It is not cynicism that motivates me. It is optimism that the whole of humanity shall someday overcome the tyranny that is religious belief and superstition.
If something I say or link to offends you, then I ask you to stop for a moment before responding, and ask yourself why you feel that way. Be willing to follow that train of thought all the way to the end of the line.
I believe the religious are more than what they have allowed themselves to become. I wish to see all people willing to question the world, question their senses, question their sensibilities.
It frustrates me to see people deliberately clinging to ignorance. Sometimes this is expressed as anger or contempt. These are fleeting. The pervading emotion is simply profound sadness.
If you are reading this, then know that I do have some measure of “faith.” Not the baseless belief in supernatural entities or meaningless rituals, but confidence that each of us possesses the capacity for introspection.
A materialist world view is not the bleak and monochrome existence that many would have you believe it to be. It is vivid, full of spectacular colors, amazing phenomena, and so many layers of depth and complexity that merely learning more about it can become both a quest and a goal.
The strength and will to improve the world comes from within. You have only to look, and realize that the power you find there is purely your own.
Discarding superstition is indescribably beneficial to the human condition. Not only does it negate the fear of death… it eliminates almost all sources of prejudice (racism, homophobia, etc.) and enables one to regard everything in life on its own merits. The ultimate consequence tends to be a greater regard for the wonders that this world has to offer. Rather than the bleak, grayscale perspective that is projected onto atheists by the faithful, the colors of the world are all the more vivid when one takes the time to learn why and how they got there.
I have a bit of a memory problem, and as such, large chunks of time will simply vanish from my mind until dislodged by some random bit of association. As a result, the timeline of these posts is likely to be a bit scattershot. I will now tell you of the one person I’ve ever known who both wore her Christian faith on her sleeve and was every bit the “good Christian” that they all seem to claim to be.
In early 2001, I found what I truly consider to be my first “real” job. I was working as, basically, technical support for the business-to-business web site of a decently sizable banking institution. I was single, out of school and the schedule was lovely: 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM. Best of all, pay was semi-monthly, meaning that I was paid on the 15th and the last day of each month. This meant that it was simple to set up automatic payments for most of my bills and know that the money would be there. All in all, things were pretty good.
It was a big place, which meant my contacts were mostly limited to members of my own department. One of these was a woman, named Marcia. Contrary to the urgings of the Peanuts center of my brain, this was pronounced as “Mar-see-ah.” She was a black woman, looked to be in her early forties, and rather strikingly defied the walking stereotypes that were on display around the floor. I realize that sounds terrible, but I’ve always felt that if one dislikes stereotypes, one should actively work to prove them wrong, rather than legislate them out of existence. At any rate, Marcia had something of an “Aunt May” sort of vibe to her, though certainly not that old. She did have reading glasses and I recall that she did like the little shawls, though.
Marcia was a very unassuming woman. She was soft-spoken, nice to everyone she met (that I knew of), and simply of a gentle disposition. If office politics were getting to me, she was the one I could speak to for some perspective and a friendly ear. She knew my beliefs and never judged me for them. Her desk was not ostentatiously decorated. She had some pictures of her kids, one Christian devotional quote thingy (one that was of particular significance to her), and that was it. She wore a very simple cross around her neck.
She never presumed to call herself a good Christian. In fact, she never spoke of her faith at all, unless asked. She didn’t even allude to Christianity, other than in the literary sense (suggesting I “extend the olive branch” to someone with whom I was at odds, for some reason or another). I always admired her, and in a maternal sort of way, I think I kind of loved her. She was, in a very real sense, the kind of woman I wished my mother was: always warm and open, non-judgmental and willing to listen. I wish I had not lost contact with her.
I dare say, if all Christians were like Marcia, then the world would genuinely be a better place. There would be no need for the “New Atheist” movement. Perhaps we could still attempt to live and let live. But sadly, I don’t think there is any going back.
As I went through puberty and genuine “young adulthood,” I was, in every possible respect, the consummate geek. As you may have gathered from my previous post, I was fairly introverted. Unlike a lot of kids, however, I wasn’t entirely frustrated by this. My frustrations at feeling like an “outsider” were mostly spent before I reached my teens.
