One Man’s Road to Atheism

To my regular readers, some of the following will be familiar. Most will not.

I grew-up in an ultra-fundamentalist denomination named the Churches of Christ (people shorten it to Church of Christ). The women in my congregation weren’t allowed to teach Sunday school, and the men didnt want to, so the preacher, Brother Miller, held a Saturday morning Bible study. That was where I first questioned God’s compassion and integrity at age eleven after learning that he had ordered the Israeli army to repeatedly commit rape, genocide, and the senseless slaughter of pets and livestock (in Numbers 31:17-18, for example). 

I afterwards spent years praying for guidance so that I might reconcile Biblical passages in which God is described as petty, jealous, violent, and vengeful, with passages in which he is portrayed as loving, generous, peaceful, and forgiving. I mostly did this by praying for guidance and then pointing to a Bible verse at random hoping for a message. When my finger consistently landed upon unhelpful verses, I concluded that God was mocking me, and I lost all trust in him, although I lived in such fear of hell that I did my best to deny it.

When I was twelve, I was running my paper route when I told God that I shouldn’t have been surprised that he abandoned me given that he had abandoned his own son (Matthew 27:46). Within moments, I concluded that I might have committed the unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:31-32). Years passed during which I was desperate for reassurance but too ashamed to tell anyone what I had done.

My fear of hell only abated in my twenties when I concluded that God didn’t exist. Unfortunately, my emotional need to believe in him continued because I had been told since infancy that a life without God is meaningless. While I found it easy to jettison the Church of Christ’s other beliefs, this one stayed with me. But I’m going to go back a bit...

When the events of which I am about to speak occurred, I was a rural Mississippi teenager who, through no choice of my own, was becoming the sole liberal in an area network of Churches of Christ. I initially kept my liberalism to myself as I preached short sermons, led prayers, presided over the weekly communion table, traveled with preachers to out of state revivals, and otherwise presented myself as a minister-to-be. Unknown to others, I was also struggling to believe that God existed and that he was good. 

I couldnt tell anyone about my doubts because the Church of Christ maintains that non-belief is a very serious sin (if not the unpardonable sin). If I had confessed to it, I would have been expected to move beyond it quickly, yet I had already failed in that. This meant that I would lose lifelong friends and be shut-out of an institution that was  central to my existence. Along with the problems already mentioned, my faith in God also suffered for other reasons. 

For instance, year after year and in sermon after sermon, I heard preachers tell of “countless Christian boys” who became drunkards or suicides after attending liberal Northern universities where their faith was destroyed by atheists, liberals, Communists, secular humanists, and Godless professors. When it came to condemning the sinners in their own congregations, preachers were reticent. Indeed, they often praised them for being the kind of people God prefers in that their relative poverty and ignorance supposedly makes them aware of their need for him, unlike the educated fools of Northern universities who are puffed-up with conceit and trust in their own understanding rather than in God. (Matthew 11:25; I Corinthians 1:27).  

The more I heard faraway secularists criticized, the more my interest in them grew because I was desperate to talk to someone who could understand the reasons for my doubts. Unfortunately, I didn’t know a single nonbeliever, so when I finally did choose a confidant, that person was a young Church of Christ preacher from another part of the state. As it turned-out, listening to sincere doubts was not his forte, so he quickly interrupted: Im not going to sit here and listen to you blaspheme my Jesus, and if you keep doing it, Ill have to ask you to leave.” My fear of such a scenario was what had kept me silent for years, so I knew that if I ever confided in anyone else, that person would be a nonbeliever. I had no idea what he or she might say, but at least it wouldn’t be the dismissive bromide that ministerial students were fond of repeating to people who interpreted a Bible verse differently than they did: God said it; I believe it; that settles it.

Because I so longed to meet a Northern infidel, I got to wondering if it would be possible to recognize one on sight. I finally settled upon the image of a white male who was blunt, balding, intellectually intense, worked in a suit, spoke with an upper Midwestern accent, and had no patience with sloppy reasoning (when The Fugitive TV show aired in the mid-sixties, I found my man in Lt. Gerard—see photo). However, I was much more interested in liberalizing the Church of Christ than in abandoning it, and was naive enough to imagine that I could. In fact, the truth seemed so obvious to me that I was certain that it would be obvious to anyone once I pointed it out.

So it was that during my last year of high school (1966-67), I wrote liberalizing articles for my congregational newsletter in order to convince its readers to adopt a kindlier version of God. What follows is an encapsulation of those articles, none of which were published.

I told my “brothers and sisters” that a loving deity would find it impossible to condemn people to eternal hell simply because they didn’t belong to a particular church. This statement wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in many denominations, but the Church of Christ doesn’t regard itself as a denomination but as, “…the one true church to which God will send anyone who sincerely seeks him, even if that person is blind, illiterate, impoverished, never heard of Jesus Christ, and lives in Communist Siberia.”

