From my experience, there are two types of atheists. The first group are just naturally predisposed to question everything immediately and probably realize they are atheists by the time their eighth birthday comes around. Generally, though, these enlightened young ones were not brought up in any particular religion. The second category is the one that I fall into (and perhaps many of you do as well?). This atheist is one that is raised in one religion or another and becomes an atheist in (usually) early adulthood. I was raised fundamental Baptist . If you come along, I’ll tell you a little bit about how a southern Baptist is indoctrinated. I may be a Latino woman in New York, but I have a special connection with these homophobes for Christ.
Indoctrination Through Fear
I went to a fundamental Christian school where my schoolwork consisted of PACE’s, booklets in which you taught, scored, and disciplined yourself. Every week we had to bring in to school a signed slip from our pastor that we had attended church at least three times that week (fundamental Baptists have three obligatory services—Sunday morning, Sunday evening—yes, we had to go back!, and Wednesday’s midweek service.) If our slip showed that we had failed to worship once that week, you would not get the privilege of an extra ten minutes at recess. These lovelies were all over my school and my church:
They were entertaining and scary as hell! Halloween was a frightening prospect when you were taught that all candy was stuffed with needles and poison by Satan-worshipping witches that wanted you to DIE.
Quit yer Questioning
By the time I was eight or so I would wonder aloud to my pastor and my teachers (monitors, actually) about the fact that so much of the Bible seemed completely incoherent and contradictory; God was often mean and outright insane.
The story of Noah seems like God was out of his mind and murderous to boot. What did the little Egyptian babies have to do with their parents’ slave-holding ways that they had to die? Moses parted the Red Sea. And there was proof!
I know, I know. So many of these stories are not supposed to be taken literally right? But who decides what really happened and what didn’t? Arguably, most Christians wholly believe that Moses did part the Red Sea, that Noah did build an ark, and that Jonah lived inside Keiko for a little while.
But who decides which ones are literally real and which ones were just parables? Jesus being raised from the dead has to stay real (for obvious reason); St. John’s visions about the end of the world have to necessarily be real as well. But again, who decides? Seems to me that it’s arbitrary. And it sort of was! If the story seems to unbelievable to be true, that one’s a parable. If it sounds plausible, totally real. By the time I was 13 or so the doubts were too great. Maybe there was a God, but it certainly wasn’t the one I was told about.
Atheism: Straight Ahead!
Some people that do not believe in the Christian/Jewish/Muslim/Insert Religion Here God are still rather fearful of full on atheism. So they become agnostics. Agnostics believe that they cannot claim either way whether there are gods or not. Agnostics claim that they cannot say either way because there is a lack of scientific evidence. I find agnosticism to be a fence-sitter’s position. I am agnostic as to the possibility of life somewhere else in our universe. We lack the scientific evidence to know one way or the other. To me, the difference between being an agnostic about the universe and being one about gods is that there is NO evidence whatsoever. None. For a God that loved performing miracles in the Bible, he’s been awful quiet the last 2000 years or so.
I began to read different philosophies: Descartes (I think, therefore I exist. That proves God exists, too eventually), Liebnitz and Hume. Hume said of miracles:
A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable, that all men must die; that lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in the air; that fire consumes wood, and is extinguished by water; unless it be, that these events are found agreeable to the laws of nature, and there is required a violation of these laws, or in other words, a miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happen in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden: because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle, that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation…
After fully grasping how wonderfully Darwinian evolution explains the entirety of life on this planet, I became convinced. I was officially an atheist.
Why It Matters
I often hear from Christian friends and relatives “So you’re an atheist. Who cares. Don’t believe in the Bible, then. Why do you have to talk about it so damn much.” Trust me, I have never gotten more ill will than from Christians offended by my inability to just STFU and be a Quiet Non-Believer.
Why can’t I talk about it? You are allowed to invoke God at will. I should be allowed to not do the same. “Thank heaven for this weather!” “What a wonderful day Jesus has given us!” “Keep the Christ in Christmas!” Good for you. Shout your belief to the heavens.
But my main question is this: Why are your beliefs in God worthy of any special respect?. I understand the mutual respect that should be employed in any debate. Politics, religion, philosophy, whether or not Hugh Jackman likes boys or girls. However, I refuse to accept that you are worthy of some type of exalted special-ness that requires I never speak on religious matters lest it offends a believer. Religion is the root of much strife in our world. Today, the Catholic Church stands defiant in the face of a pedophilia scandal.
Lovely, isn’t it?
I leave you with this:
To all the believers that may be offended by this—deal. I’ve been offended by the actions of the Catholic Church, fundamentalist Christians that claim Jesus in order to hate, perpetuate violence and kill in order to convert, religious zealots that would blow up buildings for the sake of paradise. I am not seeking to stop you from religious worship or a belief in God. You can believe in a great big carrot in the sky. It makes no difference to me. I understand that your belief system is built on faith—believing in the absence of evidence. But I cannot suffer the idea that you are somehow deemed worthy of a higher respect than those of us that do not believe. You aren’t. The same way I will openly discuss and debate with people that don’t share my political views, I hold the same right when it comes to religion.
To all the atheists out there: Come on out. Jump in: It’s cold but it feels great!*