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Why I am an atheist – Nick Martin

Part of me wants to give a smart-assed answer to this question, because at my core, I am a smart-ass. Something like “because religion is evil” (which it is) or “because the Flying Spaghetti Monster told me to be one” (which may also be true). But, when I look at my core, the only answer I have to give is “because it’s the only position a skeptic can have”.

It’s something relatively recent in my life. I was raised in a conservative Christian household. I had to go to church every week, it was a requirement that I go to at least one service. But at the same time, my parents encouraged my love of astronomy specifically and science in general. And in retrospect, that is where it all started. That love taught me to question everything (which I most certainly did).

But getting out of the other side of my upbringing took time. I went off to college, Missouri State University (then Southwest Missouri State), and hooked up with Chi Alpha (XA) Campus Ministries. This was before they had Skepticon, a FSM church, or really any skeptical movement at all. Again, in hindsight, I feel a bit of shame, because I understand now that prosthelytizing my beliefs had to have done some real harm to people, something I can’t change. I only hope that by speaking out against religion now can undo some of that.

I was a skeptic with most everything else growing up. I didn’t believe in ghosts, ESP, aliens, or anything else in the pseudo-scientific range, but like so many other “skeptic believers,” I was not willing to turn that same scrutiny on my beliefs. Of course, like a college student, and to be fair, most human beings, it turns out I was also a fairly bad Christian, and a fairly normal college student, in liking loud music, drinking, sex, and skipping classes.

That all started to change after some a series of bad events pushed me more into that “good Christian” category again. I went to church, went to small groups, and, dangerously enough, started to read my bible. And for some reason, one I still cannot explain, I started to question why I believed what I did. I looked back at myself, and what I had been crediting god for getting me through, and realized that he hadn’t done shit.

It wasn’t a slow process. I wouldn’t even call myself an atheist until, reading Phil Plaitt’s blog, he mentioned, off-hand, someone named “PZ.” It was some inside joke I wasn’t part of, so I dug. I found out who this “PZ” was… and read enough to understand that, as a skeptic, there is only one position to be had. You cannot dismiss all fairies except the one you like any more than you can deny a color you don’t care for doesn’t exist (otherwise, the world would be rid of mauve by now). I didn’t like facing it at first, but I couldn’t dodge the questions. And when you look at belief the same way you look at ghosts, there is no way you can’t see it for what it is.

In the end, it was my own skepticism that forced me to realize the only thing I could be is an atheist.

Nick Martin
United States

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks Nick, and PZ. I was all Digg’ed out and came here hoping for something better. Now I’m just waiting for the hate mail to arrive. I’m a smart ass, too (see previous sentence), I also grew up going to church, and learned science, too, from dad. I found PZ by watching Mr. Deity and the Science Advisor.

  2. redwood says

    I’m assuming Nick is another Southern Missourian like I was. I grew up there attending Southern Batpissed churches, close to Springfield, in fact, though I ended up at the University of Missouri-Columbia. That’s where I lost my religion (though not my virginity–too much of a shy nerd). I agree totally with Nick–you can’t choose which fairy to believe in if you’re a skeptic, hell if you’re a grownup. They all have to go.

  3. says

    I looked back at myself, and what I had been crediting god for getting me through, and realized that he hadn’t done shit.

    Congratulations Nick Martin. You had what it takes to figure out your religious indoctrination is bullshit.

    I have some minor nit-picking. It bugs me when a non-theist calls a magical master of the universe “he” as if god fairies have sex organs. I prefer “it”, for example “I realized that it hadn’t done shit.”

  4. mike says

    Excellent post! I would like to see all the so-called “skeptics” lose their last sacred cow and become skeptics.

  5. says

    Good essay Nick. It resonates with me and undoubtedly others here as well. When I was a child I had an extraordinarily curious brain. I am the only kid in school who read every volume of the encyclopedia cover to cover (OK, it was only the World Book Encyclopedia, but still…) I eagerly digested books about astronomy, dinosaurs, all the things that interest typical young nerdlings.

