Episode CCCIV: All about Randi »« Interesting associations

Why I am an atheist – Xios the Fifth

I’m a female of the species Homo sapiens on the eastern coast of the United States who was brought up in a sometimes vaguely deistic, sometimes atheistic, sometimes anti-theistic family.

It just depended on who you asked.

I’m the oldest child and was born in a major city on the northeastern coast of the United States. My father was brought up Catholic in Ireland, while my mother was brought up in the southeastern United States in a non-churchgoing family. I think she is a deist or agnostic-it was just never discussed. Both of my siblings are too young to have formulated any opinion on religion yet-they’ve not been brainwashed, so I think they’ll be agnostic at very least, but I’m not entirely certain.

My father was very different. He worked from a young age to make sure I knew that it was wise to stay away from the clergy, particularly Catholics. He instilled from a young age that talking to any priest or parishioner was a bad idea. I’m almost entirely certain that was from his rough upbringing with devout Catholic parents and nuns and priests at the schools.

Because of an unfortunate circumstance, my father lost his job while I was young and was forced to journey away to find work. Since then he’s had to take jobs that left him little time at home and what he had was usually spent sleeping. That meant that he didn’t have any time to discuss his atheistic beliefs with me and my mother has permanently refused to discuss hers with the family.

I eventually became a vague deist after I picked up ideas from my peers. There had to be somebody up there, right? While I was still in elementary school, I had a friend that, trying to be just like her preacher and her parents (who were active in the pursuit of converting people to their particular Lutheran strain of Christianity), converted me to a vague form of Christian-esque deism. I prayed in my bed at night to God (who, I would learn later, was also known as Jehovah), I learned about the Nativity and believed it, and I learned about Heaven and a diluted form of Hell. Bad people would go to timeout, good people would be happy.

I didn’t ever go to any church, I never really read the Bible until I was a lot older, I didn’t realize the exact qualifications to go to Heaven, I didn’t know that the God of the Abrahamic trifecta was a childish tyrant, I had barely any knowledge of the crucifixion and resurrection, I just had no idea. I guess I wasn’t ever really a Christian. I did believe in God in my own childish way, but it was filtered. I proudly told people (outside of my family) that I was a Christian.

It took me a few more years to realize that I didn’t know what I was getting into.

My converting friend had long since vanished into the past. At the time, I was taking piano lessons with a Southern Baptist woman who is (to put it mildly) extremely devout and committed-she had played the organ for her congregation since she was a teenager. She’d gone to a Christian college and converted people for some time. She knew my parents were non-theistic and I was a Christian, though I’d asked her not to say anything to my parents and I’d tell them when I was older and knew how to articulate my beliefs to them.

I had just finished a song and was looking for a new one. As I flipped through a book of pop songs of the last 50 years or so, I chanced upon a simplification of “Imagine” by John Lennon. I knew of the Beatles’ music and enjoyed it, though I hadn’t yet heard that particular song. Recognizing the name, I said, “Ooh, John Lennon.”

She replied, with a sort of satisfaction, “No, we don’t play that here. He wasn’t a Christian, but he learned his lesson in the end.”

At the time, the comment confused me, but I let it go without continuing the conversation. We drifted elsewhere, but I didn’t forget the comment. I thought that maybe he’d eventually converted.

I got home and searched for “Imagine” and for “John Lennon” on Google.

While listening to “Imagine” and reading John Lennon’s Wikipedia biography, I chanced upon the fact that he’d been shot and killed at a fairly young age, but he’d never converted. After I’d listened to “Imagine” twice, I made the connection in a stroke of brilliance.

She thought that John Lennon’s death was a judgment from God for writing that song.

Suddenly, I didn’t want to be a Christian anymore.

Now, she’s generally a nice woman, though obviously she holds no sympathy for atheists (or homosexuals, or Muslims) and she watches Fox News.

But this hate, I found as I finally read the Bible, was supported openly. The Old Testament was just a compilation of the evil of Jehovah-the New just a contradictory set of tales of the purveyor of an immoral doctrine that was supposedly simultaneously the son of Jehovah and Jehovah.

