I was raised Catholic. It wasn’t an overly insistent Catholicism. We were the usual Catholics. On Sunday we went to Church, and outside of that there was very little talk of God (aside from the usual “Thank God for X” or “Please God help my sick aunt” sort of thing. But we didn’t read the Bible (does any Catholic?) or attend any other services besides the usual Sunday mass.
Scaring the Hell out of a Child
At around the age of 9, some Jehova Witness friends of my grandmothers’ left a pamphlet behind, which I read. It quite scared the living hell out of me (pun intended). According to this, Catholics were going to hell because they worshiped the Saints and didn’t read the Bible. Never again did I pray to a saint and sure enough I would read through the Bible.
High School Christianity
So from about this point on, I did not really consider myself a Catholic but a “Christian” (as atheists we may feel this is splitting hairs but from inside the bubble there is a huge difference). I would not only read the Bible but would also attend youth group outings with friends. I still went through the motion of being a Catholic (receiving my confirmation at 15) but I felt the ‘other Catholics’ were making a huge mistake in not reading their Bible and reciting the usual prayers to the saints. I would tell them that this was idolatry and they would essentially look at me like I was crazy.
In any case, I even became steeped in creationist arguments. I had ‘learned’ from Carl’s Baugh’s tapes that the fossil record was laid down by a deluge that in fact caused Noah’s flood. How nice it all fit together!
I entered college as a literal young earth creationist (I had no idea that this is what it was called, but I essentially believed in a literal reading of the Bible, and had memorized a few anti-evolution arguments). By the time I graduated, I was essentially convinced that the Bible was no more based in reality than the epics of Homer. I would not say I was an atheist yet, but rather some ongoing combination of and transition between a deist, pantheist and agnostic.
The unwinding of my beliefs was a slow process. The first couple of years would expose me to a few classes that would really give me pause. I of course had my Bible study friends and Christian apologetics to read, and this would be enough for my confirmation bias.
In Comparative Religions class, I’d come to realize that there were people of other beliefs who believed them just as strongly as I believed mine (and while I already ‘knew’ this, this led me to realize just how intricate and rich their beliefs were and forced me ponder it rather than simply wisking it away). The fact that people in other parts of the world were growing up into their native religions and sticking with it for life became difficult to square with the idea that the Bible was the true word of the creator of the planet. If one could only be saved by the grace of Christ, what then of the boy who would grow up, live and eventually die as a Hindu?
The science classes would also kick around my many beliefs about the origins of the earth. Astronomy would pretty much make it difficult to believe the earth could only be 6,000 YA. By now I was subtly realizing the difference between the objective, methodical nature of science books which were simply “explaining things” in depth and the creationist literature which couldn’t go a page without mentioning the grace of God. I would more or less lose my insistence on “YEC” and settle for “symbolical” book of Genesis. Perhaps the earth was older than I thought, but one thing I knew for sure: I did not come from no monkey!
Anthropology 101 would essentially remove any doubt that we all share a common ancestor with apes. The sheer volume of information, meticulously organized and painstakingly cataloged by people with no apparent agenda besides wanting to study and/or publish data was not only impossible to ignore, but stood in stark contrast to the anti-evolutionist content I was reading.
It had become clear: the anti-evolutionists weren’t doing science, they were compiling lists of (often slimy) arguments. They would conveniently twist, omit and possibly intentionally lie about the work of Anthropologists and Paleontologists. The “Nebraska Man” argument stopped holding water when I realized that it was “evolutionists” who were doing all the work (yes they were ‘fooled’ by it, but they were also the ones who discovered the mistake). Anti-evolutionists to my knowledge, hadn’t even bothered with the likes of Australopithecus afarensis or Homo habilis.
By now I had a general understanding of peer-reviewed science and the scientific method in general. I understood that Creationists were doing nothing more than playing rhetorical games, like a clever lawyer or perhaps a magician, getting you to focus on one hands so you wouldn’t see the trick being carried by the other.
Final year in College: Sorry Jesus
By this time my take on the Bible was largely symbolical but I still believed in Jesus Christ and the resurrection. That would change when I would learn about Mithra, Horus, Osiris and the other alleged “man-gods” who predated Jesus.