“If it is true that God sends all sincere seekers to us,” I continued, “why is it that everyone in our congregation was either born into the Church of Christ or married into it? What could be more obvious than the fallacy of this teaching unless it’s the fallacy of teaching that the Church of Christ has existed continuously for 2,000 years with its doctrines intact when the truth of the matter is that our doctrines aren’t even intact today. For example, our congregation uses lots of tiny glasses for communion while a nearby congregation uses a single large glass (I Corinthians 11:25), and they say we’re going to hell because we deny the obvious truth of God’s way. 

“There’s the question of whether women should be allowed to speak in church, even to make announcements or lead Sunday school classes. Our congregation allows neither, and we say that those who do are going to hell (I Corinthians 14:34). Then there’s our prohibition of instrumental music simply because it’s not mentioned in the New Testament. Again, we claim that every every person over the age of accountability (around age 12) who attends a church that has a piano is going to hell.”


When my submissions were ignored, I concluded that my presence was no longer wanted, so I started attending a nearby Episcopal Church where the people were as appalled as I by Church of Christ doctrine. Right up until my articles were ignored, I had loved my church, and I had believed its people loved me. I had even tried to believe that God loved me, but that had proven increasingly difficult given my growing doubts and my early memories of hiding under the bed to escape God’s wrath. I could see myself in the Old Testament story of a man whom God had killed for making a single mistake despite that man’s sincerity in serving God (II Samuel 6:6-7). I concluded that such a God is worse than Satan because at least Satan doesn’t falsely claim to love anyone. 

Then there was the question of why Christ acts like an insane boyfriend who says he will kill us if we don’t love him, but, unlike an insane boyfriend, will know if we pretend. The angels supposedly love him, so how is it, then, that one-third of them followed Lucifer into rebellion? Given that God needs our love, shouldn’t he at least make it easier to give? Christ complained of the Pharisees: “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden,” (Matthew 23:4), yet God had treated me similarly.

I was attracted to my local Episcopal Church for its beautiful sanctuary, its lovely rituals, its kindly deity, and its priest who I adored, yet by the time I joined, I had come so far down the road to non-belief that when Father Hale left and I distrusted his replacement, my doubts came roaring back. For example, why, if God is so good, is life so hard? Why would a perfect God author a book filled with inaccuracies, contradictions, and absurdities? And how can anyone seriously examine the basis for his or her beliefs yet remain a believer?

I could go on writing, but after many weeks and dozens of hours spent regurgitating painful memories, I am ready to be done now. This has been a hard post to write, and I don’t even know why I wrote it.


Anonymous said...

I'm pleased you did write it. It gives people like myself with no understanding of a religious upbringing some idea of what an extreme religious upbringing is like and the forces at work.

Elephant's Child said...

A long journey and a hard journey for you. My path was much simpler. My mother told me that a life without religion was meaningless, but didn't attend any church. Attending religious classes at school was compulsory for a while, but it never seemed believable to me. When I was given the choice of opting out of those classes I did, and have never looked back.

Tom said...

I'd guess you wrote it as a form of therapy ... because writing is such good therapy! As for me, I'm agnostic because while I don't believe in the Christian god or the Muslim god or any other particular god, who am I to say there is no god at all?

Snowbrush said...

"I'm pleased you did write it. It gives people like myself with no understanding of a religious upbringing some idea of what an extreme religious upbringing is like and the forces at work."

Thank you. The irony for me is that the people I grew up with accepted church doctrines that portrayed God as cruel and asinine, yet many of the same people were themselves well-meaning and loving.

"Attending religious classes at school was compulsory for a while, but it never seemed believable to me."

Peggy also grew-up a fundamentalist (her family attended the Southern Baptist Church which is America's largest Protestant denomination), but while she enjoyed the social aspects, the religious teachings never took with her, so the day she walked out of her parents' house was the day she walked away from religion. Although they sent her to a church college that required chapel attendance, she actually flunked chapel for non-attendance (the school allowed her to retake it, so that the F wouldn't drag down her high grade point average). Peggy didn't declare herself an atheist years until a two or three decades after I did simply because she was too bored by religion to think about what she was.

"As for me, I'm agnostic because...who am I to say there is no god at all?"

If you mean to imply that atheism is an arrogant position, you're misinformed because, like you, very few atheists claim to have proof that "there is no god at all," the reason being that the burden of proving God's existence logically rests upon those who affirm it. By way of analogy, if I tell you that there's a Martian living in my garage, it would be impossible for you to prove me wrong. You could say that you don't see him, but I could reply, "He only shows himself to those who believe he's real," or, "He only comes out when I'm alone," or even, "He only appears to 73 year old men who eat habanero peppers." You might think poorly of such claims, but you could no more disprove them than you could disprove the many appearances of the Virgin Mary to schoolgirls.

