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Jul 14 2012

Why I am an atheist – Frode

I grew up in Norway, by default born as a member of the Norwegian State Church; a bland form of Protestantism, blissfully ignored by the vast majority of its members for the vast majority of their lives. I expect many still hold some form of belief in god and Jesus, without letting this in any way prevent them from living exactly as they please, but the churches seem to be primarily used for the family traditions that are baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals. The second of these is seen by most teenagers as a fantastic money making scheme, and a few months of weekly bible classes are well worth the ridiculous amount of presents and money this ritual traditionally entails.

As Norway is a traditionally Christian country, it is of course impossible not to be influenced by Christianity in some way. I can’t remember ever believing in Father Christmas (I actually played the character at the age of eight to my then four year old sister), but I did believe in god. And Jesus, although I never really understood what the big deal was with him. God was the man. He had created everything; he decided everything in the whole universe, so why bother with Jesus if I was going to pray for something?

Throughout my childhood I was told by certain teachers and other adults that at least parts of the bible were true, and that Jesus had definitely lived. Seemed plausible to my young mind, and so I tossed off the occasional prayer and was pretty sure that heaven existed. Like most of my friends, I didn’t much enjoy the annual trip to church just before Christmas, but with regards to my belief, this meant nothing. Even though I didn’t spend much time thinking about him, god was real.

Religion was rarely mentioned in my family. I think I found out relatively early on that my mum didn’t believe in god, or at least was no fan of religion, while my dad refrained from ever making his personal views on the subject known. I suspect he did believe to a certain extent back then, although he too now appears to reject all religious beliefs.
When I was around eleven or twelve, I happened to read a newspaper article about religion, in which the then president of the Norwegian Humanist Association blatantly stated that there existed no good reason to think a god existed. I knew by then the issue was somewhat uncertain, but this lady was telling me it was in fact highly unlikely! I had thought it was about 50/50, and that no one had any reason to say otherwise. This was big, and I’m pretty certain it accelerated my final few steps away from belief.

Next came secondary school, which for me turned out to be the real eye opener. Religion classes in primary school had simply been about the contents of the Bible, and towards the end also touching on “foreign” religions. Secondary school, on the other hand, was where we got down to the good stuff. Here I was told how the Bible had been assembled. Turned out it wasn’t actually four guys who’d been hanging around with Jesus, as I had thought. It was a mish-mash of stuff written over at least two centuries, long after Jesus lived (which I was still being told was an irrefutable fact). Also, the different writers had their own different versions of the same events. It didn’t take more than a couple of these lessons before I dismissed the Bible as bullshit, and as this was also the main source of info about god, he swiftly followed. The only mystery that remained about the whole thing, was how anyone who had access to this information could carry on believing any of it – most of all how the guy who was actually providing me with this information was still a firm believer. In other words, it made me feel a lot cleverer than the teacher, and it felt great!

A couple of years later I reached the age for confirmation, and I naturally chose the only option I could: Along with my closest friends I signed up for the Humanist version of the ceremony, which meant weekly classes where we actually learned some useful stuff. There were courses on racism, alcohol and drug culture and -abuse, relationships and sex, AIDS, just to mention a few. At the end of it I did receive my presents and money, and a week later I had bought my first electric guitar. I never denied that this was the main motivator, and I felt morally superior to my classmates who gladly pretended to care about Jesus in order to get their “reward”. I know my grandmother couldn’t bear to tell her friends and neighbours that my confirmation was non-religious. I have no idea if she even believed in god, but she lived in a town full of religious nutters, and it was all just too embarrassing for her. She never told me any of this, and even gave me the biggest pile of money, but according to my mum, she was unhappy about the whole thing and primarily blamed my mother’s attitude toward religion for my choice.   

