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Nov 02 2011

Why I am an atheist – Scott Taylor

The story of my current atheism and rationalism begins when I was a child; I was raised with no mention of religion and I still do not know my mother’s religious or irreligious views, I was thus left unexposed to any religion which was stated as fact for my early life. Even when I began primary school I did not know a thing about Christianity or any of the other major religions of the world today. In fact the first religion I had any understanding of was the polytheistic religion of the ancient Egyptians. This knowledge was the first time I had encountered religion; it is also worthwhile noting that I cannot quite remember what exactly I thought of it outside of the various gods looked “cool”. I learned a great deal about ancient Middle Eastern history and in particular Egypt from a wonderful set of children’s history books which my school library possessed. I read and reread continuously; absolutely enthralled by both the literary and visual content of these books. However I digress.

I was first exposed to a religion treated as though it were fact as opposed to simply a cultural belief of past times by ancient peoples (like the ancient and long defunct religions were detailed in the books in persistently read) when I was either 8 and a half or 9 years old through what was in my primary school called R.E (Which stood I believe for religious education); a program which when I and my brothers went to school ran and essentially taught you the main events detailed in the bible (Both Old and New Testament). I cannot remember what my initial thoughts were and it is unlikely that I had any of significance due to my complete ignorance of all religion with some exceptions. I cannot remember exactly what was taught during the first lesson of this class however during the second lesson the old woman who taught R.E told the story of Noah’s Flood, according to this absurd story only eight people existed in the world at 2400 BC or thereabouts. I did not quite understand how this was possible because the existence of the Egyptians and Sumeria and other neighboring states definitely had more than eight people because otherwise how were there empires existing at that time and even being formed shortly after this date. This realization lead me to interrupt and state that it’s not possible for there to only be eight people left in the world because Egypt and Sumeria had lots of people. I was politely told that in order to speak I must raise my hand and wait my turn, I thus did so and was promptly ignored which prompted me to interrupt and ask the same question/statement. This generally defiance lead my regular teacher to ask me to either stop being rude or leave. I refused and said I wanted to know the answer to my question. This ultimately lead me to end up outside in the bag area for the duration of the lesson and for the weekly lessons as I refused to not interrupt and ask “rude” questions. This first experience of religion left what was undoubtedly a bad impression and lead me to formulate the opinion that R.E was a dumb class with no point; the motivation for this view mainly being spite from her refusal to let me point out that there wasn’t eight people in the world at any point around 2400 BC.

This general disagreement with R.E lead me to end up being excluded for the several years which this program ran due to the fact that I persistently complained about the various absurdities which became more obvious as I grew older and my knowledge of history increased. By this point I was around 11-12 years old and was an agnostic (Although I didn’t know the word to describe myself at the time) having thought about the idea of a god I couldn’t think of any good reasons for one even though I couldn’t think of any really against either since I had never read anything on the subject and my opinions on the matter at this point in my life were based on nothing more than my own thoughts. My skepticism of not only the bible which had been present since I had first learnt of it continued and grew greater as I entered my teens. By the time I was around 13 I had decided that there was no need for a god and that it is beyond unreasonably improbable for a theistic god such as that of Christianity to exist given the bible’s superb rate of managing to detail supposedly huge events that never occurred as well as the numerous paradoxes and problems that result from this god supposedly being benevolent, omnipotent and omniscient. Furthermore I decided in my early teenage years that any god is neither needed for the world to exist nor is it likely as nothing in this world that we have observed is impossible without a deity.

This view and my atheism holds stronger than ever now several years after I first came to the idea that I am an atheist. Reason and logic compel me to disavow the theistic god’s of our world’s major religions on the basis of the paradoxes and problems raised by their qualities such as in the case of Yahweh; a benevolent being who created a system in which souls are supposedly created WITH the knowledge of this being that they will commit acts which will get then sent unto a place of eternal torture? Which benevolent being creates a system of such barbarity that is akin to Hitler breeding Jews simply so that the SS could kill them? Additionally the extraordinary track record of failure on material matters that are testable by science that is possessed by all major religions that make claims in regards to the material world (and only world); the supposedly flawless and ever-truthful fairy tale known as the Qur’an says a great flood occurred yet this did not happen nor did the great exodus of the Jews from Egypt as detailed in the Old Testament.

Even a deistic god falls in the face of reason for the absence of any reason or necessity for such a being and the burden of proof alone are more than enough to fell such an idea and quite frankly there is nothing more beautiful and spectacular than the wonder of nature and a world so beautiful and grand; nothing greater than not living in fear of cosmic tyrants or eternal torment but simply living for ourselves and those we love today in the magic of reality.

Scott Taylor
Australia

16 comments

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  1. 1
    Matt G

    Funny – I knew I was an atheist at eight, and didn’t know my parents’ religious views until I was in my late teens. What’s especially funny is that my father was a UU minister (still is), who abandoned his traditional religious views during his first semester of college. Studying philosophy and psychology will do that to you….

  2. 2
    Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

    Hehe, glad to see someone else got up their RE dept’s collective noses at school. Can’t say that I was identifying as an atheist as a kid, but I could tell that there was definitely something daft going on with religion even then. I had turned in to a fairly avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy in my pre-teens which may have helped.
    About the only thing that I remember from lessons was having our god-bothering RE teacher go a tad nuts at me for plagarising Douglas Adam’s description of Jesus as “being nailed to a tree for telling people to be nice to each other” in an assignment. I was about 12 at the time and am pretty sure I was written off as a lost cause. Good times! ;-)

  3. 3
    Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

    Argh – sorry, Douglas Adams’s. Grammar fail.

