While I have always deep down been skeptical of the reality of gods and spirits, I spent much of the last twenty years of my life as a self-described pagan of one sort or another. Every so often, my own internal sense of self-deception would go off, and I would renounce the frippery of gods and magic and so forth, only to come back again. Why? The strongest thing religion– whether it be monotheistic or polytheistic– has going for it is a built-in social support mechanism. It makes life incredibly easy in the sense that one doesn’t need to go out and find emotional, social, or other forms of support. It’s there, with plenty of people who will accept you and praise you and call you “brother” for precisely no other reason than because you happen to be on the same arbitrary “belief team” they are. It is incredibly difficult to consciously remove oneself from that sort of supportive system.
I am an atheist because I have finally realized that wanting to believe something is not enough. I need to embrace that which I really do believe and make do with the consequences of that belief.
Hello, Brother Joseph! Glad to have you aboard the rational train.
You are correct, of course, that atheists need to provide more social and emotional support to each other; many of us join the Unitarian Church or the Ethical Society. Some of us who live in urban areas are lucky enough to have a local atheist organization, but the rest of us make do with the long distance intellectual support that we find on the internet– thanks to people like PZ.
The same kind of community is available in groups with a political or social purpose. Why not get involved with your local “Occupy”, or an environmental campaign, or a charitable volunteer group?
It depends. Some us wouldn’t see that as a social system worth calling ourselves as a member. It depends on the type of social needs a person has; I’d run, but I understand when some people have rather desperate social-circle needs. You can’t pick your family, but…