Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Subconscious Atheism

I was at a funeral, in a charismatic church in North Texas, sitting beside a charismatic preacher from a different church.

The preacher giving eulogy did something ghastly. He commanded the corpse to get up and rise to life. It didn't. There were shocked sobs from the family, of course, but everything had gone according to plan. The eulogist continued with the message, pre-written with the assumption that the deceased was not to rise, and informed us all that the reason she stayed dead was that she liked it more in heaven.

The preacher I was sitting next to, mortified, turned to me and said "I wanted to say, 'DUDE, SHE'S EMBALMED.'"

I can't think of this without getting a weird sick, still feeling. I imagine this is the feeling of "stop" one would get when they realized mid-dinner that they had been dining on human flesh.

Consciously or unconsciously, people growing up in charismatic churches must learn the rules quickly if they are to survive. You do not pray for amputees to grow their limbs back. You do not pray for people to sprout wings. You *do* pray for cancer patients. Colds and headaches? Absolutely.

You pray for what is known to be possible without a miracle.

Raise the dead? Sure. Pray for some kid who just drowned, or something. But an embalmed person? That's just embarrassing.

The subconscious is an amazing thing.

The subconscious basically gets split from the conscious when we're beaten, shamed, or screamed at by our parents when we're kids. Part of us goes underground. We no longer hear its voices. We stumble upon its camp sites when we remember our dreams, but even those are extremely difficult to understand, since the meanings laid out for us are the very ones that our conscious personas developed to avoid.

There are things that you cannot say or ask about God, I can attest, without feeling that you've broken the whole world with your five-year-old hands. In other families, the recognition of sexual abuse or alcoholism gets buried in the same caverns.

What's interesting, though, is that these realizations and questions never die. The subconscious still makes moves for us, but the conscious mind rationalizes them and selects different motives. "No, I stopped wearing deodorant because--um--something about nature!" . . . not because I'm trying to deter someone's physical advances.

I don't have a smart conclusion. I do have a chilling question: What if everyone is subconsciously an atheist? Why else would we allow ourselves in prayers only that which is known to be naturally possible? How did the preacher know that the deceased would choose not to rise? Why was he obviously stupid for not accounting for the embalming fluid?

A hundred strange memories from church begin to make sense.

I need to turn this off and go hug my kids.


  1. Awesome post. I have shared it on the Humanist Society of Scotland FB feed. Can't remember how I ended up following your blog, but glad I am.

  2. Zornhau, when someone says something like you have just said, it means the world to me, and makes my day. Thank you.

  3. Personally, when I was a kid, I believed god could do all those things- embalmed? He will make blood for them. Grow a limb? Why not?! But for some reason god never did those things. Never did any of the big things. I identify agnostic because I can't let go of the maybe and the "I don't know."

  4. This - *this* - is how shame and self-doubt develops at such an early age. As a five-year-old, with a young mind that has been encouraged to learn and start making logical conclusions, how can you know that God is the only thing not left up to question? When I was a child, I *did* pray for impossible things that I never saw happen. But, my parents couldn't say why those things didn't happen without admitting that miracles are a farce. So, it was my fault for doubting.

  5. See also George Rey's "meta-atheism" (https://sites.google.com/site/georgesrey/#sect3) and Eliezer Yudkowsky's "belief in belief" (http://lesswrong.com/lw/i4/belief_in_belief/).

  6. wow, i guess i've had thoughts like this for a while but you did a great job putting this idea into words.

  7. I also have no idea how I ended up bookmarking your blog, but you've just explained to me why I stopped wearing deodorant. Whoa.

    1. Wow! Talk to me! kenmyers@gmail.com . I love humans.

  8. Amazing. I've been thinking about this. While discussing success with a friend, who is a hardcore Christian, she said something about how the person is the one responsible for his own success and that God has nothing to do with it. Then I asked her who is responsible for the person's failures, "the person too, duh!" she said. Then I asked "if so, what else is God responsible for?" She was speechless...