I am an atheist because there is no proof for any gods and the rationalist and sceptic in me insists that the burden of proof relies solely on those making the claim for a religion. This may seem to be a fairly straightforward position to those who read this site but it still amazes those religious people who ask the question. The path to this realisation was an interesting one.
I was born in Durban, South Africa to nominally religious parents. Other members of the family were more religious (An uncle on my fathers side was an Anglican priest). I was baptized at a young age but old enough that I can still vaguely remember the event. The preist at the church we attended was relatively liberal but when he left he was replaced by what I was told was a real fire and brimstone type. This ended our families church-going days apart from things like Easter and Christmas and then only infrequently.
I attended a christian primary school and a christian high-school. It was at the former that I was indoctrinated into the christian faith by a music teacher who held an after school bible study group. At the time i was being rather badly bullied and prayer and religious belief was an escape for my twelve year old self. The aforementioned teacher did make one mistake, though, when he told us to always question our faith (his reasoning being the if it survived the questioning it would be all the stronger). It was this combined with the a love of science and the fact that no matter how much I prayed god did not intercede or help me cope with the bullying. The bullying ended after I told my parents and they contacted the school.
It was in high-school that I began to question my faith. The school in question was styled after the rather traditional, all boys, all boarding, english public school where excellence in sport was prized above all other achievement. That is not to say it was a bad school: it had some of the best teachers in the country due to it being one of the more expensive private schools in the South Africa. It was these teachers that Encouraged some of my investigations. My english teachers encouraged me to be widely read and recommended to me books such as “The Poison-wood Bible”(my love of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams may have helped there as well), My science teachers (a certain Messers Jubber and Franklin) encouraged me to explore the world around me and taught that with understanding of the natural world comes a true appreciation of its real beauty. It was also at this school that I taught myself to program computers. For me this was a critical step in my education because it taught me to value logic and correctness and truth above mystery.
Then I read the God Delusion. I was already questioning my faith and so this book came at just the right time to free my mind from the shackles of religion. In so doing it exposed so many of the wrongs in our society that I had taken for granted. Becoming an Atheist opened my eyes to the world around me. I realized how “God helps those who helps themselves” was used to put down the poor, how the N. G. Kerk (New Dutch Reformed Church) had tried to justify apartheid and so much more. As a white South African male, able to afford a private education, my privilege was for the first time apparent to me.
Most importantly it aloud me for the first time to confront who I truly was and without flinching. Releasing my religion freed me from the guilt of being who I am: A transgendered bisexual person. I am still working out the details of where I fit in this spectrum but for the first time in my life I am proud of who I am.
These days I am studying Computer Engineering at the University of Pretoria which is unfortunately one of the most conservative cities that I know in an incredibly conservative country. I am unashamed of my atheism and though I am still in the closet I am proud for the first time in my life of who I am and I am grateful to all those who by their writings, comments, and support of my questioning have enabled me to com this far. Some of these people wont read this but then I have thanked theme already.
P.S. If PZ posts this and any Tukkies students read it please post in the comments. It’s high time we had an atheist/Sceptic organization on campus!