Friday, October 22, 2010
Why I am an Atheist.
I really wanted my second post to be light-hearted, something for the kids, ya know? But I guess I chose the name of this blog for a reason. My writing has traditionally been without purpose, more to shape my voice and to appease my ego than anything else, but as I age I find I need more goals in life. Damn it.
Lately on Facebook I've been caught up in several conversations about the lack of belief, traditionally called atheism, and it never ceases to amaze me how few people truly understand the condition. I'll write on it a lot here in the future, but first let me explain why I'm an atheist before we move on to the less important details.
I was the first of five born to young parents, my father recently out of college and starting on his first career. At the time they had taken the common route of falling away from their parent's belief system, dabbling into what my father now refers to as the 'occult'. Stories from this time are vague, after their conversion back into the fold when I was 5ish the early 80's and late 70's are hardly referred to at all. I remember being left at my Grandparent's house so that my parents could head to the river to be baptized and they have been in that river ever since.
I'm going to glaze over a lot of the details of my childhood; the deaf mother, the two younger siblings born with special needs, the constant conflict with my parents (my best guess is that I actively fought with my parents an average of six days a week for twelve straight years until they packed all my stuff into bags, threw it on the lawn, and called my friends while I wasn't home right after I turned 18), even though these issues had a lot to do with the person I've become. While it was a general sense of rebellion and lack of trust in authority that pointed me towards Atheism, I was still a strong proponent of the faith until my twenties, only identifying myself as an Atheist after a lot of introspection and investigation (a common theme among atheists is introspective conversion). What made me an Atheist was how I felt about it.
My family had a long history of jumping churches, eventually my mother's persecution complex would kick in and she'd accuse the church of ostracizing her, or my father would find some conflict of theology and we'd move on to another church. This happened a lot, sometimes it seemed like more than once a year, but it did let me observe many facets of the Christian faith.
I first faked speaking in tongues when I was about 8 or 9; I did it to impress my parents but deep inside I was torn up with guilt in it not being real. I devoured the bible studies my father would teach in our house, refusing to play with the other children and sitting with the adults and mostly just listening and reading. I tried to read the Bible at least a dozen times, but it just couldn't hold my interest, and this is despite the college age reading level I developed before I left school in the sixth grade. I would lift my hands during the charismatic church services, and bow my head when prayer was offered, but deep inside it always felt empty. I joined church choirs, hoping that the gift of music I inherited from my very religious grandfather would be the gateway to the mind of God, but no amount of attempt was powerful enough to get past the silence. When I was 16 I started to develop pain in my knees and I would force myself to kneel and pray, believing that the needles in my legs were his way of edifying me, spending hours there until the silent tears ran down my cheeks, always begging for relief and hoping that God would reward me for my faith. There was never anything there other than cheap church carpeting and the quiet prayers of those next to me.
There were bible vacations held over the summer, bible camps when I got older, and after we started homeschooling even my curriculum was filled with God's truth. As my own desperate attempts to reach God bore no fruit, and the adults in my family showed even less ability to translate God's love to me, I started to lock onto the information given to me and that's when it started to happen.
My father is a big nerd and I love that part about him. He was a computer geek back in the 70's and we were on the internet in our house back when there were only 4 colors available and you had to use your phone to call a university to log in. He exposed me to science fiction as a child, even taking me to the drive-in to watch Empire Strikes Back when I was too young to sit through the entire thing. But the thing about science fiction is the first part of it, the science. I inherited his love of science, even creationism for a while, but the problem with science is it makes you think. I'm not suggesting that only thinkers are atheists, or that it is not possible to think and come to a different conclusion, but once you open up that door, it is nearly impossible to close.
I eventually got married to a Catholic, one church being the same as any other to me at this point, and I went to my first Catholic mass. Say what you will about all the extra deities the Pope's people have, but they do understand how to translate the glory of God. Their architecture is beautiful and they behave like a group of people who truly believe that the God of the New Testament is the same one who was capable of all that genocide from the old Testament. There is an element of fear and ritual to their version of Christianity completely lacking in anything I had previously experienced and suddenly it all came together.
By the time my Father was convinced that God wanted him to sell everything he owned and hide from the end of the world up in the mountains, I was pretty much done with the whole thing. I took an intellectual step back and started to actively research it from an outside point of view. Once I reached this point than it was a simple matter of deciding what to believe. I spent years in dark places, the foundation of my entire universe had been removed from me by the simple facts of living through it, but eventually I found myself on the other side, absolutely convinced that all the fear, guilt, shame, and panic I had experienced throughout my life because I could not feel what I was supposed to feel was unnecessary.
Eventually, as I matured in my new views on life, I found authors and people who had blazed the trail before me and it all made more sense, but that doesn't change that I'm an Atheist because of how I feel. Despite how the entire Atheist world view is one built on rational thought and reasoning, no amount of those things has ever convinced the faithful they were wrong; that takes emotion and time, something all humans are born with plenty of.
It's been years since those moments, but it has defined who I am. Some of the best people I have ever met will disagree with me until the end. I am well armed now with logic, quotes, reason, and passion, but that is not my Genesis. It all started with a boy waiting for his parents to return from the river, wondering why he was left behind...