As for your implication that agnosticism is a more humble approach, that's hardly the case with authoritarian agnostics who claim to know that it's impossible to determine whether God exists. Of course, you might be the kind of agnostic who simply takes the position that you, personally, have not gathered enough evidence to make up your own mind.

By the way, how much on the fence regarding God's existence/non-existence do you think a person needs to be to qualify as an agnostic? Would you set the belief/non-belief ratio at 50/50, or would 40/60--or even 22/75-- qualify? Are you aware that few theists and atheists express 100% certainty that they are right? In my case, I no more believe in the deity of my childhood than I believe that there's a monster in my closet, but when it comes to the god of deism, there are no internal absurdities that would enable me to express the same level of certainty. Then there's pantheism, which simply involves applying the word God to the universe. I don't know why some people find that satisfying, but if the universe is defined as God, and I believe in the universe, then, by their definition, I believe in God.

mimmylynn said...

To believe or not to believe? I Always wanted to know how a loving Father could send his child to Hell and eternal damnation. I suppose that is why I don't believe.

Strayer said...

I was raised in religion too, Snow, so some of your experiences sound like my own. Like even after realizing there is no god at all and that bible is a book of contradictions, biolence, revenge, hate and ridiculousness--I had great guilt and fear in leaving my religion of origin. I'm glad you wrote again about your beginnings. I didn't know you tried to reason with your own church when so young and change them. That is precious.

Snowbrush said...

"I Always wanted to know how a loving Father could send his child to Hell and eternal damnation."
This brings to mind a memory. The Church of Christ taught that once a person reaches "the age of accountability," s/he needed to be baptized in order to be saved. When I was twelve, my best friend, Grady, and I went forward to be baptized at a country church revival. We had to be driven seven miles into town for this because the church at which the revival was being held didn't have a baptistry (Church of Christ baptism is by full immersion, so it wouldn't do to simply pour some water over our heads). On the drive into town, the two preachers in the car discussed whether my friend and I would go to hell if we were killed in a car wreck on the way (the Church of Christ envisions hell as a lake of fire in which one feels the pain of being burned to death but isn't consumed) . They both leaned toward the view that since God had made baptism necessary for salvation, he would be violating his own rules if he let us into heaven without being baptized.

"I was raised in religion too, Snow...."

Yes, I know, but I'm wracking my brain trying to remember which church you grew up in--the Mennonite, I think. I'm always interested in people's religious backgrounds and in what the various churches believe. Before settling on the Episcopal Church, I visited over 50 denominations, having to drive the sixty miles into Jackson for some of them. I would read up on them before I went, and I usually enjoyed myself thoroughly, but nowhere was I more warmly welcomed than by all black congregations and by the people at Jackson's Beth Israel Synagogue--which had been twice firebombed by the Klan no more than five years earlier. An interest in such things is still with me.

"I didn't know you tried to reason with your own church when so young and change them. That is precious."

Yes, what I did was precious in that it came from childlike innocence and was based upon trust and optimism, however misplaced.

"I had great guilt and fear in leaving my religion of origin."

I'm sorry your church mistreated you--organizations of all kinds tend toward cruelty. I recall that you've written about your former church, and that the betrayal you suffered was worst than my own. By the time I left, I had no doubt but what most of the beliefs that were peculiar to the Church of Christ were wrong, so I didn't feel fear for giving them up, but I did feel betrayed and abandoned by the church, having gone from being informally prepared for the ministry to being informally shunned. I have an older half-brother who grew up in East Texas and who was formally kicked out of his Church of Christ for playing a clarinet in a nightclub. I later wondered if I would have been less hurt had I been treated as he was because when people I had known for many years simply stopped talking to me, I felt as if they didn't even consider me worth the bother of being disfellowshipped, and also that they didn't love me enough to attempt to show the error of my ways in order to save me from eternal hell. It very much hurt to exchange the belief that church was a place where I was safe and loved for the knowledge that I was neither once I could no longer tow the party line. Think about how much worse things for each of us might have been. After all, we could have grown-up Amish.

PhilipH said...

I guess most kids of the 20th century had religious teaching thrust upon them. Children learn by hearing the words of their elders, especially teachers at school and Sunday school. My parents did not say anything to me about God or religion; it was never mentioned as far as I can remember. But schools were very insistent that religious teaching was imperative and Sunday schools were there so that parents could get rid of the kids on their day of rest from work.

When I left school at age 14 I simply had to concentrate on earning a living and 'growing up' under my own steam. THAT'S WHEN YOU REALLY START TO LEARN AND USE YOUR HEAD AND LOGIC.

And that's how I rapidly decided that ALL religious teaching, preaching and literature is pure fantasy. It is essential, I think, for many people to believe in the existence of God, for their own peace of mind or various other reasons. So be it. If it comforts them I'm happy for them.

But not for me, nor for millions of others, including schoolkids nowadays, as religious teaching in society has dwindled so much, thank God...

Snowbrush said...

But schools were very insistent that religious teaching was imperative..."

In my public high school, a kid would read a prayer over the loudspeaker each morning, but religion was not a constant. Now that America's Supreme Court has ruled that to deny religious people pretty much anything they want is to violate their Constitutional rights, I expect that to change.
"It is essential, I think, for many people to believe in the existence of God, for their own peace of mind or various other reasons. So be it. If it comforts them I'm happy for them."

In this country, the dominant face of religion has become increasingly loud, violent, dishonest, callous, and mad for power. It is religion that is behind abortion bans; religion that defies vaccine mandates; religion that oppresses LGBT people; religion that supports gun ownership; religion that bans books; religion that pushes to have "Creation Science" taught in schools; religion that opposes the mitigation of global warming; and religion that worshipped at the foot of a large cross at the attempted insurrection on January 6, 2021. Trumpians use religion as a pretext for violence and tyranny. One who ran for the governorship of Georgia rode about the state in a large campaign bus that read, "God, Guns, and Trump," and I saw a man in a supermarket last week with a large tattoo on his arm on which an assault rifle was used as the horizontal bar of a Christian cross. In the main, America's Christians are fascists who despise everything that people like you and I hold dear and who would silence us if they could. The days of  live-and-let live are over in America.

"But not for me, nor for millions of others, including schoolkids nowadays, as religious teaching in society has dwindled so much, thank God..."

Ironically, Americans as a whole have become dramatically less religious over the last few decades, and the rate at which they are abandoning religion is increasing rapidly. Philip, it's important to understand that much of what is happening in America of late does not reflect the values of most Americans, but rather the political power that was amassed by the religious right under Trump. For example, 71% of Americans want strong gun control laws, and 61% support the right to an abortion. Unfortunately, the nine people on the Supreme Court recently declared abortion rights "un-Constitutional," and ruled that a person doesn't need a permit to carry a gun in public. These nine justices are appointed for life, are accountable to no one, and are able to consider whatever cases they wish. In regard to their religious affiliation, all are religious with two being Protestant, and the other six being conservative Catholic, and one being a conservative Catholic who attends an Anglican church. One of the Catholics is now pushing his fellow justices to abolish the right of Americans to birth control and gay marriage. Under such people, there is no bottom to how low America might go in abolishing the rights of anyone who isn't a religious conservative.

kylie said...

It sounds like a case of the blind leading (antagonising, alienating, judging) the blind.
It's interesting that there were people who were loving and kind. They went to the same church and had the same teaching.

mimmylynn said...

I neglected to mention that I was baptized in The Church of Christ also. Until baptism we were on 'the Baby Roll'. That way we would not be denied entrance to Heaven if we died.

Snowbrush said...

"It sounds like a case of the blind leading (antagonising, alienating, judging) the blind."

That's what necessarily happens when a group concludes that they have a corner on the truth and that God loves them better than he loves everyone else.

"It's interesting that there were people who were loving and kind. They went to the same church and had the same teaching."

If a person really and truly believes that who God is and what God wants is unjust and cruel by human standards, it would take more courage than most of us have to tell God that he's an asshole, yet that's what I couldn't help but conclude about him based upon his treatment of his creation. So, Kylie, although I grew-up in the Church of Christ, I can't say that I really understand the thinking of the adults in the group because I rejected their beliefs by my upper teens. However, when I look at churches in general, I see a parallel between them and members of the Church of Christ, because it seems to me that people in all churches are superior to their deity. You and I do evil at times, and we fail to do good at other times because we are fallible creatures, but God not only fails to do good, he CREATES EVIL (“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil...” Isaiah 45:7), yet God has no excuse, and God offers no apology. How is it that an eternal being who created trillions of galaxies, a being who claims to be everything that is good, can stand passively aside while animals are abused, children raped, and billions of creatures of all species dieth miserably from war, disease, or malnutrition. Moreover, how is it that you consider him worthy of worship?

