It’s true. I used to detest people like me. I used to pity people like me. I used to be afraid of people like me.
As a matter of fact, I think it is safe to assume that most on this earth feel the same way about me. I usually get along with people just fine, until they find out who and what I am. You can see a visible change in their face when they learn it. A warm friendly face turns to scorn and their eyes swell with hate. There are those that openly proclaim their desire that I and everyone like me be wiped from the face of the planet. I confess that I used to think similarly.
I remember once when I was young our family was in the car driving my sister Emily to a friend’s house to spend the night. My parents were in the front seat discussing Glen, the patriarch of the family Emily was to spend the night with. I piped in out of curiosity “What church does Glen go to?”
“He doesn’t,” my mother replied. “He’s an atheist.”
An atheist!? I could scarcely believe what I heard. An atheist? In Azle, Texas? I don’t think I ever met an atheist before. He had seemed like a nice enough guy when I met him, in fact, he was quite happy and funny and always seemed to have a smile on his face. He had to have been a miserable human being, though, and it was all a façade. I mean, who could be happy without God? And my parents were leaving their only daughter with this guy and his family! There’s no telling what they would do to her. They could beat her or rape her and leave her for dead in some ditch. Without God all things are permissible. The only reason humans do any good at all is to escape an eternity in hell, right?
Well it turns out that Emily was not killed, raped, or even beaten by these godless heathens. In fact, she seemed to enjoy their company and they hers, and over the years they spent quite a lot of time together. I did not trust them for the longest time, however, and when Glen would talk to me I would try to keep the conversation brief and try not to laugh at his jokes or succumb to his charm.
Eventually I left behind my Christian beliefs, because honestly, can anyone really believe that the bible is the inerrant word of God? It seems painfully obvious to me that it was written not by a divine being but by ignorant, misogynistic goat herders with a tribalistic worldview. I suppose it was appropriate given the time, but I am very puzzled as to why it was not abandoned long ago.
Anyway, back to my story. So I left behind my Christian beliefs as relics of my childhood, but still maintained a deistic perspective. That is, there is probably a god (how else can you explain the beauty and complexity of life?), but it is unlikely at best that he is the Abrahamic god (you remember, the god that told Abraham to kill his son).
I remember delivering some pizzas one day years later and listening to a story on the radio about how an atheist was making trouble in the school system because he did not want mandated prayer in the school his daughter attended. I thought to myself “Man, what a running sore of a human being! He has nothing better to do than piss people off? I mean, I don’t think there should be publicly led prayer by the schools either, but I would never make a big deal about it. I hate atheists. They’re so stupid.”
Long story short, I moved from deism to pantheism - a kind of vague and abstract philosophy that nature is God, the universe is God, we are all God, Tao, and all kinds of variations therein. - and eventually embraced atheism. Militant atheism to be exact. Or anti-theism, as Hitchens likes to say. To be sure, my beliefs (or, more precisely, lack of them) did not come from any anger with God, or the church, or anything like that. Through education I came to find, much like Thomas Jefferson did, that “Religions are all alike - founded upon fables and mythologies.”
Contrary to what my younger self may have believed, I am actually quite happy with my life, and if anything, have developed a deeper respect for life and I marvel at the beauty around me more and more each day. I think atheism is life-affirming. Think about it, if this is the only life we have it makes everything that much more precious. I still hold the same core moral values I always did. I still hold truth, love, peace, music, family, and friendship to be greatest aspects of mankind. Sure I eat babies now, but that’s my only vice. Plus they are so damn tasty! Believe it or not a belief in a magical man in the sky does not make you a better person, nor does a lack of said belief make you immoral. Believe it if you want, but you will be wrong. People are people dear reader, and the sooner we all learn that the better.
Sometimes I wish I could go back and tell my younger self to not demonize those who held convictions different from my own. Hating won’t do any good. Plus the only reason I believed what I did was because I was told to believe it at an impressionable age - nothing more. But ultimately I know it is all part of growing up. Much like clothes, some ideas just will not fit as you grow older. I think you have to evaluate and reevaluate your positions as you gain new knowledge. Growth cannot happen otherwise. “When I was a child I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put childish things away.” Get the irony?
Perhaps I will expound on how or why I came to reject theism, but for now I will say that I think it is demonstrably false, unnecessary, and not only not beneficial but actively harmful (with the possible exception of Jainism; it seems that the more extremist you get in that religion, the more non-violent you become - if only all religions were that way . . . *sigh*). In the words of Steven Weinberg: “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”
And my poor mother had such high hopes of me becoming a preacher. She still holds out hope. Although, perhaps I am a preacher of sorts, but instead of preaching the word of God and superstition, I am preaching the ideas of science and reason.