Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Why do I still bother with Christianity?

I’ve been asked: why do you still bother with Christianity? If you are an atheist, why do you still study and discuss a belief system that you have long since rejected?

These are good questions. I’ve thought about this a lot and I think there are two main reasons as to why I still bother with Christianity at all.

Understanding where I’ve come from
Christianity has been a part of Western culture for two thousand years. For better or for worse, it has influenced language, thought, music, literature and philosophy. It has shaped our views of both origins and of the human condition. Despite the relatively recent move away from Christianity in Western countries, elements of Christian symbolism and thought still remain deeply ingrained in Western consciousness.

I was born in the context of Western culture. I have a great desire to learn about where I’ve come from, to learn about the history of my heritage. Christianity may or may not be true, but no one can deny that it has made an impact on Western thought. It is this impact that I like to study.

Understanding myself
Not only was I born in the context of Western culture, but I was also born in a country that was entrenched in a Christian way of thought. Before the advent of democracy in 1994, Christianity was the religion adopted by the apartheid state in South Africa. As a child in the 1980’s, I grew up in a society saturated by Christianity: every South African child had to attend classes on Christianity at school; school prayer was mandatory; and Christianity was the religion that received the bulk of airtime on radio and television.

I believe the first six to ten years of a child’s development are extremely important as this is when the child builds psychological foundations regarding belief systems, values, aspects of self esteem, elements of culture, sexual attitudes, etc. The society and culture in which the child is raised determines many of these foundations, and it’s upon these foundations that everything else in later life is built.

However, some of these foundations might hold false representations of reality, or they might be destructive (e.g., holding false stereotypes of other races). Others might be beneficial. Like a struggling alcoholic, a person who recognises and works hard to change a destructive or false neural foundation built in their childhood will struggle with it for the rest of their lives.

Despite my rejection of Christianity, I still have those odd times where I fall back onto the false Christian neural patterns that were built in my childhood. In times of crisis something deep inside still wants to cry out for help to the god I grew up with. In times of great serendipity I feel something is missing, and I suddenly realise that there is no-one to thank for my good fortune. These habits of theistic thought and action are difficult to get rid of. The concept of the Christian god is built deep within my psyche, cemented within my mind by the society in which I was raised. I can only begin to dismantle this neural foundation by understanding it.

Despite being an atheist, Christianity is still an integral part of my subconscious. To understand Christianity is to understand my heritage. To understand Christianity is to understand myself.


C.L. Hanson said...

I know exactly how you feel.

As I discussed here, there's a tendency in Mormon culture to think ill of those who "can leave the church but can't leave it alone". But I feel like it's natural for me to want to explore, examine, and contemplate the culture that formed me...

Scott Vieira said...


I'm curious do you find yourself still interested in metaphysical questions? Do you think this would also be a reason for wanting to explore these questions? And if you do, do you think this is a natural curiosity or a curiosity stirred by your Christian upbringing?

Anonymous said...

My Prayer is that God reveal himself to you as he did to me when I was not interested. There is a world of difference between religion and faith.

God Bless

Jason Hughes said...


God revealed himself to you?

Can I ask how?

ursa smaller said...

I'm glad I dropped in. I'm sure I'll be back.

Kyaroko said...

I realized I was an atheist when I was laying in the ER in agony waiting for a surgeon to remove my appendix. It never once during the course of that entire day occurred to me to pray. God seems to be an imaginary friend that I left behind when I turned 30.

Kevin Parry said...

Good comments all around. Thank you for the link, C.L. I will definitely take a look.

Scott said:
do you think this is a natural curiosity or a curiosity stirred by your Christian upbringing

This is an interesting question. I’ve always had a desire for the mysterious, for the philosophical. I always had the tendency to wonder about questions around what I am, why am I here, and is this all around me really real? I’m not sure if Christianity was the cause of this kind of thinking. I know many Christians who don’t think philosophically at all, and I know some who have incredible philosophical thoughts about life, the universe and their faith. I think some people are more prone to become philosophical than others. I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture that causes this kind of thinking, though.

Nick wrote
My Prayer is that God reveal himself to you as he did to me when I was not interested

Thank you for your comment. Jason raised an important question: how God revealed himself to you. Did his speak to you in an audible voice? Did he appear to you? I would like to know.

By the way, Nick, you comment has inspired me to write a post on this issue. Watch this space . . .

All the best

Bishop Rick said...

Kevin, perhaps you are more of a Deist than an Atheist.

Roger Saner said...

Hi Kevin

Your use of the word "serendipity" intrigues me because of its context. What do you do when something catastophically good (a "eucatastrophe" according to Lenard Sweet who was quoting someone else...) happens to you? Do you ascribe it to the universe (as Julia Cameron writes in The Artist's Way who equates the universe with karma with God with whatever - trying to be helpful, I think, considering her wide audience) and would be agree with Richard Rohr that we live in a "benevolent" universe: that the nature of reality is fundamentally friendly and good?

Roger Saner said...

Btw, I asked the above question of 4 Christian friends of mine...and I'll share their answers sometime...:)

Jestia said...

Hi there,

If you do not believe that God exists, then what will be your basic foundation in understanding the universe? Is it science?

You surely must have at least one thing that you believe in.