As a youngster, my main charge levied against religion was that it was simply boring. I suffered through Sunday school until I was confirmed and bemoaned the fact that I was dragged to church on Christmas when all I wanted to do was stay home and play with my new dinosaur toys. Religion was a nuisance, but nothing more.
It wasn’t until middle and high school that I took a long look at Catholicism with a critical eye and realized that it absolutely did not jive with my blossoming world-view. I began to see it as sexist, homophobic, and backwards. It was then that the term “organized religion” developed its negative association. I also worked at the local Long John Silvers in a town with a large percentage of Catholics, and that didn’t help. Working during Lent was excruciating and further drove a wedge between myself and those silly rules. Belief in god was fine and dandy, but I wasn’t so much down with the rigid structure imposed by “organized religion” after that.
I suppose I was a deist in college, but never really gave it much thought. I remember distinct conversations I had with friends where they revealed that they were atheists, but I was neither appalled nor converted on the spot.
“So you don’t believe in god then?”
“What do you think happens when you die?”
Sometimes the exchange would be deeper, the conversation longer, and I’d maybe even think on it a bit later, but I’d usually walk away pretty unaffected. So it was to my great surprise that I randomly stumbled across something on the internet a couple years later that made me second guess everything.
I was a year or two out of college, and I read a letter entitled IN CONTEMPLATION OF MY INEVITABLE DEMISE (found here), written by Forrest J. Ackerman (Uncle Forry, the Ackermonster himself) and given to a friend to be published upon his death. Forry wrote about his atheism and I read the things that were said to me before, but this time it just stuck. I couldn’t shake the thought of god’s nonexistence out of my head, and a couple days later I made the turn and never looked back.
I would be remiss if I neglected to mention my upbringing further. My parents were wonderful, encouraging and indulging my interest in dinosaurs and paleontology with frequent trips to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, taped television specials, and tons of books. They fostered an environment that allowed me to explore our natural world through science, and I dove in head first because it was fun and interesting (subsequently the exact opposite of how I felt about church). I was raised very “loose Catholic,” and aside from the odd Catholic totem around the house, god was largely nonexistent in our home life.
And that’s how the stage was set for me to whittle away any vestige of religion in my life through successive chance encounters and exposure to new ideas. Today I acknowledge that we live in a godless universe, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m surrounded by loving friends and family, and find myself in constant awe of the grandeur and complexity of the natural world around me.
My well-intentioned mother will eventually google-search me and find this, and I’ll get a phone call explaining that the internet is forever and that I might put off some potential future employers by expressing these views in a public forum, but I can deal with that. I wouldn’t want to work for anyone who wouldn’t hire me because of this anyway, and maybe, just maybe, someone somewhere will stumble across this like I did Forry’s letter and come away with the same conclusions.