When you’re an explicit atheist, it’s easy to think that religion is a bunch of hogwash that isn’t worth a minute of your time. I’d like to make the case that atheists should learn about religion. Those of us who weren’t indoctrinated into a religion might never pick up a Bible or the Quran – and this is, of course, completely justified.
Learning about religion isn’t the same as joining one
It’s not our job as non-believers to pick up every holy book ever claimed to be the word of God and familiarize ourselves with it. Familiarity with scripture isn’t necessary to come to the conclusion that God isn’t real. But that doesn’t mean atheists can’t benefit at all from reading scripture and analysing the messages within it.
Learning more about religious practices and the consequences of religion on our world, becoming familiar with the dangers of devoting one’s life to God and the negative effects of an unjustified belief in the afterlife, these can be as enlightening for an atheist as leaving a religion can be for a theist.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a world where God has influence. Not as an all-knowing, all-powerful deity, but certainly as an idea. That’s why atheists should learn about religion. Culture, history and our entire world has been shaped by it. As such, knowing more about religion roughly equates to learning more about people – their lives, their choices, their methodologies. Discovering not only what people believe – but also, equally important, why they believe it – will help you better understand the predicament of religion and therefore be better equipped to react to it.
Scripture shouldn’t convince anybody of anything
When I had only just became a skeptic and taken a hard stance against religion, I remember being afraid to read the Bible. I knew myself well enough to know that I would come out of the experience with more questions rather than answers, but a younger, more ignorant version of myself spoke to me from the back of my head. I was so afraid that if I really read the Bible, took my time with it and really went through it properly, I would come out the other side a Christian. Not because I had determined it was rational to consider the Bible the word of God, but because so many people are drawn into faith every single day all across the world. What makes me any different from them?
This “Book” or collection of books that I was dreading to read had shaped the world like nothing in human history. It felt as if opening the cover alone would do away with my years of experience as a humanist, a rationalist, and most of all an atheist.
I now know this fear was irrational. See, I had not come to my current understanding of the world through taking things at face value. My beliefs, even then, were grounded in evidence and reason. No baseless claim of any kind can penetrate a proper barrier of skepticism. The only way opening that Bible would make be believe that God exists is if I already wanted to believe it.
If for nothing else, read scripture so that, like me, you can learn about the atrocities of Gods and the unjust nature of their proposed morality. Read scripture so that you could never want to believe in God. It’s that intention to believe – not the belief itself – that sets people on an imperfect path to truth.