2. Came to realize that rational inquiry could restore us to sanity.
I can hear it now... "Are you saying I'm insane?" No, just that you may hold ideas that I think are insane. There is a large segment of the population that thinks I'm crazy for not believing in a higher power, I'm simply returning the favor.
Almost every major theology promises its followers life after death, yet still loved ones gather to mourn. Why all the sadness if the funeral's guest of honor is "in a better place," "no longer suffering," or "watching over us from above?" Because most people, even if religious, realize in the rational part of their mind that death is the end.
It is frightening. Death is the worst thing that can happen to you. Convincing yourself you can survive it may be comforting, but reality is not here to make us feel good. (I'll go into more detail on how atheism has helped me deal with death in a later post.)
There is a loud segment of religious fundamentalists and phony scientists trying to convince the masses that the entire universe is 6-10,000 years old. They claim that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time and that the Grand Canyon was caused by the biblical flood. Anyone who has graduated 8th grade knows the dinosaurs died out long before humans arrived on the planet and that the Grand Canyon is the product 6 million years of erosion.
Yet more than half of Americans believe this "creationism" nonsense is valid science. Perhaps the dwindling science education in the US is to partially to blame. The massive propaganda machine from the creationist (re-branded "Intelligent Design" or ID) movement and their high profile lawsuits certainly play a part. I'm guessing most haven't given it much thought. A cursory look at the claims and credentials of the ID supporters is enough for a rational person to dismiss them outright. For example, there are more legitimate scientists named Steve that accept (not believe in) evolution than there are total illegitimate scientists in support of ID.
Believing two contradictory things (i.e. "I'll be in a better place when I die" and "death terrifies me" or "the planet is 6,000 years old" and "the earth has been around for 4.5 billion years.") is know as cognitive dissonance and causes mental stress. Discarding one of the contradictions, or altering existing beliefs is the way to reduce this stress.
If you discard the irrational belief, you can reduce mental stress and restore a measure of sanity.