Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why Am I an Atheist?

            Because I don’t believe in gods.

            Well, that was a quick and easy post. See you next time!

            Huh? Oh, you were hoping for something a little more in-depth? Alright, I suppose I can get a little deeper into it if you really want me to. But glib as it may sound, that first response really is kind of the crux of the matter.

            So let me explain a little more about my religious background. I was raised in a military, Southern Baptist family. As an army brat, I moved every couple years (more or less) throughout my childhood, but one thing fairly constant is that at pretty much every station we attended church regularly. Early on, I would attend Sunday school or do children’s choir (though I’m a terrible singer) while my parents were at the grownup service, but as I got older I’d spend more and more time in the regular service. Sunday school was pleasant enough, since it was mostly like light schoolwork (which I was good at), listening to and reading fantasy stories (always been a sci fi and fantasy fan), and singing songs (I may not have been a good singer, but I love music). Though I hated getting dragged out of bed on Sunday mornings. Regular services were some of the most tedious hours of my later childhood, and I remember feeling vaguely uncomfortable with how much my mind would wander since there was supposed to be this God guy that could read my thoughts.

            I’d go through phases where I would kneel by my bed and say prayers before going to sleep. Around the age of thirteen, I walked down the aisle at the call to service, and was subsequently baptized. The pastor’s wife at that church was my piano teacher.

            But the thing is… I never really believed it.

            There was no big deconversion moment, because I never really had a belief to deconvert from. There was no traumatic experience with the church – the worst they ever inflicted on me was some mind-numbing tedium for an hour out of my week, and most of the people I met were plenty nice enough. There was no traumatic life event that made me angry with God – the biggest upset of my young life was the death of my maternal grandmother when I was twelve, and even that happened while we were stationed in Germany so I was kind of shielded from the immediacy of that grief.

            I just… didn’t believe in it. I prayed, but I never felt like anyone listened or answered. I went to church, but I never felt anything like what people describe as the “presence of God.” I’ve never had any kind of miraculous experience, or witnessed anything seemingly supernatural. All of that stuff was just ritual, stuff I did because it pleased my parents (I was also a little goody-two-shoes, and pleasing my parents was kind of a big deal to me), and it pleased the nice people they took me to spend time with.

            But over time, since I didn’t have any belief in what the rituals were supposed to connect to, the rituals themselves started to seem kind of silly. It was just playing pretend, and I got tired of that sort of pretending.

            By the time I was sixteen, I really didn’t care anymore. I went to church when my parents made me, I spoke respectfully because that’s just the way I am, but it was just an inconvenience. I didn’t pray anymore, or even bother pretending that I did. I didn’t think of religion in terms of being atheist or not – most of the time I didn’t think about it at all.

            Then I got to college. I moved out of my parents’ house, and my time was mine to do with as I pleased. And since then, other than the occasional holiday service when I visit my parents, wedding attendance, or meeting hall rental, I haven’t been back to any church. My Freshman year was the first time I met anyone who openly professed to being an atheist. And from the first exposure to the term, my reaction was “Oh, yeah, that’s what I am too.” But by then, it wasn’t even much of a revelation. I hadn’t believed before, and now I just had a word to call myself.

            I’m thirty-nine now. I’ve been married for sixteen years, and I’m the father of three beautiful children whom I love so much it almost hurts at times. I’m not rich, but I’m not poor. I’ve lost some friends, lost some family, and gained some new of both. There is plenty in my life to be grateful for, but no sense that there’s an invisible all-powerful being to be grateful to. In all this time, I’ve been exposed to many arguments for the existence of many different gods, and found none of them convincing. Most aren’t even very interesting.

            It’s been twenty-one years since I started calling myself an atheist. But in a sense, I’ve always been one.

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