To be clear, I was not necessarily convinced that their stories necessarily predated the writing of the gospels, nor that what I was reading was even accurate. I wasn’t sure and didn’t know how to verify this. But in all of this, it became apparent just how weak and lacking in foundation the Jesus narrative was. Sure. the Jesus stories were better preserved, in part because the Christian empire would preserve them while burning and trashing the records of other religions. But there was little reason to believe in these stories by now. Sure, there were the usual clever rhetorical games by people like Lee Strobell, but by now I was onto this game, having been bamboozled by creationism.
Throughout my college years, I had occasionally debated with atheists as well as watch other Christians do so (AOL FTW!). It seemed that atheists generally had a better handle on the facts and were usually able to unpack the semantic games that apologetics depended on. By now this had hit me. My confirmation bias would no longer allow me to turn a blind eye to this. I was now confronting it head on.
The next year so was rather difficult. I had identified myself as a Christian since as far back as I could remember. For a time I was angry for being “lied to” but really I was angry that I “couldn’t believe.” Things would be so much easier and I would fit in so much better with friends and family. I even felt guilty when friends and family said things like “I’ll be praying for you” or “God bless.”
Mid-Late 20’s: Atheism it is
So I’d spend the last few years as this ongoing combination of a deist, pantheist and agnostic. That would change when I became familiar with the works of people like Sam Harris. ironically I came to the “Atheist internet sphere” that led me to Harris’ books when looking for debate points against pesky creationist friends trying to convince me that evolution was false (this would bait and switch to “evolution is a faith, no different than creationism”.) Ironically I would become even more knowledgeable on evolution and would now be reading books like Sam Harris’ End of Faith.
Sam Harris and End of Faith: Enough Said
It’s not so much that EOF provided new and striking arguments (though it DID), it’s that it made me realize I wasn’t so crazy for holding certain thoughts and suspicions. The biggest one was: Why was I defaulting to the notion that God did exist? It became clear to me that this was simply due to the fact that I grew up with such a belief. There was no reason to ASSUME God. Every other proposition held the burden of proof. Why did I consider the disbelief in God to hold such a burden? How the hell would anyone disprove God to begin with? This is where I would now begin calling myself an atheist.
For awhile I was active online as an atheist, though mostly as a ‘dispeller’ of creationist nonsense. I’d read a few more books by Harris, as well as Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, as well as a few more books on evolution, as the topic by now fascinated me.
Over the years I’ve gone through a transition. There was a point when I was convinced that religion was the most dangerous thing on this planet and I needed to do my part in stamping it out, like a Rhino stamping out a fire. Today my view is far more nuanced. I still believe religion can be dangerous but as I’ve moved on to other topics dear to me, I’ve noticed Christians in the trenches with me and atheists on the other side of the fence lobbing bullshit ideological arguments for their pet ideologies.
I understand now that ideology and blind belief are the problem. Religion is simply the place where we see it the most (and as Harris points out, where irrationality seems to get a pass), but I don’t believe religion will be going anywhere any time soon, if ever. I am also convinced that some people just need it. Looking back at my old atheist cohorts, we were almost all young, upwardly mobile professionals (or scientists). We were mostly working in exciting fields and the world was to be our oyster.
How different does the world look for say, a recently-laid-off 50 year old whose worked in manufacturing all their life watching their entire career get exported to China, all the while trying to put food on the table and care for a dying relative? So yes, it’s been easy to say “religion is for the weak” while having it pretty easy on ourselves. What’s more is I’ve watched other atheists (and proponents of “intellectual honesty”) go off and follow goofy political ideologies or get fooled by other forms of pseudoscience.
So my view on this whole topic has evolved.
So about this blog….
I’ve been pretty mum on the (A)theism subject for some time now. Sure, there is Facebook where my Christian friends post their kooky memes and articles, and where I COULD comment if I wanted my other friends’ newsfeeds blowing up with my atheist arguments (Facebook absolutely blows as a medium for debate, especially when your profile if mixed with professional friends/acquaintances).
So I’ll be posting my thoughts here. Hopefully I’ll occasionally have something useful to say. I’ll also start liking to relevant blogs, websites, articles, etc.