I consider myself agnostic, with a slight lean towards atheism. I don’t necessarily believe that any gods or spiritual deities exist, but I also don’t outright deny the possibility of a creator since the origin of the universe is the largest and most abstract mystery known to mankind. With that said, I often find myself drawn to religion. Religions of all kinds – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Wicca, Satanism, Scientology, etc. It’s a curiosity that I have, until recently, put off as just that – curiosity. I do not follow any of these faiths, nor do I accept any of their ideas as fact. Yet, I hunger to learn more about them. But why? I constantly feel the need to read up on religion, yet I write these beliefs off as nothing more than nonsense and superstition.
First of all, labeling oneself an atheist comes with a bit of homework. In the US, where only about 14.1% of the population describes themselves as an atheist, agnostic, or having no religion at all (1), one must have the necessary knowledge to defend his or her position against the overwhelming majority. If ever the occasion should arise where you must defend your atheism to a larger group of believers, a thorough knowledge of your opponent will insure that you are not vulnerable and unable to form replies when your opponent ventures off into some obscure part of his or her religion’s history. As the saying goes, “know thy enemy”.
Is this the only explanation for the curiosity myself and others often feel?
No. Sometimes I find myself wondering why certain religious beliefs, especially the most ridiculous ones, are so popular. How did Christianity and Islam become so widespread? What is it about certain religions that attract such massive amounts of followers? By learning about these religions and their histories, I am able to form a better understanding as to how this came about.
The major religions are not the only religions that interest atheists.
Ancient and obscure religions such as the various forms of pre-Christian paganism also appeal to many atheists simply because they are mysterious. Some ancient belief systems were incredibly strange, so strange that in modern times they only exist in works of fantasy. Not only were some of these ancient beliefs incredibly strange, but the followers of these religions were incredibly devoted. The Mayans sacrificed humans to please their gods. The Egyptians spent decades upon decades building what we now call the Pyramids, which was influenced by their beliefs about the afterlife. These cultures made tremendous sacrifices in the name of their religions, and to the atheist mind, it is inconceivable how such sacrifices could be made in the name of such silly ideas.
There are many different reasons why an atheist may find him or herself interested in religion. My personal curiosity stems from many of the reasons listed above, as do many other atheists and agnostics. But let’s not forget about the most basic reason – A thirst for the unknown. It is a craving for adventure, for excitement, for mystery. For some atheists, they may never fullfill this thirst without saturating their imagination with the vast world of the supernatural and paranormal that religion provides. Atheism stems from logic, and there is no romance in logic. There is no mystery in logic. It is a very dry world for some atheists, and religion, like a great work of literature or a captivating motion picture, is the only escape.