Your Salvation Army at least makes a serious effort to at least mitigate suffering, yet it also believes in a final judgment, in everlasting punishment, and that a deity with unlimited power is unable to forgive anyone for anything, no matter how minor, until such time as an innocent being is brutally murdered. Despite your limited means and abilities, you attempt to love without passing judgment; you attempt to help others while believing that God wants them to be helped; and you do your best to believe that God is your partner in helping others. You and my cat-rescuer friend, Strayer, are among the finest people I've ever known. Because of you, I take heart when I might otherwise become discouraged. Yet, all of the good that all of the world's finest people combined can do is but a drop of water in the ocean compared to that which cries out to be done. As I write, the pope is on an apology tour in Canada where his priests and nuns have long history of raping, torturing, neglecting, and going out of their way to degrade and humiliate indigenous children, yet it seems to me that the responsibility is ultimately rests upon God, yet I don't hear God apologizing. Truthfully, the highest honor I can offer God is to not believe that he exists.

As for how the good people I grew up among could believe in a God who was petty and vicious, I think the deity of the Bible repeatedly portrays himself in such ways. However, I also think it true that, although those people from my childhood were good at heart, they were basically shallow, and that they were practiced in avoiding tough questions. Indeed, when asked a challenging question, they quoted verses that make helplessly throwing up their hands seem like a virtue. Isaiah 55:8-9, for example: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.... As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." I could follow their example because I believed without apology that if God wanted me to say about myself, "I am an unclean thing, and all my righteousness is like a filthy rag," (paraphrase of Isaiah 64:6) then it was reasonable for me to expect him to show himself better than I.

More later...

Snowbrush said...

"I neglected to mention that I was baptized in The Church of Christ also. Until baptism we were on 'the Baby Roll'. That way we would not be denied entrance to Heaven if we died."

I would love to hear anything you wish to share about your experiences. If you would like to talk about them but don't want to do it on my blog, write a blog response that contains your email address only, and I won't allow it to appear in the comment column. I've never heard of "the baby roll," but then the Church of Christ is congregationally-ruled, so "the baby roll" might have been used informally in some places without being known in others. The funny thing about the "age of accountability" is that I never heard it defined, but once you hit it, boom, you're going to hell if you die before being baptized (if the reaching the "age of accountability" occurs gradually, I don't know what sentence God might impose on someone who had only achieved 5% accountability). I also don't know how many other churches believe that one is saved by a combination of faith and works--which was the Catholic belief that Luther rebelled against most strongly--but the Church of Christ certainly did, the result being that it bore a strong resemblance to Jesus arch enemy, the Pharisees.

Snowbrush said...

To my lovely neighborhood of readers: After months of planning to do so, I finally put my new cat-related blog online.

How do we know said...

I am so glad that you did decide to write this. It is good to read. Where I come from, it is very different. We all have our religions, and we go on believing what we want to believe, no one really cares. We don't care what the other person's religion is, and they don't care what ours is. If you ignore India in recent years, as a country, we were perfectly ok with the idea that Parsis would not allow us into fire temples and Muslims would not allow us into mosques (except as tourists) and in a Buddhist monastry, we would have to sit quietly at prayer time. In a Sikh temple, everyone was welcome and we really did not care what your individual religion was, so long as you did not break any of the norms inside the temple. Same thing for a Hindu temple. We went to a church routinely but not at the time of Mass. I was educated in Parsi High School, a Hindu school, and then a Catholic college. So. I grew up reciting my own prayers and the Hindu prayers and Our Father in Heaven. That religion should lead one human being to hate another is quite an alien concept in India even today. most of us don't get it. We believe that prayer is a deeply personal activity, and who you pray to is none of my business. It is not a social activity. In my Sikh family, I could choose to follow a Hindu deity (which is something my aunt did) and that would be fine. In our house now, we follow two religions. Your post made me realise how HUGE a privilege this is, and we should not have taken it for granted. Yes, the right to pray includes the right to not pray. The right to believe whoever you want to believe in includes the right to believe in nothing. The reason I am making this long comment is to share that it is OK to feel like you do not share the belief system you were raised in any more. And it is OK to not believe in anything, to let faith find you - or not. A relationship with God, or absence thereof, is a deeply personal, 1:1 relationship. It is not a social or economic relationship. So, you are not wrong for feeling this way at all.

Joe Todd said...

Great post as always. Ba news I have Esophageal cancer being treated with radiation and chemo. Kinda puts a damper on things. Ill try nd do some more posta as I can. Keep up the good work.

Darla M Sands said...

Finding what you commented on Strayer's blog, I want to share some tips for difficulty reading text online. I hope this doesn't seem condescending. Anyway...

To start, drag your cursor over desired sentences, thus highlighting them.

If the resulting change in color does not suffice, copy and paste this into Microsoft Word.

There you can edit the font size and style to your liking.

I hope this helps.

Also, I'm glad you wrote your post about churches. If I start down that path, however, I'll be here all evening. Heh... In short, I have faith but not religion.

Blessings, Darla.

Snowbrush said...

"I have Esophageal cancer being treated with radiation and chemo. Kinda puts a damper on things."

I so very sorry, Joe. I've valued you for many years, and if talking with help, I'm here for you. If you'll leave your email address in the comment section, I won't allow it to appear but will write to you.

"I hope this doesn't seem condescending.  To start, drag your cursor over desired sentences, thus highlighting them."

Darla, I appreciate your comment. For those who don't know what Darla is talking about, I left a comment on a blog in which I objected to the posts being in a white font on a bright red background. You are of course right, Darla, that I can highlight the text, but this results in a white font on a purple background, which is better than red, but still not easily readable.

"If the resulting change in color does not suffice, copy and paste this into Microsoft Word."

I was rather hoping that Strayer would change her blog colors because white text on a red font isn't ideal for anyone's eyes (which is why it's so rare), but it's particularly hard on the eyes of older readers. If a blogger knows this, yet continues to use such colors, is he or she not implying that those of us who have trouble reading the posts are expendable? Blogging is about communication, and we all face enough challenges already without also making it mechanically difficult for our readers. Would you feel good about one or more of your readers having to copy and paste your posts; presumably writing their response while looking at them; and then copy and paste their responses onto your blog?

"In short, I have faith but not religion."

Are you speaking about faith in a supernatural deity?

Snowbrush said...

"We don't care what the other person's religion is, and they don't care what ours is."

How do you reconcile your statement with the fact that India has a long history of religious violence--including the murder of Gandhi--that religious conflict surged under Modi, and that there have been religion-based riots just this year? And how can a moral person simply "not care what the other person's religion is" if that person's religion supports the oppression of women, the stoning of homosexuals, the decapitation of atheists, or is willing to use force to replace a democratically-elected government with a theocracy?

"That religion should lead one human being to hate another is quite an alien concept in India even today. most of us don't get it."

I can but take you word that this is the majority view, but my questions remain.

Darla M Sands said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response. Strayer suffered difficulty with a software change, as I recall, and could not return to her former settings. And I believe in a creator watching over us. My personal anecdotes of blessings are extensive. Be well!

Liz A. said...

Stopped by to comment so you could see if this comment posted, and I found this all very interesting. I had a very different upbringing, and I never understood the very religious. I guess that's why I never became an atheist, because I was taught that the power greater than me wasn't any one thing.

Snowbrush said...

"...I was taught that the power greater than me wasn't any one thing."

Thank you, Liz. I envy you your upbringing, but could you tell me more about what a "power greater" consisted of, because I truly don't know.

Mark's Mews (Ayla, Marley, Laz, and Lori) said...

Mark of Mark's Mews here... I think I recognize you from another place, but I won't reveal it for your own privacy.

I had a milder-to-not-exisistent religious upbringing. Two parents of slightly different religions and neither cared much about it so I was given a lot of choice.

One sibling became mildly religious, another became uncaring about it, I became an atheist. Well, I always was the more fact-oriented of the family...

I figured out the Santa Claus thing at an early age and the Easter Bunny too, so my enjoyment of those holidays was helping my parents keep the myth alive for my younger siblings by helping to wrap presents and hide eggs.

God didn't last much longer. I was an atheist by 12. Born in 1950, I even knew before I heard about "that crazy Madeline Murry woman".

But I thought I was the only one (other than her) for so many years. Didn't even know any others in college. Oh there had to be some, but "it wasn't discussed".

Years later, I was working in telecommunications, and checking phone books for forbidden "dial a number places (dial a joke, dial a horoscope, etc). I found dial-an-atheist...

Called the number at home and found there was a Solstice meeting nearby. I was 35. I walked into the room and there were a couple dozen people there. I just stood there and stared. Someone understood and asked if I was an atheist and if so, was welcome.

One of the happiest days of my life... I wasn't the only one. I have become a "strong atheist" these days since.

What you want to do about your thoughts is up to you, of course, but if you want to discuss atheism or just discuss world events with other atheists (mostly free of religious viewpoints), I suggest you visit and see if it suits you.

I'm "Cavebear" there.

R's Rue said...

I’m a believer, but I respect your point of view. Regine

Snowbrush said...

"I’m a believer, but I respect your point of view."

Would you be willing to engage about this? I'll start by asking what it is you respect?

Snowbrush said...

"I think I recognize you from another place, but I won't reveal it for your own privacy."

Where? I belong to both American Atheists and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, although I've only taken a public role in the former. I was also in the Center for Inquiry for awhile--in fact, I was instrumental in starting the Eugene, Oregon, chapter, and I hosted its meetings at my house until they got so big that we had to find another place. I like the idea of organizations, but I have little talent for working well with others, so I always feel like I'm on the periphery, that is, I see myself as someone who is welcome but wouldn't be much missed if he weren't there either.

