Becoming Disillusioned with Atheism

Jerry Bergman

(Investigator 168, 2016 May)

As a young college professor I became an atheist, partly due to my father’s influence. As I became more involved in atheism I published many articles in their journals. Also as I became more involved I became increasingly disenchanted with the movement, especially with atheist scholarship.  Common claims such as Galileo was jailed due to his science and Bruno was burned at the stake for the same reason, were false.1 I knew enough about science, history, and religion to recognize that many of their often poorly informed arguments against Christianity were terribly distorted and one-sided.  It was often implied in their literature that most all of the world’s problems were due to Christianity.
My God hating compatriots believed, or inferred, that if only Christianity did not exist, the world would be a wonderful place. Wealthy atheist James H. Johnson wrote that, when atheists rule the world, which he was sure would occur someday, Christianity will be dead and "there will be no wars, no crime, no sickness and no unhappiness."2 Christopher Hitchens titled his latest book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Not just some things, but everything! Hitchens preached that if we got rid of God and religion, the earth will be a paradise, or close to it.3
I was also surprised to learn that personality conflicts were rampant in the atheist movement. An example is Garry DeYoung was strongly condemned in print by certain other atheists.  I did not agree with all of his eccentricities, such as his determination to persist in fighting losing court battles long after it became very obvious that they could not be won, but felt sympathy for him because of what he went through due to tenaciously holding on to his ideals.  A very intelligent, well-read, and hard working gentleman, he was determined to do things his own way, which was not always the way that other atheists thought was best. To me, he was a true friend.  My atheist friends also often expressed frustration about the problems of organizing atheists, noting that they were often not joiners and tended to be an independent lot that did their own thing.  This stereotype fit Garry very well.
My problem with the Witnesses, as a whole, was not with the people, but with doctrine and leadership, especially the lawyers who ran the Society.  Most Witnesses were wonderful, kind, and concerned friends, which made leaving the organization very difficult for me, and often most other people as well.  
When pushing our atheistic agenda — first to get all evidence of theistic religion out of the public square, then out of society (a long term goal) — we had enthusiastic Methodist, Congregationalist, and Jewish clergy doing a marvelous job in court for us. We viewed them as "useful idiots," and knew full well that they were ignorantly working toward their own demise, but we felt they were far too stupid to realize this fact. Our favorite word for religious believers was "stupid" although we often used words like ignorant and delusional as well, especially to attack those persons who took their religion seriously. These persons we, in general, derisively called "fundamentalists." An example is the well-known head of the atheist organization called The Truth Seeker, James Harvey Johnson noted above. He wrote in a 192-page book titled Superior Men (a term he used to refer to Atheists) that the great masses of people are very stupid. They are kept in stupidity by their rulers, priests, and preachers. All they know is to eat, … work when they have to, procreate, repeat what they hear like parrots, have their childish pastimes and die after a life of exploitation by grafting rulers, politicians, preachers, priests, and parasites. … stupid people multiply just as fast as intelligent people and under present conditions much faster.4

The book continued along the same vein in chapters with titles such as, "Religious Customs Are Amazingly Stupid."5 Johnson openly recognized Darwinism was lethal to theism or, at the very least, it put God out of a job.6 When I knew Johnson he was a wealthy, but a very bitter, often crusty, elderly man. He uncritically lumped together all religions except his own (atheism). In one sentence he discussed the Aztec religion ritual murders, and in the next sentence Christianity, ignoring the major differences between them, and rarely, if ever, admitted the good that resulted from theistic belief structures.
Modern religion bashers, such as Sam Harris, faithfully continue this now holy tradition. Although Harris, a Stanford Ph.D., are more sophisticated in their bashing than Johnson, he bashes just the same, using wild, often unsupported over generalizations in an attempt to argue his case.7 The same problem that turned me off to Watchtower "scholarship" was rapidly turning me off to atheist "scholarship," much of which was worse. In my experience, many, but clearly not all, atheist writings were as irresponsible, often worse, than much Watchtower literature. I lasted 20 years as a Witness, and only a few years as an atheist before I left the movement in disgust.
I also became very concerned about the general goals atheist’s had for society that included a world without theism. This was my goal then as well, but how they wanted to achieve this goal bothered me greatly. They genuinely believed that their new world would be a better place without religion, and many were determined to produce that world by suppressing, then destroying, all theistic religion by government power, first from the public square, then from our private lives.  I saw their tactics as very similar to the communists that so many of my compatriots admired.
Getting rid of all religious public display’s was a major first step toward their goal of achieving a solid atheist-socialist society, a first step which so-far they have been enormously successful.  They wanted information favorable to all religion, especially Christianity, out of the schools by law because they knew how the schools go is how the country goes. The ACLU and the courts were powerful allies with the atheists, many who preferred to be labeled the kinder and gentler term "secular humanists." In addition to their efforts to suppress religion, they often had the support of the liberal churches—the "useful idiots" as my atheistic friends called them.  
They also knew the key to achieve an atheist society was indoctrination in evolution, and for this reason most were very active proselytizers of Darwinism. And, as time has shown, atheists have been very successful in academia by using indoctrination in evolution to achieve converts. They wanted to force society to accept their worldview, not only by the use of legal means and court rulings, but by indoctrination as well.
In contrast, I advocated achieving our goals by convincing, not forcing, and this area was a major point of conflict between me and many of my atheist friends. I felt using objective education, not force, indoctrination or inaccurate polemics, would be the best and most humane approach. I saw their approach as not only inhuman but naive, to say the least; I took more of a "live and let live" approach.  In short, eventually I left atheism.

1 See Ronald Numbers 2009. Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
2 See Johnson. Superior Men. San Diego, CA: The Truth Seeker, 1949, p. 113
2 He died in 2011 from throat cancer at age 63 due to heavy drinking, smoking, and in general a life of debauchery.
4 James Harvey Johnson. Superior Men San Diego, CA. The Truth Seeker. 1949. p. 19.
5 Johnson, 1949, chapter 20.
6 Johnson, 1949,  pages 54-56.
7 Sam Harris. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.

Dozens of articles by Dr Jerry Bergman on this website: