Between making a couple videos on the Creation Museum following the 2009 trip to the Creation Museum with the SSA and running the largest atheism group on Facebook with 10,000 members, I believe I have question to answer: why I am an atheist.
I suppose it begins with nothing short of nature itself. I grew up in the hills of Kentucky. I shan’t hesitate to say that the hills of Kentucky are a lovely place – in stark contrast to everything else in Kentucky, which is pretty much the exact opposite of lovely. I spent plenty of time in the wilderness, observing the various forms of life, taking in the smells and the sounds, laying down and watching the sky. It was always regrettable when I had to put down the science books as a young child to attend the churches, which never felt quite right to me. Regardless of what I was told, something was critically wrong with the things they said. The loving Jesus message was nice, but the not-so-loving message of hell seemed a drastic affront to the idea of love.
The explanation that a loving Lord would punish people like me, who had done no other wrong than existing or doubting, seemed contrived, to say the least.
My parents were loyal southern Baptists and still are. One morning in my youth, prior to the age of ten, I was looking out our sliding doors, taking in the amazing sights of a Sunday morning. The birds could be heard loudly chirping, deer could be heard walking the hills, the sun was just about to break free from the hills and show itself to everyone. My admiration of nature’s overwhelming beauty was thoroughly broken when my father leaned a hand against the glass and mentioned some jazz about the beauty of god’s creation. Of course, something about the beauty of god’s creation seemed off. In my time, I had found dead birds, miscellaneous animal carcasses in the woods, and seen with my own eyes bugs fighting it out as a matter of life and death.
God’s creation, while beautiful, also struck me at times as particularly brutal and outright dangerous, depending on what you are. As a human, you don’t have many problems – bears and snakes – but as an animal or insect, you had a great many problems day by day. The contrast of such striking beauty with suck striking brutality was not, and is not, lost on me. Quite the opposite: there was more brutality than beauty, and the beauty was often a superficial facade which seemed to protect us from the reality of the other creatures in god’s creation.
Increasing scientific knowledge did nothing to quell my views on god’s creation. Seeing as my favorite star was eight thousand light years away, knowing that a light year is how far light travels in a year, knowing that my favorite star was at least eight thousand years old – and most likely far, far older – only made this doubt of god’s creation grow. Especially in a world where creationists and fundamentalists, a great part of the United States population (40%, as late), tend to believe the world is six thousand years old. If my favorite star were eight thousand light years away, and the oldest known sources of light were over thirteen billion light years away, what was the rationale for believing that the world were six thousand years old?
Only a book written by bronze age goat herders.
Noah’s ark I viewed as especially unlikely. Knowing the vast amount of species that exist, knowing that there were many more than I could ever know about, one hundred plus year old man and his family were unlikely to collect them all, build a boat the size of the Titanic that could last forty days on the water or hold all of these animals, how likely was this event to have occurred? Not at all, I came to realize very quickly.
So by twelve, the seeds of doubt had been well sewn. Before too long, I was headfirst into scientific research on every major topic I could cover. I saw vast amount of evidence for the science, and with that, less and less for creationism. By thirteen, I was an atheist in every aspect but title. It took two additional years to come out of the closet, but in the six years since (I’m twenty one at present), I have learned much more than I could have dreamed about how the universe works. Much more than my peers, much more than my family. I grew to realize that creationism held one back from reality as it was, and I grew to loathe it more and more as I went. I suppose, though I leave people to themselves, generally, I have become a stern anti-theist. 9/11 and the hysteria surrounding it certainly didn’t help keep me on the so-called ‘righteous’ path, and I wouldn’t have life any other way. There is no amount of ignorance that could satisfy my sheer lust for knowledge, and ever more of it.
While I learned much about willful ignorance from the Creation Museum, I can’t help but wonder how this life, a life of unknowing, is satisfying for anyone who has a great lust for knowledge, information, science, and truth. I cannot look at creationists with a sense of hatred, dislike, or what have you, but I do look at them and their kind with a great feeling of sadness and pity. I pity creationists. They deserve it.
