What’s Up with Me and Religion
I would like to share my story with you, not because I think it’s interesting, special, or moving, but because it’s important to be honest about who you are and about what you do and don’t believe.
I get the sense that believers may think that coming to a decision about whether or not you think a god exists, is a casual one for the nonbeliever, or that we got here by being close-minded, fearful, ashamed or because we are angry. That’s not at all how the majority of deconverted people arrive at their new position. Not in my experience, anyway. The majority of us get here through taking an honest look at the information reality provides, usually for the first time. By stepping outside of our bubble of clergyman, like-minded family members, friends and community, through taking a look at the world on the whole and all the people that inhabit it.
A Brief History
I was raised assuming the Christian God was as real to everyone, as he was to me. Never did it occur to me that I could be wrong. I never questioned it, or looked deeply into my beliefs. I never asked myself why I believed what I believed, I just knew the right words to say when asked. It wasn’t until I met a person who didn’t find my words convincing, that I was forced to try and articulate what my words meant. I had no idea. It turned out I didn’t know much about my religion. I couldn’t quote the Bible, or tell you who Abraham was. All I knew, was that I was right.
I was born into a Southern Baptist, Bible-literalist, family. My grandparents are very devout and as any true-believers should, they tithe and attend church one to two times a week. I have great respect and love for them. They are as good a pair of grandparents as any one could hope for. In fact, of all the people in my life I feared letting down, with the news that I no longer believed, they were at the top of my list.
I dreaded telling my mom, brother and other loved ones, as well. I knew what it would mean in their minds. It took me two years to come to the understanding I have now, so I realized there was no perfect way to tell them about my unbelief, that wouldn’t immediately put fear in their hearts, and distrust for me in their minds. I knew there would be little I could say to ease their fears and visions of me burning forever in a lake of fire. (Of course, this is not a fear of mine, as I do not believe in Heaven or Hell – otherwise, why on Earth would I ever risk so much?)
Growing up, my mom took us to church every now and then (maybe a dozen times a year) and she always spoke of God and made it known that she was a Christian. My whole family did. When I was 12, I became very involved with a youth group in Bush, LA (It is a rural as it sounds) and was baptized that year. I remember never feeling saved “enough” though, and I would pray the prayer of salvation each time I heard it said by a pastor, or youth minister, so that I could be certain I was going to Heaven.
I was brought up to believe that Adam and Eve were real people, that Noah’s flood took place, and that the world was a few 1000 years old. I attempted to read the Bible cover to cover a couple of times, but I didn’t get very far, even when there were pictures. Instead, I would read all of the versus mentioned in church and youth group and I was fine with that.
Up until about 3 years ago, I considered myself a Christian. I prayed daily and I went to church sporadically. Everyone I knew and worked with seemed to be Christian, at least that’s what I assumed. To me, the world was Christian. Then, Matt (a friend at that time, who I later married) admitted that though he had always considered himself “Christian” (as his family attended their church every Sunday) he expressed that he was not convinced that Christianity deserved more validity than any of the other religions. The world had opened up for him in his college years and he had begun to truly observe the world around him, in a way that he hadn’t bothered before.
When he said this, I was horrified. I thought, “How the hell can you say that. Isn’t it obvious?!” I was both, astounded and crushed. How could I standby while someone I cared for was on the path to Hell. No one I respected and thought of as a “good” person had EVER challenged me on the topic of God.
Frustrated by my lack of preparation for such a conversation, I started to do some research. I realized how little I knew about this topic that I felt was so important to me and to humanity. If I thought God was the creator of the universe and all of mankind, why hadn’t I bother to read his book? Nevertheless, I was completely confident that I could defend Christianity and convert his lost soul. Surely, he had been waiting for me to show him the truth.
Disappointingly, I didn’t get very far without becoming very frustrated with what I was finding, or rather, not finding. After all, I was listening to every debate that a Christian pointed to as “true proof” for Christianity. I was reading tons of books – books that the most scholarly Christians wrote as “proof” for the faith. However, the further I got, the more I realized, there weren’t answers to find, just more questions. More instances where I had to apply “faith” or come up empty. Faith may work for the converted, but what am I to do with faith, when what I need is evidence?
Most Christians by now are thinking, “Why were you looking so hard. God is all around you. Why do you question everything?” Well, that’s easy to say when you’re already certain about your beliefs, but when you’re trying to save the soul of someone you care about, you need the very best case to make. In my everyday life, if I don’t know an answer, I Google it. Why couldn’t I Google this (and believe me – I Googled the shit out of this)? Christians are supposed to witness to people, so that they can lead them to the Lord, so where the Hell were my witnessing tools? I’m just a tool who’s tool-less, at this point.
