Suburban Atheist

Did you know that atheists really just hate god? That we only claim to disbelieve in god because of some terrible tragedy that happened early in our lives? Here, in a retelling of the very first post I ever wrote for this blog, is the chilling tale of how I went from atheist, to Catholic, and back to atheist.

It all starts with me being born on the dirty floor of a scary, shadowy motel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a frigid night in November*. Fresh out of the womb I was broken in a couple places, crying, splotchy, and covered in a particular goo I hope to never be covered in again. More importantly, I was atheist.

That’s right, folks. I started my life crying, gooey, and atheist. Scared and alone, I couldn’t even imagine a god existing. Everything around me was all there was. This is only the beginning of my horrible tale, however. I know it’s probably hard to believe, but it gets even worse!

Though I grew slightly larger, I remained atheist for the first couple years of my life. It got to the point, though, where as a child I would believe anything my parents told me. There was a Santa Claus. There was an Easter Bunny. There was a god who made everything and would never let bad things happen and would always take care of me. But wait, wouldn’t Mommy and Daddy always take care of me? Who cares? This god fella sounds amazing! Even more powerful and mystical than those birthday party clowns who made amazing balloon animals and pulled rabbits out of hats!

By now we had moved to Texas. I grew up in Suburbia. When I wasn’t going to church on Sunday or school in the morning, I was running around outside with my friends, on lawns that were always green and freshly-mowed, with water pistols and water balloons that were so full we had to be careful not to burst them on ourselves before we could soak each other. I was climbing trees, scraping knees, teasing bees, and refusing to eat my peas. We had several pets including dogs, fish, and iguanas. I was always occupied. I praised god and Jesus once a week, and then spent the rest of the week, well, being a kid in Suburbia.

Church life was about what I imagine it would be like for most kids. We went to St. Jude Catholic church on Sundays, I had a youth group afterwards, and that was it. I can’t even say whether I ever paid attention to a single sermon during Mass. I was a kid, after all. I brought coloring books and plastic dinosaurs to church. I knelt when my parents knelt, opened the books and pretended to sing when my parents sang. Sometimes I actually sang, which was fun because I liked the songs. I had no idea what they were about, but I liked them.

Truth be told, I didn’t even know what the Bible was about. I just knew what my parents told me: Jesus was this guy who was the son of god but he was also god, and that’s okay because I’m a kid and I’ll believe whatever my parents say, and Jesus did good things and then he was crucified, but that was also okay because he did it so we could all go to Heaven, which was a really great place where everybody went when they died, so I guess we never really died, which was good because this meant I never had to be scared about dying.

And things stayed this way for a while.

I went to school and was placed into the “Gifted & Talented” program simply because I was good at math, and I met the greatest teacher I’ve ever had in my entire life, Mrs. Judith Barnes. Mrs. Barnes encouraged us to think, and read, and appreciate art, and solve logic problems. She was my GT teacher for six years, so for six years I received more and more encouragement to think, and read, and appreciate art, and solve logic problems.

I read about things that fascinated me: dinosaurs, rocks, the solar system, animals, bugs, different countries and cultures. And then I did what my parents probably didn’t expect me to do: I put down my illustrated children’s version of the Bible and picked up an actual grown-up Bible.

And I read it.

Not the whole thing, mind you. I was, after all, still a kid. I was probably around ten years old. But I read enough of it to stop, think to myself How would Mrs. Barnes want me to read this?, and suddenly realize that it couldn’t all possibly be true. Then I realized that the story of Jesus was the only fantastic story I’d hung on to that my parents had told me, having already let go of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and I found myself wondering why?

Why was I still hanging on to this Jesus fellow? Santa and the Easter Bunny had both been used to teach me valuable lessons about being good and having fun – why couldn’t Jesus have also just been a device to teach me to stay true to myself, despite how others might treat me, and to strive to see goodness in all things?

So sometime probably in my early teens, I stopped worrying about god and Jesus and Heaven and Hell. For a while, I hung onto the notion of a god that snapped his invisible fingers, made the universe pop into existence, and then just sort of minded his own business after that and didn’t interfere with anything, but I finally let go of that belief too, later on in my teens. And by the time I finished high school I was full-blown atheist.

All the while I was just a middle-class kid in Suburbia with two loving, never-divorced parents, an older brother who I fought with now and then about nothing in particular, a big backyard with a swingset (replaced later on by a pool with a diving board), and a bunch of dogs.

And that’s the story of how one simple childhood tragedy can cause any person to turn their back on god forever.

*Slight exaggeration. I was actually born in a clean, well-lit hospital room in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a November morning, which I imagine was still probably pretty cold.
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