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Why I am an atheist – Niki M

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”.

Niki M.
United States

Comments

  1. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    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.”

    I think a lot of us learned those lessons.

  2. Serendipitydawg (gods are my minus one Kelvin) says

    I think a lot of us learned those lessons.

    Indeed. In the UK in the late 60’s even asking a reasonable question in a reasonable tone during a religious education indoctrination lesson was cause for a detention filling 1/16th inch graph paper with alternate dot/o cross/o.

    I did decline the detention and no-one pressed the issue – I can only assume that they didn’t feel it possible to insist without telling me why the question was unreasonable…

  3. says

    That sure sounds a lot like my story, expect Jesus was the traditional Angelo Saxon hippy white boy. I didn’t even know about brown Jesus, but the town I grew up in was 99.999999% white. I’m just thinking how cool it would be if, instead of chocolate Easter bunnies, Christians would have chocolate Easter Jesuses. The holiday is all about Jesus, right? So what better icon to have in the middle of the Easter basket than a big, foil wrapped solid chocolate Jesus? They have their frackin’ crackers, after all.

  4. Brownian says

    but no one really believed that you could fly with happy thoughts and fairy dust.

    Niki, meet the alt med movement. Alt med movement…

  5. Brother Ogvorbis, OM . . . Really? says

    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.”

    I never learned that lesson. I occasionally got kicked out of class in high school (and middle and elementary schools), but the lesson never stuck. I’m glad you unlearned that lesson.

  6. the onetrue lard says

    As a kid, I loved to read. I read anything that had words. I read street signs and fairy tales… and those naughty magazines and raunchy novels that the grown-ups thought they hid well.

    AfAm here. Similar story. Major difference was that I read a lot of Greek mythology and realized at an early age that the only difference between God and Zeus was that Zeus killed fewer people, and was generally, a nicer guy.

    Like you, I learned to keep my mouth shut and just play along. The big shocker for me, as a child, was the first time I visited a white church and discovered that the white folks believed the same unbelievable shit. Up till then, I always thought religious belief was another aspect of the separate but unequal policies in practice at the time.

    Congratulations on escaping the mad house of religion. As an AfAm, you’re quite rare.

  7. Niki M says

    *blinks*

    …wow, seeing this on the site is like winning the lotto – minus the obscene amount of cash. Yay! PZ, you remain my second favorite Minnesotian!

    Niki, meet the alt med movement. Alt med movement…

    Oh gosh, alt med and I are well acquainted – and the memories sting like every other youthful mistake I can recall. Oh the fasts, the herbs, the downing of olive oil to cleanse the liver…

    I’ll admit, relearning how to shoot off at the mouth was well, well worth it.

  8. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    the onetrue lard #6

    the only difference between God and Zeus was that Zeus killed fewer people, and was generally, a nicer guy.

    Zeus had trouble keeping his dick in his pants toga. He would first try seduction but if that didn’t work then he went for rape.

  9. the onetrue lard says

    Zeus had trouble keeping his dick in his pants toga. He would first try seduction but if that didn’t work then he went for rape.

    No doubt, but compared to Yahweh, who commanded armies of rapists, thieves, and murderers, Zeus was a lightweight.

  10. concernedjoe says

    Well put thanks

    I think that I sometime early on recognized it all was a bunch of poppycock but associated with the herd earnestly until 17 or so.

    What strikes me is how anyone who is sane and educated enough to critically think and be “scientific” for the most part in life can profess true belief in god(s). It all seems so very obviously naive – downright infantile.

    Hence my feeling is most professed god believers are not really believers.

    Rather they are cultural believers – that is enjoy the “catholicism” of being a member of believers and also are enamored with the feeling that comes from believing they believe.

    To put in other words, they so want to believe and so like the sense of community often lacking otherwise in our lives that not believing they believe has too many downsides and not enough upsides.

    They act in all significant situations like an atheist (they use qualified doctors and not just prayers when the chips are down to metaphorically state what I mean). So culturally fooling themselves hasn’t real negative consequences – and gives some warm and fuzzies.

    To me I hate intellectual dishonesty. Have from early age. I think being atheist is liberating. No it does not allow one freedom for perfidy, immorality, selfishness, etc.. Just the opposite it forces at least for me greater impetus to be a good person rationally and ethically. But the freedom is that the beauty of free thought, the ecology of all things, our special place as humans, and the wonders of nature – they all seem so much brighter – more real – more important and wonderful.

    And then there is the value of being intellectual honest best you can. Yup – that is a gem to be treasured and nurtured.

  11. sumdum says

    I recognize the desire to read everything. As a kid, I’d even read peanut butter jar labels. I also loved to read about ancient greece, the mayans, the roman empire etcetera. Not specifically about what they did and conquered, but I was really interested in what the people believed, what they lived like and what they perhaps thought of the world. It’s one of the many small factors that made me an atheist.

  12. cowalker says

    Heh, it’s probably not a coincidence that atheists tend to be omnivorous readers. A co-worker of mine is justly proud of his 10-year-old son’s voracious reading. The trouble is, the co-worker is not a thoughtful person with a broad intellectual background. He is a knee-jerk Christian, gun nut and political conservative. It is only a matter of time until there is a major collision of views in that family.

  13. madtom1999 says

    ‘To my mind then, it was just adults playing at pretend’
    That chimed a bell with me – when I finally saw the light at a methodist meeting and became atheist I was surprised to discover how many other (quiet/closet) atheists there were – all generally high up the intellectual food chain.
    On announcing my atheism it seemed I was welcomed into a sort of club having passed a test of some form. And the feeling was to keep it quiet,
    Discovering the local parish vicar was an atheist a couple of years later was one of those moments that leaves you equally hysterical with laughter and disgusted at the same time.

  14. concernedjoe says

    madtom1999 “.. parish vicar was an atheist ..”

    Lots of that going around! I really think lots and lots of so called believers are atheists or deists at most – they just are scared to admit it to the world or even most times to themselves. My post #11.

  15. madtom1999 says

    concernedjoe – I quite liked the vicar – while he never preached atheism from the pulpit, or even admitted it publicly, I was pretty convinced he was. He saw his job as caring/pastoral and he was pretty good at looking after a lot of old and infirm and dying people as I discovered close up when I was a religious zealot. He regarded himself (and in the english parish of the time he was) a sort of rock/totem. If he’d fessed up he and his family would have been out of a home and a possibly xian vicar would have replaced him and the parish (as a collection of people) would probably have been worse off.
    Maybe now you might be able to say ‘I’m an atheist’ out loud in the parish and not induce paroxysms but you couldn’t then.

  16. concernedjoe says

    madtom1999- yup I bet he was a caring man and situationally he opted for do least harm. I agree.

    To be clear my statement on intellectual honesty applies to the general.. all things being equal so to speak – be true to yourself and others applies.

    Have good holidays

  17. thewhollynone says

    Enjoyed your essay, Niki. Like you, I just didn’t possess the humility that it takes to believe that some mythical magic spirit controls me and my world. When I was a girl, the priests and the other oligarchs in my male-chauvinist culture tried to teach me that humility, but they failed.

  18. anthonyallen says

    I liked your essay, Niki. Wouldn’t be dissimilar from my own, had I the courage to submit one.

    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.

    When my daughter used to ask me things, if I didn’t know the answer, my response would always be “I don’t know, but let’s find out together.” These days, I work in a school library, and I use the exact same response if a student asks me for help.