"I was an atheist by 12. Born in 1950..."

I envy people who were atheists by age twelve, yet such a thing would have been so incredible in the fundamentalist rural Mississippi of my childhood that I truly have trouble taking it seriously it. I came along in '49, experienced my first earth-shattering doubt at age eleven, and remained quite religious for a lot more years. In fact, I'm still very interested in religion, although I rank it as one of the most destructive forces on earth. My only household religious representation at this point is the dignified Goddess Bastet, who is entirely sangquine by herself, although I understand that some of her priests got rich off her by sacrificing--of all things--half grown kittens to her (this was distinctly ironic in a culture where a person could be executed for killing a cat by accident).

"I have become a "strong atheist" these days..."

Do you mean in the sense of publicly advancing rationalism and freedom from religious oppression or in the sense of being strong in your nonbelief (I've read--and it makes sense to me--that believers and nonbelievers both can be ranked according to how convinced they are that they are right)?

kj said...

Hi Snow,
Really informative for me to know how this evolved for you. Following you over the years, I could always understand and respect your beliefs (or non-beliefs) but I found myself questioning why you have tried so hard to keep investigating the existence or non-existence of god (e.g. even attending a christian church.)
It sounds like you are now at peace with what you know to be true.

As for me, I was brought up Catholic by a very kind and good Mother with a 6th grade education. My parents were devout in how they treated people and they attended mass every Sunday. There was no question that I would be confirmed into the church and would also go on Sundays. But, maybe because the church my parents went to wasn't big into community events or connections, or maybe because I was questioning things like racism even in elementary school, I never felt guilt or ambivalence leaving Catholicism. I did so permanently after college and no longer tried to placate my Mother's upset.

I raised my daughter without any religion. All this information is to make the following point: in times of crisis, I still pray. I ask for help. I don't envision a Man called God when I do this, but I do turn to some 'force' or presence that I find comfort in; that I believe may exist in some pure and good energy form and as such might be able to help me.

My daughter Jessica doesn't have that. And I have to admit I feel bad about that. I want her to feel what I have just described, because fantasy or reality, I'm comforted through a tough time by 'praying.'

I can't reconcile that the universe and earth just appeared. It's all so intricate and interdependent. How could that have happened?

So that's me, snow.
love kj

Snowbrush said...

KJ, thank you for sharing information about your upbringing, your religious views, and your concern for your daughter.

"I found myself questioning why you have tried so hard to keep investigating the existence or non-existence of god (e.g. even attending a christian church.)"

I didn't attend the Episcopal Church in search of God. I attended because I love ritual, liturgy, unbroken tradition, ancient ceremonies, and beautiful interior spaces, things that only churches and fraternal organization tend to offer in combination, if at all. I also attended in order to make friends; enjoy a social outlet that won't wither away after a few months or years; and to feel myself a member of a supportive group. I couldn't find these things in most churches because of my atheism, but I could find them in a liberal Episcopal Church--or in a Unitarian Church. I could also find them in a liberal Jewish synagogue (Reconstructionist or Reformed) that doesn't base membership upon what one believes but upon how one behaves. One doesn't need to be a Buddhist to benefit from Vipassana, and one doesn't need to be a Hindu to benefit from the various forms of Yoga. It is in this spirit that I--a non-Christian--attended church. If I were decades younger, I would seriously consider liberal Judaism, but at age 73, I feel like I missed the boat on that.


Snowbrush said...

"It sounds like you are now at peace with what you know to be true."

What I "know to be true" tells me that while individual members or our species are capable of brilliance, nobility, and the creation of beauty, our species as a whole is depraved, and our environment is doomed due to our greed, ignorance, and short-sightedness. I am not at peace with this, but there is nothing I can do about it other than to build the best life I can despite it.

"I can't reconcile that the universe and earth just appeared. It's all so intricate and interdependent. How could that have happened?"

When I watch a David Attenborough nature documentary, I am astounded by how grand the universe is and how evolved and complex life is, so, yes, I understand your sense of wonder. However, atheists don't believe that things "just happen" but that they come about when natural processes act against a background of enormous spans of time. When we posit an incomprehensible deity as the answer to "life's big questions," we don't diminish our ignorance; we push it to a deeper level.

"I still pray. I ask for help. I don't envision a Man called God when I do this, but I do turn to some 'force' or presence that I find comfort in; that I believe may exist in some pure and good energy form and as such might be able to help me."


Snowbrush said...

