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May 20 2012

Why I am an atheist – Joe

I was brought up to be a Christian, taken to a protestant church from the time I was born until I went off to college. Everyone in my family is a Christian, indoctrinated into the faith with bible stories every night and prayers at every meal and nearly every public event. Christianity was part of who we were and part of my personal identity. I believed, and I prayed, and when I prayed I knew what God wanted me to do.

Our church and even the whole denomination was bible-focused. As the song says, we knew Jesus loved us because the bible told us so. The bible was the proof. God had inspired men to write down his words so we would know how to live. Sermons and Sunday school lessons were each based on a passage or even a single sentence or phrase from the bible. The bible wasn’t just a historical document for describing the relationship between God and man, it was a communications device that God could use to get a message to individual people. God would tell the preacher or the Sunday school teacher what passage to use and what lesson to emphasize, and it would be a specific message for someone in the group. This view of the bible as all-important, inerrant, and magical is what led to my loss of faith.

I was a good student of the bible. I did well in bible-quiz (a Q & A game for xian youth), and during my first year in grad school, I read the whole bible – front to back. That is where the problem came. I couldn’t get over the problems with the genealogy from Adam or Abraham, through David to Jesus. First, what is the point since it traces the line to Joseph, husband of Mary, but not Jesus’ father? Secondly, the two versions are very different. Of course I wasn’t the first to notice this, but I had not read the apologists’ spins, and so for me it was a discovery of a clear error of fact. I had long before settled that the days in Genesis were ages long enough for evolution to occur, so I had no problem interpreting the bible to mean what I was told it should mean. But this genealogy thing was a clear error. If God told men what to write in the bible, why would he have let them make this mistake? Thus, it was clear then that it was not God, but men who had written the bible. If this part was wrong and made up by men, then what else was wrong and made up by men? Could any of it be believed? No. I had to admit it. My religion was based on the writings of a bunch of men, men who got stuff wrong and put in words to support their own agendas. I was so angry for having been deluded all that time, and I was so sad, because this change would tear me from my family.

I have always loved the truth. So in the end I felt better knowing that the bible was just made up. I no longer had to go through the mental contortions to try to make its words fit with reality. Atheism also made for a more consistent world view. It fit with there being so many different religions (people just made them up) and why there was disease and suffering and injustice (there is no omnipotent being to stop them). So now I work to understand and cure disease. In grad school I loved to sequence genes, because there is truth in those coded instructions. There is no way to spin or misinterpret a DNA sequence, it either is that sequence or it is not, and you can find out what it is.

As a scientist and as a citizen, I try to work for good in the world. Since there is no god, we are the only ones who can make things better. If we let people destroy the environment, there will be no god to fix it. If we let injustices occur, there will be no retribution for the perpetrators in hell. If we let people suffer, there will be no balm for them in heaven. I feel empathy for the good religious people of all types – it is not their fault they were lied to. But I look forward to a time when these delusions are gone and never taught again, a time when everyone will work for the good of all people and we can all enjoy the one life that we each have.

Joe

12 comments

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  1. 1
    FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!)

    I try to work for good in the world

    Thank you Joe.

  2. 2
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    I try to work for good in the world. Since there is no god, we are the only ones who can make things better.

    A philosophy I wish more citizens of the world shared. Thank you.

  3. 3
    aaroneiben

    Go, Joe, go!

  4. 4
    Arkady

    “There is no way to spin or misinterpret a DNA sequence, it either is that sequence or it is not, and you can find out what it is.”

    Clearly someone who never had to use my department’s in-house sequencing facility! It never did like to identify many of the Ts with any certainty (was the weakest dye I think). So glad to have switched to external sequencing companies…

  5. 5
    redwood

    Nice statement, Joe. I wish more people loved the truth the way you do. It couldn’t have been easy to step away from religion but I’m glad you had the courage to do what you thought was right.

  6. 6
    grumpy1942

    Yet another case of Bible reading making an atheist of a Christian.

    We should use some of our billboard money encouraging Christians to read their WHOLE FUCKING BIBLE.

  7. 7
    RFW

    The bible … was a communications device that God could use to get a message to individual people.

    Shades of the I-ching! Particularly when someone closes their eyes, opens the bible to a random page and with finger or pin stabs some particular verse, taking it as Da Wurd de Dog, to be spun and twisted for guidance or (more likely) confirmation of existing prejudices.

    Might as well throw yarrow stalks or Chinese coins and look up a hexagram.

    I’ll assert that mankind has an inherent liking for divination and every society has its methods of satisfying that liking. Might as well use an atheistic method as a theistic one, no?

    As a sometime self-amused I-chingist, I will say that the I-ching is superior to the bible because of its ambiguous, obscure language that (with a little luck) will cause the inquirer to think harder about his/her situation.

    For all that, one might as well guide one’s life by the fortune cookies handed out at your nearest Chinese restaurant.

    PS: Those who use the bible for divination are clearly violating the biblical injunction to refrain from magic. Do they ever realize that?

    PS: Counterpoint: but didn’t the High Priest of the Jews utilize the Urim and Thummim to cast lots? Sounds magical to my small mind.

  8. 8
    stonyground

    For a long time I have thought that a campaign to persuade Christians to read the whole Bible was a great idea. I am pleased that quite a few atheist bloggers, including Richard Dawkins, seem to be coming to this idea independantly. A high profile campaign by the Gnus in favour of reading the Bible would surely throw the godly into complete disarray. How can they possibly oppose it? What possible arguments can they produce to convince true believers that reading the foundation document of their religion in its entirety is a bad idea? What can they say about the fact that the Gnus think that it is a good idea?

  9. 9
    drummer25

    Best hatchet-job analysis I’ve read of who wrote the bible and why, is Richard Elliott Friedman’s “Who Wrote The Bible?”. Should be on every atheist’s bedside table.

  10. 10
    Storms

    I was once a fanatical xian. Read the Bible 5 times … lost my faith. Getting believers to read it is a great idea. What a nearly worthless gathering of cruel myth and moral blather. Still there are a couple of gems like: “Better to live in the corner of a roof, than in a house with a contentious woman” Prov 25:24. But that’s about as good as it gets.

  11. 11
    sockeyesalman

    Storms, your version of Prov. 25:24 is quite similar to that verse in the New American Standard Bible: “It is better to live in the corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” The King James Bible reads just a bit differently. “It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house.”

    I can’t help but wonder about other variations among the numerous man-made compendiums of timeless Bibull wisdom.

  12. 12
    sockeyesalman

    Joe,
    Great post. I identify with much of your experience. Thanks.

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