I was a Christian. Mostly I was a Christian because my mother was a Christian, I think my father was too, but he rarely went to church or talked about it. All my friends were Christians; all the adults I knew appeared to be Christians too. The First Baptist Church in the small town in Massachusetts I grew up in was less than a half a mile down the road. My Great-grand father had donated the organ; my Grandfather had painted the picture behind the baptistery. This church was literally in my blood. From before I can remember, I went to Sunday school, as well as Sunday service. Going to church was just what you did, not going was unthinkable. This particular church, which was considered to be Northern Conservative Baptist, was only moderately fire and brimstone. Sure Jews, and probably Catholics, were going to hell but, I wasn’t aware that any other kind of religious people like Muslims, Buddhists, or even atheists existed. There were also Methodists and Congregationalists, but they were almost like us.
Most of the organized activity in my life was either at school or at church. I went to Daily Vacation Bible School in the summer, later on I joined the Christian Service Brigade, a Boy Scout like organization, but with heavy Christian influence. The best thing about CSB was summer camp. It was up in Maine on the shores of Lake Bunganut. There were crafts, swimming, canoeing, campfires, archery and more. And of course, preaching, but not too much. It was great to get away from home and parents and meet a bunch of other kids, and some pretty neat counselors. Back home there were prayer meetings, testimony nights, bible quizzes with other churches. I sang in the church choir starting at twelve. I even helped clean the church with my best buddy who was sort of the janitor.
I was “saved” and born again with full immersion baptism. My name was entered in the church rolls and they gave me a real nice bible. I tried really hard to make contact with God/Jesus, to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, but I never seemed to feel anything like it. I am now fairly sure that I never really believed in any of it. I’m sure that I did everything because it was the thing to do.
As time went on, doubt began to creep in. At first it was sex, in the form of masturbation, that started it. If God watches everything, he was watching me, and knew all of the nasty thoughts I was having about girls. The fun of what I was doing eventually won out over the fear of God. Then there was the behavior of the supposedly upright Christians. The deacon would gas unwanted puppies and kittens with lawnmower exhaust. People would stand up on Testimony night and tell us what good Christians they were, and then their actions would belie it. Conflicts grew between what I was told in church and what I perceived outside of church. I couldn’t believe my Catholic friends were going to Hell because they didn’t believe the way we believed, I couldn’t believe that people in Africa would go to Hell just because they never heard of Jesus. As I learned about the real world and science, the Bible stories were harder and harder to take as real. It was the introduction to the Theory of Evolution in high school thanks to a wonderful biology teacher, and the religious resistance to it, that led to the most major crack in my faith so far. After this point, my religious involvement was mostly lip-service and inertia. My drift towards atheism had begun.
The rudiments remained. I still identified myself as Protestant on Navy forms, in Boot Camp and “A” School I sang in the Bluejacket Chorus at services in the Mainside Chapel every Sunday. Going and singing really didn’t bother me, in fact I loved the old hymns (and still do), I just didn’t believe the message anymore. Other than going to church to sing, my church going days were pretty much over, I just saw no reason to go except for weddings, funerals and baptisms. I was married in a church, by a minister, but that was really pro forma and to keep my wife’s family happy. This was in Scotland and our Banns were actually cried.
For years I basically ignored religion, beginning to think of myself as agnostic, still not quite able to internally let go of it all. This was probably the result of the deep brainwashing I received as a child, the fear of hell, the fear of being condemned, the fear of the devil, the fear of taking that final step. Then around the 80’s, things began to change. First came the Moral Majority and the beginning of religious involvement with politics. The obvious hypocrisy and lies that were coming from Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson were beginning to sour discourse in America. Then came 9/11 and I started digging into Islam, this was followed by the “Intelligent” Design movement. As I started digging into it, helped greatly by access to the internet, I came across some real atheists, starting with Austin Cline at About Atheism; this led me to Panda’s Thumb, then to P.Z. Myers’ Pharyngula, then on to Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and Dennett. I was learning about what atheism really is and found that there were many people who had let go of their childish fears. When I finally faced up to the idea, which is certainly true, that there is no god or gods and that religion is based on superstition and fear, I, like Saul on the road to Damascus, felt the scales fall, not from my eyes, but my brain. The Problem of Evil no longer existed, the perceived guilt of punishment for what was supposed to be bad behavior evaporated. I was no longer in fear of a capricious, spiteful god of the OT. I no longer had to try to reconcile the supposed miracles of Jesus with the real world. Although sometimes, in the depths of the night, I can still catch the dim whispering gibberish of the imp of religious nonsense that hides, desperately, in the dim corners of my brain.
My atheism is confirmed when I see all of what science and rationality can explain about the way the world and the universe works and, indeed, much of the way the human mind works; and then look at what religion, any religion, can explain. Religion explains nothing; virtually every truth claim it makes can be shown to have a natural explanation that can be supported by evidence and observation. Science is constantly making the box that religion keeps god in, the box of things that sciences does not (yet) have answers to, smaller and smaller. “Goddidit” explains vanishingly less and less. Nothing of what we know about the world and the universe that it is in requires any action from any god to explain it. God exists alright, god and angels and demons and miracles and heaven and hell all exist inside the human mind.
Now, the older I get, I’m in my sixties, the more I am absolutely convinced that the life I have now is the only life I get and that when I die I will only live on in the memories of those that knew me.