I suspect that there are a variety of origins and influences that flowered our reasoning processes or otherwise led us to connect with our sense of rational thinking, and by extension, to our atheism.
For me, the seeds were started in early youth; a fascination with how things work, a desire for understanding, a love for experimentation, tinkering and measurement,… a burgeoning appreciation of science as a tool for discovery and truth, an envy and respect for all the groundbreaking scientists with their efforts and trials throughout history, as well as a strong respect I had for my older brother whom I looked up to for his extensive reading and desire to know what is ‘real’ in the world, especially its mysteries.
Much of what I’ve seen over the past three decades has been disconcerting, as youth seemingly lack a desire to be instilled and inspired with the wonder of science and the freedom of rational thought.
There are some freethinkers (and theists of various persuasions) feel a desire to ‘coexist’ (as the artistically clever bumper sticker expresses) with others of different beliefs, or simply feel that the dogmas inherent in the belief systems of others are just not ‘on the radar’ and don’t pose much in the way of cultural or intellectual threat. Personally, I started to get a worried sense about the shift in cultural and social attitudes as we entered the 1980’s and began, as a country, a gradual ‘creep’ to the political right, with its associated disregard for–even hostility toward– certain areas of education (especially science), art ( with a penchant for censorship), media ( the ‘ liberal “elite” ‘). Some, like Newt Gingrich and others, lament the ‘decline’ of Western culture and values, as they ironically fail to pay even lip service to some of the foundational blocks of Western culture–free thought, logic and reason– while espousing and defending the virtues of the religiously devout (which they themselves often conveniently ignore). Yes, religion is an essential tool in the toolbox of the political right; manipulating and harnessing the dogmas of the devout for political gain (and presumably personal gain), reciprocally, as the vociferous devout among us flex the political muscle of right wing politicians to further their narrow, religiously ideological agendas.
These issues are central to my disdain for religious belief and many of its practitioners, stemming strongly from this insidious marriage of religious belief and political power and the danger it poses. Increasing religious influence in our political systems presents a potential for long range threat to the material and social structures of our national and international cultures, with its most corrosive influence on the most essential tool for cultural advancement and continuing understanding of the universe we’re immersed in: the minds of future generations and how they evaluate, discover and accept what is real,… and what is reliable about how we explore our world.
I believe this corrosion needs to be widely understood, exposed and actively countered in the United States in particular. It’s hopeful to see there are many notables with influence and reputation in the scientific, philosophical and educational communities who are standing up and working hard to build a strong front. I certainly hope to continue to learn, understand and support, in my own way and time, what may turn out to be a new Enlightenment,..or perhaps a Re-Enlightenment.