I've seen a lot of back and forth with the whole religion thing lately. Frankly, it's been scary as the last time I looked this was eBaum's World. I've seen a lot of points made involving memes, famous quotes, and plethora more forms of media all designed to enforce one ideology and/or attack another. I haven't seen anyone bother to explain why they feel the way they do, though. What led to it? Did god speak to you in a dream or did Richard Dawkins once buy you a soft pretzel at the county fair? I'd very much like to see some people just say why they are what they are. Everyone's got a story and I'd love to hear yours. I'll start!
As I recall, the colloquial expression for what follows is a "testimonial".
I was raised in a fairly standard Christian home. My parents had divorced when I was very young and I lived with my mother and younger sister with one of my mother's close friends. This is, I believe, where it all began, as being the only male in a house of tittering and pious females lit in me the spark of rebellion.
I won't go into painful detail of my early life, as this is of course eBaum's World and not a place for such things. Suffice it to say that it took place in a very Jesus oriented home. There was love and happiness and warmth and peace and all that, but there was in my heart something else.
I was obligated to spend a great deal of time in the church, engaging in various churchy activities and praising the lord for myriad reasons. I was, in fact, enrolled in the church's parochial school for a few years in which I received much of my formative education. Reading, riting, and rithmatic did I learn in those hallowed, if small and musty halls. I learned, also, of how god created the heavens and the earth over the span of six days. We learned of a great flood, of fiery chariots, and crumbling towers and walls. There was talk of death and resurrection, of the healing of the infirmed, and who can forget the three P's of a classical education? Plagues, portents, and prophecy.
And there was prayer. There was prayer in the morning, there was prayer before lunch, there was prayer before recess, and there was prayer before we went home. So overcome by their blinding faith were some of my classmates, that I remember witnessing some of them breaking down into tears of joy-or-something during many of these prayers. Even then as a young child I found this behavior unsettling. This was made much more so by the fact that our teachers were actually happy to see such things. I can see it now: Our teachers wringing their gnarled hands and stroking their waxed mustaches, smiling cruelly as their small eyes flicked from one devotee to the next. Actually, no wait a minute, we had a brace of fresh-faced young women teaching us and I've clearly just made that scenario up. Some of those kids really did cry, though, as we spoke to the lord about what he had done in our lives and why we loved him.
I was never able to fully engage in such activities. I couldn't help but open my eyes during prayers and watch the faces of my fellows as they mouthed their prayers, I couldn't help but wonder how long planet Namek would take to finally explode as I mouthed them myself. Hollow words and empty thoughts. No matter how hard I tried I just could not give a shit about it. I wore the mask, I donned the cloak, but in my heart it just wasn't enough. It didn't make sense.
Long story short my Mom got tired of my acting out and decided to ship my off to live with my father. I got really into music and drugs and almost died several times for hilariously foolish reasons. I stopped thinking about god and the church and thought instead about Leftover Crack, both the band and what I could scrape out of my pipe. In a fleeting moment of clarity and awareness of my situation I joined the Army to escape and save myself. My four years in uniform were more influential on my development that the 18 that had passed previously.
It was on my second deployment, this one taking me to Baghdad, I had something of an epiphany. My section had been tasked with assisting some of the Iraqi soldiers with distributing supplies to a local orphanage out in the city. It was a mercy mission, and was actually a lot of fun. The Hadjis we were working with were exceptionally friendly and spoke better English than many of my own comrades. It was a long and fulfilling week and marked the only time during my enlistment in which I felt as if I had accomplished something worthwhile. I had even had time and cause to discuss religion with the Iraqis, comparing notes, so to speak, about out faiths. It was upon the completion of this task that the first serious blow to my already weak piety was struck. Eating dinner that night with a battle-buddy and discussing the job he said something that I'll never forget in his thick Mississippi drawl. "Man, those Hadjis were some nice guys. Real religious-like, too. Too bad they're all going to hell, huh?"
The foundation of my relationship with god split down the center. A thin crack, to be sure, but it went straight through the core. This would require some thought.
I kept this process running in the background of my fantastic brain for a few weeks, letting the numbers cook and run down to an acceptable conclusion. While eating a sorry facsimile of a pizza from a sorry facsimile of a proper New York joint staffed by Pakistani men affecting sorry facsimiles of Italian accents I had a sudden thought. For whatever reason, the heavily greased "pizza", covered in halal pepperoni and cheese made from industrial grade rubber had pushed the final pin into place. Based on the assumption that god is omnipotent, omniscient, and generally speaking a pretty good guy, how could he allow only a percentage of the faithful entry into his grand afterlife? The Iraqi men I had worked with were men of great faith and devotion, men who said their prayers fervently and did all things for the glory of allah. "Too bad they're all going to hell, huh?" This didn't make sense. I pondered the fates of the faithful from other walks of life as well. The buddhists, the jews, the hindus, and so on and so forth. Were they all wrong, as well? Were they all destined for hell? Men and women, who had from birth been taught the tenets of their respective religions and were thus extremely unlikely to walk a different path. Were they damned from birth? How could god allow such a thing? My mind turned feverishly over these thoughts, carrying the two, dividing by X, and I had it. Didn't it stand to reason that all religions were fundamentally correct? God, in his infinite wisdom, saw fit to take the fractious nature of humanity into account and allowed for us to develop on our strengths and weaknesses individually. It made a comfortable kind of sense to believe that there wasn't actually a single road to righteousness. It was an easy thing to think that we all blazed our own path in life, that we all propelled ourselves into eternity, be it reward or punishment. I stagnated in this field of thought for some time, and it was nearly ruinous for me.