    Unfortunately I also, under the impression that I was “learning”, eagerly and credulously sucked up books like von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods?, pseudoscientific books about ghosts, and seemingly every whacky conspiracy theorist’s tome regarding the Kennedy assassination (a subject which fascinated me as a young child). This was the 1970′s version of watching today’s shitty History Channel, I suppose. And it was fun reading for an inquisitive kid. But I was confusing “fun” and “interesting” with “factual”, because I was maybe 10-12 years old and did not yet have the skepticism filter installed in my cerebral cortex. Hell, I didn’t really even know that the contents of these silly books were disputed by every rational person. I was naive enough to think that having a published book was enough to lend a person’s ideas credibility. For a long time, these books to me had all the legitimacy of any book about astronomy or other science subject.

    I didn’t learn to think critically, unfortunately, until I was in college. In my sophomore year I was lucky enough to be accepted into a grad-level class called “Lost Tribes and Sunken Continents” or some-such. Taught by a no-nonsense crusty old bearded curmudgeonly skeptic, this class was 100% about installing that aforementioned skeptic filter, or Carl Sagan’s “baloney detection kit” as it is known to many. It was wonderful, and I ditched all my unquestioning acceptance of every bit of faux “knowledge” except, you guessed it, religion. It took me many more years, 15 more, to finally ditch that slack-jawed blind acceptance of supernatural gibberish and make the final transition to atheism. That story, if PZ chooses to publish my submission, is my own “Why I’m an Atheist” experience.

    Thanks for bringing back a bunch of memories, and thanks again for a clear and concise essay.

  6. Pan says

    I have some minor nit-picking. It bugs me when a non-theist calls a magical master of the universe “he” as if god fairies have sex organs. I prefer “it”, for example “I realized that it hadn’t done shit.”

    @HumanApe: Good start, but – imo – wrong conclusion. The god of the bible is clearly male. They refer to him as “He” throughout the entire book, so this particular fairy has a gender identity. (And probably a huuuge penis as well.)
    It bothers me, though, that people tend to say god when they are speaking about Yahwe, as if this myth is any different to all the other myths out there.

  7. Jack van Beverningk says

    Nice clear case of ‘follow the data’.
    And it’s also an answer to those atheists who, kinda, look down on the Skeptic’s movement as ‘who cares about all those silly UFO folks, astronomy, dowsing and psychic idiots’ … Even if you’re not interested in combating these nuts and fraudsters, the Skeptic movement also does wonders with ‘sowing seeds’ (besides teaching critical thinking skills).

  8. says

    I could easily, change the name in Nick’s letter to Laís and it would be mostly the same experience.

    I stopped believing in god when I was about 17, but was afraid to admit to myself until I had arguments to serv my point(24 years old).

    Except the incursion to religious groups during the Uni (wich I didn’t)… I took more time to “come out of the closet” as an atheist.

    Anyways I’ve felt completely identified with your history.

    Congrats mate!

  9. ManOutOfTime says

    Godless smartass: most people would say that like it’s a bad thing; here, we know it is a high compliment. Well done!

  10. Daniel R says

    @Pan:

    The god of the bible is clearly male. They refer to him as “He” throughout the entire book, so this particular fairy has a gender identity. (And probably a huuuge penis as well.)

    An infinite penis, actually.

  11. Gregory Greenwood says

    An infinite penis, actually.

    and;

    Omnipenisicient?

    Oh, I like that. Doubly so because, if you think about it, a penis of infinite size would be utterly useless, even assuming it could survive exposure to cosmic radiation and hard (no pun intended) vacuum.

  12. Matt Penfold says

    Oh, I like that. Doubly so because, if you think about it, a penis of infinite size would be utterly useless, even assuming it could survive exposure to cosmic radiation and hard (no pun intended) vacuum.

