I am an atheist because it just makes sense. As a kid, I loved to read. I read anything that had words. I read street signs and fairy tales and the all of the Bible and those naughty magazines and raunchy novels that the grown-ups thought they hid well. I suppose being so voracious, it was easy for me to associate the Blue Fairy and Santa Claus and Jesus as fictional characters, with the downside being that even the grown-ups believed in Jesus. I mean, catching my dad rolling in our Christmas bicycles solved the “Is Santa real?” question pretty solidly, but going into church and playing Mary holding a little brown baby doll and calling it our Lord for an audience of proud faces was downright confusing. How was it different than playing Wendy of Peter Pan for a school play? It was fun, but no one really believed that you could fly with happy thoughts and fairy dust.
I didn’t get it then. I really didn’t. Most churches had brown haired, blue eyed Saviors pictures on the wall, while our African Methodist Episcopal church hung a dark skinned bushy-haired Jesus picture and they were supposed to be the same? Oh, wait, that wasn’t right. According to my pastor and family, them white folks had it wrong and co-opted Jesus to look like them. We were right. But wait, wasn’t he supposedly born in the Middle East? I learned quickly what questions I was allowed to ask at risk of getting yelled out, threatened with hell or outright punished for being a “smart-mouth.”
Before I even had a name for what I believed, I kept my questions to myself as I learned about dinosaurs (that weren’t mentioned in Noah’s story), and reproduction (that, at least for humans, requires sex), and other things that didn’t quite go with what I was told was the Truth According to God’s Word (and don’t get me started on the stuff that didn’t go well with how I understood reality). To my mind then, it was just adults playing at pretend, so I pretended with them. I pretended devotion at church and joined the kid’s choir and ushered and read scriptures and holiday speeches, my fear of displeasing my family greater than any love I could have for some deity.
I wish I could talk to that little girl and reassure her that someday, it will be okay to ask the questions, and the word you were looking for is “atheist”. I almost wish I had the desire to have children of my own so that I could teach them that it’s okay to ask questions, to say “I don’t know”, and to find things out on their own. Also, that I would love them no matter what they believed.
Even if they were little “smart-mouths”.