The journey to unbelief, revisited

I spent some time last night going through a manuscript on atheism and unbelief, sent to me by a work colleague. Reading through it reminded me of my own personal journey from credulity to skepticism.

I could see the same mistakes in the manuscript that I had made when I first ventured out into the world of unbelief, trying to make sense of this bewildering, yet deliciously liberated frame of mind… no being. It was like deja vu.

I remember grabbing eagerly at any book I could find, any resource that would explain this new world to me. And most of the time I was led astray by utter nonsense. Believe me, there is a lot of it out there. From the cunningly sublime, to the outrageously ridiculous. There’s all kinds – from conspiracy theorists to pushers of woo of every hue.

It is amazingly easy to be lulled into accepting bullshit, because it is comforting. Yes, bullshit is comforting. Which is probably why the world is full of it. Generally people want to be comforted. Who can blame them? Being or feeling challenged is not a natural desire.


I had a vision that bullshit would sell very well….and other stories from this Diwali weekend

Local news from this weekend is that between 50 and 100 people continue to visit the Zachey home in Benoni, South Africa, two years after then 18-year-old, Francesca Zachey claimed to have had a vision of the Virgin Mary.

And despite advice that allegedly caused one of her mesmerized followers to be blinded after she obediently gazed into the sun, in an attempt to glimpse the Virgin Mary, Francesca maintains that she is god’s vessel who is changing people’s lives for the better. Not surprisingly, these days, the Zachey home spots a gift shop selling rosaries, prayer books and 120-Rand T-shirts. Perhaps she would have us believe that a rosary and a T-shirt make-over can work wonders for your life.

Maybe Francesca really thinks she had a supernatural vision, but the cynic in me concludes that ultimately, that vision became the realization that bullshit sells, and very well too.

In a non-related incident, Hindus celebrated (or not) Diwali, on Saturday, October 17th  this weekend. Better known as the Festival of Lights, this religious observance happened to fall on the same day as the religious month of Purtassi was ending. Purtassi is apparently observed in obeisance to the planet Saturn (which supposedly represents a trinity of Hindu gods and goddesses), and is marked by abstinence and strict fasting, while Diwali is more joyous and associated with feasting. Cynical Hindus would be inclined to believe that either the gods were playing a cruel joke on them to curb their merry-making, by causing the two religious festivals to clash, or that the Hindu priests who interpret the solar and lunar movements in the heavens, and set dates thereby, had got it a tad wrong. I’m inclined to go with the latter interpretation.

And on this particular Saturday morning which was overcast with intermittent rain, I happened to overhear my friend’s wife who is incidentally a staunch Hindu [rather forced to overhear, as she is inclined to speak rather loudly], mention that it was an unlucky day and Hindus were not permitted to do anything until midday, but all feasting must be postponed until the next day entirely. She backed up her assertion by saying that even the sun was not shining as usual. Evidently, the overcast and rainy nature of the day was merely coincidental. She then went on to proclaim that since  rain was symptomatic of the Diwali festival [not in those exact words], she was thus assured in her conviction that the timing of Diwali was right. Yet again, the seasonal rain at this time of year was merely coincidental. Apparently, she had also forgotten the many years, I can clearly remember when there was not a spot of rain about, during Diwali.

Francesca is representative of many others who apparently have supernatural visions, and the people who flock to them are symptomatic of the intense desire to believe, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. My friend’s wife is also representative of many people from various different religious persuasions who still believe that the stars and the planets somehow influence their lives and destinies.

It’s rather sad that in spite of all the information available so widely and freely, superstition and irrational thinking still plays such a dominant role in the lives of ordinary people. Perhaps that’s the problem; people are quite satisfied to remain ordinary.