I describe myself as a reluctant atheist.
Essentially, this means that I do not believe in God, but I wish I did. I have tried to believe. At this point in my life, I simply lack the faith required to believe. Despite reading the Bible cover to cover three times in my life, I have been unable to find truth in those words.
Truthfully, the more I read, the less I believe.
Adding the word “reluctant” to my atheist label has had an interesting effect on others in terms of their reactions to my position on religion.
For people of faith, the word “reluctant” seems to have added a level of approachability and acceptance that did not exist before. While many people of faith have a difficult time understanding the non-believer and are often offended by the criticism of their religion, they seem to have an acceptance of the idea of a crisis of faith, and they often assume that this is what I am experiencing.
Even when I take a hard-lined stance against a practice or policy of their religious institution, the addition of the word “reluctant” has seemed to temper their anger and outrage.
This has been good.
I tend to believe that my position on God is not a crisis of faith and more rationale and cemented than some of these people of faith seem to believe, but perhaps I am wrong and someday faith will come to me.
Either way, we seem to be able to engage in discourse more easily now.
For some atheists, the addition of the word “reluctant” has been greeted with skepticism and disappointment. They believe that I do a disservice to nonbelievers when I fail to take a strong position on my atheist views.
I try to explain to these people that my position on atheism is actually quite strong. While I wish that I believed in a higher power and an afterlife, I am convinced that neither exists.
“Then why try to believe in something that you know doesn’t exist?” they ask. “Why wish for the impossible? And for someone who has read the Bible carefully, why would you wish for the God described in the Bible?”
They have a point. The Biblical God, particularly in the Old Testament, is not a friendly guy.
There are tough questions. I often find myself feeling like the little boy who has just discovered that Santa Claus isn’t real but still desperately wants him to be real. It’s a difficult position to explain or defend.
But I think I’ve found my answer. I’ve found my answer in Antoinette Tuff, the Georgian woman who saved the lives of untold numbers of students and teachers with her quick thinking and steel nerves. Listening to her describe the role that her faith in God played during her encounter with the gunman and the humility that her faith has given her in the wake of all the attention she has received was inspiring.
As I listened to her speak, I found myself jealous of her faith, wishing that I could believe with the absolute certainty that she possesses.
There is nothing wrong with wanting something as powerful as faith, even when you are convinced that it is predicated on something that does not exist.