It was at this point that I really began to take stock of the world around me. Since the divorce had resulted in our moving out of our rather small hometown, I saw a few other places, and noticed just how many churches there were to be found. In some areas, it would literally be difficult to throw a rock without hitting a church of some kind. If memory serves, I mostly saw Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and a few Methodist ones.
Of course, I hadn’t the faintest clue what the difference between them was. All I knew was that (in a bit of charmingly childish logic), of course we had been Baptists, since I remembered being baptized at around age seven. I had also been given my own copy of the Bible, and I was highly irritated that they managed to misspell my name. I peered through it, though not with any real dedication, as I was never a particularly devout believer at the best of times. I do recall that I was impressed by how thin the paper was, along with the gold leaf along the edge of the pages. It “looked neat,” but since it had my name wrong, I was never happy to carry it with me. That spelling error may, in fact, have been one of the factors that led to my departure from the church.
Even now, I have only a vague idea of the difference between most Protestant denominations. That’s not an invitation for anyone to enlighten me, either. Expressing the degree to which I’m not interested would necessitate the use of scientific notation and possibly quadratic equations.
In my teenage years, I never made a particular point of wearing my atheism on my sleeve, but I wasn’t “in hiding” about it, either… perhaps because I’m stubborn by nature, or perhaps because I like getting into arguments. My wife suspects the latter. Even so, it had never been a particular issue, until 1989, when I was in 9th grade and elected to join my school’s Air Force Junior R.O.T.C.
For anyone who is not in America and/or not familiar with the concept, R.O.T.C. is an elective class, where you basically get a semester’s worth of military-style education and some training. On Wednesdays, we were expected to wear our uniforms for inspection, follow military protocol, that sort of thing. At the beginning of each day of class, the entire school was led in the Pledge of Allegiance… the post-McCarthy version, which most Americans know, with the cadence as follows:
I pledge allegiance
to the flag
of the United States of America,
and to the Republic
for which it stands,
and justice for all.
I thought nothing of it; indeed, the idea of it being an issue hadn’t even occurred to me until that day. I had not stood for the Pledge for a while, because I didn’t agree with “under God.” Well, surely enough, the fact that I’d remained seated while in the R.O.T.C. uniform quickly got back to the Colonel, who contacted me and told me to come see him. Well, there was no mistaking what this was about.
Would that I’d had the sheer strength of will to have handled it a little better than I did.
When I got to his office, I was already a bundle of frayed nerves. What else would I be? I was a 15-year-old kid. I wasn’t out to make a statement. I just didn’t want to stand up (physically or metaphorically) for something I didn’t believe in. The R.O.T.C. Colonel, to his credit, didn’t yell at me or lecture me. He just told me what he’d heard (that I wouldn’t stand for the Pledge), asked if it was true (“Yes, sir.”), and asked for me to explain my reasons why. It was during this explanation that my nerves finally got the better of me, and I began to break down in tears. I have still yet to truly forgive myself for this particular weakness.
The Colonel had that effect on people, it seemed… or at least, the kids in his classes.
But I told him that I did not stand because I did not believe in God. To my credit, I did not lie or try to worm my way out of it. He said that it was my right to believe as I wished, but when I was in uniform, a certain standard of behavior was expected. He offered a compromise: that I should stand and hold my hand over my heart, but I need not say the words.
Presumably, he meant only the two words which offended my sensibilities… but what with me being the person I am, I chose to interpret it as not speaking the Pledge at all. I did, however, go through the motions of mouthing the words, primarily because I didn’t want to deal with the hassle. I was enough of a pariah in school as it was.
It is only with the benefit of hindsight that I realize that I stood on the threshold of what might have been a landmark trial. If I had fought to uphold my stance, I do not know if my family would have stood behind me. Well, I know my mother would not have. My father might. My sister? Doubtful. I might have undergone precisely the same sort of treatment that the now-famous Damon did, so recently.
I almost wish I had.
Alself me to introlow my body.
My name is Jeff. I am a staunch antitheist, of German Jewish descent on my father’s side, and Scots-Irish on my mother’s. What I write here will often be offensive to those of spiritual bent. Allow me to be absolutely forthright about this: I will not offer appeasement, nor will I compromise my own beliefs or position for the sake of others’ feelings. If you are looking for a “moderate” atheist, one who favors coexistence and compromise, then you are at the wrong site entirely.
