I’m an atheist because I want to live my life honestly, not only in deed but in thought.
I used to be an enthusiastic catholic boy. The notion of an ordered universe, with a clear cause and effect for both good and bad things, was immensely appealing. Ironically, it was catholic school that stomped that belief out of me. First in showing how the actually engaging, intelligent teachers got frustrated and stonewalled by the older, conservative dogmatists, and eventually how even the best of them could only offer non-answers or cruel ignorance when confronted with any meaningful question. Children actually have a good bullshit detector, and mine was always reading off the scale, all the time.
My father actually helped, and not by accident. Like me, he was a catholic school student growing up; since they get colossal tax breaks, they actually offered decent education, comparable to the expensive private schools, for a very affordable price. So when my dad was confronted with the choice of putting me in a lousy school or try to give me a better shot even if it came with religious strings attached…he decided that since he survived it without too many scars, so could I.
He was right, but not for the reasons he thought. My father came out of catholic school a faint deist, perhaps, with a somewhat comical distrust of clergy. He doesn’t think much about it. I found the library and became an early history buff. I learned about Phoenicians and ancient greek and romans, and all the gods they believed in, with as much fervor as any christian or muslim of our times, and about as much proof. Even the funny gauls in the Asterix comics had a roster of deities as believable as the Christ being used to officiate marriages, fight sin and give us our morals.
Becoming a teenager, I kept waiting for the excuses and dogma to make sense, as if it was my failure to trust them that caused any confusion. But it only got worse. Seeing priests and religious people passing both judgment and comfort in the name of something so tenuous felt increasingly uncomfortable, then repulsive. It’s odd how you don’t really feel how omnipresent religious presence (and pressure)in society is until you start to doubt, and it was a disquieting time, to say the least.
It wasn’t until I leafed through Carl Sagan’s A Demon-Haunted World in high school that I finally saw I wasn’t alone. Ironically, I heard about it from a friend who had thoroughly misread the book and thought it was a vindication for superstition and pseudo-science (“He says there are demons in the world! And he tells of how he could remotely see the war in Europe from the USA as a kid!”). It wasn’t an overt defense of atheism, and that made it even better. It showed me that there were other people in the world saying “They don’t really know. All the mystics and priests and holy books do not have the automatic claim to truth and respect they try to claim”, and it was educated, respectable people saying so.
And so I stopped even pretending to believe. If I do anything praiseworthy or noble to and for others, I want it to be due to my empathy and commitment, not to earn points with some vague, unearthly being, nor to advertise my piety to my religious tribe or convert others. And if I ever do anyone harm, the responsibility is also mine. There doesn’t need to be anything more attached to that premise. It works fine without theistic add-ons and glitter.
Brazil used to be overwhelming Catholic, but now evangelical Protestantism is putting a large dent into that and in turn making the Catholic church more obstinate in its pursuits. It’s not a good shift for the non-religious here. Popular television anchors say on the air here that all the criminals in prison are atheists and only get more fame out of the deal. I’d never say atheists and agnostics here have it worse than anywhere else; not even close. But it’s still seen as synonymous with evil and immorality, and it’s going to stay that way for a good bit yet. I’ve lost girlfriends when I told them of my lack of faith. But I don’t believe in hiding it. There’s a lot of comfort and not a small amount of pride in knowing that whatever friends, ideas and respect you have, you came by it being honest to yourself.