Why I am an atheist – Red Mann

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.

Red Mann
United States

Comments

  1. krd05 says

    Great essay! Its nice to see these posted everyday. I was happy when mine was posted a couple of months ago and to know I am not the only one who feels that way.

    Kathleen

  2. grumpyoldfart says

    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.

    Wow, I never knew it hung on for that long.

    I’m glad I never got religion.

  3. eclectabotanics says

    I think yours is the most common kind of story, and I love that it’s in print where others can see and relate.

    So many go along to get along without really feeling it, but think it’s something wrong with them, not the institution of religion. After all, if religion was wrong, why would it have sponsored so many big buildings, careers, songs and wars? Because humans want to belong and have meaning…

  4. lizdamnit says

    Those roots do run deep, don’t they? That fear, the reflex towards self-examination – I suspect for many of us it stays for life! But I’m glad you came to a good place with regards to your atheism…I found it especially cool hearing from a (pardon me, please) older writer.

    Also, I like how you put it, “the problem of Evil” – once you let go of that idea,it’s really a freeing experience, and yet also a lot of work, since one has to weigh actions, ideas, etc. for oneself.

    Lovely post, Red Mann!

  5. bodie425 says

    Thanks Redd. That was a wonderful story of, dare I say it, “redemption.” I too deal with the baptist demons that linger in the hinterlands of my mind. As a homosexual growing up in the south, there were many demons that took up residence and they’re crafty little buggers that only pop up at the worst of times when you’re least able to eradicate them.

    This quote goes on my zinger board:

    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.

  6. Usernames are stupid says

    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.

    I was at a workshop a few years ago and we had a priest try to explain how religion could coexist with science: science explained the “how” and religion explained the “why.”

    Of course, that’s crap. A volcano erupts and destroys a village, killing everyone, because magma wells up from the mantle and flows down the path of least resistance, which happens to be where the village is located.

    It isn’t because an angry sky man decided there weren’t enough virgins killed in some blood-orgy.

  7. pharylon says

    Great story, thanks for sharing. I really liked the line about it all existing in our minds… just one nitpick. The word “literally,” I don’t think it means what you think it means. :)

    But that’s just my pet peeve. Overall, it was a great read. The fact that you became an agnostic in the years before there was any kind of “movement” is really commendable. Bravo!

  8. Brian says

    The word “literally,” I don’t think it means what you think it means.

    Actually, it does. Like so many other words in the English language, it has two very different meanings, and the reader is expected to use context to deduce which is intended.

  9. pharylon says

    Some dictionaries (for instance, the one at dictionary.com) don’t cite that definition at all, except to note it’s a common mistake. Some, like the Cambridge dictionary, cite it as a slang or informal use. Some, like Merriam Webster, cite it as a standard use right up there with the original meaning of the word. So I’ll concede there’s debate on the subject.

    But for me, the idea that a word can be it’s own antonym is ridiculous. If you can use “literally” to mean “figuratively,” then the word is pointless.

  10. sockeyesalman says

    Red Mann: Great post. My story would be quite similar with some variation. Missouri (Misery?) Synod Lutheran denomination with 6 years of Lutheran primary school and Sunday School indoctrination, followed by confirmation classes and including cautions about false/suspect doctrines and association with Roman Catholics, Baptists, Episcopals and even other more liberal, wrong-thinking Lutheran groups.

    Pharylon: I agree “literally” should have been “figuratively”.
    They do not mean than same thing. The meaning of literal should not devolve into its opposite.

  11. redmann says

    Thanks for all of the supportive comments.
    Pharylon , the point I was trying to make with using “literally” was in line with Dictionery.com definition # 4 ” in effect; in substance; very nearly; virtually.” I was relating to the fact that my Great-Uncle and Grandfather had both given substantial things to this particular church, so I thought “This church was literally in my blood” carried that meaning better than using “virtually”.

  12. rork says

    “The fact that you became an agnostic in the years before there was any kind of “movement” is really commendable.”

    Russel’s “Why I am not a Christian” is old enough, and the ideas it contains, even older. It is true most people had not read Nietzsche or Russel, but if you took any philosophy classes at a good university in the 60′s or 70′s, it would have taken serious work to maintain any faith. There’s Marx too.