In addition, my whole life I’ve had one key struggle that was in drastic opposition to my faith and the faith of my parents. My whole life, I have been well aware that I didn’t feel like the other boys I knew. That when I looked in the mirror, I was different. That I was wrong. My body was wrong. Some of my greatest early Christianity struggles, going back as far as I can remember, took place as the result of my feelings that I should have been born as the opposite sex.
As a male to female transsexual, I always pondered how I were supposed to be a Christian and live a life directly opposed to the gospels. How was I supposed to live happily as a female if the Bible condemns something such as the simple act of wearing the opposite gender’s clothes? I wouldn’t think it far out in the least that a good bit of my Biblical skepticism came from knowing that the way I felt was condemned, yet I never made a choice, nor asked for anything like what I had received from my earliest memories on. It had always been there, known to me, accepted by me, yet condemned by the religion I was raised into and by the people I had grown to love.
I still struggle with transsexuality, though on the basis of my family’s beliefs being in direct contrast to it. I will not be stopped by the faith of my fathers, but the pain caused by them is indeed very considerable. I hold religion itself in contempt for marginalizing people like me. My growing sympathy with homosexuals didn’t help their case, either. I figured out that if I felt this way naturally, so did the homosexuals, who were so demonized and hated… and that is simply unforgivable.
So why am I an atheist?
Nature. Science. Reality. Skepticism. Transsexualism. Lust for knowledge. A critical mind. No satisfaction in ignorance.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Giliell, the woman who said Good-bye to Kitty says
I think that “Lust for knowledge” should be an official motto somewhere.
Also: Great and interesting essay
Robin Raianiemi says
What a beautiful story!
wonderfully said, Michael.
We are with you. And congratulations for being that great person.
A very honest essay Michael and a perfect example of how the bible doesn’t even come close to addressing the real concerns of humans. As an instruction manual for life it only seems to work if you’re happy imitating an ostrich.
I like the “lust for knowledge” line too, much better approach to life than whining about Jesus….
I hope things work out for you over time.
I just hope that your story doesn’t get reblogged and turned around by fundies into an ‘atheism made be transexual’ story….I can imagine them lusting over that one.
That’s an excellent story. I wish you the best of luck with your journey, wherever it takes you.
Aratina Cage says
As do I. Bravo to you for having the courage to come out at such a young age as an atheist and for not letting society dictate your gender to you either.
I’ve had some fundies tell me that I was only an atheist because I’m gay–that atheism allowed me to live in sin without guilt so it was the only reason I wasn’t a True Christian™. The truth is that the palpable hate directed at LGBT people by many theists (I actually think it is most theists, but I digress) just makes it easier to kiss their idiotic belief systems goodbye once and for all.
Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says
@garyhill – #5
Yes, it is interesting how much the fundies often completely miss the point and get things backward, but even if they get Michael’s story right, that transsexuality contributed to atheism and not the other way around, they can still do a lot of damage.
Ultimately, the only cure for bad speech is more and better speech. To have transsexual atheists speak up provides opportunities for disinformation, but also opportunities for connection, for illumination, to slake that lust for knowledge.
Of course, I don’t think you were disagreeing or saying this shouldn’t have been published. I just wanted to add my own ideas about how we challenge fundie misuse of information and personal narrative: more information and personal narrative.
Please stop by The Endless Thread here on Pharyngula, Michael, if you haven’t been doing so already. There are, in fact, numerous other trans atheists and trans-loving atheists (loving in many senses) who would love to swap ideas and stories with, well, just about anyone, but certainly including someone whose life and insights are as interesting as yours.
Michael, thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I can only imagine the struggle you face against bigotry on more than one front.
I went through a similar process to becoming an atheist without the added burden of dealing with gender. My best wishes are with you on your journey to being happy and successful in whatever sexual orientation you may have.
I think the only way to defeat prejudice is to have people being open about their sexuality. I live in a place where being gay is accepted by the overwhelming majority of the population. It wasn’t always that way but the influence of the Catholic Church is waning and the bigotry is disappearing along with it.
