If the title of this Page is making you twitch, please be sure to read the entire thing before responding as the title was the choice of the author (or maybe his editors) and I simply left it as is.
I was going through the Pages this morning, and following a link to the source article on one of them eventually led me to this essay, which I found very touching. The author didn’t stop being an atheist, but he did have a big change of heart in how he views people’s desire/need to believe & the role religion plays in their lives.
In a nutshell, by walking away from his privileged Wall Street world and entering the world of South Bronx addicts as a photographer, he was able to see things from a completely different—and for him, alien—perspective. This triggered an empathy that had been numbed by his lifestyle and being surrounded by people who largely lived & thought like he did.
Read the excerpt below, or better yet the full source article, then I’ll continue:
Preacher Man’s eyes narrowed. He pointed at me, “You are an APE-IEST. An APE-IEST. You going to lead a life of sin and end in hell.”
Three years later I did escape my town, eventually receiving a PhD in physics, and then working on Wall Street for 20 years. A life devoted to rational thought, a life devoted to numbers and clever arguments.
During that time I counted myself an atheist and nodded in agreement as a wave of atheistic fervor swept out of the scientific community and into the media, led by Richard Dawkins. […]
I eventually left my Wall Street job and started working with and photographing homeless addicts in the South Bronx. When I first walked into the Bronx I assumed I would find the same cynicism I had towards faith. If anyone seemed the perfect candidate for atheism it was the addicts who see daily how unfair, unjust, and evil the world can be.
None of them are. Rather they are some of the strongest believers I have met, steeped in a combination of Bible, superstition, and folklore. […]
In these last three years, out from behind my computers, I have been reminded that life is not rational and that everyone makes mistakes. Or, in Biblical terms, we are all sinners. […]
I look back at my 16-year-old self and see Preacher Man and his listeners differently. I look at the fragile women praying and see a mother working a minimum wage custodial job, trying to raise three children alone. Her children’s father off drunk somewhere. I look at the teenager fingering a small cross and see a young woman, abused by a father addicted to whatever, trying to find some moments of peace. I see Preacher Man himself, living in a beat up shack without electricity, desperate to stay clean, desperate to make sense of a world that has given him little.
They found hope where they could. […]
More: Atheism Is an Intellectual Luxury for the Wealthy
As I said, I was very moved by Mr. Arnade’s essay, so I went off in search of his work. Below is an embedded slideshow from Flickr, where he has 1000+ photos. I’d strongly suggest going to his actual Flickr photostream to see the larger images, just be aware that they are very gritty & real and some are NSFW.
He also has a Tumblr blog here, telling people’s stories. As with the Flickr page, some of the entries should be considered NSFW.
Nobody can deny but religion is a comfort to the distressed, a cordial to the sick, and sometimes a restraint on the wicked; therefore, whoever would laugh or argue it out of the world, without giving some equivalent for it ought to be treated as a common enemy. —Lady Mary Wortley Montague
I realize some of you may disagree, perhaps vehemently, with everything above. Thats fine, it’s your prerogative as an LGF member (and I readily admit I’m not sure I agree with Mr. Arnade 100% myself).
That said, as always, my reason for posting these types of Pages is to seek common ground and possibly learn something new through discussion. I look forward to reading and responding to thoughtful, rational, civil comments.