by which I judged them to be delusional were not – somehow – regarded as equally delusional.

I knew that science was a kind of delusion – yet somehow it seemed less delusional than animism.


All the time I was making evaluations and judgments (for example that science was realer than animism) yet there seemed no grounds for these – except perhaps that what is, what exists, has a greater reality than what was and is not now.

Existence validates reality?

(But how to evaluate existence?)

What seemed compelling was that hunter gatherers were few or extinct whereas rationalists, atheists, had ‘taken over’ the world.

This was an argument of validation by demographic trends, as it dawned on me. Demography is truth?

A pragmatic argument.


Yet what about these demographic trends? Had rationalism and atheism and materialism really taken-over?

How come if atheism is valid then religions are increasing? How come that, among religions, Islam has been the most obviously successful in recent demographic trends?

The conclusion could be delayed by comparing wealth and technical ability – but surely these are only a means to an end; and wealth and technical ability are only validated if they are able to prevail – which surely means they ought to be prevailing now?

I was trying to judge pragmatically, yet I was finding that pragmatic judgement pointed towards transcendental values.

How to stave-off transcendence?


‘Transcendent reality’ is (by definition) outside of science and pragmatic discourse.

Yet apparently the application of a pragmatic system of evaluation seemed to conclude that transcendence is pragmatically validated.

Apparently, only by basing life on transcendent Goods can life be pragmatically validated…


I was led to the same conclusions in science and it art. In science, it seemed that honesty was vital to real science, yet honesty depended upon regarding transcendent truth as real.

In art, it seemed that regarding beauty as transcendentally real was essential to real achievement.

Indeed, the achievements of creative genius in whatever field seemed to depend on the sense that reality was transcendent of that field.

Pragmatism led merely to professionalism, or careerism, or plain psychopathic fakery.


Once I had reached this point, the point of acknowledging the primacy of the transcendent, then I was no longer an atheist.

The question changed: from then onwards, it was not a question of atheism versus religion, but instead a question of which religion?