Several people suggested that my experience with religion may have moved me to embrace atheism. I don’t deny the experience. But, religion was not responsible for my conclusion that no gods exist.
I was born not knowing. Somebody told me there was a god and I trusted they knew what they were talking about. As a child, I ‘believed’ in god because I believed who told me. For shorter periods of time I also believed in Santa Clause and the tooth fairy. I was also convinced monsters existed even though no one told me they did. I never saw a god, Santa, or the tooth fairy. I was sure I saw the monsters, and some lived under my bed.
I was initially told that all these entities existed except for the monsters, but they were the only ones I reacted to and lost sleep over.
I was emphatically told by my parents that there were no monsters and no ghosts. I was agnostic about the ghosts, having seen Casper cartoons. But no monsters? Bull shit! I knew what I saw was real! I began to have doubts about parental honesty.
Eventually, I unwillingly figured out the deal with Santa and the tooth fairy. I also gave up on the monsters, or perhaps they tired of me. Maybe the tooth fairy turned them into dust bunnies.
I figured out the god thingy last, around age fourteen. I was never dumb enough to tell anyone, even friends, that I no longer was buying the eternal life package. My father was the type of Irish-Catholic coal miner who would have attempted to pound belief into me. Besides, the religion thing worked to my social advantage. I often wonder how many of us practice religion for some social advantage or for financial gain, but don’t buy it either.
When my Catholic parish learned that I was an active participant in the protestant Episcopal church down the street, it pissed them off. That pleased me. If I could in some way return the ‘love,’ my parish seemed to have toward me, I was all for that.
Not so much with my parents, who were more upset. Those poor folks had a real shit-head difficult lad to raise, so church was the least of their concerns. Yet, I heard my mother say, “It may not be Catholic, but at least he has a religion.” I did not. But, if she was accepting, I wasn’t going to change it.
The church down the street was a playground of youthful debauchery. I was one of several Catholic teens (boys and girls) who participated in their youth group. My motivation for participation was likely untoward and had nothing to do with religion or god. That was then.
Now, my overall philosophy is a moving target that even I find difficult to corral and define. So, I stole this idea of a three-legged stool from somewhere. One of the legs of the stool is god, which is why the damn thing keeps falling over. Any god or gods get to share one leg and no more. The leg is there, but it’s symbolic. You could call it atheism, but not exactly.
Religion, which I define as the rules regarding humans dealing with gods, is the second leg of the stool. Religion and god relate but are not the same. The religion leg casts an unfavorable shadow upon the god leg. As splintered and twisted as it is, religion exists.
While the non-existence of god is almost a neutral, unemotional, changeable conclusion that came to me from thoughts; my vehement enmity toward all religion, especially the known ‘organized’ faiths, is unwavering and continues to grow as I age and reflect upon what I see and know. If god were to appear before me right now and provide enough proof to roll any skeptic, I would morph to belief in a New York minute, but I would continue to detest religion.
This is where my atheism gets confused with my religious experience. My bitter feelings about religion stem from experience and knowledge. While I am accepting of religious folks and I extend kindness to most believers (and they to me), what they believe I tolerate but don’t respect.
Religious mumbo-jumbo has nothing to do with whether any gods exist. Yet, I remain open to the tiniest of possibilities that something may change my mind. However, throughout history, nothing has ever happened to any human that would convince me otherwise.
What most people seem to believe about god and how to relate or interact with that god is manmade. However, religion has a lot to do with how people act toward each other. Call it morality. Theoretically, that should be good. Historically and practically, it has been otherwise.
The third leg is my spiritual philosophy, which is influenced by the other two legs (no-gods exist, and bad religion). The three legs support the seat, which is my overall philosophy (of life, my world view, reason for…whatever). The analogy isn’t perfect but it works for now.
In a debate Rev Al Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens once struggled to find disagreement because Sharpton kept trying to debate the existence of god (which he admitted he couldn’t prove) while Hitch pointed to problems with scripture, evil, and religion (Hitch admitted he couldn’t prove the non-existence of god). Two separate topics that influence the third philosophical leg of my metaphorical stool.
Atheism is not a religion, a belief system, a philosophy, or anything other than an acceptance of one’s opinion that god might not exist, or probably doesn’t. Atheists have divergent views as do most human groups. Some atheists are nihilist. Most are not. A few atheists go to church. Most do not. Some atheists make room for unscientific things in their opinions and how they live. Others claim that such opinions are not those of true atheists.
It can be confusing. But can’t the same be said of believers? Since I was a child, I was told that TV preachers were nonsense. I still think so. Many believers agree with me. Many believers reject the idea of a virgin birth, others call that heresy. I could go on about divergent religious beliefs, even within a specific religion such as Roman Catholic, Shiite Muslim, or Mahayana Buddhist. Dare I add Southern Baptist or Mormon? But that’s not my point.
While many atheists say that reading scripture will lead to disbelief, I contend that not believing in god is a rational decision not based on religion, dogma, or scripture, even though any of that will support atheism once the no-gods conclusion is reached.
While I claim to be rationally atheist for logical reasons, I think I’m also intrinsically incapable of believing in god without very concrete proof. No religion or religious person; priest, pedophile, or persecutor drove me away from believing in god. I tried to believe. I just couldn’t. Now, I openly don’t. I’m as pleased with that as believers are who foresee their blissful eternity simply because they believe and nothing more. I’m okay with that.
Look both ways in life. Learn from the past. Plan for the future.
Mind the gaps for denial and confusion.