My name is Ian and I'm an Atheist.
I choose to capitalize the word Atheist because I feel the word merits more respect than it is given. It is not a word that should make people cringe. It is a title of honor. Why should I feel ashamed to proclaim my lack of belief? Why should I walk on eggshells around believers? I shouldn't have to, and neither should anyone else.
Being an Atheist is nothing to be ashamed of. I'm proud to call myself an Atheist. To me, the word Atheist conveys the image of one who questions everything, one who accepts nothing on blind faith. To me, an Atheist is one who requires evidence for any claim that is made. Nothing more, nothing less. An Atheist questions.
Living in the ultra-conservative state of Indiana, I've noticed that Atheists are really looked down upon. While I'm not sure whether or not Indiana is part of the bible belt, it might as well be. Believers are the majority in this state, and "coming out," so to speak, tends to invite dirty looks and verbal abuse. Myself included. Although I'm openly an Atheist, I quickly learned long ago not to speak of my lack of belief.
My lack of belief started at the age of eight. I was removed from my biological mother when I was four years old. She was a heroin addict who felt that children interfered with her ability to score. So I was raised in foster care for most of my childhood. I wasn't formally introduced to Christianity until I was eight years old. It was during Sunday School that I found and lost god.
The Sunday School teacher was a middle-aged lady, wearing a flower print dress. She was teaching us about sin, and how the only way to be forgiven for sin was to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. "As Christians," she told us, "it is our duty to spread the word of Jesus to everyone, because without Jesus, none can enter the kingdom of Heaven." She told us about how Jesus loves every single one of us, and that he is always looking out for us. Having just had my life ripped from me, I needed a friend, and I wanted desperately to believe what she said was truth.
Naturally, as an eight year old child, I had questions. I was quite curious. This Jesus fellow sounded too good to be true. The question I had for the teacher was a simple one. "What if there was a man who lived on an island somewhere, who never heard about Jesus, because no one told him? What if he was a good guy who lived a good life and never hurt anyone? What would happen to him when he died?"
Because the teacher had just spoken about how much Jesus loves everyone, I thought she would say that Jesus would forgive him anyway and let him into Heaven. The answer she gave me instead horrified me. "He would go to Hell, because the only way into Heaven is through Jesus, and as Christians, it is our duty to spread the word to everyone."
I was crushed. I wanted to cry. It just wasn't fair. How could an all-loving creator send an innocent person to Hell for the "crime" of ignorance of his existence? And when the teacher proceeded to tell all the children in the room about all the horrors of Hell, the eternal fiery torment and gnashing of teeth, I really started hating this god they were preaching about. I didn't want to come back to church ever again. Here I thought that at least one person in this cold, uncaring Universe loved me no matter what, only to find that this "love" had tons of conditions attached to it. The extent of my heartbreak can't be put into words.
Needless to say, I had no choice but to continue attending church. And the stories the Sunday School teacher told got more and more ridiculous as time went on. Talking snakes, burning bushes that talked, a boat that held two of every species, a man living in a whale for three days, people coming back from the dead; all of these stories seemed absolutely ridiculous. I might have been only eight years old at the time, but I wasn't an idiot. I knew these things were ridiculous.
It didn't take long for me to figure out that this god of theirs was fake. It was Santa Claus for adults. It wasn't any more real than the Tooth Fairy. All the hate I had for this god just slipped away, because it is absolutely ridiculous to hate something that doesn't exist. But I was angry that adults, whom I was told to trust unconditionally, had gone to such great lengths to deceive me. They had abused my trust, and taken advantage of me. It made me sick.
I learned a very valuable lesson at that age: that nothing should be accepted on blind faith. I learned the hard way a lesson I wish more adults would teach their children: always question.
--Ian Buchanan is a musician and student. Check out his two websites: AngryHuman and C-Negative