    But surely this god could create a vagina of infinite size into which to insert his penis of infinite size ?

    Just imagine the schisms that could result with followers disagreeing whether the vagina exists or not.

  13. foodmetaphors says

    @ #17:

    Didn’t Jesus have like a dozen or so foreskins?

    Course I was raised Catholic where Jesus = Yahweh. Or something. Shit never really was very clear, but then I don’t think they intend it to be.

  14. Pan says

    Doubly so because, if you think about it, a penis of infinite size would be utterly useless

    Christianity needs a finite penis, because otherwise, Yahwe’s semen couldn’t impregnate Mary. The little Jesussperm would be on his way forever.

    Awesome. 5 minutes ago, I was unaware that this story could scream for a paternity test even more…

  15. says

    Just imagine the schisms that could result with followers disagreeing whether the vagina exists or not.

    Vaginapologetics would be an interesting read, no doubt.

  16. Matt Penfold says

    We could also have the Onanists who reject the infinite vagina in favour of an infinite sized fist.

  17. says

    I was a skeptic with most everything else growing up. I didn’t believe in ghosts, ESP, aliens, or anything else in the pseudo-scientific range, but like so many other “skeptic believers,” I was not willing to turn that same scrutiny on my beliefs.

    In a way, that’s necessary, because one has to question “other beliefs” even to be a “dedicated Xian.” Yet it’s always amazing how people manage not to question their own beliefs, in spite of the endless criticisms that other people will not do so.

    That was my Dad, who couldn’t imagine how all those people out there could be so close-minded, but you didn’t question creationism. Because evolution was just nonsense. And I think was one thing that always struck me as close-minded, although I didn’t much doubt that one could look at evolution and find its flaws.

    Until I had enough knowledge of science and critical thinking, then actually did look. So I was out at 15.

    Glen Davidson

  18. says

    Christianity needs a finite penis, because otherwise, Yahwe’s semen couldn’t impregnate Mary. The little Jesussperm would be on his way forever.

    Maybe Jesussperm has transwarp drive?

    Awesome. 5 minutes ago, I was unaware that this story could scream for a paternity test even more…

    Believers would argue that it’s already been proven by St. Povich that God was, indeed, the father.

  19. Gregory Greenwood says

    Matt Penfold @ 18;

    Just imagine the schisms that could result with followers disagreeing whether the vagina exists or not.

    And that is before we get into the schismatic lube wars…

    We could also have the Onanists who reject the infinite vagina in favour of an infinite sized fist.

    You could have a multi-factional conflict. The Vagina-ists, the Non-vagina-ists and the Onanists.

    And then we get into the heretical sects. The Hemaphradists, who contend that god is not only father, son and holy ghost, but also simultaneously penis and vagina. And the ‘Ghey-ists’, who dare suggest that the celestial member is headed for an altogether different destination…

    Religious wars have been fought over sillier stuff in the past.

    Cosmic Snark @ 24;

    Maybe Jesussperm has transwarp drive?

    So that’s where the Borg assimilated the technology from…

  20. says

    @Gregory
    Yeah, people have killed others just because some don’t think god is three people at once.

    @Pan
    It need not be so. The Jesus sperm can be ejaculated at the speed of light. Using the equations of relativity, that would mean that the sperm could be everywhere at the same time.

  21. says

    Yes, astronomy is a good starting point for skepticism.
    The bible says little on the subject, so there isn’t too much resistance from fundamentalists to astronomical science. Oh, sure, the more die hard ones quibble about the age of the universe, but many don’t have a problem with that. I get asked the “How do you know that?” question occasionally when I’m doing astronomy outreach. The best way to answer that is to take pains not to resort to the argument from authority.