In the years that followed, everyone who knew me would swiftly realise I was an atheist. I would happily tell anyone that religion was bullshit and why.  I saw no reason not to, and to be frank, I enjoyed the feeling of intellectual superiority. A big surprise came at eighteen, when a classmate (who drank and shagged more than anyone) proudly rejected evolution in class, because god had created everything, and he certainly didn’t come from monkeys. A brief but fierce argument between the two of us followed, and I walked out of class astounded. I simply assumed everyone I knew accepted evolution as fact.
Even though I thrived in my atheism, I still felt that one should respect religious belief, at least to a certain degree. Through my twenties I would continue to ridicule religion, while to an extent still respect the religious. Like for many others, this mind-set was replaced with firm antitheism in the weeks after the Twin Towers crumbled. Overcoming this utterly misplaced respect, instilled in most of us from childhood by society in general, was the final hurdle. As soon as this barrier was down, it was impossible to overlook the constant negative influence religion has on society, and therefore also my own life and wellbeing. Utter disrespect for religion, including belief itself, felt great and made perfect sense. Still does.  

Frode
United Kingdom

14 comments

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  1. 1
    julietdefarge

    It sounds like the Norwegian traditions are fine; nothing wrong with using existing churches for family events. A bit of pointless ritual can be fun for the whole family, and I endorse formal Bible study, just to learn what the rest of the world is banging on about. I wonder how long it will be in the US before Christianity is an odd old thing, and not a threat.

  2. 2
    Dick the Damned

    Juliet, you “wonder how long it will be in the US before Christianity is an odd old thing, and not a threat.” Well, the more that people like PZ ridicule religion, the sooner that blessed glorious day will come.

    We should ensure that something else is put in religion’s place. The Norwegians do this, using Humanism. I believe that several other north-west European countries do something similar, giving Humanism equal status to religion in their educational systems.

  3. 3
    David Marjanović

    We should ensure that something else is put in religion’s place.

    Why?

    I believe that several other north-west European countries do something similar, giving Humanism equal status to religion in their educational systems.

    News to me; does anyone know more?

  4. 4
    patrikroslund

    No not really. Not in Sweden anyway. I have no idea what you’d want to replace religion whit as i have never had anything to do whit it. I cant really claim that there is anything in Swedish society that is a form of “secular religion”, most of us unbelievers seems to do whit out it. Religion is simply not a big deal here, not to the wast majority, and most religious people feel that it is a private matter and not something to make a fuss about.

  5. 5
    boadinum

    Excellent post, Frode. I think that you are quite right in being not just an atheist, but an active anti-theist. Religion has to go. Every last bit of it, or else the human species will disappear into another dark age.

  6. 6
    Dick the Damned

    David, “Why”. To provide a framework for teaching kids ethics. Humans mostly like to belong to something, so better it’s a Humanist group than a church, surely?

    I’m pretty darned sure that Belgium has something like that, based upon what i was told by a Belgian woman who belongs to my local humanist group. This was many years ago, so i can’t remember much detail, however, i think kids are given the choice of classes in religion, (possibly either Protestant or Catholic), or Humanism. (Here’s a link that i just found – http://humanistfederation.eu/moral-education-in-belgium-especially-in-flanders/ )

    Maybe readers from Denmark & Holland can comment?

  7. 7
    tomfrog

    @Dick the Damned, #6

    i think kids are given the choice of classes in religion [...]

    This looks weird to me, “classes in religion”. In my experience, religions were talked about in History class and nothing more. That’s also where we talked about people worshiping the sun or things like that.

    Also:

    We should ensure that something else is put in religion’s place.

    Like others here I don’t see why. As someone said: how about people who never dealt with religion? Are they lacking something?

  8. 8
    Dick the Damned

    Tom, “how about people who never dealt with religion? Are they lacking something?” – i’d answer yes, there’s evidence for that.

    Plenty of people have had no moral compass. Maybe their parents abandoned religion, & never took on a basis for ethical behaviour. Then the kids are brought up without much sense of morality. If people associate ethics with religion, then ditch religion, they might throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    I wouldn’t mind betting that most readers here aren’t like that. Maybe we have an interest in ethics that comes with curiosity about the nature of things? From a lifetime’s experience, i’m sure that there’s at least some connection there.

  9. 9
    tomfrog

    Dick the Damned,

    I have a hard time associating ethics or moral behavior with religions so what you say fails to convince me.

