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Losing Our Faith

Why more Americans are doubting the existence of God

As we’ve known for some time now, Americans are walking away from religion in droves. As National Geographic recently pronounced, the world’s newest religion is: No Religion. Indeed, back in 2007, 16% of Americans said they had no religion, but today it is over 23%. And among Millennials, it is closer to 35%.

Why is this happening? As I have discussed elsewhere, there are many sociological factors at play, such as: the rise of more women working outside the home, increased internet usage, a reaction against the religious right, a reaction against the Catholic church’s pedophile priest scandal, etc.

But the latest results of a national Pew survey are most interesting, because they asked people themselves why they are no longer religious, and this is what they said: about 50% reported that they had lost their faith in God, 20% said that they don’t like organized religion, 18% said that they are uncertain about their religious beliefs and are perhaps more spiritual than religious, and 10% claimed to still believe in God and religious teachings, but are just too busy to be involved with a church.

This is great data because it proves two things: 1) not all “nones” (those who no longer identify with a religion) are atheists or agnostics, and 2) about half are. That’s a huge percentage. And the fact that the vast majority (78%) of those surveyed by Pew had been raised with religion, and had presumably believed in God, but now don’t – or strongly doubt – indicates that millions of people can and do stop believing in the existence of a magical, invisible deity who creates universes and hates masturbation. It shows that people can apply critical thinking to the claims of theism, and find the latter lacking.

In my own study of apostates (people who were once religious but then rejected their religion), I interviewed many people who once believed, then seriously thought about the content and nature of that belief – and realized it didn’t add up.

For example:

* Theists often claim that the universe had to be created, because something can’t just emerge from nothing. So God must have created it. But that begs the question: who or what created God? If it is impossible for something to come from nothing, then that applies to God, right? Theists will then (illogically) say: God is just is. Or God is self-created. Which is of course totally illogical, and violates their own premise that something can’t come from nothing. The most rational response to the mysterious existence of the universe – and its origins – is to accept that we simply don’t know. Admit ignorance. Embrace agnosticism.

* Theists often claim that God is all-powerful and all-loving. Then why is there cystic fibrosis? smallpox? Why are their small bacteria that painfully kill millions of children every year? Why are their earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes? You can blame the devil if you like, but then that begs the question: why does God allow the devil to exist? Why not just kill him? Or at least exile him to some dungeon? It is all so silly, indeed.

* Theists often claim that without God there can be no objective basis for morality, which means that morality would just be arbitrary. But that begs the question: so whatever God commands is moral? When God commands that we kill babies – that is moral? When God commands that we commit genocide, is that moral? If killing babies and committing genocide is moral simply because God commands it, then “morality” has no real meaning – it is just whatever God commands. And that means goodness and wickedness, kindness and meanness, morality and immorality are purely arbitrary. Hm…so much for a morality based on God.

* Theists often claim that God answers prayers. Tell that to the millions of people who have watched their mothers, fathers, siblings, and children die from painful, drawn out diseases.

Why are we here? No one knows. Why is there a universe? No one knows. What is the basis for morality? Alleviating the suffering of sentient beings. Who or what can we turn to when in pain or sorrow? Family, friends, nature, art.

Of course, people are free to believe in a God despite the illogical nature of that belief. Heck, most people do. And if that belief helps them be better people, or helps them get through tough times, or helps them be more moral, then it's a good thing.

But more and more of us are doing just fine without it.

More from Phil Zuckerman Ph.D.
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