Unlike most atheists I have come across, I am an atheist because I am a profoundly irrational person; my life is dominated by narrative, by fictions and lies, performance and artifice. In other words, I am a literary scholar. Two factors shaped my early life: I was raised without early first hand exposure to religion by an artist and a psychology professor who self-identified as atheists, and my extended family concealed a dark secret about my grandmother. Because I was not exposed to religion until the fourth grade, when little friends started trying to “save” me, the Bible stories I encountered struck me as no more believable than any of the many, many other narratives I had been reading. Middle Earth, Wonderland, Oz, Avonlea, Villa Villekulla, the court of King Arthur, and even Narnia had primed me to look upon the Biblical Judea as just another historical fiction.
The fact that no one in my family would tell me why my grandmother had only one leg sparked any number of possible explanations in my overactive imagination, each one embellished until it became a pathos-filled romance of suffering and redemption. This early lesson in my own brain’s ability to speculate wildly illustrates perfectly the psychology of religion and the drive to find unambiguous answers to things that, for various reasons, are beyond our ken. And even when, as a young adult, I was given the “real” answer in the form of newspaper articles describing the incident, it quickly became clear that this “answer” contained yet more unanswerable questions (no one will ever know why my grandmother’s step-father attempted to murder her in a drunken rage, or why he missed and ended up shooting her in the knee). I am a relativist through and through, largely at ease with ambiguity. Science per se has almost nothing to do with my atheism.