    And I would gladly look at the evidences of people without religion lacking something because I also have a hard time believing it to be true.

  10. 10
    patrikroslund

    Dick the Damned

    Morals and ethics comes from many things, like ideologies and philosophy. Religions are the last place i would look for moral guidance.

    Also in Sweden we have obligatory religion classes on comparative religion. Anyone who wants to finish high school and go on to higher studies needs to pass these courses. These include all the major religions as well as some stuff about the philosophy behind them. Even if you are brought up in a non religious home whit no religious friends you will know quite a bit about the ideas and conflicts among the religious.

  11. 11
    Dick the Damned

    Tom, religious leaders claim to be the arbiters of morality. That’s the business they’re in. I happen to think a lot of it is fucked up. But they do try to provide a moral framework.

    I also think that Humanist ethics are much more likely to promote the common good.

    As for “evidence of people without religion lacking something” just look around you. I live in England, where there isn’t much religious belief, more what might be described as apathy towards organized religion, with a lot of people believing in some sort of undefined “something”, or not bothering to think about it at all. I imagine that most of the crime is committed by people like that, rather than by Humanists or religionists. I can’t prove this, but it seems reasonable to me. Maybe it’s different where you live?

    I do know that there are a disproportionate number of Moslems in jail in the UK. This is a complex issue, due to racism & edicts (fatwas) against apostasy. I don’t think that it alters my argument in relation to the mainstream UK population.

  12. 12
    Dick the Damned

    Patrik, ethics comes from within us. We evolved an ethical sensibility, but it will, like all other qualities, vary from person to person. It’s also subject to parental, peer group, & wider societal influences.

    Like you, I wouldn’t look for moral guidance from religion. It’s mostly the morality of psychopathic tribal warlords that got into the Bible.

    Moral philosophers have investigated ethical issues & offer many worthwhile insights, although not a set of rules to follow.

  13. 13
    tomfrog

    just look around you

    Well, I’m sorry but that doesn’t really qualify as evidence. What about the disproportionally high religiosity in jails (as you mention with Muslims but I think it’s mostly Christians in the U.S.A., say).

    Looking at Europe, where we both live, I don’t see it being on a worst moral track than many more religious places on Earth, quite the opposite IMO (which is just that, my opinion).

    I live in England, where there isn’t much religious belief, [...]. I imagine that most of the crime is committed by people like that [non-or-not-very-religious]

    Yes that makes sense. *those people* are the bulk of the population and you find that *those people* are the bulk of people committing crimes. But I think it’s illogical to conclude that there’s a direct correlation. In a country where everyone is religious, you’ll find that all the crimes are committed by religious people (duh).
    See what I mean?

    In France too I would assume that most of our criminals are non-or-not-very-religious since most of the population is non-or-not-very-religious. But assuming isn’t really of good way to find if it’s true, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

    (not sure if I made myself clear… I’ll try to be clearer if needed obviously ;) )

  14. 14
    Dick the Damned

    Tom, I would imagine that the ‘religious’ folk in jail are the ones who don’t think about it much, & only say that they are members of a religion because they’ve never positively rejected it. I thought in this forum that there’d be no need to say that I meant on a per capita basis by the way.

    I haven’t said that these nominally religious people are more moral. I said that, “I imagine that most of the crime is committed by people like that, rather than by Humanists or religionists.” I also said, “religious leaders claim to be the arbiters of morality. That’s the business they’re in. I happen to think a lot of it is fucked up. But they do try to provide a moral framework.”

    I agree that the less religious countries, typically those of north-west Europe, have better societal qualities or outcomes than more religious countries. Comparing Canada with the more religious USA you see the same thing, but there are other factors that come into play.

    Finally, sorry for my assumptions. Unfortunately, there are no relevant statistics.

    And i stand by my belief that teaching kids ethics, within a Humanist framework, is a good thing. There’s plenty of evidence that I’ve read that shows that a lot of crime is committed by young men (typically) who haven’t given a moment’s thought to the impact of their actions, & who regret it once it’s been pointed out to them. I’m talking about stunningly abject lack of thought. (I can remember being a bit like that after a few beers, just occasionally.)

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