I am an atheist. I say this without shame or reservation. This essay will discuss my history and the contradictions and circumstances that have led me to this position.
My family history has included several examples of individuals changing religions because of who they wished to marry. These were various flavors of Christ-centered religions, so it wasn’t terribly jarring to the individual in terms of philosophies, but mostly in terms of rituals and rules.
I was baptized as a Methodist, although my mother tended to refer to us as Protestants. When my mother remarried, she converted to become Roman Catholic in order to marry in my stepfather’s Catholic church. My brother and I followed suit, and I was confirmed at age 14.
From a very early age, I questioned what I was being taught in the Bible in Sunday School or Catechism classes. First, it was the usual, “who did Cain marry?” Apparently, she was from the Land of Nod. I guess this was a suburb of Eden or something. No record of when or how those suburbanites were created. It was downhill from there. I must admit, I admire Jews for the additional information and reflection on such gaps in the Bible, because there is the recognition that information was missing. For example, I find the tale of Lilith to be fascinating.
My family, before my mother’s remarriage, was not overly religious. I was also encouraged to question, to read, to investigate. I loved astronomy and all the wonders of the universe. I could see evidence of all kinds of evolution all around me in humanity, in nature, in sociology.
I recognized, once I studied mythology for the first time, that humans seek causal agents and patterns in the natural world, which led to the creation of gods and goddesses devoted to specific tasks or functions in the precursor polytheistic religions. It was logical to assume that earlier humans assigned causal agents in the form of the supernatural until better information was revealed to replace the need for that agent, such as the water cycle, or the causes of lightning and thunder. I was maybe 7 or 8 at this point.
It was also clear to me at this age that religious texts held a special status in public discourse, no matter how illogical the text might be. I accepted that this was simply the way things were, even if it didn’t make sense.
I liked being Catholic, and enjoyed my catechism classes in the time leading up to my mother’s remarriage. I lived in a small town just across the Hudson River from New York City in New Jersey. I could walk to my church, and they had a children’s mass scheduled on Sunday morning just before catechism classes. It was taught by a younger priest with material geared to children. Many of my friends from public school also attended this mass, and it was also a mercifully shorter service than the usual mass (although Catholics can be very quick if they want to be).
Things changed when we moved to a new town shortly after the wedding. I encountered the hypocrisy and inequity of the Catholic religion both in the people around me and in the scriptures, themselves.
The Bible is pretty horrific and wildly inconsistent book. I remember being curious about the Mark of Cain, and that some religious scholars through time had blamed various racial and ethnic groups as carrying this mark. But, it occurred to me that if all of humanity died in Noah’s flood (other than Noah’s family on the Ark and their spouses), Cain should have no living descendants. So much judgment, so much violence – it did not align with the “loving” God I was being taught.
My stepfather used the sacrament of Penance as a Get-Out-of-Hell-Free card. You could be mistreated all week in all manner of ways, but as long as it was confessed, all was forgiven. And of course, as a good Catholic, you were supposed to turn the other cheek and forgive the person, too. As the new kid, I was bullied, and these same bullies were sitting next to me in mass or catechism, and brutalizing me was again forgiven by going into the magic confessional. And worse than my microcosm, a serial murderer or serial rapist could be sentenced to death, but find God and make confession, and voilà, fast track to heaven.
Something was seriously off about all of this.
And I will admit, I only went through with my confirmation so I would be considered an adult in the eyes of the church, and I would never have to go to mass again. And I haven’t since I was 14.
As time went on, I learned more about the corruption of the Catholic and Christian churches, and I simply became non-practicing. I had been indoctrinated sufficiently to still believe in God, however, so the journey to atheism was not quite complete.
My education continued, and my interest in cosmology, quantum physics, history, and linguistics led to more education and more examples of evolution of ideas. Biiological evolution was a foregone conclusion, even before we mapped the human genome, or the Neanderthal genome, or any of the genomic sequences we have completed. The lack of contemporaneous sources of information that aligned with the Jesus narrative, and understanding the history of religions throughout the Near East made it clear that religions and their myths were made up by somebody trying to explain what they couldn’t understand.
I was also bothered by the way organized religion victimizes both its adherents and those who follow other belief systems. The major Abrahamic religions each either chronicle genocidal behavior or endorse it for infidels. The arrogance disgusts me. No one seems to be content to live and let live, no matter what a particular prophet or other character might preach. The subjugation of women is not only unfortunate but cruel in many cases. The fact that part of my penis is missing is baffling to me.
Which leads me to where my atheism begins. I have listened to lectures by Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens, and they provide amazing arguments.
God – according to the Abrahamic religions – is supposed to be omniscient and infallible, yet He created a world populated with people He knew He would have to wipe out in a flood. Was the antediluvian stuff just a dry run? Why bother with that?
Interestingly, in the Garden of Eden, God lied – the snake didn’t – when He talked about eating from the Tree of Life. Apologists will no doubt say this was a “spiritual death”, but that’s just dodging the issue.
I do not feel there is sufficient evidence for a supreme deity, let alone the one described in the Torah, Bible, or Qu’ran.
Atheists are often asked why they are “angry”. It’s very simple – religion interferes at every level of society, and without factual evidence. This applies to education, reproductive rights, LGBT rights, racial equality, climate science, even commerce. Religious beliefs are forced on non-believers at every turn when we are supposed to be living in a secular democracy. Christianity, in particular, is given special, undeserved status in American society, to the point that there are moves to legalize Christian discrimination of others. This is unacceptable and antithetical to American principles, yet it is still a possibility if the right religious sympathizers are in place in government. Society has degraded in discourse to the point that opinion is allowed equal footing with fact.
I am also saddened for the good people I know who fail to see the strength and beauty in themselves and their character by deferring it to an unknown entity. All they do, all they survive, all they create, these things are credited to some supernatural force rather than their own skill, determination, and inspiration.
I had a major heart attack and had a near-death experience. I have actually had arguments with theists about what I experienced – no deity was evident – with them telling me I was wrong, that I didn’t experience what I experienced, because I didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear. The indoctrination, and quite frankly, arrogance runs deep.
I don’t begrudge anyone what they believe, and I don’t treat them differently for it, but for myself, I cannot reject the wealth of factual information and evidence in how I see the wondrous world we inhabit.