My path to disbelief began Wednesday, June 27, 1979.
I know the exact date, because I wrote it in the copy of Woody Allen’s “Without Feathers” my grandfather purchased for me on a road-trip we took together. The irony is that his faith was strong, and he never would have purchased that book for me if he’d known it would lead to the unravelling of any belief I had in his religion.
I grew up in a mainstream Christian denomination, but for as often as we attended church, I never felt the spirit. Not during the sermons. Not in Sunday School. not in vacation bible school. Not in church camp. Not when I was baptized. And especially not when I prayed. I blame genetics; it was clear to me that my father’s side of the family weren’t church goers. While my mom’s side of the family played board games, drank sweet iced tea and prayed before meals, Dad’s side of the family played cards, drank beer, and cussed.
Out of high school, I joined the military, where I occasionally attended a church service or a bible study group. But the disbelief was growing. The seeds planted by “Without Feathers” began sprouting when I watched films like “Manhattan,” “Annie Hall,” and particularly, “Hannah and Her Sisters.”
My skepticism fully flowered upon starting college after I left the service. I’m indebted to a psychology class that encouraged me to think more broadly about the world. I began to consider the problem of evil, though without the benefit of Epicurus’ formulation. It became blindingly obvious to me that good and bad happen to the pious and impious alike. I began to see the universe, not as a flawed creation animated by struggle between malign and benign agents, but as an inanimate, indifferent process. The final nail in the coffin was that the idea of a perfectly malevolent being, Satan, seemed absolutely absurd. And because there is balance in the cosmos, without Satan, there could be no God.
Everything since then has served to buttress my disbelief. Earthquakes, tsunamis and genocides prove the indifference of nature. Recent theories of a “multiverse” reinforce the notion that no clockmaker was required. Shows like “Nova”, “Cosmos”, and “A Rough History of Disbelief” reinforce the foundation of my disbelief.
Although I am certain, /absolutely/ certain, that there is no supernatural agency in the cosmos, I do not flaunt my disbelief. A parent has asked if I believe, a sibling, cousin aunt know, two like minded coworkers and a couple of like minded friends, but no one else. I do not share because my mother’s family, and my spouse’s, are very religious. I have coworkers who have very strong faith. I do not care to be witnessed to, or shunned. We have a child who my spouse takes to church. I am respectful when they pray at meal times. To do otherwise would be petty. And frankly, I do not find the underlying purpose, gratitude for what we have, to be objectionable.
Make no mistake. I harbor a deep and abiding frustration at Christians’ inability – or unwillingness – as a group to live up to the example their messiah set. And at their lack of empathy for the least among us. I work at a basic needs non-profit, and I have seen these attitudes first hand. I find their inability to accept basic scientific truths and scientific consensus maddening. I’m incredulous that they don’t see or acknowledge the evidence of their unanswered prayers. They declare their god to be an awesome god, but then attribute inconsequential miracles to a god which, evidence shows, has no power the heal the sick, feed the hungry, lift up the poor, halt the disasters of flood, wind and fire. The works they attribute to their god shows he is incredibly tiny and inconsequential. He truly works in mysterious ways.
But I digress.
Our child has already expressed confusion over the concept of the trinity. It is my hope that she will someday ask what I believe. I will be forthright. If she chooses to believe, I will be respectful of her belief. All I ask is that she use her reason, respect science and the evidence it provides, and have some level of understanding for why I do not believe in her god.
This is my story.