It was terrifying and laughable at the same time. But I also realized that the idea of this God, the idea of Hell, of original sin, of resurrection, of believing an old story book, of trusting the nonsensical and often contradictory doctrines of Christianity was just absurd, ludicrous, preposterous!

But, for some reason, I stopped there. I didn’t renounce deism, though I realized that an interventionist God was also absurd. I became something of a Ben Franklin-like deist; it (whatever it was) existed but it didn’t do anything.

Eventually, through a rather strange route, I started watching Dara O’Briain’s standup comedy. I laughed and laughed until I reached the part where he said he’d take psychics, homeopaths and priests and put them all in a sack and hit them with sticks. The psychics and priests I could emphasize with, but I didn’t know what homeopaths were.

The next stop was to James Randi’s YouTube channel.

I found Thunderf00t on YouTube shortly afterward.

After that, I stumbled across the Atheist Community of Austin and the Atheist Experience, followed shortly thereafter by the Non-Prophets.

And then I found Pharyngula.

From there, the whole world of atheism and anti-theism opened up.

Since then, I’ve been commenting on the intertubes, I’ve been joining chatrooms and I’ve been reading and educating myself about evolution, about religion, about society in general and anything else I can get my hands on. I’ve just gotten into one of my first written debates with a theistic friend of mine (verbal sparring has been going on for a while) and I’m having a blast.

Once I started educating myself and enjoying it…everything fell into place. I finally understood why I found the Bible so absolutely absurd. I finally figured out why my father was so anti-theistic. I finally figured out why people were protesting church-state separation violation. I finally figured out why calling Jesus a madman or something worse was justified. I finally figured out why the line between what is comforting to believe and what is true is so important.

I’m going to end with one of the only quotes in the Bible, otherwise known as the Big Book of Multiple Choice, that has ever held any significance for me. Predictably, it does not come from the Old Testament (though Ecclesiastes is interesting at very least) nor does it come from the supposed sayings of Christ. Instead, it is from Paul. Also predictably, I had to take it (somewhat) out of context.

1 Corinthians, 13:11-When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (KJV)

Fitting then, now that I am no longer a child, that I put away the childish god of Abraham, the childish reliance on imaginary friends, and the brutal yet still childish threat of pain that are all mainstays of the destructive and infantile organizations we call religions.

Xios the Fifth
United States

Comments

  1. otrame says

    There are other bits of genuine wisdom in the bible. My favorite is “The truth will set you free.”

  2. says

    She thought that John Lennon’s death was a judgment from God for writing that song.

    Actually, I think the big point is that he learned better in hell. The murder may or may not play into it.

    It’s not unusual for your “Bible believing Xian” to “point out” that you’ll discover for sure when it’s too late, at least when on the web.

    Glen Davidson

  3. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    But this hate, I found as I finally read the Bible, was supported openly. The Old Testament was just a compilation of the evil of Jehovah-the New just a contradictory set of tales of the purveyor of an immoral doctrine that was supposedly simultaneously the son of Jehovah and Jehovah.

    That’s as good a description of the Bible as I’ve ever come across.

  4. sockeyesalman says

    Good post. Thanks.
    re: 1 Corinthians, 13:11-When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (KJV)

    “Fitting then, now that I am no longer a child, that I put away the childish god of Abraham, the childish reliance on imaginary friends, and the brutal yet still childish threat of pain that are all mainstays of the destructive and infantile organizations we call religions.”

    I’ve wondered what those childish things were. Thanks for your examples above. I never did ask a clergyman.

    It seems that Paul was saying that the Xians at Corinth should think and understand as adults, not as children. Yet, according to Jesus (Matt 18:3): Verily I say, unto you. “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” KJV So, does it seem that one should be childlike in their beliefs as in Matthew 18, but should think and reason as an adult? Although both passages are somewhat out of context, they seem contradictory.

    I recall long about confirmation time, so many years ago, I was told there were certain questions that were OK to ask and others that I should not ask of my Lutheran minister. I think that was when he really lost credibility and my trust. More recently, I was told by the adult son of another minister that “You think way too much.” Another adult Xian told me that my questions indicated “I wanted to be God.” I’m pretty sure I said, “No, I just want to know the truth and not bu..sh…ed.”

    Enuf fer now.

