I grew up in a rural area of Finland and went to a tiny school of about thirty pupils. As such, I now suppose their education methods could get away with being less than mainstream. Being only about seven to eight years old, we were taught Biblical stories as though they were the truth of what happened.
I was a personality that would find the thought of a perfect, just, omnipotent authority appealing. Being an obedient, yet ingratiating child I strove to act polite and hide my flaws from God in an effort to appease him. All in a very similar manner to my faith in Santa Claus. However, I also had a very absolute sense of morality. Since the Christian stories that I had heard taught that even a malicious thought is a sin, I figured that I was not in control of my own sinfulness. A person would be sent to either Heaven or Hell according to their sins. This made me panic, since I would have to live my entire life in constant fear of a divine punishment that might not even be fair. Normally, I would disguise my misdeeds and pretend to be nothing but pure of thought… but how could I even attempt to disguise and pretend in front of an omnipotent, omniscient God?
One day, I finally broke in tears due to this sense of insecurity. My father asked what was wrong, and I opened up to him. What he said to me afterwards was nothing short of comforting as hell. Something along the lines of “There are thousands of religions on this planet, many of which promise eternal comfort and threaten with eternal agony. And everybody believes theirs is the right one. Christianity just happens to be dominant in this particular country, so take it easy, you are not bound to anything.” This did not make me truly atheist, though. I just mentally told God, “Well, it seems that despite all your greatness, you haven’t provided me with any proof that you exist. So I’ll continue to live my life without you. No hard feelings, but you can’t expect me to have faith in you when you don’t give me a proper reason to do so.”
There was a subsequent chapter of my life where I was, in fact, fundamentalist… in a very special way. Although it is rather hilarious and would make this story much more entertaining, it’s also so incredibly embarrassing that I don’t quite feel ready to disclose it, even anonymously. Let’s just say that I was extremely devoted and routinely exercised some serious fact-bending to justify my brand of religion.
Since having gotten over that phase, I was a live and let live -style nontheist. I figured that since there are so many people who are fervent believers in God, they must all have very good reasoning. As an outsider I couldn’t possibly know enough about their beliefs to criticize them. This changed when I started frequenting a certain forum on the Internet where certain posters in particular, who had received “orthodox upbringings”, were very vocal about what their religions ordered and forbade them to do. This opened my mind to the possibility that… maybe the human mind really can be so willfully illogical as to endlessly defend a mindset that has some serious flaws in it? After all, I had been through this too.
I finally got my hands on a copy of The End of Faith by Sam Harris upon skimming through a selection of books in an online library. At first, I thought the writer must have been some sort of radical. Yet his arguments, backed up by statistics as opposed to meandering pseudo-philosophy, were such a refreshing treat that I became a “radical” myself in my stance to religion. Eventually, my sister found my copy and mentioned that she had read a similar book too, by Richard Dawkins. And so on.