Saturday, April 28, 2007

How I Became an Atheist

My parents were very loving, very devout, evangelical Christians. Though not overbearingly dogmatic, they were very credulous regarding the literal reading of the Bible, including the Creation narrative, and this of course, rubbed off on me, at least initially. They were not terribly well-educated, nor big on critically examining their own beliefs, but to their great credit, they were readers. There was always something to read around our house and by their example, they encouraged my siblings and I to do the same. In time, I became a voracious reader. Despite their religious convictions, they never tried to sensor what I read.

Juxtaposed to my conservative, religious upbringing, I was a bright, inquisitive kid with a profound interest in science. I was the sort of child who would lay outside at night in a sleeping bag, Dad’s binoculars, and books about the stars and just gaze in wonder for hours. I went through phases where I believed in ghosts, Bigfoot, and UFO’s, but deep down inside I was always a skeptical, critical thinker. As an example, in my teens, when I was curious about sex (i.e., contemplating having sex with my first girlfriend), I went to our copy of the World Book Encyclopedia and looked up the answers to my questions about how a woman can become pregnant and how the menstrual cycle works. While becoming sexually active at a relatively young age was probably not a great idea (ya think?), the fact that, rather than relying on my peers, or for that matter, equally ignorant adults, for (mis)information about sex, I instead sought out a credible source of information, certainly bode well for my intellectual development. Unfortunately, I lacked the requisite mathematical aptitude to study science academically, at least until I was in my early 20’s, when the “math light” finally came on for me.

I devoured books about science, but like a good little Christian boy, I assiduously avoided anything that talked about that godless “evil-ution” stuff. Past a certain point though, I could not avoid the references to evolution in my reading because evolution in general is everywhere in nature, and the idea is not limited to just Darwinian Evolution in biology and if I continued my practice of avoidance of evolution, I would run out of reading materials.

So I kept on reading science, confident that my “faith” could withstand the challenge, but over the space of several years, I became convinced that the creationist arguments and evidence were completely without merit. Not only was my faith destroyed, but I was morally outraged at the deliberate lies being told by creationists to bolster their case, the same sort of tactics used by the tobacco industry to dispute claims that smoking was harmful to one's health. Such intellectual dishonesty ran counter to what I took from the morals I brought up with. My new found skepticism was not limited to just biblical creationism as I re-examined everything I once thought I was certain of, and bit by bit my faith drained away.

Another thing that contributed to my “conversion” to atheism, again from an early age, was the realization of the extremely superficial nature of the “morality” of believers. I call this the problem one of “bumper sticker” morality. Growing up, I remember singing songs like:

“Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black or white
They are precious in His sight”

I took these words to heart and was really disturbed when the son of the pastor of our church casually referred to Native Americans as “rezzers” and African Americans as “darkies.” I distinctly remember thinking, “What happened to ‘Red and yellow, black or white, They are precious in His sight?’” This was profoundly troubling to me. Recently in a conversation with a believer, I related the above to which they replied, “If a hypocrite stands between you and God, they are closer to God than you are.” I have in fact, seen that phrase on a bumper sticker (or perhaps a coffee mug, or was it a refrigerator magnet?). I think that sort of sentiment is morally repugnant and is an attempt to evade being morally accountable for ones own hypocrisy or to avoid holding a fellow believer to account for his or her hypocrisy.

This simplistic “bumper sticker” morality is endemic to Christianity today. For some strange reason, believers seem convinced, and wish to convince others, that pithy sayings or slogans are a credible substitute for thoughtful, reasoned, and informed consideration of the deep, profound moral issues affecting our complex world. The common run of humanity would rather feel certain of what they believe than actually find out whether or not they are right and to actually reason out thorny moral dilemmas for themselves would force them to confront their own fears and uncertainties, or if you will, demons (though these are of the psychological kind, not the supernatural kind). I am not impressed, nor swayed, by such superficial morality.

No comments: