What keeps me an atheist is the fact that science explains the world so well and still allows me to question the world without having any boundaries. Even if there is a concept in science that is universally accepted as a truth, no one will threaten my life and my family would not distance themselves from me because I don’t accept it. What made me an atheist, however, is something completely different. I grew up in a war-torn country where questioning religion was a death sentence. As I was growing up, I was taught that religiosity is a virtue and, in the dangerous world that I was living in, religion will help me survive. I accepted it. Despite this, my parents had enough foresight to encourage me to study math and science despite it being essentially useless where I was growing up. The conflict between science and religion didn’t really hit me as a child, because every scientific fact I parroted to my parents was somehow in agreement with what God said.
What did bother me, though, was what I was seeing around me. It was a war. People were taking advantage of each other. I met terrible people who, through their exploitation of the religious beliefs of others, managed to steal and kill their way to the top. But, they weren’t seen as criminals. They were extolled for their knowledge of the holy books and their piety. They built places of worship. They promised eternal life in God’s kingdom. And, despite what everyone knew about them, that was enough to make them “good” people. The community would absorb their every word. People would volunteer to send themselves to their deaths for them. People would kiss their hands. This dissonance was hard to ignore for me. I had a hard time labeling a nice, giving neighbor who doesn’t pray as a “bad person” while war profiteers and murderers were labeled as “good people.” I stopped praying. I tuned out the sermons. I lost myself in science.
I learned about the birth of the Universe, the wonder of development, the amazing degree to which evolution explained differences in animals and the creation of mountains through plate tectonics. It made so much sense. It made my world a more beautiful place. The mountains that I grew up around were so much more of a wonder to me when I realize that there is a more amazing process in creating them than “God did it.” One day, looking at a photo of those mountains, I realized that I had stopped believing in God. It completely freed me. A rush of thoughts came to me. I suddenly realized that the best people are those who care for others, not because of a command of God, but because they just plain want the world to be a better place. I realized that so many people have wasted their lives and destroyed their environment for themselves and their children because they believed that “this world” doesn’t matter. So many lives lost, so much effort wasted, all because people wanted to be with God, rather than make the world the live in a better place. The wonder of the world around them was and continues to be completely lost to them.