  4. 4
    ManOutOfTime

    I must remember to scroll down and note the essayist’s nationality – an Aussie accent makes the exchange with the RE teacher that much more entertaining! Goodonya, mate! It’s really a fine thing when a young mind can see through the credulous haze; it’s interesting to note that, contrarily, no one comes naturally to a belief in gods without being taught by adults to believe. You would think the creator of an infinite universe might have a little more influence.

  5. 5
    Peptron

    I did get religious education at school, but it seems that they were avoiding any factual statements, and things like the flood were all to be taken as metaphors.

  6. 6
    Graham Martin-Royle

    ” Hitler breeding Jews simply so that the SS could kill them”

    That is such a wonderful way of describing creation, thank you for that.

  7. 7
    Marius Rowell

    You were so lucky to even be able to ask questions during RE. I had the misfortune to spend my elementary years at a Catholic boarding school run by Carmelite nuns, and asking any questions resulted in having the love of god severely beaten into your buttocks, or across the backs of your hands with a cane.

    Luckily at home my dad used to read bed-time stories and his favorites were Norse myths and legends, and the Greek classics – both of which had far more fun gods than the christians did.

    Perhaps even luckier after my Mum was excommunicated for having a life-saving emergency hysterectomy was that both my parents stopped forcing religion down our throats, and started feeding us real scientific facts about life (which oddly enough resulted in my sister getting expelled from Frome catholic girl’s school for knowing the facts about contraception)

  8. 8
    Peter N

    This gives me an idea… We all have seen those books of Bible stories for children — colorful popup pictures and simplified renderings of the tales of Daniel in the lion’s den, Jonah swallowed by the whale, Moses receiving the ten commandments, whatever. Maybe the time has come for a children’s book of atheism. It could contrast the grandeur of the real universe with the puny Abrahamic god, teach about the difference between belief based on faith vs. evidence, and throw in a healthy dose of atrocities dressed as virtues in the Bible. Aim it at the 4- to 6-year-old reader.

  9. 9
    kohldamunga

    This one is from Australia! G’day Mate!

  10. 10
    Jeff Thompson

    Great closing paragraph, mate!

  11. 11
    Nobody

    Hmmm, this fella’s tale squares pretty close with my own. Except that I was a boy given the chance to read science books for kids all day from a very young age, and I read all about old civilisations and their beliefs too. But even I asked an impertinent question in RE: When the RE teacher (who I later found out was part of some fairly crazy sect) told us that God made animals on the 3rd day, I put my hand up and said, “But he’d have to make dinosaurs first!” Which brought a round of hearty laughter from my fellow classmates, even as the old bat casually dismissed my statement. I would have been about 7 at the time.

  12. 12
    WhiteHatLurker

    @Scott Taylor
    Score one for “asking rude questions” B-)

    @Marius Rowell

    “Mum was excommunicated for having a life-saving emergency hysterectomy

    I’m speechless. Your family is well rid of those beasts.

  13. 13
    mikee

    I also had R.E. classes at school but in the last two years our Catholic school was somewhat enlightened – half the sessions covered Catholicism and the other half other religions.
    Perhaps they were hoping that if we saw how silly other religious beliefs were, we would stick with Catholicism. Fortunately for me it just reinforced how silly they ALL were.

    At our very last RE class the religious brother who was taking the class asked us to sum up religion in one word. Being a very shy teenager I wasn’t sure whether I could do it or not but when he asked me I said “contradictory”. Well, he moved onto the next student quick smart.
    Once I got to university, it was all straightforward from there on

  14. 14
    mikee

    @Peter N #8

    Try “The Magic of Reality” by Richard Dawkins and fantastically illustrated by Dave McKean.
    My niece and nephews are getting a copy for Christmas, and I am reading a copy myself

  15. 15
    dartigen

    My story contains a similar incident.
    We were learning about how Jesus was born. I put my hand up and said, reportedly, “My mummy said you have to have a boy AND a girl to have babies so that can’t be true.”
    I then demanded to look at the book myself.
    I was then kicked out of the class and my parents made to come in for a ‘meeting’.
    Reportedly, my mother laughed so hard my father had to help her out of the office. I don’t know what his opinion was, but reportedly he said to one of my uncles, quote, “We did something right with this one.” (However, my whole family was shocked that Mum had taught me about ‘the birds and the bees’ so early. Well, I did ask, and at least Mum answered truthfully, or as truthfully as you can to a five-year-old.)

    I was also once given a detention for singing AC/DC songs while doing work. In my defense I couldn’t see what was wrong with a bit of classic rock. (Good thing it wasn’t Black Sabbath or I’d probably have been expelled.) I was given the whole shtick about God, and apparently dismissed it with ‘but my Dad lets me listen to it’. Cue parent meeting.

    High school RE classes were either spent listening to music, mucking around with Lua, or, on the odd occasion where I had to pay attention, learning the fine art of feigning interest in a subject you don’t actually give a rat’s about. I only went to the classes to stay out of trouble; I know a lot of people were skipping them.

  16. 16
    Mason Spatafore

    Wonderful story, reckoned we’re able to combine several unrelated data, however well worth taking a look, whoa do one find out about Middle of the Eastern has got more problerms as well.

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