The first story this week comes from someone who wishes to remain anonymous:
My lack of faith is probably more luck than anything else. My father was what I would describe as an atheist but never used the word and would never discuss the subject with me other than to tell me it was up to me to make my own decisions. My mum is agnostic but regards anything supernatural as something to respect because in her words “we just don’t know”. My nearest Primary school was a tiny C of E, very old, built on the site of an old church. From as early as I can remember I hated it. The cross was brought into assembly every day and everyday we had to listen to how we were all sinners and we should be begging for forgiveness. Attending church on Fridays was terrifying. The old church of St Mary’s in Rotherhithe is ancient and a huge part of the area’s history. Being five years old and walking past huge stone tombs having the older children tell you scare stories about who might be buried in them. Sitting for what felt like hours on hard wooden benches, the incense, the vicar slurring through some boring story about how evil the world is, how evil we could be if we didn’t ask for forgiveness. My whole life had been surrounded by people who were brought up the same as me, all believed in something, all dare not speak out against these beliefs through fear “because we just don’t know” though fear of offending or just not knowing any better. Not until I heard my first speech from Christopher Hitchens did a light come on and I knew this was who I actually was and what I believed in, sadly it was only a few years before he died. Now I seek people out who think like me, speak out against stupid ideas and will make dam sure my son has the same questioning all beliefs mentality as I do.
And a similar story from Ian:
In truth, I don’t ever remember being anything else. My Mother is a Jehovah’s Witness and used to make us take bible readings with one of her friends and on the odd occasion drag myself and my two siblings, kicking and screaming, to the Kingdom Hall. But I don’t ever remember believing the hype. In saying that, I don’t remember believing in Santa either. Childhood is such a distant memory. Maybe it was the bible readings that gave me my views because, when I read the bible as an adult, it goes a long way to convincing me I’m right. Just reading Revelations is enough to tell you the guy or guys who wrote it were completely off their faces. Must have had some good ‘shrooms in 30AD in the Middle East.
And finally, a story from Pseudologian, and atheist who is still in the closet:
I grew up christian, church was a part of my life. As I got older, my parents got more and more fundamentalist. I went to Christian schools and was even homeschooled a few years until I went to public high school. My dad read the bible all the time, my schools and parents had me memorize many chapters of the bible… My parents were fundamentalists, but not the angry fire and brimstone kind. They are actually very nice people. They ‘know’ LGBT activity is wrong, but they would never insult or refuse serving or help to a person because of their ‘choices’. In fact, my dad is a sweet guy, and I can never remember a single time he lost his temper with his kids, and I was not an easy kid to raise. My dad is highly educated (medical field) and studies religions and science all the time. He is a young-earth anti-evolution ‘scholar’ who invests his free time trying to convert people to his faith. He is active in an ‘EX’ association (Ex-Atheist, Ex-Mormon, Ex-Jehovahs Witness etc… its for anyone converting from a ‘false’ religion or lack thereof.) He’s small time, but knows a lot of the big-time names in that world, like Ray Comfort and Ken Hamm. He’s set up local conferences for them, and corresponds etc. [Side note, those affiliations started after I was grown, but he would tell me about what he’s up to, and talk about them. I never saw or heard them until recently… And when I did, OMG. Idiots.] My point in all that is; I was indoctrinated by a very nice, intelligent guy who had all the apologists answers. And I didn’t find studying that kind of thing interesting, so I never questioned it, I just absorbed it and took it for granted. After High School, when I left home, I didn’t go to church. I was a Christian in my heart, but had better things to do on Sundays, and never liked church. Eventually, I met a Mormon girl, and fell in love. I ‘knew’ that Mormons weren’t ‘saved’, but I was unable to break up with her. Eventually we got married, which my parents were upset about. There were already some things I didn’t like about the Christian religion, one of which was the anti-women themes. I insisted to the minister doing the wedding that there would be no ‘obey’ in the vows. And that bastard took out the words, but then made a big joke about it during the ceremony. We finished college, I started my career and she started raising our kids. I never wanted a little wifey to take care of me, and we had both sacrificed to make sure that she also had her degree. (Her independence was one of the attractive things about her.) But while the kids were little, she wanted to be with them, so that was our division of labor. Unlike the way my religions have taught, my wife and I have always been a team, neither of us makes the ‘final decision’ or ‘wears the pants.’ Any time a Christian leader would talk about patriarchy or submission, I would grind my teeth. I’m bringing this up because it was another source of questioning god. The Mormons were also better than the Fundies on this point, they tend to raise more independent women, have a doctrine of the ‘heavenly mother’ (who is not mentioned much because she is sacred.) So while the LDS is fairly male-centric, they do teach a lot more about men serving their women and kids than about ruling over them. My wife always continued to attend her church, and I went with her a lot of the times, because she liked that. Going with her, and learning the differences between their doctrine and my families was interesting, and I was trying to figure out what I believed. Eventually, after 12 years I converted to LDS. I had a lot of issues with their doctrine, but an equal number of issues with the Fundie doctrine I grew up with. I was trying to find the truth, but was looking for the true church instead. (I couldn’t conceive of no god.) The LDS church has this thing about Testimonies. One week a month at their church is dedicated to the members bearing their testimony, where they go up front and share why they believe etc. The usual line everyone says is ‘I know this church is true…’ (It keeps people self-indoctrinating.) Before I joined, I had read the Book of Mormon, I had prayed to know if it was true etc. Never heard from god. But I joined anyway. A few reasons I joined were mostly that I