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Why I am an atheist – Matthew Kiffmeyer

When I was 7 years old, my 2nd grade teacher was giving a lesson about dinosaurs. Another student asked a seemingly sensible question at the time, why hadn’t the Tyrannosaurus Rex eaten all of the people. The teacher replied that dinosaurs and people didn’t live at the same time. This answer didn’t sit well with me and in a rare case of assertiveness, I muttered defiantly, “Yes, they did.” The teacher’s eyes went wide and her gaze snapped onto me, burning the image into my memory, and stated, “No. They. Did. NOT!”

I can only imagine that my teacher must have thought she had a creationist in her class. But in my young, malleable mind, I was calling forth reference materials such as “The Flintstones” and “Captain Caveman”. While her harsh admonishment may have temporarily put me off from classic schooling, it started something else in me. If I was to be so publicly scolded for my ignorance, I wanted to know why I was wrong. More than that, I wanted to know how to find the real answers.

That philosophy of curiosity stuck with me. When I tried to apply this in my catechism classes however, not only was I not given a good reason for many of the strange traditions and beliefs in the Catholic religion, but people became angry with me for honestly trying to figure them out. Their anger told me they didn’t know either. “Faith,” I was told tersely, was essential to understand, but never once given a reason for that either. I got the distinct impression that discovery was not a valued virtue in religion. So, it ceased to be important to me.

I am an atheist because the things I want to believe are only the ideas that have a satisfactory answer to the question I should have asked my 2nd grade teacher and have since asked repeatedly of those seeking to share the “truth” of their religion with me, “How do you know that to be true?”

Matthew Kiffmeyer
United States

Comments

  1. jamessweet says

    That philosophy of curiosity stuck with me. When I tried to apply this in my catechism classes however, not only was I not given a good reason for many of the strange traditions and beliefs in the Catholic religion, but people became angry with me for honestly trying to figure them out.

    I had a similar formative experience growing up as a curious kid being raised Mormon. I wasn’t even trying to question the teachings; I was trying to understand why the doctrine was what it was. When this was strongly discouraged, that was a red flag that something was not quite right here…

  2. sixdays says

    Why I am an Atheist:

    When I was a teenager I was abducted by aliens who forced me to strip naked and then masturbate in front of them so that they could take a semen sample. They then cut off my penis before surgically reattaching it. However, it never grew after that to my dismay. Then they stuck this brutal probe up my anus and also took a sample of my stool.

    The traumatic experience has affected me ever since. I used to be a devout Catholic but I have since renounced my faith because I cannot believe that a loving and kind God would ever have put me through such a nightmare and allowed the aliens to do what they did to me.

    Also, the aliens told me about how they “evolved” on their home planet and how they were all atheists. I knew then that religious creationism was a load of baloney.

  3. catnip67 says

    This seems a common theme. You try to understand & get invective for daring to question, or some poor mis guided “soul” (sic) attempts the explanation & end up looking foolish.

    I like best your last question:”how do you know that to be true?” it reveals a lot of information, particularly about the answerer.

  4. says

    That philosophy of curiosity stuck with me. When I tried to apply this in my catechism classes however, not only was I not given a good reason for many of the strange traditions and beliefs in the Catholic religion, but people became angry with me for honestly trying to figure them out

    I also had a simular experience. My question was about Lazarus, I was given a stern rebuke and my parents notified to come to a conference. That is when I knew my dad was the coolest ever, He asked why did you not aswer him? Parish priest stammer and pause when questioned by an adult.

  5. robinjohnson says

    If I was to be so publicly scolded for my ignorance, I wanted to know why I was wrong. More than that, I wanted to know how to find the real answers.

    A point for confrontationalism over accommodationism!

    “How do you know that to be true?”

    I like that – it’s the honest version of Ham’s “Were you there?”

  6. says

    The teacher’s eyes went wide and her gaze snapped onto me, burning the image into my memory, and stated, “No. They. Did. NOT!”

    If only I had your 2nd grade teacher. In 2nd grade my teacher was a nun.

    That philosophy of curiosity stuck with me. When I tried to apply this in my catechism classes however, not only was I not given a good reason for many of the strange traditions and beliefs in the Catholic religion, but people became angry with me for honestly trying to figure them out. Their anger told me they didn’t know either. “Faith,” I was told tersely, was essential to understand, but never once given a reason for that either. I got the distinct impression that discovery was not a valued virtue in religion. So, it ceased to be important to me.

