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.

My son has an imaginary friend; I do not.

I have a lot of thoughts about religion, and mostly they’re all about how I want it not to exist, or at the very least to get out of my life.  By way of quick introduction, hello, my name is Erin; I was raised Catholic and began to seriously doubt the existence of god when I was twelve and read The Bible for the first time.  Time passed, though, and “doubt” doesn’t nearly cover it for me now.

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’re agnostic, that they can’t say that they really don’t believe because they don’t know enough to really know.  That people who claim to be atheists are every bit as arrogant as people who think they know for sure that god is real.  I full-on disagree with this, and here’s why:  my four year-old son has a whole bunch of imaginary friends.  His favorite and best friend is named Gnash and lives on our roof.  My son talks to him, tells me what he’s doing, and informs me occasionally that Gnash is riding in our car or sitting at the dinner table with us.

My son has a relationship with him, speaks to him, and feels like he knows him.  Would it be rude to imply that it’s all in his mind, that Gnash is just the manifestation of a brain evolved enough to feel fear and loneliness, and creative enough to spawn ideas that will offer it comfort, company and answers?

I don’t have to think about it.  I don’t have to know more, or offer a speck of room for conscientious doubt.  Gnash is not real.  There is nobody living on our roof, just as there is nobody living in the sky conducting the cosmos.  I know this.  I resent the idea that I have to act as if people who have spent their entire lives wrapped up in their imaginary friends and allowing their thoughts to be warped, weakened and directed by flawed, human-written texts and sketchy interpretations of the same are reasonable.  I resent that I’m supposed to act as if the suggestion that the world was put here in a week by a big, bearded sky-architect isn’t completely insane.

Once I had a friend – she was Baptist – tell me she wished I could feel what she feels, how good it is to know that god is there, looking out for her.  That made me want to give her a hug, really, because it’s so horribly sad that a grown woman has to imagine herself a protector in order to feel safe.  And she couldn’t have been more wrong – I do not need god in my life to offer me comfort.  All god offered me back when I used to grapple with the idea was fear and confusion.  In fact, the day I realized there really is no god, and finally let go of trying to believe in something that never felt right to me, was one of the best, most liberating days I can remember.

I was driving in my car, and it hit me:  this is all there is.  There’s no list of rules, there’s nobody watching or keeping score, there’s nothing but myself and my own accountability.  My higher mind and my capacity for kindness, my ability to procreate and the responsibilities inherent – just me, human, and nothing else.  Just animals, evolved.  Not special, not eternal, not bound for punishment or praise or anything but our own conscience and perspective.  And then it made sense – all of it.  Some people are good and some are bad, some are stupid or kind or weak or aggressive or withdrawn, sometimes things blow up, sometimes storms come, sometimes babies die, sometimes dolphins gets caught in tuna nets – whatever.  A bunch of animals evolved on this rock, unheeded by the rest of the universe, and after a while we mastered the knack of thinking.  Of course our first thought was that we were special in some way.  Better.  Destined for something.  So we made up stories that told us just why and how we were so special.

The day I realized we weren’t, everything made sense.  Suddenly the world wasn’t so terrifying, because I knew that – as bad as it was – at least I wasn’t going to spend an eternity burning for thinking dirty thoughts, and I was never going to have to hit my knees and apologize to an invisible man for eating beef on a Friday.  At least there wasn’t some scary, distant figure judging me for everything I did even as he made me do it.

The world is crazy, but at least it’s not that crazy.

So that’s where I am now; non-believing to the point that I hate saying that I don’t believe, or labeling myself an atheist.  These are relatives terms, and they relate to religion:  they label me as Other.  I can’t stand having my point of view defined in relation to all that madness.  There isn’t a thing for me not to believe in.  As surely as I don’t have a friendly monster living on my roof, there isn’t a god to reject, there isn’t a heaven and hell, there is nothing for me to not have in my life.  They are the delusions of others, and they can damn well leave me out of it.  I’m just me, walking around on the earth, surrounded by atmospheric gases, being a sane and rational human being.  It’s so much nicer this way.

Would you vote for an atheist?

“…If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be an atheist, would you vote for that person?”

53% of the voters polled said no. Fifty-three percent. That, my friends, is a majority. The only majority, in fact, who answered they would not vote for a candidate based on one particular trait. Even homosexuals are more likely (they, in fact, have a majority in their favor) to be elected president than an atheist.

That’s not a knock on gays. Fortunately, America is quickly becoming less and less homophobic. Unfortunately, it is clear that America is by and large still very much an “atheophobic” nation.

Frankly, every single one of the poll results disgusts me. Comparatively, since atheists “scored” so much lower than everybody else, and overall because the keywords should be “generally well-qualified,” and not whatever other aspect was brought into the picture. If a presidential candidate is “generally well-qualified,” then that’s just fine with me.

Now to be fair, if I had to choose between two generally well-qualified candidates – one who was atheist and the other who was religious – I would almost definitely vote for the atheist, since I know he (or she, since I’m not part of that 11% who wouldn’t vote for a woman) wouldn’t have any religious motivation for creating or supporting policies or laws; thus keeping church and state separate, as they should be.

Back to the poll, though. The obvious question here should be why? Why would 53% of American voters not want a generally well-qualified president, who also happens to be an atheist?

I would wager a guess that the answer has to do with morals. The religious are a-scared that if you don’t believe in a god – any god – then you are an immoral heathen who runs about raping virgins and murdering infants. And on that point, I can agree that I would not want a president who is known for raping virgins and murdering infants. Fortunately, the religious who feel that way are just being ignorant and silly.

Atheism, religion, and morality are a topic for another day, though.

What does it take to blame religion? (via Why Evolution Is True)

Jerry Coyne, author of the book Why Evolution is True, is compiling a list of atrocities which, were it not for religion, would never have occurred. Here are just a few items from his list. What do you think?

via Why Evolution Is True