thought it was better than the other churches I’d tried, but not because I believed it was the ‘one true church’. Mormons have a better heaven system than other faiths. The afterlife you are sorted into ‘heavens’ based on how you lived. Jerks live with jerks, nice people live with nice people etc. And then there is eternal progression, you will always be improving and learning. The faith I had as a kid, was what I call a ‘thin line’ protestant religion. There is a hell of eternal pain vs. a heaven of eternal joy and happiness (but no fun). And there is a thin line separating them. I hate that. I hate the thin line, I hate the seemingly arbitrary conditions to get across it and I hate the descriptions of heaven. Eternal Joy sounds so damn boring. Singing praises to someone for eternity, and not feeling the range of emotions that we have, sounds like a permanent drug trip, not a good place. At any rate, I tried really really hard to be a good Mormon. I was active, we took our kids to church and I actively studied the books and doctrine. But I kept getting more and more issues. My dad would also share his anti-Mormon views with me, hoping to get me back on the true path. The problem was, most of the criticisms he had, I could also apply to his faith. So the harder I tried, the less faith I had. As my kids got older, it was harder for me to really teach the dogma to them. When they were taught things about Alcohol or Homosexuality were wrong, I would give them a more balancing view of my own at home. “People do have issues with alcohol sometimes, and it can be addicting. There are health concerns with it, so that’s why our church feels you shouldn’t drink it, but it doesn’t make people evil or bad if they do choose.” or “Our church believes that sex should be in marriage between a man and a woman. Some people don’t know or believe what we do, and they make different choices. It doesn’t make them evil.” I would even tell them that I wasn’t sure how I could believe some of the things we were taught and tell them to think about it.
I’m very glad now, that I did moderate the more extreme views of religion with them. Because after about 9 years of really trying, I was reaching my limits. I felt like my parents church was unacceptable, and mine was as well. I stopped studying because I would just lose faith. I basically tuned out, started skipping, and was pretty inactive. (I also never really made any real friends in our last LDS church, and looking back that was a good thing.)Then shit happened at our church. My wife was still trying her hardest to be a good faithful Mormon, and was a leader for the young womens program. New church leadership went on a power trip, and people were metaphorically stabbing each other in the back, and abusing their authority. The stress was really getting to her, eventually she went to a professional counselor outside of the church. After hearing her describe the stress she was having, the counselor told her, ‘you are being bullied, it doesn’t matter that it’s church, or religion, those people are bullying you and it’s not healthy.’ I owe that counselor big time. We quit going, and tried to go to a different ward (meetinghouse). (LDS members attend a ward based on their address, they don’t pick which one, unlike other churches). We were trying to get our membership transferred over, and make new friends. And finally, she told me that she didn’t want to go through that again, working to make new friends, putting in all the effort and she wanted to be free for awhile. I felt the same. We quit going, we didn’t become atheists, but we were fed up with religion. Neither of us could conceive of a world without a god, but we didn’t think that any church we’d been in was being run by one. She had been a good girl (independent and strong, but good) her whole life. So we had some fun trying bad things, like alcohol, tobacco and swearing. She even got a tattoo. Then around Christmas (Yes, just a few months ago), I was looking for an audiobook from my library to listen to while commuting. I looked to see if Kim Harrison (fantasy author) had a new book out, and found a book by Guy P. Harrison called ’50 popular beliefs that people think are true’. I’m not sure why, but I checked it out. My mind was blown… Among chapters about critical thinking about alien abductions, global warming, psychics and bigfoot, Guy threw in a few chapters about religion, miracles and young earth creationism. I had always considered myself fairly rational, but realized that I had a big god-shaped blind spot that I never noticed. I hadn’t thought to question that there was no god. I thought a lot about that book for a few months. Then in February, I decided to search for Guy P. Harrison on the web. My search had me stumble onto YouTube debates and atheist videos. I watched some videos featuring guys like Sam Harris and Matt Dillahunty debating Christians. A video would be posted by different people, one would say ‘William Lane Craig Destroys and Humilates an Atheist.” The same video would also be posted as “Sam Harris wipes the stage with the remains of William Lane Craig.” But I was hooked, within a few weeks of staying up late consuming internet atheism, I realized that I was an Atheist. This realization was just before the Nye/Hamm debate, first time I’d seen either of them, but I watched it live and thought ‘my dad is smart, why does he like this Hamm idiot!’. I had to have my dose of reason daily, and decided to try podcasts during my commute, so I could listen to rational arguments to counter all the apologetics that had been ingrained in me after a lifetime. My first podcast was Atheism 101, followed by the Atheist Experience and followed by a dozen more. I also realized that because of my young-earth creationist childhood, I had been taught about evolution, but not the evolutionary theory, just a load of guano. I found that I fucking love evolution, and love evolutionists who debate Christian bullshit. I recently found AronRa, and am re-listening to a short set of podcasts by Dr. Zachary Moore called Evolution 101, that ended in 2007, but are fantastically loaded with information. The company that I work for is ‘right to work’ meaning they can fire you on a whim. My boss is very involved in his church as well as everyone else that I work with. My relationship with my parents is shaky, and my wife doesn’t want to discuss anything with her parents (who live nearby and I love). We live in rural North Florida, and my kids have friends and social networks, that I don’t feel like disrupting at the moment. So I’m keeping my beliefs in the closet for the time being. I made the Pseudologian social media account so that I can discuss and absorb all the rational information and ideas that I can, without being outed until I’m ready, and know that my kids and job won’t be affected.