    Never in my 9 years at a Catholic school, kindergarten thru 8th grade, did any student ever question the Christian fantasies. Not once did anyone tell the ugly nuns “faith is bullshit”. Perhaps it was because we were afraid of the idiot nuns, but more likely we didn’t question anything because none of us had your common sense. Also, unlike you our curiosity was sucked out of us.

    Human Ape

  7. kevinalexander says

    My currently favorite religious question is “If god has infinite wisdom, why is he so stingy with it? It’s not the sort of thing that you lose any of if you give it away. And even more mysterious, when he does give wisdom, why does he only give it to the people who work for it, you know, to atheist scientists?”

  8. speedwell says

    My currently favorite religious question is “If god has infinite wisdom, why is he so stingy with it?

    The question almost answers itself. A wise being would want everyone to be as wise as possible. Since God does not want this, he must not actually possess infinite wisdom.

    In any case, the answer (from the Bible itself) is simply power. In Genesis, God has a massive insecurity fit over people eating from the tree in question. If men were to become wise as gods, what would they need gods for?

  9. says

    The teacher replied that dinosaurs and people didn’t live at the same time.

    Which is true and a good answer, but hardly complete IMO. We didn’t live with dinosaurs, but other animals much smaller than T. rex did, and anyway, how did we survive with lions and grizzly bears roaming about?

    That we’ve almost certainly been able to throw stones reasonably well at least as long as we were H. sapiens (and probably as H. ergaster, perhaps to australopithecines, etc.) and also made and wielded sharp pointy things seems reasonable to bring up at that time. Defenses of other animals could be brought up as well.

    It just seems to me that the answer was too little, because there’s no reason to suppose that we couldn’t have survived if we had lived with T. rex.

    Glen Davidson

  10. greenhome says

    I was calling forth reference materials such as “The Flintstones”

    That is so cute!

    (How the heck do you use that blockquote tag?)

  11. Rich Woods says

    It just seems to me that the answer was too little, because there’s no reason to suppose that we couldn’t have survived if we had lived with T. rex.

    And I bet they were delicious too.

  12. petzl20 says

    Ironically, the tone of your second grade teacher was more akin to a Creationist than your average secularist. Instead of giving you evidence and reasons (like a science teacher should), she just contradicts you (like a nun would). It might be a lot to ask of a second grade teacher, but I think she could have done better.

    Certainly, if you _had_ been a Creationist, her simple contradiction would have had no effect on your worldview. And your parents would’ve been able to show how weak her argument was, both by its tone and its lack of evidence.

  13. Jamie says

    Yay for dinosaurs (and curiosity) turning people away from religion! I can see why they want to co-op them for their purposes.

    I am a bit disappointed with your teacher’s response to your question.

    @kianmead
    If you want to get posted on Pharyngula, you can just email PZ your story. The details are here:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/10/08/call-for-submissions/

    He did mention that he’s gotten A LOT of entries, possibly even a backlog of 2 years if he posts one a day, so don’t expect to see your story pop up any time soon.

  14. matthewkiffmeyer says

    Ironically, the tone of your second grade teacher was more akin to a Creationist than your average secularist.

    True. But to be fair, this was a second grade teacher and she was fielding question after question on the order of “Could they eat a car?”, “How big was their poop?”, “What colors did they come in?” I’m sure her outburst directed at me was at least partially due to a general frustration with the inability to get through a lesson plan.

    The funny thing is, the teacher yelling at me, didn’t convince me she was right, only that I was accused of being wrong and it felt like being falsely accused of lying. I can remember thinking lots of stupid things; that nighttime was a set of clouds which covered the sky, the stars were daylight peeking through and the local coal power plant’s smoke stacks were the source of those clouds. I don’t remember when my ideas about those things were corrected, and I’m sure no one flat out challenged them the way my second grade teacher did. Her rebuke of my idea gave me a reason to show she was wrong. I can remember distinctly trying to confirm my own bias through more official sources than The Flintstones. I can also remember how bitter the truth was when I eventually confirmed her version of history at the museum (an authority I trusted because they had the bones to back it up).

    Now, I’m not suggesting that my situation applies elsewhere. Certainly, yelling at children for their ignorance is probably the best way to make neurotic adults. But, sadly challenging a child to find their own answers is something that I had never encountered up until that point.