A major problem that I have with theists is that, except for deists, they believe in "the power of prayer." I understand the impulse to pray, and when one is at the end of his or her resources, it's hard to imagine that prayer can hurt. I, too, have felt desperation, so I understand this, but I'm also bothered by the image of a deity as a "force or presence" that plays favorites, a force or presence that we must please in order to get favors granted. It is this view that partially fueled the 9/11 attack, the capitol invasion (the goal being to restore America to God's favor by keeping God's chosen in office), the countless slaughters of "infidels," and millions of deaths on the part of people who truly believed in the promises of God. (Peggy's father's preacher's wife died from a skin cancer that started on her face. In its early stages, it was treatable, but instead of undergoing treatment, she relied on the promises of Jesus and the apostles, the result being that the lower part of her face rotted away and then she died.) I've personally never seen any objective good that came from prayer. No doubt it sometimes results in a placebo effect, but I refer to objective good in the sense of an event that couldn't have happened even if no one prayed. This is why people will pray for a lost child to be found, but not for a lost leg to be restored or for a dead person to return from the grave. I also see prayer being used as an excuse for inaction as in, "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the shooting victims and their families."

Prayer--as I see it--has come to represent something similar to what the American flag has come to represent in that while neither is an evil in itself, both have been co-opted by people who use them to legitimize evil. As Sinclair Lewis supposedly wrote, "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross." Please believe that I do not mistake your "spiritual but not religious" beliefs as being motivated by self-serving fanaticism, but I can no longer think of spiritual/religious faith as a whole without regarding it as an endeavor that is so motivated, an endeavor that does far more evil than good. Religious faith has become so problematic for me that I can no longer even attend the Episcopal Church with a good conscience because while liberal Christianity is day-to-night different from Republican evangelicalism, I worry that any faith which has no verifiable evidence to support it could conceivably fall into the darkness of ignorance and oppression by virtue of the fact that it exists outside the realm of rational examination. Finally, if the universe really were governed by something "pure and good," then such a being would have to be feckless or impotent to go about performing isolated favors even while allowing unfathomable cruelty and injustice to exist and, in many cases, to be performed in its name.

kj said...

I can't and don't disagree with you, snow. I have the MAGA crowd to thank for that. I used feel fond of the human race but I can't push that feeling anymore.
love kj

Snowbrush said...

"I used to feel fond of the human race but I can't push that feeling anymore."

I concur. I doubt that there are many issues about which you and I disagree, not that it would matter if there were because I very much respect your opinions and insights. When Obama became president, there were those who dared to claim that America was rapidly becoming a post-racist society that respected the rights of all minorities. Then came Trump, QAnon, a Christian-Nationalist Supreme Court, election denial, an attempted insurrection, full-tilt gerrymandering, laws aimed at denying the vote to blacks and Democrats, a denial of basic human rights to non-Christians, and a rapidly expanding Republican attempt to replace democracy with theocracy. Like you, I realized that all of the wickedness, bigotry, and stupidity that I had imagined to be on the wane when Obama came into office had simply been lying in wait for a win-at-all-costs Republican leader to give it direction. Now, to the delight of Republicans, DeSantos has shipped a planeload of immigrants to your area and is preparing to send another load to Biden's Delaware, there being no depth of sleaze, cruelty, injustice, and depravity to which Republican leaders won't stoop in order to stay in the news and win the applause of Republican voters. Truthfully, if I had to choose between Trump, DeSantos, and Abbott for president, the only difference between them that I can see is that the last two might not be certifiably insane. Speaking of which, have you seen recent photos of Trump wearing a Q Anon pin?

Unless you object, I'll mail you the latest issue of "Freethought Today." In it, Alito argues for special protection for Christianity because, as he says, Christian values promote national tranquility and even benefit non-Christians despite the fact that many of us don't appear to realize it. Along the same vein, a billionaire Republican donor sought to assure Democrats by saying that when Christian Nationalists assume complete governmental control, Jews and nonbelievers won't be literally deported, although they will become invisible in their own country by virtue of the fact that no one will listen to anything they have to say.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Thanks for reminding me I miss blogging. You stopped by my post after a long time.
You seem to be at odds with scriptures and I get that. I have over my lifetimes decided God is a very real power but words in any religion were passed on by people who made others believe events were set and sent to them. I find those now to just be historical accounts by people who had some intuition and felt they were somehow selected as divine. My gut feels we are all creatures of an Omni power S IS THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE. Ai do not believe in an actual hell but I do feel our souls have an afterlife , a sort of nano power allowing ways to message spiritually . I have felt that and it is both a axing yet full of awe.Having been a teacher of languages and music I feel that humans created many versions of religions as a need to understand why we seem to have more of a brain and are less instinctual than creatures and much of life surounduing us.

As for need for guns I feel we humans have fILED. To shoot for food is useful but to kill for any other reason seems sens,ess.Hope you find your way to heaven. I think you were born to head there no matter what.

Cloudia said...

Thank you for sharing your sincerity with all of us. I wish you all the best my friend