There is a little girl about 10 who lives near my home. She is very much a tomboy and looks more like a boy every time I see her. She refuses to wear the proper girl’s uniform to school and plays with boys all the time. Nobody seems to care that she isn’t a ‘proper’ girl and lets her be what she is happy being. That gives me hope that other places can follow that example.
John Morales says
Which tells me nothing about her gender identity, but much about her resistance to societal expectations and her self-confidence.
This is contradictory; if it’s ‘proper’, then people care (and the converse).
I don’t buy the childhood science shit. I think the true reason for your atheism is the feeling that you are a woman trapped in a man’s body. I wonder if this is literally true. As many and 1 in 4 or 5 people have cells they absorbed from a fraternal twin. It could be that you have cells that originated from two zygotes, one male and one female. Perhaps some of your brain cells are from the female.
Pokesheadupass, you know jack shit about what gender identity disorder is. Not that it will stop you from saying it.
And, no, it is not because of a fusing of fetuses.
If only I could be like you and toss out silly reason why I think a person is like they are. But I know the limits of what I know; both about the subject and the person at hand.
You just want to dismiss them.
Yeah, I loath you.
Michael doesn’t have a disorder. It’s the way Michael is. And the way Michael is relates directly to his brain structure. I am not dismissing Michael. I am only dismissing the science child shit as a reason for atheism. Most everyone’s belief system relates to their emotions and they seek rational reasons to support it.
It’s true that I don’t know much about what causes people like Michael to be the way they are — and if you read carefully you’ll see that I never claimed to.
Why do you loath me? Isn’t it a fact that you and PZ hate Christians and consider them to be evil lying sacks of shit? How can you say you are atheists because it’s the rational choice when you have such strong negative emotions about Christians? Seriously, what is the worst thing a Christian has ever done to you?
I think Michael’s rejection of Christianity does have rational legs, however, he didn’t give one good reason for being an atheist. It isn’t as if there are only two choices.
John Morales says
pokealot trolls thusly:
Isn’t it a fact that you eat dog-shit daily?
Michael, unlike you, doesn’t reek of dishonesty.
(Whether you consider the reasons given good or not is utterly irrelevant, of course, to the fact that they sufficed for Michael)
Well, hi there. I dunno how I missed this for so long but I apologize for not chiming in sooner!
I’d kind of look at atheism a bit like, I suppose, I didn’t choose it, it chose me. Of course atheism isn’t in any position to ‘choose’ anything – but the positions I have adopted and the things that make me work as a person also make atheism work for me.
It’s not as if I was a devout believer and suddenly said ‘welp, I don’t want to believe in god anymore so I won’t’. It was a gradual change brought on by understanding of the world and myself, both working hand in hand.
OK, so, well, I started a blog where I’ve been musing on various issues from the South (LGBT being the most recent, but interracial marriage and the like have been included!), and due to starting it, I have faced discrimination.
Yes, honestly. I was called ‘disturbed’ to my mother by someone who saw my blog. Talk about crazy, huh?
Just for the record, here’s a recap of that story and some thoughts on it:
I never comment at Pharyngula but I do come here daily. Never been to any endless threads… seems a bit… too much. lol.
I love you all! Thanks for the kind words and support! Thank you PZ for throwing this up there!
PZ Myers says
Pokealot: your ignorance should be embarrassing to you. There isn’t anything magically female about individual cells: sex is an organismal property set by hormonal influences. There are individuals who are genetically female and phenotypically male because of mutations in steroid receptors, and vice versa.
You’ve been something of a colossal ass around here. This is a warning: spout off stupidly like that again, you will meet the banhammer.
Rev. BigDumbChimp says
awww, look at the widdle cute strawman. So cute.
Because being an atheist isn’t about Christianity?
Has nothing to do with my dismissal of their faith. Nothing.
But if you want to go there:
Keep my friends from marrying they person they love?
Work to destroy science, and really if we get down to it, general education in this country.
Promote anti-intellectualism and the dumbing down of the country I live in.