I am, at the time of this writing, a 38-year-old man. I have devoted a great deal of my life to theological study in some form of another, and even more toward the sciences. I will share with you, at this time, my own story of how I came to become an atheist (a word I do not capitalize, save for when it is at the beginning of a sentence).
I was born in a relatively small city in South Carolina, in the United States. Being born to an ethnically Jewish father (though he nominally converted upon marrying my mother), the fate of my genitalia was never in doubt. Yes, like so many before me, I was to be scarred and my sex life diminished by religion, well before I even understood the concept of guilt.
Regardless, my childhood was mostly “normal.” Nuclear family, older sister (by almost exactly three years… more on her later), nice Southern Baptist upbringing. I was never a particularly sociable child. Although I could get along with others well enough, I was generally content to keep my own company. In those early years, we went to church weekly, replete with fancy Sunday clothes. I attended Sunday school and learned all the standard children’s hymns. Jesus loves me, this I know, etc.
The problem was, none of it really sat right with me. I was the kid who was suspicious that Santa’s handwriting looked awfully similar to my mother’s. I was far more interested in learning about science and reading than anything else that was on offer. When I saw a map of the world, my immediate impression was that South America should fit right into Africa, like a jigsaw puzzle piece. At the age of nine, I heard about continental drift, and that some people thought that the continents used to all be connected. I felt vindicated, though I hadn’t the vocabulary to express it at the time. It didn’t take long to find out that, according to our church, this simply did not happen. The continents had always been right where they are now. Since I was leaning more toward science anyway, I pretty much stopped paying attention to what the pastor said. The World Book Encyclopedia made much more sense to me.
I was fascinated with the Apollo moon missions. I wanted to know what was out there. I was fascinated by dinosaurs and fossils. Not just the usual little boy fascination, but how one era had led to another, what had happened to them, etc. It always seemed to me like there was so incredibly much out there that I could learn, but no one seemed interested in teaching me.
I was, even at this age, probably an atheist… but it was more a matter of simple discarding of Baptist teachings than anything else. My mother was, however, always insistent on the weekly ritual, so I went along. With each passing week, it chafed more and more. Expressing any desire not to go meant a certain lecture, and it was easier to just deal with the hour of tedium. I gradually came to the realization that, plain and simple, I did not believe in any of it. It sounded like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy all over again.
There were plenty of domestic issues going on with my parents (very much of the White People Problem variety), but they resulted in a divorce when I was ten… way back in 1984. This caused me to seek further comfort in my own company, more than anything else. My older sister was driven batty from being stuck in the middle of the messy divorce, while I discovered that I was safest just staying down in the trenches.
As one might expect, my mother turned to her faith in an attempt to find strength in this trying time in her life. Much of this particular period of time is unclear on details, but I do recall when I actually told my mother of my disbelief (I didn’t know the word, “atheism”).
I was all of about thirteen, I guess. I was over at my father’s, on the phone with her. She hung up on me, and a few moments later, the phone rang. Rather than being my mother, it was her boyfriend at the time. He decided to lecture me because my mother was going on about how she was going to kill herself and repeating, “Where did I go wrong?” I got accused of deliberately trying to upset her, and I told her boyfriend that if all he had to say was abuse, then take it elsewhere, and I’d call my mother later when she’d calmed down.
Fast forward a few weeks. I returned to my mother’s place, since I’d been living there. I tried to bring up the topic of religion, but she’d never let me discuss it. She tried to pretend it was never said, and determined a few weeks later that I was going shopping for some new church clothes. I reasserted that I didn’t believe in God. She glared at me and snapped, “You’ll learn.”
In that instant, I saw naked horror and hatred. I’ve never seen anything like it from anyone, anywhere… and I don’t know if it’s solely because I refused to give in to what she wanted, because what I was saying was really that alien to her, or because of her disgust that something so “vile” should be said by the fruit of her own loins, so to speak. In that moment, I honestly didn’t think she loved me. By the same token, however, it also taught me one of the most important lessons I would ever learn: when in the grips of religious fervor, anyone can be an enemy.
I hadn’t set out to upset her. I just wanted her to accept that I didn’t agree with her, and let that be that. As many of us know, however, that can never simply “be that.”
Such was the beginning of my life as an atheist in America.