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.
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.