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.

Hitler, the atheist

Stamp of the Greater German Reich, depicting A...

Image via Wikipedia

On this, the day of his birth, allow me to quote Mr. Adolf Hitler for all of you. Perhaps this will help clear up some misunderstandings about the man.

I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.
Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 2

Anyone who dares to lay hands on the highest image of the Lord commits sacrilege against the benevolent creator of this miracle and contributes to the expulsion from paradise.
Mein Kampf, Vol. 2 Chapter 1

We don’t ask the Almighty, ‘Lord, make us free!” We want to be active, to work, to work together, so that when the hour comes that we appear before the Lord we can say to him: ‘Lord, you see that we have changed.’ The German people is no longer a people of dishonor and shame, of self-destructiveness and cowardice. No, Lord, the German people is once more strong in spirit, strong in determination, strong in the willingness to bear every sacrifice. Lord, now bless our battle and our freedom, and therefore our German people and fatherland.
– Prayer, May 1, 1933

I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work.
– Speech, Reichstag, 1936

The Catholic Church should not deceive herself: if National Socialism does not succeed in defeating Bolshevism, then Church and Christianity in Europe too are finished. Bolshevism is the mortal enemy of the Church as much as of Fascism. …Man cannot exist without belief in God. The soldier who for three and four days lies under intense bombardment needs a religious prop.
– Adolf Hitler in conversation with Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber of Bavaria, November 4, 1936

I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.
– Adolph Hitler, to Gen. Gerhard Engel, 1941

I hope that cleared things up.

The Christ Buffer

I was recently asking my peers how to go about procuring a free copy of the Bible. While ultimately it was a Google search that answered my questions (if there is a god, its name is Google), I did receive an awful lot of advice. Unfortunately a lot of the advice had nothing to do with the question, and was more answers to questions I didn’t ask, such as “How should I go about reading the Bible?”, “What is the best way to interpret the Bible?”, or “What other holy books should I read?”

Incidentally, I had by that time already read most of the Bible. I was raised Catholic after all and if I didn’t read something directly out of the Good Book itself (the ‘G’ is capitalized because it works as a title, but hardly as an appropriate descriptor) then I probably read it out of a tract, heard it in one of my weekly youth classes or at church, or saw it in one of my illustrated, dumbed-down children’s versions of the Bible. In any case, I did not need the answers to any of those questions. In due time I will study other religious texts but for now I just needed a hard copy of the Bible for referential purposes. Something I could earmark, highlight, and write on. As I said, I eventually found a website (via Google) offering to send a free Bible to anybody.

But that’s all beside the point.

Among all the unasked-for suggestions was one that really stood out to me: “Start with the New Testament.”

Why? The Christian Bible contains two major parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. Strangely enough, the Old Testament comes first. The New Testament is sort of a sequel. Why would I want to read the second book first? That’d be like watching episodes four through six of Star Wars before episodes one through three. Okay, bad example. It’d be like watching season two of Lost without having watched season one (for the record, I never got past the sixth episode). Anyway, the point is that it would just be silly to read the New Testament before reading the Old. The New Testament is based on the Old; it depends on it. Without the Old Testament, there would be no New Testament.

The Old Testament begins with the phrase “In the beginning.” The New Testament begins with a boring old genealogy. Nothing grabs my attention quite like a family tree. Oh, except maybe the creation of the freaking world, a massive flood, a dude getting eaten by a whale, and plenty of fire and brimstone. So there’s that.

But then it hit me. Seriously, why would somebody recommend the New Testament first? Brainwashing. If you want somebody to believe your god is worthy of being worshiped, you’ll want them to skip all the gruesome bits about him committing genocide, torturing animals, condoning slavery, slaughtering entire families just to test a single man’s faith, having children mauled by bears, and dashing babies against rocks and go right to the part about Jesus healing lepers and turning the other cheek. Plain and simple, it’s brainwashing. Then by the time you get around to reading about your god’s brutality, you will have already been infected by the disease called Christianity and nothing will sway you. That’s how you do it, folks. Grab somebody’s attention with the good stuff and when they hear about the bad stuff they’re more likely to shrug it off.

Brainwashing. Jesus is the buffer that makes the treachery seem less treacherous.

Atheist Dave

That’s me, I’m Dave. Then again, this blog is not supposed to be about me. In fact I hope to have multiple regular contributors who are not necessarily also named Dave. First and foremost of those contributors is my wonderful and beautiful wife, Holly. Despite this blog being about atheism, religion, science, philanthropy, and a cornucopia of other subjects I have decided to name it after myself and my atheism and so think my readers ought to know at least a little bit about me. That said, this first post will be my attempt at giving a brief history lesson about myself, as I hope all of our contributors will introduce themselves before getting into any “heavy posting.”

Without giving away too much incriminating information, I live smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt, in one of the most conservative, religious counties in Texas. Though not born here (I am happy to say I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a mere 80 miles from the home of the Freedom From Religion Foundation), this is where I have spent the majority of my life. I grew up here with my mother, a Catholic, and my father, a Baptist.

I was baptized as an infant at a Catholic church; after moving to Texas I regularly attended Catholic Mass with my mother and brother, received my First Communion, and was Confirmed while still young. I’m hesitant to say I really was a believer back then since children don’t have that great a concept of life, the universe, and everything, but I think I may have been. In any case, within about five years of my Confirmation I was an atheist.

What led to my atheism? It could have been a number of things, and I think all of us atheists can relate in some way to what I was feeling as an adolescent. First, there were all the fossils. Fortunately I hadn’t been indoctrinated yet to the point where I would shut my eyes and ears to what we rational thinkers can see as outright evidence that the creation story did not happen. I was fascinated by dinosaurs, like any child, and I took the initiative to learn as much as I could about them. That’s where my knowledge of fossil evidence came from. So now I knew that one of the most important stories in the entire Bible (Genesis) was an outright falsity. That, coupled with the unlikelihood of the Noah’s Ark story, made me highly skeptical.

Second was probably God himself. Without having ever heard of Epicurus, I was already having some very Epicurean thoughts in my early teens:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?

Then why call him God?

God, in all his supremacy, still allows life to be lost, crimes to be committed, tears to be shed, and hearts to be broken. God in the Bible was constantly smiting people, burning entire cities, commanding people to rape and murder, and condoning slavery. A “perfect” god did not make any logical sense to me.

And so I realized none of it made sense. And so that’s me.