First, here’s Jeff’s story:
I never sought to be an ‘Atheist’, in the strictest sense of the word. I’ve always identified myself as a seeker of knowledge and of ‘input’ . . . which I suppose is why I related to the move ‘Short Circuit’ and the character of Johnny 5.
I was brought up in a Protestant Catholic home of sorts, primarily in the Alberta prairies right smack in the early 60’s . . . a decade that didn’t really happen there until the late 70’s. It was because of the time and place that Christianity was the ‘norm’, if you will. It was sporadically taught in schools, prayer was always mandatory, and I had gone to Sunday School. I’d often hear of God’s ‘love, kindness, and charity’ . . . but it was definitely not universally used. We were struck by teachers, by preachers, by nuns for the slightest infraction, even questions that were nothing less than curiosity seeking information. The fact that we were never allowed to question the motives or wonder aloud why certain events happened in such strange ways, or why ‘God’s servants’ had to resort to such drastic anger when they spoke so often about this apparently elusive ‘love’ certainly cemented some perverse ideas in my young mind.
A major turning point in my very young mind (a precocious six or so), was when I recalled asking a nun . . . “Why didn’t God just let Jesus live, and have him become a king to lead the people and teach them to be good?”
Oops. Wrong. Yelled at, and swatted for that one. “Don’t question God’s will or ways! If we don’t trust God, he will punish us!” (give or take a word or two . . . that was 46 years ago). Was given five straps per hand . . . big ol’ leather barber’s belt.
Okay, that was a fucking red flag. I spent the rest of my life learning, reading, and delving primarily into fiction. I never fit in, never bought the story, even though for the next ten years of my life it was ‘The Way’ or ‘The Truth’. I had different ideas, just due to the lack of what was seemed to be just bad planning, nonsensical rituals that never accomplished anything . . . of course, neither did prayer (but for a few years I had wondered if I wasn’t ‘worthy of attention’). Suffice to say, I had internalized a lot, and was afraid to speak my mind about it. Such is the way of any Bible-belt society. Fear rules . . . love and respect are afforded to you if you slavishly obey. I was not such a person so easily turned into some invisible person’s lackey.
So, like many Atheists-in-the-making, I just read a lot. Learned a lot, and delved into archeology as a hobby of sorts. Ignored the whole religious nonsense, stayed out of debates entirely . . . because I got tired of having my questions rammed back in my face with a handful of relevant proverbs, even though I asked what I thought were valid questions.
But over the years, I couldn’t help but see that religion was slowly losing its’ grip on power . . . socially, at least. Comedians were my source of inspiration . . . most notably, George Carlin . . . that man got me through my teen years. And of course, Billy Connolly, Bill Maher, and others that were being more daring and directly challenging the holders of the ‘Moral Steering Wheel’.
But, it wasn’t just them. I had discovered books about the ‘Myths of Jesus’, the atrocities of the Residential Schools, the realities of what Hitler’s so-called ‘Atheist Regime’ actually was. And, of course, the non-stop atrocities of paedophiles in the Churches as well as so many organizations run by the very same people that used to ‘condition me’.
In that, there was a sense of not really ‘awakening’ . . . just a sense of validation. Of recognition. That all the pain, suffering, and humiliation that I had experienced at the hands of so many self-righteous ‘Christian Soldiers Marching On’were coming to light.
Strange thing is, I didn’t feel anger or hate. Just . . . relief. Even pity, for all the poor fools that fought, and still fight every inch, every millimetre, every single step of the way for such a flawed, horrible, broken system of belief that had so many things to hide that no army of Apologists could ever hope to explain away or hide from the light of real-life morality.
So many apologies. And such a waste of time, and lives.
It’s why I speak out now, basically. It’s a horrid existence, having to be so ‘correct’, so right and pure all the time . . . having to convince yourself that you’re worthy to something that doesn’t even exist except in your mind. A place where you should feel safe, secure, and happy without feeling as if all of its’ contents are constantly known to some unknown entity whose existence and motives are supposed to be trusted . . . but you’re never really sure if yours can be. Constantly on guard, constantly realizing how flawed you are, and how each and every thought has to be guarded with such fervour lest it be known and judged by this creature who holds your eternal fate in its’ hands. It’s not as if you can take it back . . . ‘He’ knows all. And you can ask a person for forgiveness, but you never really know if this ‘god’ creature truly has. You just hope so.
