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Why I am an atheist – Andreas

I’ve probably been an atheist my whole life. I wasn’t really raised in a very religious way. I got baptized, and had my confirmation when I was 14 years old. But still, I didn’t really believe that stuff. Confirmation was basically for getting money from my family.

But that doesn’t mean I never prayed.

Two years ago, when I was 16 years old, my father died – not suddenly, but slowly, because of cancer. This was not a pleasant experience. He had had cancer before, it was thought to be gone, then there was another tumor in his brain. Which caused a stroke, he was brought to a hospital, and then there he was, unable to move properly, unable to speak properly, completely helpless – which is terrible, but it was even worse for him. He never wanted to be dependent on somebody. But now he was. He still was completely conscious, he knew what happened around him. He could hear us talk to him, but he couldn’t reply properly. I could see how frustrating that was for him. I remember how we tried to understand what he tried to tell us, but ultimately we didn’t seem to get it. He tried to write it down, but there was no way we could read it. I remember when he was trying to tell me and my brother something, but still, we weren’t able to understand him. But then there was something we did understand. “Ihr seid doch so dämlich, ihr seid doch so unglaublich dämlich”, which roughly translates to “you are so dumb, you are so incredibly dumb”. When you could have seen his face, you would know how frustrating this was for him. He was angry, either at himself, or at us, or at the cancer. He was unable to speak with us, unable to say last words, unable to give last advice.

His condition got worse, and I don’t even know how long it was until he died. One month? Two months? When it finally happened, it was a relief. For him, and for all of us.

Why am I telling you this?

This was the time when I prayed. I prayed for a cure, for the radiation therapy to work, even when he got to the hospice, I prayed for a miracle. I probably didn’t really believe in God, but you try everything out, you cling to every glimmer of hope there is, however remote.

A day before his death, there was a priest with him, and he received the last supper. I was not there myself, but I wonder what he might have said.
“You’re going to Heaven, to a better place”?

Or “Do not be afraid, God is waiting for you”?

Is this a comforting thought? Anyway, why is the way to enter Heaven so painful, why do you have to suffer for so long? Why not just make him die now, why not help my father? Why does God not care?

I think that this was the thing that made me realize that there is no God. Definitely not. And even if there is, then he is not someone to worship, but someone to be repulsed of.

Some days before his funeral, the priest of our small city who was going to hold the funeral sermon was at our home. She asked questions about him, about his life, about what to say about him. My mother told her, and at the funeral, the priest basically repeated what my mother told her. Of course she did, what else could she say? But that made it clear to me: This woman did not know my father at all. She had no idea about who he was. And still, she acted as if she knew him, as if she actually cared.

When, some day, I’m going to die, I don’t want some stranger to talk about me. I want my family and friends to do that, people, who actually knew me.

Religious people don’t have a satisfying answer about why God allows so much pain and suffering. Either they say that God works in mysterious ways, which is basically admitting that they don’t have a fucking clue, or that it’s part of God’s divine plan (You can’t help but to wonder why an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving creator of the universe is unable to develop a plan that doesn’t require hundreds of millions of people to die to function). My favorite: In our confirmation lessons we discussed the issue, and after some weeks, we came to the conclusion: everybody has to decide for himself. Yea, great. I’m feeling much better already.

So, about one and a half years later, I discovered the splendid Astrodicticum Simplex blog of Florian Freistetter, which is the most known German science blog. Through him, I came to discover the awesome videos of Edward Current and Non Stamp Collector, I discovered The Thinking Atheist (from which I have some awesome T-shirts), I discovered your blog, Pharyngula, and later the Freethoughtblogs with Camels with Hammers and The Digital Cuttlefish (Bishops, And Pawns and What Would An Atheist Do? are so amazing, thank you for them!). I came to know Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, I bought God Is Not Great and The God Delusion, and through Florian Freistetter I discovered great science books (I can’t really name them all), and Carl Sagan and his Cosmos. These people showed me a lot about our world, and why it is so magnificent, and why it can be so without a god.

But I also discovered more unpleasant things. I discovered how women in Islamic countries are being treated, how atheists suffer from a lot of prejudice in America, what parents can do to children because of their religion, how there a people like Ken Ham who are able to ignore all evidence and live in their own illusory (6000 years old) world, and even teach these views on children. I read parts of the Bible and the Qu’ran, and found out that these are books filled with violence, far from being divinely inspired, written by God. I found out about just how ridiculous some religious beliefs are (two words: Noah’s Ark).
But the thing that probably shocked me most was Harold Camping. This man brought people (besides bringing them to give him all their possessions) to actually kill themselves. He inflicted a fear of something imaginary in them, so strong, they saw no other way to handle it but to kill themselves. And did he show any remorse? Far from it, he said that the 21st May 2011 was merely the date where humans on earth are to be judged, and the final end of the world is said to happen 5 months later, on 21st October, which is (from the time I write this) in exactly 12 days. I don’t have any hopes, we’re going to have the same thing again, that is, people willing giving up their whole life because of their immense faith, and people like Harold Camping who have no problem with exploiting this faith for their own benefit, walking over dead bodies, and just not giving a damn. And maybe he even isn’t just not giving a damn, maybe he thinks he’s doing something good. If he were real, his God would probably be proud of him.

That’s why I am an atheist, and why I oppose religion.

“We are all without god – some of us just happen to be aware of it.” ~ Monica Salcedo

Andreas
Germany

Comments

  1. Dhorvath, OM says

    I am so sorry to read about your father, cancer hurts more people than just those it kills. Thank you for sharing your story, having lost a parent to cancer I suspect I understand how hard this was to write.

    (Side note: I find these two sentences:

    I wasn’t really raised in a very religious way. I got baptized, and had my confirmation when I was 14 years old.

    Very difficult to reconcile.)

  2. greame says

    (Side note: I find these two sentences:

    I wasn’t really raised in a very religious way. I got baptized, and had my confirmation when I was 14 years old.

    Very difficult to reconcile.)

    Why? I was the same. I was baptized and confirmed because my father is Catholic. He took me to church until my teens, and then gave me the choice as to if I wanted to continue to go with him. Sunday church with McDonald’s afterwards was pretty much the sum of religion I got as a kid. These ceremonies are more for the parents then for the child, at least for me. We didn’t say grace before meals, we didn’t pray every night, so I wouldn’t consider my upbringing “very” religious at all.

  3. says

    I wasn’t really raised in a very religious way. I got baptized, and had my confirmation when I was 14 years old.

    I grew up in Germany as well, and this quote totally applies to me too. Germany is very secular and people go through the motions of baptisms and confirmations mostly because of tradition. There are not as many overt atheists there compared to the US. Because religion doesn’t intrude into society and politics, most people don’t spend much time thinking about religion one way or another (although that changed after the child abuse scandals). I only became anti-religion and hardened in my atheism after I moved to North America and had many many “wtf is this???” moments listening to the news and finding out how many people here are biblical literalists and attempting to impose their religious views on society.

  4. dobbinriddle says

    I can relate to your story, especially the part about your father’s death. I lost my own father to cancer when I was 15. Even though I was raised in a moderate, weekly-church-attending family, I must have been somewhat of a realist. I don’t remember praying for a cure or a miracle. I do remember praying that his suffering would be over, praying that my father would die. And, in time, that prayer was “answered”.

    At the visitation, several people told me that god needed my father more than I needed him. In a way, those comments of the well-meaning church ladies were the beginning of my philosophical search and my road to atheism.

  5. redpanda says

    Broca’s strokes are really rough. In case any of you don’t know, the area of the brain that understands and interprets speech is different from the area that generates speech. If only the latter gets damaged (as it sounds to be the case here), then you can understand what’s going on and think clearly, but you can’t form words of your own to reply. What comes out is often a garbled, incoherent mess, if anything comes out at all. And as you see here, because it’s language and not simply speech, you can’t write your thoughts down either. I can’t imagine how frustrating that would be to be trapped in your own head like that.

  6. lizdamnit says

    Thank you for sharing your story, Andreas. I can understand how you must have felt, dealing with the tradition of religion at such a painful time. I always thought many of those platitudes like “a better place” were sort of like white noise, like one has to say something but noone ever knows what to say when watching a person pass. But they can be pretty hurtful to the family.

    Also, yeah, Camping….welcome to that particular horrorshow of American culture. He scares us US-ians, too, but sadly not enough of us. Anyway, great choice of reading/viewing materials (whoo! Sagan!) and welcome aboard :)

  7. Dhorvath, OM says

    graeme,

    Why? I was the same. I was baptized and confirmed because my father is Catholic. He took me to church until my teens

    How is that not being raised in a religious manner? I wasn’t raised in a very religious way, we had a tree and presents in December and chocolate eggs in the spring, and yet I can see that there was some religious trappings tied up in our secular family gatherings. To someone who never set foot in a church until my wife’s grandfather died and had a Catholic funeral, it mystifies me that anyone can think going to church regularly and performing church ceremonies isn’t very religious.

  8. echidna says

    I can’t really speak for Germany, and only for the Austria of my parent’s childhood. But going to church was incredibly normal, and for my mum in particular (without going into details) going to church was a statement that you were not Jewish or atheist. Literally, my mum’s life depended on it. Even long after WWII was over, it took a while for people to relax.
    I can guess that European countries have a long tradition of the feeling the importance of going to church regardless of belief. The inquisition started as a response to increasing secularision, as I understand it, and lasted many centuries.

  9. geocatherder says

    Andreas, I’m so sorry about your father. Cancer is a cruel, cruel, way to die. Cancer plus a stroke is just an added dollop of cruelty.

    My mother was a devout Catholic, and so we had a Catholic priest come to the funeral home and give the service. He didn’t know my mother at all (very large parish, only one priest) and he didn’t pretend to give a eulogy; all we heard about was how great God was and how she was in heaven now.

    I swore there would NOT be a repeat of such drivel for my father, who had grown up Lutheran but was not religious. So I swallowed my tears and wrote and gave my Dad’s eulogy. I’m really happy that I did; his funeral was a proper celebration of his life.

    If you want that for yourself, make sure your family and friends know about it! Otherwise you might end up with some fool speaking about you who doesn’t know you at all.

  10. cconti says

    Andreas, I too lost my father to cancer. I was much older but it wasn’t any easier. On top of everything, my father was in an Italian private clinic where he was refused morphine on account that “he may get addicted to it” (after he was given no more than 2 weeks to live. Laughable)

    I don’t think that someone praying at a time of great distress and loss should be either condemned or ridiculed by either the religious (see, he believes in go d after all) or the non-believer (you hypocrite, you should know it’s all fantasy).

    In other words, it is unfair to judge us when we are obviously impaired by fear stress or grief. That’s why Christopher Hitchens attitude was so heroic. I have been exactly where he was. I had an illness I was not suppose to beat and I wasted away for over 2 years. I was lucky and I survived and eventually thrived, but I had some very dark moments. I never prayed but I was tempted. Above all, I was able to appreciate the need the religious have to pray. I just knew that it was a one way call.

  11. says

    I found out about just how ridiculous some religious beliefs are (two words: Noah’s Ark).

    I had to laugh. Until I started using the internet I never imagined there were people who were childish enough to believe in that atrocity.

    Some religious beliefs? Is there a religious fantasy that isn’t ridculous?

  12. frankb says

    When my mother-in-law died I went with my wife to her home town for the funeral. We attended the visitation that was held the night before the funeral. Many friends and neighbors came and told wonderful stories about my wife’s mom. She was a nurse and helped many people with various ailments. She was a very giving person and all these testimonials were wonderful to hear. The funeral was a very dry recital of the usual script and the pastor’s inclusion of a few personal facts about this marvelous woman seemed like a hollow mockery of the evening before. Religion had nothing to contribute to the occasion. Fairy tales could not embellish what was real. Why give credit and praise to an imaginary being for what this woman accomplished with her sweat and tears. I hear and understand what Andreas has to say.

  13. concernedjoe says

    Very moving Andreas – thanks.

    Religion is a business. Essentially it exists because of children (e.g., bible school, parochial school, baptism, first communion, confirmation) and adult milestones (e.g., marriage, death). I am not saying these things per se rake in all the profits, just that they allow “the church” to maintain connection to the flock that otherwise would not be motivated to be attenders let alone contributors.

    What real value does religion add to a wedding? a sick bed? a funeral? Not shit and just shit – depending on your connotation.

    Some will jump to say – comfort and/or uplift. I say more than good friends and family?!? Come on!

    All things being equal (no “if you don’t get the last rites you will pay a penalty” allowed – that is coercion) – who do you (so called believers) want by your side when you are about to kick the bucket?

    A priest droning on about how great god is when you really wish you’d die or at least your one month of constipation end right then and there,

    Or a life long friend who can make you laugh and who WILL take care of the wife and kids in some tangible way when you are gone, and who if your constipation comes to a abrupt end during the visit would laugh and clean you up much like you did for them after a binge long ago in college.

    My point – humans- doing human things – with human empathy and human love – make life worth living and dying easier. And if one thinks otherwise – if all you have or want is a priest and god – well that is a sad state of affairs I’d say.

  14. mwitthoft says

    through Florian Freistetter I discovered great science books (I can’t really name them all)

    If you choose to name some of them, I shall be grateful for the recommendations.

  15. David Marjanović says

    *clenched-tentacle salute to Florian Freistetter whose blog I’ve been neglecting because scienceblogs.de posts are no longer shown on scienceblogs.com*

    How is that not being raised in a religious manner?

    It means that religion is confined to less than an hour per week. Complete compartmentalization.

    Even long after WWII was over, it took a while for people to relax.

    The beginning of the end for this kind of thing wasn’t 1945, it was 1968.

  16. sitalia says

    First of all, thank you all for the kind replies. You are awesome!

    Then I think I have to admit that I’m not sure if Monica’s (https://twitter.com/#!/Monicks – I’m sure you know her) last name actually is Salcedo. That quote is from her. Not sure why I think it is, I must have picked it up somewhere. I apologize for that. Now that I looked again, I can’t find her actual name anywhere. In the future, I’m not only going to be skeptical about gods, but last names, too ;-)

    @ Dhorvath: It is like some have already said: Baptism, Confirmation, that was about it. We went to church once a year at Christmas. I wouldn’t call that a religious upbringing.

    @ mwitthoft: I think it began with “How I killed Pluto” by Mike Brown. I also read “The Hidden Reality” by Brian Greene, “The Case for Mars” by Robert Zubrin, and “The Demon-haunted World” by Carl Sagan, and of course his “Cosmos”. Of the latter I’ve (yet) only seen the series, not actually read the book. On a related note, I’ve also read “The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal” by Christopher Moore and “Nation” by Terry Pratchett. I stumbled upon all of those through Florian. All of them are highly recommended, start with The Case for Mars (Given you’ve already read the Sagan books), I really loved this one! Just imagine, humankind’s start as a space faring species, with Mars as its first colony, turning it into a habitable, life-friendly place again. And all of this could start today.

    @ redpanda: That describes his condition perfectly. And I can’t imagine this either, but I saw it.

    Greetings from Germany,
    Andreas.

    (And sorry for commenting on this so late.)