I suspect that the story of my turn to atheism is less interesting than many. I did not have the dramatic crisis of faith that is so often described in the turn away from theism. This must stem from the fact that I began down this road as a small child.
My early experience with the church was much like the experience of most of the people I know. Sundays were a day where I was forced to wear uncomfortable clothes and go to a big place that smelled funny. It was full of old people who got very bent out of shape if you did not sit absolutely quietly for a whole hour! Then this other old guy in funny clothes would stand up in the front and drone on and on about whatever was on his mind. It was torture. The big payoff, though, was that if you behaved, you got to go out to eat afterward.
Despite myself, I still managed to pick up the basics. There was this guy who was really really powerful up in the sky somewhere who really really cared what you spent your time doing. There were all these stories about him, or more usually, about people interacting with him, that were just like the fairy tales my dad would tell when I was going to sleep. Stories about animals on a big boat and guys riding around in whale stomachs. For some reason, though, people seemed very concerned that you take these stories seriously and not the fairy stories–even though, I confess, I liked the fairy stories better. I was also aware that there were other kinds of people who believed the exact same stories but were not to be associated with if possible. They were called Baptists. Somehow, they believed the stories TOO much.
The turn didn’t come until one day in about the second or third grade. I was at the library in my school looking for a nice little book to hold me for the weekend. Usually, I would be on the lookout for some nice Garfield comics or perhaps some Clifford the Big Red Dog. That day, however, I found a story of creation that the Indians told. Honestly, I don’t remember the story or from which tribe it originated. It had to do with the Sun and the Moon getting together and making the Earth as their child… or something like that. It was a long time ago. In any case, what I remember most of all was my reaction to it. I thought, “How could anybody possibly believe that?!” That thought made me pause. “Wait a moment,” I pondered, “if that story sounds ridiculous, then what rational can I give to the story in the Bible? Why does everyone take THAT story so seriously?” I should point out that I grew up in the deep south. I had never met anyone who did not take the Bible seriously.
From there, it was a slow spiral into inevitability. From Christians, I got my first taste of what a horrible argument sounded like. I was in high school then. I said to some of the kids in Sunday school, “But you can’t really KNOW that the stories in the Bible are true.” I don’t remember what this was in response to, but they seemed shocked. Their reply was, “Yes, you can. It says so in the Bible. You just have to have faith!” I was shocked that anyone could say something so inane.
I remember sitting in church again, later on. I was bored. So, I decided to actually take a look at what all of the fuss was about. So, I picked up the Bible. They were liberally sprinkled about, after all. I suspected that this was to encourage us to read them. I started at the beginning. Genesis started out okay. I knew this story, after all. Then I came across one I hadn’t heard. It was about these two brothers named Cain and Able. They were the sons of Adam and Eve. Somehow, they had managed to get wives from somewhere. It didn’t really go into where exactly these females came from. I suspected I wasn’t supposed to ask. Anyway, they got together to buy presents for God. Able got something really nice that God liked. Cain gave something kind of mediocre. God was a bad liar and hurt Cain’s feelings, so Cain got all jealous and killed Able! WHOA!!! WHAT THE… Who reacts like THAT?! Talk about Christmas from hell! Anyway, the rest of the people (what other people?) were upset and figured they ought to punish Cain, but God said not to and gave him a NoNo mark instead. I guess that was supposed to have been sufficient, or maybe there weren’t enough people back then to start offing people for transgressions. I had thought this was supposed to be a GOOD book. It’s really not. I guess you could argue that it has really good parts, but then you don’t say it is a good book. You say it is a book that has its moments. Doesn’t really have the same ring to it. “The It-Has-Its-Moments Book.”
My senior year in high school, I decided that the only rational position to take on the whole affair, considering the sheer number of available religious beliefs and the unknowabilities of their various faith claims, was one of “I don’t know what the truth is, so I’ll just have to find out when I get there.” I was prepared to wait for death to take me so that I might find out the truth. The truth, I decided, was more important than wishful thinking. I later found out that this was called agnosticism, so that’s what I called myself.
It wasn’t until graduate school that I discovered the atheist community on YouTube. I read the books. I listened to the arguments. I reasoned that I was being unfair in my beliefs. I wasn’t really agnostic on the issue of whether or not Zeus or Thor were real. I didn’t believe for a minute that the Cargo Cults were a representation of reality. It was just the religion of my childhood that I was holding up a candle for. So, I abandoned it.
I am an atheist, because I recognize the value of the truth over faith. I recognize that the truth is not something that is landed on one day and held to vigorously. There is great value in bringing it slowly into focus as the facts come in. What you BELIEVE is the truth on one day may not in fact BE the truth. Evidence is the key.
I am an atheist, because I can find no reason not to be.