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Why I am an atheist – Kate

My story is fairly simple. C.S. Lewis did it.

As a kid I had an extremely active imagination, I loved to believe all of the stories my Mum told me about fairies and magic woods etc. I had a voracious appetite for books, and the one that seemed the most real, the most plausible was the story of Aslan, singing the world or Narnia and surrounding country into existence. A giant, mysterious and wise talking lion, now there was a God you could believe in! Of course, my mother, being the brilliant woman she is took the time to explain that you cannot believe everything you read, and that you must think carefully about whether something is true or not. She is and never has been religious, but my father is (in that weird creepy way of mumbling and muttering at odd times around the house), so my mother was careful to leave it up to us kids to decide for ourselves. Trouble began when during Sunday School and storytime at the front of the congregation with the Minister, I began comparing Jesus and Aslan, as their similarities seemed obvious to me (I’ve only just learned recently that this was by design!). Of course it was then carefully explained to me by the adult believers around me, that the story of Aslan was just make-believe, but the story of Jesus was very very true. I immediately recognized this as ridiculous. I understood that I had no idea whether a giant talking lion had the ability to come back from the dead, or sing a world into existence, but I had plenty of evidence that human beings certainly couldn’t do any of the things they were claiming Jesus did. The combined stories of the Narnia Chronicles made for a far more convincing gospel, and C.S. Lewis seemed a much more reliable source, his writing was simpler and far more direct, not cloaked in metaphor that constantly needed to be explained, and everyone knew he had really existed as he had been alive far more recently than the Bible’s authors, and it seemed strange to me that someone would not have confronted him about lying if it was all just made up (I didn’t quite have a grasp on the whole ‘fiction/non-fiction thing’ yet). But the adults around me insisted that the more plausible story was false, and that their story was the truth. In my little brain it seemed obvious that they were mistaken, and if they were wrong about that, I reasoned, they could be wrong about everything.

We all continued to go to church, even long after my Dad left, as my siblings, my Mum and I enjoyed the sense of community, and the damn good burgers they made for the lunch afterwards. My Mum was even the church secretary for many years, making the bulletins every week, and I was the janitor during my teen years after my brother quit. But passed the age of five I knew that there was a very big dividing line between the way my thinking worked and the way the rest of congregations did, and I often found myself feeling sorry for them. As a kid it was weird knowing that in this regard you are probably smarter than many of the adults around you, but I think it was a big confidence booster, and has kept me questioning authority figures all my life, which has been invaluable in terms of my life as a “science enthusiast” and a sensible human being in general.

I will admit though, there is still a little part of my heart that insists that Aslan is real, and I just haven’t found the right wardrobe or picture frame yet. And if it is ever revealed to me that there is a God, I have every confidence he will have a lovely big mane for me to cuddle in.

Kate
Canada

Comments

  1. dianepatyjewicz says

    What a wonderful story.
    I think that I too raised atheists by suggesting that they question what they read and hear.
    I am a child on the tail ending of the 60’s that “Question Authority” rings true to my ear.

    Thanks you for taking the time to write this.
    No wonder that most good kids stories are banned by the religious right. They make people think.

  2. says

    Kind of weird that the people at your church didn’t explain that the Narnia books had been written to be symbolically about Liam Neeson Jesus. You’d think they’d jump at the chance.

    I first read the Narnia books when I was a kid and somehow managed to completely miss the allegory until the last book or so when it became pretty anvilicious. By the time I read it again I was aware of it all being allegory, and it totally ruined the books for me.

  3. =8)-DX says

    I grew up on C.S.Lewis, but sadly I knew all about him being a Christian and the allegory in the books. I also read his other books – theology and science-fiction. Now there is some really messed up shit, if you haven’t read his sci-fi, you haven’t read Lewis.

    Anyhow thanks for sharing your story.

  4. schmeer says

    If you liked the Narnia stories as a kid, then try Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. It will satisfy that inner voice that tells you that Narnia is real without the Christian allegory.

  5. detrius says

    I find the idea of using C.S. Lewis as a gateway to atheism utterly delightful. :D

  6. jaranath says

    Lewis did me in too.

    I loved Narnia as a kid, though even then one of the reasons I liked it was that it touched on many of the same topics as religion (go figure) without being religious. Even then I knew there was Something Wrong with the bible-thumping neighbors.

    But once I started seriously questioning religion, a devout evangelical friend lent me a copy of Mere Christianity in response to my request for good evidence. That blew the door wide open. THIS was the best they had? It was childish! I couldn’t believe Lewis was serious. I kept spotting logical fallacies right and left, and this was before I even knew what logical fallacies were. It isn’t that I’m such a great skeptic as it is that Lewis’ logic was so horrid. It was then that I started to realize that it wasn’t my fault that I hadn’t seen good evidence for religion…this was simply all they had.

    After that, I cast about for some other, better apologists, but it was pretty much over by then. Everyone else was trotting out the same old stuff I’d already seen, just with different dressing or fancier words. Craig struck me as a particularly egregious example; he just reworks the same childish crap into elaborate pseudo intellectual jargon and thinks he’s actually accomplished something.

