This is my first blog entry here on AN. I figured the subject of how I came to be an atheist would be an appropriate topic. I'm always curious to know how others arrived at their beliefs--or lack thereof, in the case of those on this site.
I have never experienced religious indoctrination. It seems that this is quite rare. Most of the other atheists I've spoken with have previously been religious at some point in their lives. I have never been forced to go to church. I have never prayed. I have never experienced the guilt that seems to be associated with religion. I have never had a personal relationship with any deity. I'm a life-long skeptic. Even as a child, I knew when I was being lied to. I had determined that there was no such thing as the tooth fairy long before I had even lost my first tooth.
I have my irreligious hippie parents to thank for this precious gift--the freedom of thought.
It drove my crazy when I'd ask my parents a question because I was inevitably answered with a question. Their answer to almost any philosophical query was, "Well, what do you think?" I was forced to think for myself, to arrive at my own conclusions, and to often end up with even more questions than I had to begin with. At best, I was given books and told to figure things out for myself.
My parents are NOT atheists, I should mention. My dad is more tolerant of religious folks than my mother. Neither of my parents were ever particularly religious. I'd guess that my dad would identify as an agnostic and my mom would consider herself an animist or pagan (she's into new-age stuff). She didn't discuss her beliefs with me when I was a child for fear it would interfere with my own "path" and the "purity" of my thought process. My mother might be insane, but I think she did me a favor (at least in regard to religion and forcing me to think for myself).
Well, perhaps this counts as indoctrination--it's a funny little story if nothing else:
The closest I came to indoctrination was at preschool. The subject of where I would attend preschool became a heated debate between my parents. There was a Lutheran preschool two blocks from the house. My dad thought it would be fine if I went there. He figured it was close to home and that I was too young to understand religion anyway. My mother, however, was convinced that the religious undertones would "pollute" me somehow. I ended up going to the Lutheran preschool anyway. I must add that I remember being very very young, although I haven't the slightest idea why this is.
I vividly recall learning about Jesus in preschool. I was three. In my little world, Jesus was just another adult. I assumed my parents probably knew him. Jesus seemed like a nice guy--and with that beard and long hair, he looked like my dad and uncles (many of whom are Hell's Angels and hippies).
I also remember learning about god. The only time I had ever heard the word "god" before was in reference to my godfather, a bartender who looked like Burt Reynolds. When god was talked about at school, I imagined this dude with an epic mustache and '70s hair who lived in the clouds with his kid, Jesus. I don't think this tiny bit of religious exposure had any negative effects on me, as far as I can tell. The memories of what went on in my childish mind are admittedly amusing. Hell, it was only for two years.
I was ten the next time I encountered religion. My friend Jessica went to church with her family twice a week and I had been invited to join them. I wanted to go, but my mother wouldn't let me. She wanted me to understand what they believed before I attended their church.
I came home from school one day to find a heap of books on my bed. Among them: the bible, the Bhagavhad Gita, the Tao Te Ching, a huge book entitled "The Religions of Man", as well as a handful of others. My mother told me that I had to read all of them before I could go into any church.
I whined and refused. I asked why. My mother explained that it is very important to understand what other people believe. She told me that I was old enough to learn about religions and decide for myself --if any of it made sense to me. She was careful to point out that I didn't have to believe any of it. Just because other people believe something didn't mean I had to, she stated in a very serious tone.
I thought it was lame, but I did as I was told. I read every damn book. I thought the bible was incredibly boring, nonsensical, and stupid (hey, I was ten). I liked the Bhagavhad the best because it had beautiful, colorful illustrations of blue-skinned people being kind to cows. After reading all of the books, one thing was clear: a lot of people believe some really crazy-ass, far-fetched, confusing shit. No one seemed to have all the answers. None of it made any sense. None of it seemed plausible in the least bit.
And so began a lifetime of skepticism.
I took every class I could in college that dealt with religiosity and/or superstition in an attempt to understand the minds of those that truly believed in something. I read the bible again in addition to numerous other religious texts. I especially liked the Mitzvahs. I attended compulsory religious ceremonies. The more I learned, the more I realized that we humans are but fearful little primates that would rather tell themselves fanciful lies than face the possibility--the reality--that there is no all-knowing, loving god that will scoop us up when our bodies die.
Throughout time, religion has been nothing more than a tool to control society. Taking history courses alongside theology courses made me realize something that is so utterly obvious, yet rarely acknowledged: Theology is ultimately political.
I think that if most people were really honest with themselves, if people truly examined what it is that they actually believed wholeheartedly, if they bothered to immerse themselves in a decent education...more people would turn away from organized religion. I think many people are religious simply because they were brought up that way and have never bothered to ask themselves serious questions or examine their own belief systems. I think of belief in a god much the same way that people think of fairies: it would be wonderful and awesome if fairies existed. Isn't that a lovely thought? Little fairies buzzing about, sprinkling sparkly goodness all around. Yes, I think it would be pretty kick-ass if fairies existed. But they don't. Neither do any gods. Welcome to reality.
Having never been religious, I feel that I lack the vehemence that former theists who have become atheist sometimes have. I have no axe to grind. I've never been lied to in the same way that they have. I can understand the anger--but it's simply not there for me. I have nothing against religious people. I can get along with anyone. I tend to love damn near everyone I meet. This includes religious folks. I find them fascinating.
I just wish they'd keep it to themselves or at least keep it in the realm of the private sector, as surely it has no place in the public--certainly not in our government, not in our laws, and not in our schools. If people want to practice their quaint, antiquated collection of rituals and superstition, that's all fine and good. I'm happy that religion makes people feel happy, comforted, or whatever--good for them.
I only take issue when it's being forced on everyone else or when we're being needlessly exposed to it at times when it is inappropriate. Unfortunately, I find myself being proselytized at more and more. I have no patience for this whatsoever. I will sometimes engage in conversation with these evangelical sorts--politely--mostly so that I may better understand why they feel the need to behave so obnoxiously, so offensively, and so insanely. I figure belief must be very powerful if it can inspire an otherwise rational person to behave like an condescending, egotistical, illogical ass-hat.
I take great comfort in the knowledge that I can be free from evangelism on this site. If only real life were that way.
I sometimes wonder why it is that religious people have no sense of shame in believing so adamantly in the non-existent being of their choosing. I think that if I were religious, I would want to conceal that fact for fear that I would be perceived as insane or delusional. Claiming to have a relationship with a being that simply isn't there seems to be a sign of a psychiatric disorder, does it not? Yet religious folks are inexplicably proud of their love of whatever invisible being and their adherence to archaic belief systems. It all seems so superstitious, even schizophrenic. I see it as being no less strange than the concept of invisible friends: it's cute when little kids have them, but downright alarming when adults do.
Ahhh. That was cathartic. I so rarely get to express my true feelings on the subject of religion for fear that I may offend someone. Damn, it's good to be myself here.