    Sockeyesalman

  5. tc2012 says

    I am a father of two young children. I am doing my best to balance their exposure to religion, but not have them think about it much at all. I would prefer for it to be mostly a non-issue that they rarely give a thought to. I want them to be tolerant and respectful of others’ beliefs, but to also be able to recognize BS as they hear it. My youngest is in Kindergarten and the teacher (I live in Texas) asked his class, “How many of you go to church?” My 6 year-old son explained that he was the only one not to raise his hand. His best friend (from a Christian family) apparently said to my son, “Don’t you believe in God?” “I didn’t say anything because I was embarrassed, Daddy.”

    It pisses me off to have to teach my children how to defend themselves from religion and those who are afflicted by it. I would just teach them healthy skepticism, naturalism, and the scientific method, but even at young ages my children are constantly confronted by others’ religious views. As such, I feel obligated to educate them in Comparative Religions 101.

  6. Rip Steakface says

    TC, I am anything but a parent, but I’ve heard from a few skeptic parents that it’s often effective to actually teach them Christian doctrine, but from a critical perspective – teach them it, and then point and laugh at how silly it is. The best way to make something non-threatening is to make it a joke.

  7. Lou Jost says

    Your essay was wonderful. You crystallize the issue perfectly here:
    “I finally figured out why the line between what is comforting to believe and what is true is so important.”

  8. cafeeineaddicted says

    Αgreeing with Rip @9 here. For better or worse, religion is a huge part of our history not to mention. The best case I’ve heard made by atheist parents is to teach all mythologies in a similar way, and then point out that some people think some of them are true, others think different ones are true, make the point of being respectful and not hurtful to the person, but don’t refrain from emphasizing the importance of distinguishing between truth and make-believe.

  9. alektorophile says

    Great post, Xios

    @8
    I find myself, albeit to a limited extent, in the same situation. As father of a toddler I still have some time, but nonetheless started giving some thought to when and how to introduce my son to religion. Given that I am European and my wife is American, he will be exposed to two very different religious realities as it is. We live in Europe, and christianity is an inextricable part of its history. Churches and chapels dot the landscape, and similarly religious events and festivities mark the calendar (my son just experienced his first Carnival today – dressed as a chicken, of course). But this being Europe in the 21st Century, it should not be a problem to combine an appreciation and understanding of the cultural, historical aspects of religion with a skeptical perspective on its actual beliefs and practices. Besides, none of our friends are religious, and few of my relatives ever go to church, apart from the occasional funeral or wedding.

    Visiting and interacting with my in-laws in the Western US is another story. Religion plays a leading role in their lives, at times truly poisoning their judgement and their understanding of the world. Religious quotes and thoughts litter their homes and minds. People are almost exclusively judged by what and how much they believe. Threats of hell and divine retribution, combined with corporal punishments, are thought an acceptable way to raise a child. Unquestioning belief is the norm, and my son’s young cousins, encouraged by their parents, already started asking us why he wasn’t baptised and if we love baby Jesus. I have no doubt that when older, similar questions and more will be aimed directly at him.

    How to teach him to be generally tolerant of other people’s beliefs, yet skeptical and prepared when confronted by the more agressive, nuttier versions of the virus? I guess education will probably be the key, and as #12 said, exposing him to a variety of mythologies, beliefs, and religions will be an important part of it. For example, I can definitely see myself visiting churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and the like with him whenever the occasion arises, and learning about the various historical, geographical, and cultural roots and characteristics of each faith. That should help putting his evangelical proselytising relatives in perspective.

  10. cconti says

    Wonderful essay and welcome among the ranks of those that think for themselves.

    I wanted to also respond to tc2012 and alektorophile. I am a father of an adult (23) woman. I am also European (Italy) and my wife is Canadian. Neither of us grew up religious and while my wife is a “apatheist” (meaning she could care less and barely knows the difference between the Quran and the bible) I made it a point to learn about religions as much as I could.

    We brought up my daughter is a near perfect non theistic environment. being in california, we weren’t surrounded by overly religious people. We had the occasional family friend wanting to take our daughter to Mass, but the catholic priests are really good at driving non believer children away. Either they were rude and condescending or totally unhelpful and made my daughter feel inadequate. I thought I gave her enough info so she could bled in, but when she spit the cracker and made a face the jig was up (I told her not to go in line for the communion and the family friend was even more clueless since she was barely 6yo and she should have known she was not even baptized). But, as I said, instead of taking the opportunity to save a lost soul, they choose to made her feel inadequate. They accomplished more in a few minutes than I could have done if I tried to brainwash her since was born.

