Atheism and the Substitution Phenomenon
Many atheists that I’ve known, including myself, exhibited an interesting behavior during and after their transition from faith to non-faith. I call this behavior substitution.
Here’s how it works: the atheist, having spent so much of his life loving this underlying, structure-giving entity, finds himself in need of something similar upon becoming a non-believer. It’s as if an emptiness rushes in where God used to be, and our human fragility require us to fill it.
I find that most young atheists fill this emptiness with other grandiose and beautiful concepts; here are the main ones:
Romance: When the atheist places an extremely high value on “true love” and generally the whole Romeo and Juliet concept of love being more important than anything.
Nature: An extreme reverence for the beauty and complexity of the universe.
Karma/Buddhism: A fairly direct substitution, but one that doesn’t involve a personal God.
Logic/Reason/Science: Embracing the disciplines that uncovered the flaws in religion.
Order/Justice: A direct substitution for the most needed element — structure.
I think Einstein’s was the natural one, as was my own up until my late 20’s.
Mine started as romance, however. I remember thinking that romantic love was the ultimate thing when I lost God. I had illusions of soul mates and eternal bindings and such. It’s interesting to look back and realize that I was simply exchanging one drug for another — with the underlying problem being the inability to face reality in its true, raw, and rather cold form.
After talking to a young atheist for just a short amount of time, you can often surmise which type of substitution they’ve made. Which kind are you?