Work against progressive ideas in order to keep power in the hands of very specific groups of people.
Work to keep women “in their place”.
Basically promoting the general idea that intelligence and education are things to be feared instead of celebrated.
Not really. We don’t much care for people who are evil lying sacks of shit whether they are xians, atheists, or anything else. You have cause and effect reversed.
BTW, Poke, you are an “evil lying sack of shit.
Poke does have personality and moral problems. It’s the way Poke is.
So Poke, are you a xian because personality defective trolls blend in well or did xianity make you into a pathetic little internet monster?
Need another category of internet essays here. Why I became an antisocial, malevolent internet troll spouting idiocy and xianity everywhere they can.
You pulled out bullshit when you talked about brain structure.
For crying out loud, female cells? I know shit about biochemistry but I know that it is hormones.
You do not claim to make claims and yet you still want to spout your ignorance. And your ignorance shows that you are not asking questions in good faith. You are condemning people because they are atheists.
I said I loathed you, not all christians. I have said repeated that for the good of humanity, religion needs to be left behind. This does not mean that I hate a person just because that person is religious. My “strong negative emotions” is reserved for those people who use their religious beliefs to deprive other people of rights and dignity.
I am sorry that your embrace of your sect of christianity so constricts your thoughts that you mistake what I think as just being pure hatred.
Would it be at all valid if I asked you what was the worst thing an atheist done to you? Just so you know, I have never asked anyone a question like that. That is your hint.
That last sentence is the first thing I have read from you that I agree with.
Most of the people here can see why I loath you, even if they think I am over reacting. If only you could understand why other people might see you as a sneering little spleen weasel.
I know that PZ gave you a warning. Yet I still wait for you to show up on an other thread and make more unfounded accusations.
Robin Raianiemi says
Like you, I’m a male-to-female transsexual, and I’ve completed 95% of my transition. And I’m an atheist, too. In so many ways, our stories are remarkably similar.
My atheism was immeasurably helpful to me in my transition, too. It broke my heart (and still breaks my heart) to see other transsexuals struggle with the notion that their horrid imagined deities see them as somehow less worthy than the cisgendered. And the GLBT-friendly churches aren’t very much better, as far as I can tell; they’ll accept you, but you still have to buy the shit they’re peddling.
Without religion, you are a very fortunate young woman indeed. I wish you nothing but the best!
Robin (and Micheal), I am sure you know that just because one is transgendered, it does not mean one will become an atheist. One of the more odd things I have witnessed at a gay pride parade; a transgendered woman who was part of the parade showing the bystanders a saint who was very important to her.
Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says
Just as a point of information, being transgender is not necessarily the same thing as being transsexual.
Some people do use these as synonyms, it’s true. Others use transgender as an umbrella term under which transsexual gets subsumed. Yes. I understand this.
However gender is not the same as sex. If it were the phenomenon of transsexuality wouldn’t exist. Thus many of us use transsexual very intentionally to communicate the experience of having an internal conflict with one’s body, a problem located in sex, rather than an external conflict with society.
This is not to say that when one has an internal, transsexual conflict with one’s body that douchegabbers don’t act maliciously towards us. We are talking about the core of the experience, where it comes from, how the conflict and identity develop. For this reason, it can be very important to say transsexual and not transgender. We are naming our experiences for a reason.
Two people have ID’d themselves as transsexual to you and you have chosen to ignore that and act as if the word transgender is a better description, a better label.
While it’s possible that those two people didn’t go through an incredibly carefully considered process about identifying themselves, 1) that’s unlikely, but 2) you have no idea whether that did or didn’t happen.
I don’t see you as badly motivated, but when someone chooses to identify in a certain way, it really is best to respect that. Obama IDs as black, would you tell him he isn’t, given the way that black has been used historically and what it means for him to choose his own position?
Have you thought about the fact that part of the experience of being transsexual is being told again and again that other people know more about what you should be labeled than you do?
Given that, when you try to be supportive, but refuse to allow people to speak for themselves about what label applies you can still repeat patterns that have been hurtful in the past, regardless of your intent.
