PZ asked his readers why they’re atheists, and he’s been running their replies daily. Figured with a new readership and so forth, I might as well have a go and put it on me very own blog. Why not?
Here’s the short answer: because it’s sensible. Gods are surplus to requirements. Why carry round the extra baggage when there’s no need?
Right. There’s a somewhat longer answer, which I’ll place below the fold for interested parties. It includes me confessing I’ve not always been sensible.
My parents weren’t very religious. We didn’t go to church on Sundays. We didn’t say grace or do much more than the secular bits at Christmas and Easter. But they believed in God. It was a given, one of those facts about the world that just are: water’s wet, sky’s blue, God exists. I had a little children’s Bible of my very own, and I knew how to pray, and I believed God loved me and was watching out for me. I even went to a summer Bible camp, where I put Jesus in a walnut and on a spoon, and was never quite sure why these things were acts of devotion. There was a Bible verse involved: something about letting Jesus in if he knocked. My picture showed Jesus in a white robe knocking on a door. He seemed a nice enough fellow.
By the time I hit high school, I wasn’t much of what you’d call a believer. I believed in all sorts of things, mind you, all sorts of supernatural stuff. I thought religion was one of those necessary bits of being human, and when I started writing in earnest, I worked on belief systems for my worlds. Of course they’d be religious. But Jesus probably hadn’t knocked on their door. And by then, I’d met enough of the kinds of people who’d let Jesus in to seriously reconsider the wisdom of opening the door. They were severely annoying and painfully convinced they were right. I had doubts. Too many religious systems in the world, all in conflict with each other. And some of those other religions were way cooler. Not that I didn’t believe in God, mind, I just had this fuzzy idea that God might be a little grander than most Christian churches seemed to think he was.
I sometimes went to church with friends. I went to a Church of Christ service and discovered why musical instruments are a must in a church filled with severely off-key singers. Too bad they thought musical instruments had no place in a church service. These people claimed to believe in the Bible – so how did they miss the “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord” verse?
I went to a Catholic service and spent all of it pretty much fluctuating between confusion and mortal embarrassment. Nobody had told me only Catholics got to take Communion. And everybody was mortified when I stood up to have my bite of Jesus. That pretty much put paid to any desire to be a Catholic.
Two friends who belonged to the Assembly of God began duking it out over who’d tempt me there first. This was during my metal phase. I finally went with one friend because it was the only way to shut them both up, and I didn’t much like the one. I went in a Slaughter t-shirt and headband, with my studded vest and steel-toed boots and ripped jeans. My friend asked me if I wanted to change. I said no. If they couldn’t accept me as I was, I didn’t belong there.
Pastor Lynn Peters merely shook my hand, beamed at me, and told me it was good to see me there. Didn’t even blink at the getup. And he was a warm, wonderful person who made God sound like the best thing ever. I became a Christian. For a while. I was really in to it. Carried a Bible around and even read bits of it. Thought Christianity was great and God even greater. I got a warm fuzzy whenever I recognized a Christian theme in a book or show. And then Lynn Peters left the church because he had cancer and had to move closer to a treatment facility. What sort of way was this to treat one of God’s best servants? The guy who replaced him was fun (I’ll never forget the sermon where he’d set up a sofa and teevee in the pulpit, and was lying there in a t-shirt and ball cap eating Cheetos when we came in – his way of illustrating Sunday Morning Saints). His wife had a sublime voice, so you could forgive her Tammy Faye Baker wanna-be makeup. But there was a woman who stood up to tell us all that God had healed her radio one morning (yes, couldn’t save starving children in Africa, but totally there to solve your electronics woes, that was our God), and the youth group took off after M.C. Hammer as the root of all evil because he’d had some dude in a red devil costume in a music video. Yes, that would be Pastor M.C. Hammer, than you so very much.
I left the church. I didn’t leave God, at first. I started studying other religions, though, and watching the world, and God made less and less sense. Where was God, in all of these conflicting belief structures? If he existed, why couldn’t he sort this shit out? Why, if he was so cool, were other gods so much more awesome? I had doubts, and those doubts preyed on me, and I don’t clearly remember the progression, but I remember telling God one day that I felt drawn to different paths, and if they weren’t the paths he wanted me to walk, all he had to do was say so.
I turned my back on God, and never got a rap on the knuckles, much less a tap on the shoulder. I went haring off after other gods for a bit, trying to fill that religious need – I was really in to Odin at one point – and I tried out Buddhism (I suck as a Buddhist, but love the Zen philosophy), a bit of Taoism. I couldn’t believe there wasn’t anything supernatural in the world. I couldn’t live without magic. There had to be more.
Well, there was. It was called science, and it kicked religion’s ass. I started studying science for my fantasy writing, once I had a good handle on mythology and got interested in worldbuilding. I’d read quite a bit before, but now I started seeking out science on the internets. I found science blogs. And I found PZ.
I was calling myself an agnostic at this point. Atheists, after all, were those silly certain people who had no imagination and no soul. I found out that people who are atheists actually do have imagination and soul (in the metaphorical sense, o’ course – there are no actual souls). What’s more, they were funny, engaging, passionate firebrands who weren’t afraid to call out nonsense. They loved the things that I love. I liked them quite a lot, and they got me through the worst flu experience of my life by getting me all fired up about creationist antics, so they were a little bit of all right. Still, I knew I was an agnostic, not an atheist.
Then someone, possibly PZ, linked to this test inviting me to Calculate Your God Delusion Index. So I did. I answered yes to #5 and thus scored a five out of a possible 10,000+, and I’d only ever answered yes to that one because I’m a writer and writers do the “deeply contemplative act” thing that “can result in knowledge or understanding not attainable through ordinary thought.” Additionally, I partially misunderstood it and was thinking of the fMRI studies that show changes in the brain during meditation.
I looked at my bit of paper, and the score (Normal, no particular “God Delusions”) and laughed and laughed. I could only come to one conclusion: I’m an atheist, I’ve been an atheist for some time without realizing it, and it was time to own that scarlet letter A.
So that is why I’m an atheist: because I looked for gods, and found only human constructs; I looked for magic, and found science, which is far more magical than magic ever was.
As for why I’m a Gnu Atheist, that’s a story I’ll tell at a later time.