    If it hadn’t been for Lewis’s spectacularly bad apologetics, I might have lingered on for a while, maybe even been sucked in for a while by the likes of Craig. But after Lewis, it was impossible not to see the rotten heart of faith.

  7. Granny Weatherwax says

    I love your penultimate line about looking for the right wardrobe. When I was young I read vast amounts of fantasy (still do, in fact) and at some point decided that if I read every line word by word, no looking ahead–and definitely no skipping to the end to see if everyone lived happily ever after!–the book would turn into a magic portal. I even wrote a poem about turning that desire into the desire to create, which I’m pleased to say won an award. Re: C. S. Lewis, Ronald Hutton published an essay about Lewis’ love of mythology, bemoaning the fact that he could have been one of the parents of Neopaganism instead of resigning to social pressure and becoming a second-rate apologist for Christianity. Not that the idea probably appeals to atheists, but I found it an interesting thought. C. S. Lewis, priest of Baldur!

  8. Randomfactor says

    Never read any of the CS Lewis books as a kid–I was into hard science fiction. I heard later that he was the go-to apologist so I read Screwtape Lettes–meh–and some of his stuff on the Lord/Liar/Lunatic scam and his book on grief.

    I was extremely underwhelmed.

  9. Jamie says

    Thanks for your story. I always find it amusing that the very things used FOR religion could be used AGAINST it as well.

    I read the Chronicles of Narnia as a teen, and the religious symbolism sailed right over me. I was reading all the fantasy books I could get a hold of, so it was just another fantasy story to me.

    I especially loved this part: “In my little brain it seemed obvious that they were mistaken, and if they were wrong about that, I reasoned, they could be wrong about everything.

  10. carolw says

    I loved the Narnia books as a kid, until I had the Christianity explained, too. I recently read The Screwtape Letters, hoping at least for a laugh, but it wasn’t even that funny from an atheist viewpoint.

  11. Phledge says

    And if it is ever revealed to me that there is a God, I have every confidence he will have a lovely big mane for me to cuddle in.

    This done did me in. Thanks for a refreshing and delightful story!

  12. tomforsyth says

    To compare Jesus, Aslan and Gandalf – the latter two are far better-documented, more internally consistent, give advice far more practical and relevant to living in the modern world, and they’re just plain better stories.

    Fortunately I read the Narnia books before anybody told me about the religious tie-in, so I enjoyed them lots. Seeing the recent films, I just kept spotting all the dumb Christian symbolism and it rather spoiled the experience for me. Parents – don’t let Jesus ruin Narnia for your kids!

  13. says

    Narnia gave me a genuine spiritual experience, a full on Damascene flashpoint of emotion and ecstasy that inoculated me against xtianity for good. As a child, w alking through South Kensington, London, on my way to the Science Museum, I saw a statue of a lion and had a huge burst of sadness and joy at his sacrifice in Lion, Witch and Wardrobe. Luckily, I recognised it as a purely emotional response, and never found any stories of personal revelation remotely persuasive thereafter.

  14. says

    Yay, more Narnia love!

    I found Lewis’ adult books very disappointing in comparison. But I really loved the Narnia books as a child, though I thought the Last Battle was really dumb. I was a myth and fantasy fan in general, but one of the good points about Lewis was the female characters. It wasn’t all boys all the time. The girls may not seem all that progressive now, but this was a long time ago. Susan got to fight! With a bow and arrow, cool! Loved Jill, too, and Aravis.

    Somewhat later, I noticed that there’s a rather good argument against Christianity in LWW, in which Peter questions the rules behind the sacrifice requirement (“the Deep Magic”) and Aslan tells him basically “Shut up, that’s why.” The Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea says so, and that’s it.

  15. monzni says

    CS Lewis provided the doubt for me as well.

    When I got to the last book and all the characters were assembled in what was “heaven,” they asked why THAT kid, the allegorical Satan-worshipper, was there. And Aslan replied that THAT kid had loved Aslan all along in his heart– he was just using the wrong name.

    And I immediately saw this as far more reasonable than Jesus ever was.

    So, the Muslims, the Christians, the Hindus, the Baha’is, all religious people could be loving the right god all along? And there was no way for us to know here on earth?

    That little seed of doubt sprouted about a year later and I became a full-fledged atheist. Yay, CS Lewis!

  16. harbo says

    C S Lewis saw off my belief as well…
    As a proto-teenager I read screw-tape and the bad SF ,and then back to the Narnian tales as a uni student.

    (there was a ulterior motive involving a stunning young woman)

    But then I read “the Last Battle” and Susan is prevented/not allowed to be saved, merely as she no longer believed …..no bad deeds, no evil intent, just put away her childhood fantasy…
    And off to oblivion or worse…
    This struck me then as very unfair, if not sociopathic, behaviour on the part of Aslan/jesus and extinguished any flickering faith .

    So on reflection I should thank mr Lewis and the still beautiful woman.

  17. katelouise says

    Thanks for all the great comments everyone! I suspected when I wrote this that there were many more people out there that found their way to reality through fantasy.

    @schmeer I started reading The Magician’s, and enjoyed it at first, but it all got a little too teen angsty for my tastes.

    If anyone would like to read more, I’ve got a blog that discusses that interesting place where nature and fantasy/sci-fi meet. http://fwnature.blogspot.com/