First, hi! Hello. Hey, I'm Dave. I StumbledUpon thinkatheist.com and decided at once to join up. Before I get into the topic hinted at in the title, I'll first tell you a few quick facts about myself. I live in north Texas, near Dallas. I'm 25 years old. I don't have any college degree to speak of, although I'm currently studying biology at Collin College. My scholastic interests are biology, zoology, anthropology, primatology, and evolution. I work at a department store. I'm generally a very happy person. I think of myself as a "minor-league philanthropist." I donate regularly to charities such as March of Dimes, American Heart Association, World Wildlife Fund, ASPCA, HRC, the Richard Dawkins Foundation, American Red Cross, Toys for Tots and yes, even St. Jude. But enough about me. Here's more about me. The rest of this post will be copied directly from a note I wrote for Facebook a couple weeks ago. In other words, I'm too lazy to rewrite everything.
This post ignores the fact that all children are born atheist, insofar as they do not know what a god or a Christ is, and are incapable of praising one. In fact, let's even assume that one cannot be atheist unless one understands what theism implies. So to rephrase, all children are born neither theist nor atheist. It is not until somebody infects them with the notion of God or gods that they can become either.
Before I get to the content of this post, let's also agree that the following is not the work of an established author, or even a particularly talented one. I know exactly what I'm trying to say here, but let's be honest: I wrote most of this last night right before going to bed and the rest this morning right after waking up. Okay, so that's out of the way. Here we go, then.
The truth is I used to be a Christian. My parents were both Christian: my father, a Baptist; my mother, Catholic. I was forced (usually against my wishes) to attend Catholic church regularly. Like, four times a month regularly. Every Sunday regularly. I even had to attend CCD (a Catholic class for youths once a week) where we would read scripture and discuss moral dilemmas and be told that the only way to eternal happiness in Heaven was through love in - and something about a personal relationship with - Jesus the Christ. I was baptized, had my first Communion, and was confirmed Catholic at a young age - before I was old enough to even know what I had gotten myself into. To me, Confirmation and Communion meant crackers and wine, and had nothing to do with my religiosity.
I remember thinking that Jesus the Christ was a pretty swell fellow. Although I often found the whole idea of the Holy Trinity confusing, I at least got the gist of it: Jesus is God. God is Jesus. God is everything. Love the Christ. I was even quoted in one of those $30 books featuring outstanding elementary school students as having said my personal hero was God himself.
I would later believe that God in the movie The Ten Commandments was absolutely terrifying. "Surely," I thought, "only the devil himself would send all these plagues upon innocent people and kill their innocent children." Indeed, I knew it wasn't the devil doing those terrible things. I knew it was God causing all the pain and suffering, both physical and emotional. I knew that the Jews were being enslaved and of course, that's a bad thing, but I also knew that the first-born children of all the Egyptians were not to blame. Even if their parents were non-believers, why should the child suffer God's wrath? God, to me, was unfair. And God was Jesus.
I found the whole creation story unsettling, too. I was fascinated by dinosaurs and I knew - because we have all these fossil things - that they existed. I also knew that we had this carbon-dating thing. While at the time I didn't understand exactly how it worked, I understood what it was telling me: that dinosaurs had been dead for a long, long time. Millions and millions of years. I also knew that The Flintstones was just a cartoon, just like Bugs Bunny. I knew that people and dinosaurs did not live at the same time. I don't remember how I knew that; I just remember that I knew, and that you could not have convinced me otherwise. This didn't sit well with me, since God was supposed to have made everything all in the matter of a few days' time. God simply could not have made dinosaurs millions of years ago (on day five of the creation), had them go extinct later that day, and then create one man and one woman on the next day. In his image, which would be in the image of everything, because God is everything, everywhere, all the time. So the creation story was pretty bogus to me.
Another story I found pretty odd was the Noah thing with the ark. I had read enough books and seen enough videos to know that there are a LOT of animals in the world. Like, a whole freakin' lot. Like, more than anybody, ever, could fit even ONE, let alone two of each, onto a single boat. It would have just been impossible, plain and simple. And God felt bad afterward about what he'd done and promised never to do it again? Whatever happened to God being infallible? God can not regret, because God can not do wrong. If anybody were to drown the entire freakin' population of the world it'd be the devil, right? Anyway, I guess he changed his mind because he still gave us Hurricane Katrina and countless others, tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, and a bunch of other fun natural disasters including floods and mudslides, sometimes with death tolls numbering in the millions.
The idea of God just didn't make sense. To quote the Greek philosopher Epicurus, "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?" I believe I pondered something very Epicurean without ever having heard of the philosopher himself, before finally realizing God did not exist.
Admittedly it must have taken me a while longer to fully come to terms with my atheism. I believe I was about 14 years old when I debated with a peer of mine in class over evolution versus creation. Having never heard the term before, my stance was essentially what I now call "mature intelligent design." I argued that evolution occurred. Our evidence: fossils. But, I said, it was guided by the hand of God. In other words, it was a very deistic point of view. God created life, in the very beginning, which then evolved. Unlike a deist, I thought that perhaps God guided evolution from the "primordial soup" to where we are now, according to his master plan. Let us discover ourselves. Let us think for ourselves. Let us evolve into intelligent animals, and he'll come to us when he sees fit. Looking back, I think I had already become an atheist by that time, and that I was simply in denial of my revelation. Perhaps I was trying to justify my beliefs (or lack thereof), and find a way that observable facts and God could work together. God, in my opinion, simply had to exist, whatever my feelings and beliefs. He just had to.
But the longer my internal debate lasted, the more it strayed from the side God was on. It was all "well, this Bible story can't be true because of this which we know to be true," over and over. By the time I reached high school, I was a "secret atheist." I had enough common sense to know that mentioning my lack of faith could cause a lot of trouble around my family and my friends. Atheism was (and still very much is) taboo. You either believe in God in some way, shape or form, or you're a heathen. I wasn't ashamed of my atheism, but I honestly feared I may lose some of my friends if they realized I was "different." Looking back, I think I was just being silly; I had some truly great friends that would not have cared (and don't care), and other friends who may not have been so great after all, so if they can't accept me for who I am, that's their loss. Anyway, back in high school I was a closet case. If confronted, I would respond with "I'm just not sure," or "I don't know what to believe," or something along those lines.
Midway through high school I agreed to visit a Unitarian church with a couple friends. While I certainly respect their views of tolerance more than the typical Christian views of intolerance and bigotry, the Unitarian church was, after all, still a church. Ultimately, and by the time I graduated from high school, I had decided there was no reason to try and compromise. I came to terms with my atheism. In my mind, God no longer had to exist. There was no need for God and frankly, his existence would be impossible. God can not exist, therefore he does not exist.
Welcome to T|A! I have only lived in Texas (currently in Austin) for four years and I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to grow up surrounded by such religiosity. It's hard for kids--or anyone, really--to objectively assess beliefs that are so universally held as sacred and beyond reproach.