Because you can’t question God . . . he questions you. And that is not peace. It’s a fucked up, horrible, false sense of love brought on by as much fear as it is believing that your love is His and not yours, so you better appreciate it. You do not feel it . . . it’s his ‘gift’ to you. He can take it away, any time he likes. Your mind is like a small, open-doored prison with surveillance cameras on all the time, and you don’t pray for things to happen . . . you pray that a dream you had, a thought you had, or an action you wanted to take won’t take away the ‘good’ you’ve managed to manufacture in order to please him so you can have that ‘free paradise’ in Eternity. The place where you and God can live in harmony and true peace, because you passed the ‘life test’.
Well . . . you hope.
As a confirmed, stated Atheist with no fears of external eternal entities, I am at peace with life . . . and eventually, death. That to me, is ‘freedom and free will’, which is all I ever actually felt, and wanted. And I’m a better person for it.
Thing is, I’ve been that way for a lot of years. Now, thanks to so many people, so much support, and so many years of having to feel as if I had to hide . . . I’m free from the real persecution . . . those that insist on the irrational beliefs I’ve always questioned. The creature called ‘God’ grew very small in my mind far, far sooner than the very real, very present reality of those that enforced ‘God’s Will’. They don’t create love, or kindness, charity or morality . . . they create prisons for minds to grow small and frightened in, plain and simple.
Next, here’s Kristoff:
Like many atheists, I began my life in a religious household. The religiosity of the family was definately proliferated by my mother. My father, who passed away in 2009, was a very logical person – an educated scientist / engineer. I remember him, at times, expressing some sense of skepticism. My mother, however, kept him, me, and my sisters in line with religion’s biggest two weapons.. fear and guilt. As we grew up my mother’s faith grew. Ironically enough she never really found a church that met her spiritual needs, so she began to teach us at home. Primarily, she followed the teachings of a televangelist, Dr. Arnold Murray, to teach us. I remember feeling very uncomfortable with the idea of prayer, especially publicly. It felt awkward and stupid. I remember my mom encouraging me to speak in tongues and all I could do is laugh, it seemed so ridiculous. I think the seeds of skepticsim had been planted at an early age, but I kept believing just because my mother loved me, and I didn’t want to even think that she could be entirely wrong about something.
The years went by, we all went to college, got married, had kids, etc. When I finished my masters degree I became very interested in reading books about evolution and evolutionary psychology. The first book I read was “Sex at Dawn” by Christopher Ryan. (Yes I’m a little bit of a perv, so what?) Although the read was interesting, it also challenged my sense of belief in Christian morality and sexual repression. Logic seemed to conflict greatly with my spiritual beliefs. I still wanted to believe so I continually adjusted my faith to fit the new information I would read. I listened to hours of Dr. William Lane Craig debate atheists. I read C.S. Lewis too; I was hoping something would allow me to do the mental acrobatics necessary to keep my faith. Then, I read Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Wow. I remember my heart pounding at times as I flipped through “The God Delusion”. It was so logical, it made so much sense. Finally I watched a video by Neil Degrasse Tyson explaining the lack of religiosity in science. That was enough for me. I decided at that point to be done with supernatural beliefs. The guilt, shame, and close mindedness of religion had molded my personality in a way I was not happy with. I decided to make a change. I left religion. I came out to my mother, I think she died a little inside. My sister went into panic mode sending me books and dvd from Christian authors.
When I ask to discuss their beliefs and challenge them with science and logic, they shut down and tell me they will “pray for me”. Thanks. I guess.
So here I am, in Texas, as an atheist among an overwhelming majority of believers. It’s very hard to stay quiet, but I do. The one dominant philosophical idea I stick with is this: There is no god. Nobody cares for humans, but humans. I need to input more positive energy in this world than I take from it.
I find myself being MUCH nicer and more generous. I challenge my beliefs about race, sexuality, and I’ve open my mind to actually LISTEN to others feelings. I’ve never felt more alive and happy. In closing, I will share something I think about often – Christians say you need to be “saved” to feel full and happy. I couldn’t agree more. I was saved from religion with logic and reason. Pragmatic thinking and compassion saved me from a closed heart and mind. Religion doesn’t save, it suspends. Atheism is the true savior.