    My approach with her was to let her know the facts as dispassionately as I could. Obviously, my non participation in any church activities and clear godlessness, gave her a big hint I thought it was all a bunch of fables, but I never told her what to do. Quite the opposite. I told her to try to attend and get to know as many religious rituals as possible while at the same time I warned her not to jump with the first sweet sounding religion she gets in contact with and at least look at the alternatives, including atheism.

    Looking back, I could have given her a bit more data to work with. It may sound like I did more than many atheists would, but I feel I let her go into the world as an adult unprepared and if I could go back I would try to take more time to teach her more.

    To me it was important that I would try to influence her as little as possible. And I think that’s the right approach. As parents it would be impossible not to influence our children, in fact, it is desirable. We want them to grow with values similar to ours.

    In any event, both of you sound like you have small children. If you have questions or doubts, I suggest you google “the friendly atheist” and look for “ask Richard”. Richard is a wonderful human being and one of the wisest people I know. He will be able to give you any guidance you may need. I wish I knew of him 20 years ago.

  11. says

    Sorry about this nitpicking:

    atheistic beliefs

    I wouldn’t call “not believing in supernatural bullshit” a belief for the same reason I wouldn’t call “not believing in leprechauns” a belief.

  12. Koshka says

    tc2012,

    Your child is a minority (of 1) in their class. The teacher has managed to exclude your child by asking who goes to church. What a shithead.

    My father was teased at school because he was the only child not baptised. He specifically got me and my siblings baptised so wouldn’t suffer the same thing. Today I am able to not baptise my child and to teach her my opinion on religion without her being different at school. I dont envy your position. Good luck.

  13. Charlie Foxtrot says

    @8 tc2012
    Hi! I’ve got two as well, 8 and 5, and am familiar with your concerns – although being in Australia I don’t have quite the same hurdles.
    My partner and I both come from Catholic upbringing, and grew up with the usual xmas and easter stuff being observed. So we’ve kept that in the family, but explained to the kids both the cathlik tradition and then also spoken about all the other belief systems that have been integrated.
    It also helped that the kids went through a phase where Disney’s cartoon “Hercules” movie was a favourite. It gives us a reference point to talk about ancient religion when they know Zeus etc and the Titans already.
    The variety of cultures among our friends from childcare, kindergarden and school help as well. We been to Duvali celebrations with our Indian friends, we go to the Chinese New Year celebrations every year, they’ve got Muslim schoolmates who talk about their feast days and rituals, my daughter has a Buddist friend who encourages her to pray to a Cloud Dragon god occasionally (must look that up…) and of course other friends who head off to church every Sunday.
    So, yeah, we’ve had to be ready to launch into brief ‘Comparative Theology 101 & 102′ lessons for a few years now, as all this exposure leads to the ‘Why’ questions. We give them the best answers we can, on the level, and they absorb it all like the little knowledge-sponges that they are.
    What’s great is when they start spotting the inconsistencies themselves.
    We do stress that they can still respect other people without having to share their belief systems, of course.
    And when my 8 year old asked me flat out little while ago ‘Do we believe in god?’, I answered “Well, I don’t and your Mum doesn’t. But other people believe in all sorts of gods, and that’s ok for them. What do you think?”
    She said she wasn’t sure, I said that’s ok – think it over, take your time.

    We also have to be ready with ‘Biology 101′, ‘Physics 101′, ‘Chemistry 101′ and so on to cover the other questions that we can’t just ‘goddidit’ through ;)
    ‘Here Comes Science’ by They Might Be Giants is a fun way to cover some concepts. We also pick up all sorts of junior level science books to dip into when a question arises.
    My 2c – hope something helps.

  14. vyckro says

    Sad story! Therefore your whole de-conversion, is based on false information about Christianity, ati-theism, and whit some contact with some fundamentalists Christians.
    And the cherry on the top of the cake, some youtube atheist fundamentalists as “Thunderf00t”.