    A 4th grader asked me this question a last Friday after I’d told his class that the Sun’s core was 27 million degrees Farenheit. It’s a fair question after all, as I’ve never gone there with a thermometer and measured it myself. I simply told him that it was figured out mathematically. Had I an extra hour I could have regaled him with the tale of the early researches by Chandrasekhar and his boat trip to England. Oh well, that’ll have to await another day.

  22. says

    Nick and I could be one and the same. I also grew up in a conservative religious household (Catholic) but my parents, especially my mother, encouraged my interest in astronomy and science in general. I knew too much about astronomy to accept anything in astrology as fact or “science”. I did believe in ghosts, ESP, and witches when I was a kid but I outgrew that. It’s all bollocks. I also had a resurgence in interest in Christianity when I was in my late 20s (mainly for the social benefits), but I became a full blown skeptic after I actually read the Bible. I don’t see how anyone can read those books and not see they are total bullshit. And I agree with Nick’s statement that God didn’t get him through anything. It irks me that God always gets credit when things go well but God is off the hook when things go down the tubes.

    You can’t be anything other than a skeptic if you know how to think.

  23. pj says

    I couldn’t find google-support for this memory of mine, but the question of the penis size of the biblical god (in his ancient form of Canaanite El) is settled: it was long as an ocean.

    I read it long ago in John Man’s ‘Alpha Beta: How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World.’

  24. tushcloots says

    I want to know if God has nipples. However, if God has a pecker, he must want to use it and therefore gets impure thoughts. There’s got to be a Mrs. God with the omnibenevolent vulva/vagina. Gametes? Viable ones? Did He bleed when She scratched is back?
    What does god eat? Goes he have a digestive system, descending colon – sphincter? Earlier you were thin king that God had a penis in order to piss. Aha, I say, then he had to defecate as well. So would’ve Mrs. God. Are you then gonna tell me that God, in all his Holy pureness never though, even once, about the proximity of the Little Lady’s lower openings and similar shape? God was a smart Guy, would he explore other avenues of penetration?

    Did He have eyes? What for? There was no light. Nothing to smell, well that one is debatable, but you get the idea.

    It seems He is in appearance, a man. When he walked around Eden and stopped to chat with the happy couple, did He not look upon Edens breasts and vulva with desire, maybe become turgid? He already had the Knowledge, He what was naked and why.

    These are important questions, and I leave them open for further study. Perhaps a passing Christian or two can proffer insight.

    All these intellectual pursuits about studying The End Times are premature, in my opinion. The author(me) proposes that you can only understand Rapture by answering very interesting and important questions from the First Rapture: The Start Times.

    These are the ultimate questions that could finally define who we are as we begin to study 8,000 B.C.E. and before – before creation. What exactly went on behind closed Pearly Gates!
    Perhaps Yahweh was an unquenchable sexual machine and when it became difficult for Mrs. Yahweh to walk She suggested he get a hobby, like go play with dolls, or something. Would he realize that His dolls, created in Their images, would never accomplish anything productive unless He put restraints on their hungers, lusts, and desires, and at the same time get a cruel fun out of punishing them for an excess, that is only natural, as a way to deal with his own guilty hyperomnisexuality?

    Many fields of scholastic pursuit opens before us. Will Christian colleges pick up the slack, or do I have to write a book?

    I invite all Christians, Muslims, and Jews to comment on these ideas. All input will be considered and appreciated.

  25. says

    Hey, thanks everyone for the comments. Good to know people resonate.

    @2 – Actually, I’m originally from Iowa, and opted to go to school in Missouri for reasons that are both lame and awesome… basically, the brochure looked really nice. Lived there for years, married a girl from Missouri, and don’t live far from there now.

    @4 – As others have said, the god of the bible is most certainly portrayed as Male. It’s the only thing that really makes sense. If god was a woman, one would have to think the world wouldn’t be quite as fucked up as we men have left it.

    Also, I have to admit that I am absolutely tickled that the comments on this have led to a discussion about cosmic orgasms and the size of god’s penis. These are the sort of discussions that can only lead us to a better place.