Where I Stand Now
After this process of discovery and un-discovery, I realized I am an Atheist. That means only one thing about me – that I don’t believe that a god exists. That’s all it means. It doesn’t mean I have no morals (I have all the same ones I did when I was a believer – in fact they’ve only gotten better). It’s doesn’t mean my life is meaningless. It doesn’t mean I hate believers. It doesn’t even mean I’m claiming to know that a god does not exist. I’m just saying there is not reasonable evidence to prove one does and until such time is there is such evidence, it wouldn’t be honest of me to say I believe otherwise.
I’m not close minded to learning that I am wrong, I am not asserting that I have any answers that believers do not. I’m merely saying that I don’t know, where before I said I did know.
It took me many months to be comfortable with the word, Atheist. It has so much baggage. Polls show we are the most despised minority of any minority in the United States. Let alone, in the South. “Bless your heart” is our motto, for crying out loud. An atheist in the South, might as well be a rapist. At least it feels that way when you see the disgust in the eyes of a believer who learns this about you for the first time. Maybe a better analogy would be someone who announces they have AIDS? Because, they look at us with both fear and pity. Fear that we may infect them, or their loved ones, and with pity, because they see a sad, sick creature, who is doomed.
The truth is, they know nothing about me based on this one thing. The only difference is that now, when something doesn’t sit well with someone about me, they blame it on my atheism. Where before, when something good happened to me, they gave the credit to God. Well, I’m still going to make mistakes, have bad days, good days, fights and successes at the same rate I did when I did believe.
Beliefs aren’t a choice. Either I’m convinced, or I’m not. I would never want to be dishonest with myself, or anyone else, over an issue so important.
I assert that you and I are not so different when it comes to the process we use to believe, or not believe in something.
Why I Think We Are Not So Different in How We Arrive at Our Beliefs
Bellow is a passage from Sam Harris’ book, “Letter to a Christian Nation.“
“Consider: every devout Muslim has the same reasons for being a Muslim that you have for being a Christian. And yet you do not find their reasons compelling. The Koran repeatedly declares that it isthe perfect word of the creator of the universe. Muslims believe this as fully as you believe the Bible’s account of itself. There is a vast literature describing the life of Muhammad that, from tepoint of view of Islam, proves that he was the most recent Prophet of God. Muhammad also assured his followers that Jesus was not divine (Koran 5:71-75; 19:30-38) and that anyone who believes otherwise will spend eternity in hell. Muslims are certain that Muhammad’s opinion on this subject, as on all others, is infallible.
Why don’t you lose any sleep over whether to convert to Islam? Can you prove that Allah is not the one, true God? Can you prove that the archangel Gabriel did not visit Muhammad in his cave? Of course not. But you need not prove any of these things to reject the beliefs of Muslims as absurd. The burden is upon them to prove that their beliefs about God and Muhammad are valid. They have not done this. They cannot do this. Muslims are simply not making claims about reality that can be corroborated. This is perfectly apparent to anyone who has not anesthetized himself with the dogma of Islam. The truth is, you know exactly what it is like to be an atheist with respect to the beliefs of Muslims. Isn’t it obvious that Muslims are fooling themselves? Isn’t it obvious that anyone who thinks that the Koran is the perfect word of the creator of the universe has not read the book critically? Isn’t it obvious that the doctrine of Islam represents a near perfect barrier to honest inquiry? Yes, these things are obvious. Understand that the way you view Islam is precisely the way devout Muslims view Christianity. And it is the way I view all religions.”
A Few of My Issues/Questions in Regards to Christianity that I have Yet to Get Satisfying Answers to – Feel Free to Answer Them in the Comments Section…
- Why should only particular Christians denominations get to circumvent eternal torture and Hell fire, while there are far more (or at least comparably) devout people of other faiths, doing far more in the name of their faith, who won’t? Surely those people don’t mean to worship the wrong god, or mean to worship the correct god, but are doing so the wrong way. How did your particular Christian sect win the cosmic lottery?
- Why is being born homosexual a sin? Isn’t that the same as declaring it a sin to be born left-handed, or with brown eyes instead of blue? What does that trait have anything to do with your moral character?
- How can a Christian be so daring as to reject the theory of evolution, when there is so much irrefutable evidence?
- Why are some parts of the Bible taught and not all of the others?
- If the god of the bible is “not an the author of confusion,” why are so many believers confused as to what messages the bible teaches?