This argument would apply equally if people on this thread had chosen to ID as transgender and you used the word transsexual, but it is especially unfortunate that you have made the mistake in the direction you did because the very word transgender was coined for a mix of positive and negative reasons. Without devaluing the positive reasons, a major part of the reason that was negative was that “transgender” was supposed to be an identity for the people that weren’t “sick” and “ignorant” in the words of the popularizer of the term. The use of the term transgender carries with it the implication that good people are transgender, bad people are transsexual.
While there are important reasons to use transgender, and transsexual people recognize them and don’t generally have a problem, when you actually relabel transsexual people as transgender despite what they have said, you just might be doing that to someone who knows the history of the term and doesn’t want to be associated with something created in part to wall transsexual people off into an unhip, ignorant ghetto.
I am certain that you didn’t mean offense, but for all these reasons – the last least, the most important being that you were repeating a pattern of not letting transsexual people ID themselves – please listen to what people say and use the same language back. Don’t try to translate or interpret because you may be mistranslating in a way that is grossly problematic.
It doesn’t matter if neither of the people in this thread object. If that happened to be the case, that would just mean that two people are more concerned that you want them to have civil rights than they are about your mistakes in how you go about arguing for those rights. And that’s a legitimate position. But it doesn’t mean that relabeling people against their asserted IDs is somehow any better, just not always worth fighting.
Thanks for thinking seriously about this.
Crip Dyke, I did not put my own terms on what Robin and Micheal are going through. As it stands, I would call Robin a woman and I would need to know how Micheal presents herself.
When I brought up the religious person, I used the term “transgendered woman” because I was pointing out that she transitioned. I will only use terms when they are relevant, and I see no need to refer a person’s past gender at all.
I am also well versed enough in this to know that different people do have different and very specific meaning to these terms and that one needs to know that person to know what is meant.
Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says
Janine, your statement only makes sense if you are reacting to Michael and Robin as talking about transgender in the first place. Since they don’t mention the experience of transgender, but rather each speak of being transsexual, then your gentle remonstrance about, “I am sure you know…” is a complete non-sequitur…
UNLESS one assumes that you think that they had been talking about transgender at all. Which they didn’t. They spoke about themselves, and they ID’d themselves as transsexual.
Please think about what you wrote – reread it if necessary – and don’t rely on the fact that you had good motives (which I have conceded) to dismiss the importance of what I said. Try for a couple minutes to see how what you said makes no sense unless you’ve categorized Robin and Michael in your head as transgender already.
Crip Dyke, the only reason why I even brought up the issue was because of a stupid statement by a shit throwing troll. And I was dismissing the idea that one’s atheism is linked to one’s sexuality and gender. I did not try to redefine who Robin and Micheal are.
Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says
janine, I stand corrected.
I saw you as responding to Robin & Michael. Now I see you as responding to the troll. Yes, the troll brought up the word indepently of you, but I wasn’t paying any attention to the troll and your comment just seemed…
…clearly I was wrong.
May i offer you this lovely, lovely bottle of rum only recently stolen from Caine? You can enjoy while I sit over here on my porcupine.
You might think that what I am going to say is mean spirited, but I am only trying to help you. And since you don’t mind holding others up on a pitchfork for public roasting I don’t feel at all bad about doing this.
You need a new goal in life: to be able to see your dick without looking in the mirror. I saw the argument from ignorance you gave on junk DNA at Skepticon. Your belly was flopping all over the place. You need to loose weight before you have a heart attack.
Let’s play whack-a-mole.
John Morales says
Sad troll, pokealot is.
(Most of them don’t go out of their way to beg bannination; this one is pointlessly perverse)
Pokesheadupass seems to think that as long as he spreads frosting on top of shit, it is all good.
So, pokesheadupass, give us a lecture from knowledge about junk DNA. And make sure you are swinging your dick the entire time. And swing your ass and stomach. We all want a good laugh.
You will not be missed when you are gone.
