Do you believe in God?
This isn't an either-or question where the only possible answers are "yes" and "no." There are many shades of unbelieving and believing when it comes to God.
Many outwardly religious people aren't inwardly sure whether God exists. This includes a surprisingly large number of clergy.
Similarly, many atheists hold on to spiritual beliefs of one form or another, up to and including the possibility of a divine being or universal consciousness.
Personally, I've found that after 35 years of being a believer in an Eastern/Indian variety of religion, then becoming a spiritual sceptic, I've gone through a slow but steady process of discarding religious beliefs, moving from the most obvious (like "God is guiding me") to the more subtle (like "Consciousness could pervade the cosmos").
So I resonated with quite a bit of what Elizabeth King said in her Washington Post piece, "I'm an atheist. So why can't I shake God?"
Although I’ve been a content atheist for a decade, somehow God has found a way to stick around in my mind. Not the God of the Bible who created heaven and Earth — the God that lingers with me is harder to explain. The best way I can think of to describe it is like a character from a movie that I’ve seen over and over, or like the memory of my first friends. He’s not real, but He’s present.
The idea of God pesters me and makes me think that maybe I’m not as devoted to my beliefs as I’d like to think I am and would like to be. Maybe I’m still subconsciously afraid of hell and want to go to heaven when I die. It’s confusing and frustrating to feel the presence of something you don’t believe in. This is compounded by the fact that the God character most often shows up when I’m already frustrated.
...If asked whether I believe in God, I would answer with a quick and emphatic “no.” But given that I will send a word up to a proverbial heaven if I’m on a turbulent flight, or silently ask that someone make sure my little niece and nephew stay safe, I can appreciate how some atheists may be inclined to say they believe.
...Boyer contends that there is not one part of the brain solely responsible for religious belief, but rather that the particular overlap of several cognitive systems renders religious beliefs desirable to, and easily accepted by, the human mind. This also means that when we opt for atheism, we are doing hard work to battle against what our minds are generally inclined and well-equipped to do: believe.
Religious people often consider that believing in God is difficult, requiring faith, courage, commitment. This is wrong. It is easy to believe. Evolution has hard-wired us for some form of belief in a supernatural being.
I talked about this in "Religious believers are acting in accord with evolution."
Having arrived at a churchless view of reality, I'm amused when true believers accuse me of taking the easy way out by being a skeptic about God and other things divine'ish. They see religious belief as a courageous stand against rampant secularism -- a bold independent search for ultimate reality that transcends materialistic boundaries.
Actually, the truth is far different.
Religious belief is the default human condition. What takes courage, effort, and determination is going against the religious current that sweeps the vast majority of people into a faith-based ocean.
Interestingly, the evidence for this is scientific.
Evolutionary psychology has arrived at well-founded explanations for why religious belief is almost ubiquitous in cultures around the world. So those who decry the theory of evolution as undermining the Bible and other holy books are doing so because of evolutionary influences.
They can't help themselves.
Belief in the supernatural essentially is hard-wired into humans.
Thus it isn't surprising that, as King says in her piece, remnants of religious belief continue to rattle around in an atheist's brain even after the existence of God no longer appears at all likely.
I’m not sure what to do about God. If I could figure out a way to banish this figure from my psyche, I would. But psychology is not on my side. Having been conditioned to believe in God for so many years, and having a brain hard-wired for belief, I may be stuck with his shadow forever.