Is Atheism a Spiritual Orientation?
The Atheist Spy has taken on an interesting task- he's decided to inflitrate a church in the guise of a Christian to try to understand the Christian mindset. From his initial post:
If you "suspend disbelief" for just one second and suppose that the world was deliberately created by an intelligent entity, and that 2000 years ago a man lived who was morally perfect... How much of Christian theology and mythology can be derived from just these two simple propositions? In other words, if a skeptical, logical, scientific-minded, reasonable person grants that these two axioms are true, how much of Christianity are they enough to justify, if you believe the world runs in a scientific, natural, deterministic way (no miracles or "tweaking" by God after the very start), and WITHOUT believing that Jesus had supernatural powers? The answer is; A surprising amount of Christianity follows from just that. Figuring this out is like playing with non-Euclidean geometry: Just change two basic axioms but leave the other ones the same, and explore the crazy new world you get.It's an interesting proposition, perhaps. One could presuppose any number of weird axioms and conclude a myriad of trippy worldviews. But upon accepting the Christian axioms, the Atheist Spy has come up with a new theory to explain the reason why reasonable people can be either Christian or Atheist:
...we can basically divide people into two camps:In other words, some people just need to believe in purpose-driven natural phenomena, and others don't. The Atheist Spy goes on to explain that this fundamental distinction explains how people can be religious and scientific simultaneously, because they exist as non-overlapping magisteria.
People who think asking "Why?" about the way the universe and life and intelligence came into existence and developed, and about accidental events, is meaningful. These people believe that the universe was created and/or is guided by a higher entity with a plan, with purpose. They will not be satisfied with a model of the universe that does not answer "Why?" - for them such a model would be incomplete.
People who think asking "Why?" is not meaningful, useful, or likely to lead to any relevant (or true) ideas. Rather, asking "How?" should expose the mechanisms which automatically (with no guidance or purpose) led to things being as they are.
The implication is that some people are just born religious, and others are not- the obvious analogy is that of sexual orientation, and which the Atheist Spy refers to as a "spiritual orientation." This solution he feels will promote greater understanding between theists and atheists, since it removes the decision to accept a deity from rationality. But how accurate is this? I would submit as a counter-example, evidence A: myself. I was born into a Christian home, accepted Christian theism without complaint or question for two decades, and only began to question Christian doctrine upon closer examination of the source text. My path out of Christianity was facilitated exclusively by academic means and rational appraisal of arguments. So I would argue strongly that the choice of atheism was definitely rational- but according to the Atheist Spy, I'm an atheist because I had to be- because of my "spiritual orientation." If the analogy to sexual orientation is accurate, I would think that one's orientation is something inborn or intrinsic. So that means that for two decades, I was a closeted atheist- so closeted, in fact, that I didn't even know it.
If this phenomenon of "spiritual orientation" is true, then what causes it? The Atheist Spy doesn't offer any explanation of its origin. Is it genetic, like sexual orientation? There are some possibilities, but at best they predispose individuals to hallucinogenic or spatial orientation experiences that would suggest some kind of supernatural realm, but nothing which assigns purpose.
I think that going back to the Atheist Spy's original post provides a better explanation for the difference between theists and atheists. "If a skeptical, logical, scientific-minded, reasonable person grants that these two axioms are true, how much of Christianity are they enough to justify?" The problem is in granting those two axioms. Are the Christian axioms coherent, and are they necessary to understand the world? Obviously, they're neither. So I think that there is, in fact, a difference in rationality between theists and atheists- theists add a couple incoherent, unnecessary axioms to their worldview. That they do so because they want to believe in an intelligent purpose to the Universe may be relevant from a psychological perspective, but it doesn't set theism equal to atheism as a rational belief.