Readers of this blog know that I believe in God, and am, obviously, a theist. And most know that I also believe that God's existence can be rationally justified -- as I have attempted to demonstrate on this blog -- even if not everyone finds such justification to be overwhelmingly persuasive. I, thus, believe that my belief in God is rationally grounded.
So how, then, can it be the case that I am "one step away from being an atheist"? Is this an exaggeration? Well kind of, but...not exactly. Let me explain.
And, unfortunately, as a normal parent, I constantly hear stories of the tragedies that befall parents with children. Heck, my wife works as a neonatal intensive care nurse, and comes home with horrific stories of infants dying and suffering every week, it seems. When I hear of these stories I am always grieved, and I immediately wonder what I would do in those situations. I mean, seriously, what would I do if something happened to my daughter?
Well, many things would happen, and none of them good, I can tell you that. But one action that I genuinely think would be a strong possibility is that I would abandon all belief in a God. To lose the most precious thing I have ever laid eyes on, and have completely given my heart to, would destroy me, and it would annihilate any belief in a God that has even an ounce of love. If something happened to my daughter I would curse God forever, and lose any heart that any such maximally loving being existed at all. That's it, I would be an atheist at heart.
However, there's an inconsistency here that many attentive readers may have picked up on. As I just said, and as anyone would acknowledge, these events happen constantly every day -- children are dying needlessly every minute. How, then, can I sit here and say that one child's potential death would be a sufficient condition for my non-belief, and yet this potential is being realized in thousands of other families every day? That is, how can I consistently say that one turn of events is enough to convert me to atheism, when these very events are ubiquitous in the world we inhabit, and yet nevertheless continue to believe in God?
I think that the answer here is to be found in emotion. No matter how rationally justified and reasonably held our beliefs are, they are still, most likely, predicated on emotion, more than reason. In fact, this is already something that psychologists have inferred. So, even though I believe that the existence of God is rationally justified, it is the case that a flood of emotions so significant and so powerful can overthrow this belief. And it's important to note that this is the case with anyone -- emotion can easily overthrow anyone's reasonably held beliefs, especially if one does not realize that this is occurring. What this also means is that my reasons for believing in God are not purely rational either. They are most likely rooted in just as much emotion as they are reason. In fact, it means that most of our reasonably held beliefs are probably predicated more in emotion than in reason.
So, even though I do in fact have rational justifications for why a "good" God would allow suffering and evil, when this suffering and evil lands on my front door, my emotion is enough to supersede such justification. This isn't always a good thing, but it's the condition of human nature and thought nonetheless. However, though it might not always be a good thing -- when considered from a purely rational perspective -- this sway of emotion is a form of justification in itself, and by that I mean that if one's child unfortunately dies, they are indeed warranted in entailing atheism from this event. I mean, how can they not be warranted? Because they should know William Lane Craig's logical arguments against the problem of suffering? Come on. If God made us, then he made us with a rational faculty that is just as sensitive to emotion as it is to reason -- in fact, it may be even more sensitive to emotion. Therefore, I don't see how God can be upset that an individual infers atheism from tragic and sorrowful circumstances, since God's the one who arranged our cognitive faculties to be swayed in this way to begin with! But, I digress.
To come back to me personally, I'm not even sure if what I've said is correct. That is, I don't know for sure that if the aforementioned circumstances obtained, that I would abandon theism on emotional grounds. I say this because I used to think the same regarding my father. Three years ago my father was killed crossing the street in a residential area by an idiot going fifteen over the speed limit. I always thought that if something like this happened, then, it would drive me away from God. But, here's the thing, it actually brought me closer to God. Contrary to my thoughts, the pendulum swung the other way. So maybe I'm not as close to atheism as I thought. Who knows?
What I think is important here is that we need to be aware of how powerful our emotions are, and how fragile our "rationally justified" believes are. We tend to think that we're straight-shooting logicians, unaffected by the throws of emotion and sentiment, but chances are we're always a few emotional steps away from whatever belief we most oppose.