I saw a picture of this button on DeviantArt. I liked it, but it got me thinking.
Born again Christians use the term “Born Again” to denote their belief that when they accept Jesus as their personal savior they are “born again” in spirit. This phrase and concept is taken from John 3:1-36,
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. …
To say, as the button above does, that an atheist is born again once they reject theism is not quite the same thing. It is really more of a reversion.
In Islam, converting to Islam is said to be actually reverting because of the Islamic believe that everyone is born a believer in the one true god, but later is lead astray. Of course, this makes the erroneous (in my view) assumption that there is one true god.
An atheist is someone who does not believe in any god/gods, or any supernatural begins like angels, devils, demons, jinns, etc. So to say that you are a “born again” atheist is about as true statement as you can get since none of us are born with a belief in anything, never mind a god or gods. These beliefs are usually learned or taught to us.
That’s not to say that, left to our own devices we wouldn’t create a god or gods on our own to explain the world around us. This is human psychology and is where religions come from in the first place. We have evolved to see agency (a specific animated cause) in everything around us, perhaps from the survival need to see a predator instead of just a bunch of leaves or grass in the bushes. Sure, we could assume that it is just a random pattern, but if it were a lion, we’d be lunchmeat. Those of our ancestors who assumed that something living was there survived to reproduce and pass on this evolutionary trait.
This need to see agency in the things around us also gave rise to giving agency to things unseen as well. When trying to answer what is basically the meaning of life (which we all know is 42, of course), we naturally assigned agency to explain that as well. A rain god must cause the rain. A wind god must cause the wind. Ditto for all of the other things in nature.
Eventually, logic dictated that the gods must all be ruled by a god of superior power, just as we were ruled by a chieftain or king. As time went on, logic again told us that our entire universe must have come from somewhere and that there had to be something even greater than the existing gods. A creator god was born and eventually, this creator god not only ruled over the other gods, but completely did away for the need for them. Everything could be explained as the actions of this one, all powerful god.
As time went by, our inquiry into the workings nature took on the form of ideas followed by testing. This lead to the scientific method which then lead to amazingly accurate explanations and predictions of the workings of the universe. The forces that controlled nature could now be explained without the need for god or gods. This didn’t preclude the actual existence of them, but eliminated the need for them to explain the things that they had always been needed for.
Once we saw that we could explain nature without having to resort to “god did it”, many of use came to the belief that since there is no need for a god, there probably isn’t a god at all.
The need to explain the world we live in is universal. The need to see agency is deeply ingrained in our brains. This need has driven how we explain our world and has shaped the explanations that all the varied cultures have come up with, leading to all the different gods that have ever been postulated to exist. But the agency we are wired to see doesn’t actually exist. It was evolved to protect us, not to explain anything.
While we are born with this need, we are not born with a belief of any kind. Beliefs are shaped by those around us, by social settings. Most of us accept those beliefs because they are reinforced by our inclination to see agency in non-animate things. Even as children, we try to use reason and logic to make sense of the world around us, but reason is often trumped by socially enforced beliefs. It is extremely difficult to shakes these beliefs, but when we let reason and logic guide us, we can finally let go of these beliefs and are “born again” into the state in which we were first born, a state of not knowing. Then our minds are clear, pure, and ready to find the real answers to the meaning of life.