Illuminata, Genie of the Beer Bottle says
Poor pokealot – aren’t getting enough love from the other Freethought Blogs you troll pretending to have been unjustly banned from Pharyngula? No one buying your hilariously incompetent lies?
Poor baby. Here, have a pacifier and a blankie. Its nappytime!
janine- forget not being missed, he won’t even be remembered. A troll has to be extra special to be remembered. Like Pilty.
You might think Janine’s comment is mean spirited, but she is only trying to help the people around you, most of whom are probably wishing you and your passive-aggressive dishonesty were distant memories. I can imagine the dental problems they must have from gritting their teeth as they listen to you laugh your horsey laugh at yet another of your oh-so-clever fat jokes, all the while wondering how quietly they can grab a cleaver from the kitchen and would the cops believe it was self-defence?
Here’s some advice for giving your loved ones the best Christmas present you possibly can.
chigau (違う) says
I don’t understand the whack-a-mole reference.
I know what whack-a-mole is, I just don’t get how it fits here.
Banhammer. Hammer. Whack-a-mole.
chigau (違う) says
Miss the obvious, much, me.
I’m a little late on this, but I just wanted to weigh in a little bit…
I’m a trans woman skeptic and atheist too, and I just wanted to thank you for sharing your experiences. We are out there, and more and more, we are speaking up about our experiences. So please don’t feel alone.
I think it is extremely important to combat the HUGE amount of misinformation that exists in regards to transgenderism, transsexuality, gender, sex, and intersexuality… even within theoretically educated, scientific communities like skepticism. I mean, we can just take a look up there at Pokesasomething’s conflation of GID with hermaphroditic chimerism and his belief in “female cells” to get an idea of just how little people can know while thinking they know quite a bit.
The only way we can do that, and help people learn, is by speaking up. By outing ourselves and talking about this… as difficult and scary as that may be, and as much as it renders us vulnerable. We need to get the information out there… information based in science, and the actual realities of and facts about trans experiences, identities, bodies, and everything else. To help create a rational discourse about it that isn’t based in misunderstanding, fear, assumptions, and emotional needs to cling to certain inaccurate conceptions of gender and sex as a fixed, mutually exclusive, unchanging binary.
So thank you so much for stepping forward to be part of that conversation. And I’m so sorry you’ve already had to deal with the negative fallout from that.
For me, I guess one of the things about my transsexuality that contributed to my atheism was it made it impossible for me to believe in some kind of fixed, just design to things. If I was created by God, why would He do this to me? Why would He stick me in the wrong body? Either He was monumentally cruel, or He was a gigantic fuck-up. One way or the other, it didn’t exactly facilitate faith. How could I have faith in the world when I was alienated even from my own body?
Don Quixote was always a big hero of mine. He wouldn’t accept the mediocre, unfulfilling reality he’d been given. He instead went out and carved an identity of his own, through which he could find fulfillment, no matter how much he was told he wasn’t “really” a knight, how many times he was brutally beaten, how often he was ridiculed and mocked, how exploited he was the duke and dutchess and the author of the false sequels. It didn’t matter if he was “really” a knight or not: he was the greatest knight there ever was. Reality was the real villain of the story. I always loved the metaphor of Bachelor Carrazon adopting the identity of “knight of the mirrors” to help bring Don Quixote “to his senses”.
And I think the story is a beautiful allegory for trans experience. At least as I felt it.
And if reality was my enemy, then its hypothetical maker… well, I can’t exactly be on friendly terms with Him, can I?
Not that it really matters. I can’t be angry at something that isn’t there.
Anyway… thanks again. I’ve recently started writing a bit about trans issues over at Skepchick.org, and am also soon starting up a new blog in the Skepchick network that will address skepticism from an LGBT perspective (and vice versa) called Queereka. That should launch on the second day of 2012… too bad I guess we’ll only get one year to exist, eh?
P.S. If there’s one perfect adversary for a person struggling with their gender identity, it would be a Knight of Mirrors.
One of the happiest moments of my life was the first time I realised I could finally feel happy about my reflection, and see myself looking back at me.