Survey Reveals the Beliefs of Atheists

New York, New York (PressExposure) February 25, 2009 -- What do atheists believe? And why don’t they believe in the existence of a God? Dr. Darrel Ray, the author of a provocative new book, The God Virus, decided to find some of the answers by surveying readers of his book who had contacted him.

“The most prevalent reason for not believing in God,” said Dr. Ray, “was expressed as follows: If God is all powerful, all good, and all knowing, then why does He permit such sufferings as the painful deaths of small children from terminal diseases?

“Recently, six people articulated the following inconsistent behavior of an almighty being as sufficient reason for their disbelief: When a plane, in which no one died, safely landed in the Hudson River, the media claimed it was a miracle. In other words, many people believed that God had gently placed the plane down so that there would be no loss of life; however, why didn’t He prevent another plane from crashing into a house in Buffalo that resulted in the deaths of all on board? It seemed to those I interviewed that if one credits God for saving the lives of one set of passengers, then one has to blame Him for not saving the lives of another set of passengers. If God is going to save the lives of one group of travelers then He has an obligation to save a similarly distressed group of travelers. Not to do so is to obviate the very definition of God. To save one group of people and to let another group perish means that God is not all powerful and good; and if He isn’t those things, then He isn’t God.”

Many other people, however, chose not to believe in God because of a personal experience that caused their faith to vanish. For example, one young man, when he was a boy of twelve, had been playing catch with his father in a field behind their house. A thunder storm started and the two began striding back to their house. As the father was catching up to his son, a bolt of lightening hit and killed him. After the funeral, when the boy asked his family’s minister why such a terrible thing should happen, the minister told him “God has his reasons, which we cannot possibly understand.” When the boy asked the minister how he knew that God had his reasons, the minister said: “God would not act without having a reason.” The boy went home, and that night lying in his bed unable to sleep, he decided that the minister was simply making up a story. “If there was a God who would strike my father dead, then I did not want to know him. I never believed in God again,” he said.

A similar event troubled a young woman when she was a child: as her mother accompanied her home from kindergarten class, thunder erupted followed by a heavy downpour of rain. The mother and daughter started to run, heading for shelter in a nearby store. As they passed under a large tree, a bolt of lightening hit the tree, causing it to fall on the mother. It killed her instantly, splitting open her head. The little girl was not hit by the tree, but she witnessed what had happened to her mother. She stood there crying as passersby attempted to comfort her. An ambulance arrived and took her mother away. She told Dr. Ray that seeing her mother lying dead on sidewalk had made her doubt the goodness of God. “Though, as an adult, I am not entirely an atheist, I am an agnostic as result of that experience. I would like to believe in God. My parents were both religious people, but I find it hard. I think that there may be a God who created the world, and then he went on vacation.”

Another woman, a former regular churchgoer, commented: “Every week, I used to pray for my brother who had AIDS. I prayed that either he would be cured or that he would not have to suffer. For a year, I prayed for him every Sunday. He died in a hospice. My sister-in –law said that just before he slipped into unconsciousness, he wept. After he died, there were still tears on his cheeks. After that my belief in God just left me. I realized it one Sunday morning while kneeling in church; I was reciting the Nicene Creed and suddenly realized that I didn’t believe a word of it.”

Others claimed that when they were in college and got into conversations with other students that they felt silly espousing a belief in God. “I just sounded very naïve,” one man said. “And I took a lot of philosophy courses. I was particularly attracted by the words of Descartes and Bertrand Russell and various empiricists. After reading them, I found it logically impossible to believe in a higher power who controls the world. And then I read a biography of Thomas Jefferson, and he removed all the parts of the Bible that were full of miracles. What was left was a New Testament Jesus who was a wise and loving teacher, a great man, but not a god.”

And finally, a physician commented: “I was brought up as an Orthodox Jew. Going through medical school and seeing suffering and death made it hard for me to believe that there was a loving, compassionate God. If there were, then why did He let so many patients endure gruesome deaths? When a patient responded to a specific course of treatment, the patient acted as science explained. My job was to treat patients, to do what I had been taught to do, which didn’t mean praying for their recovery.

“Most of the rest of the reasons for atheism or agnosticism were similar to those already noted. “I think that America may be heading toward a more rational view of religion,” said Dr. Ray, who has degrees in psychology and religious studies. “There is a subtle reaction to the fundamentalism that characterized so much of American life during the last couple of decades. People are suffering because of the economy, and prayer is not producing jobs, dividends, or other economic benefits. We may be coming to resemble Europe in our non-reliance on religion. In Europe, only about 12% of the population attends religious services.

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Press Release Submitted On: February 24, 2009 at 4:59 pm
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