Time moved on and I settled into my new role as the sole parishioner of my new church of thought. The vestments settled comfortably on my shoulders, and the slow idea that I had created ground softly on. I felt some measure of contentment with life, some satisfaction with contemplating eternity, there was in fact even something that vaguely resembles bliss. Once again, the roots of my deviance trembled and I felt unease. I was not able to fully accept my new faith just as I was unable to accept the old one. The foundation of my faith, still irreparably damaged, groaned under the strain of doubt. Curious about why I felt this way, and lacking religious text or fellow believers to confer with, I turned instead to man's best source for answers. A source that I had overlooked, as one often will search for an object only to discover that it was on their hand the whole time. I turned to science. The practice of doubt and skepticism. The belief in existence. The search for real truth.
This turned out to be problematic. I am not a scientist, after all. I completed my science requirements in college by taking Geology and managed to pass calculus only by the clever application of extensive cheating. I work towards a degree in English lit and aspire to write fantasy bullshit. Fortunately, I had a brilliant resource at my disposal. There were other people actually doing all the hard thinking for me. Putting innumerable observations and calculations into layman's terms, digesting theoretical thought and excreting something tangible and relevant. Imagine that, I said, this excrement is theoretically awesome! I made the inevitable decision to read the works of notable atheists Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Dennet, and many others. Their words were logical to me. They were relevant to me. They answered questions that I couldn't get answers for elsewhere and asked questions that the faithful are afraid to contemplate. But moreover, they were inspiring. Here were men challenging the status quo in a very public forum. Planting seeds of dissidence and defiance in the face of temporal authority and challenging traditional thought. Men who were interested in seeing mankind continue to grow and evolve, to learn and to change, to become more than what we are now.
Defiance is in me and is a part of me. It is an ingrained facet of my personality and is what was ultimately responsible for my final break from the faith. It was because I wasn't truly happy just believing and that I felt that I had to know that gave my biblical foundation its final rent. It was that I, too, want more for us than to allocate creation and everything that has happened since into the purview of a great and invisible man in the sky that has put me where I am now. It is the notion that the bible, and every other religious text ever created are outright lies at worst and based on hopeful hearsay at best that has shown me that can exceed these works, and often do, with our minds and imaginations alone.
I can say, without pride or hubris, that I have seen the limits of religion. I have seen the limits of god and his ilk. I have seen them and they are petty and very small. Ideas created by men long dead who thought the Earth the sum total of existence. Lacking knowledge is not the crime here, though. They were people trying to make sense of things that were just beyond their scope. We do the same thing every day, even though our scope has grown exponentially. The crime lies in the propagation of said ignorance to further the goals of a given organization. It almost feels like intellectual terrorism, in which it isn't lives lost but is ideas snuffed out. Perpetuating religious ideologies to preserve traditional thought has been holding us back for thousands of years. It has stymied great minds and perverted great ideas. It stymied my fucking mind for longer than I care to think and left me wanting something it could never give me. I know better, now.
The universe wasn't created for me, humanity is a happy biological accident, there are questions that need answering and they aren't found in centuries-old books, and Jesus isn't the magnetic North on my moral compass. When I die I will not ascend to heaven or plummet to hell, I will just simply cease to exist just as everyone who has ever died has. There is no plan and bad things happen, and will continue to happen, for no purposeful reason at all. These are frightening things for the faithful to think about, as they greatly frightened my family when I came out as an atheist (I wish I had been admitting to homosexuality, as it would have been easier for them to understand, I think). How dare I say, or even think such things! How dare I disrespect the bible and denounce god? When my mother died I was angrily confronted with a question something along the lines of, "Well? Are you going to say that she's dead and doesn't exist anymore? Or are you going to say that she's in heaven, feels no pain, and blah blah blah"
Well of fucking course I'd like to think that she's in heaven and I'll see her again when I die, but that's probably not the case. I won't go into what I said in any greater detail as I'm still really pissed about the whole thing.
In fact, I'm just about done typing. This has gotten pretty stressful for me to recall, to be perfectly honest. Nothing pisses me off more than someone who is so willfully ignorant of reality because it softens the blow of just how harsh it is. That someone can then turn around and witness something beautiful and amazing and use it as evidence for god. That's not evidence for god, dear sister/brother, that's a fucking mountain. It's evidence of the hellish collision of tectonic plates that formed it (Geology, remember?). And they can be so fucking militant about it, too! Ahgahfuck!!! The fact is I'm an atheist. I don't believe in god. Is there actually a god, though? Who the hell knows! We sure don't. But given all that we do know, given all of our experiences and such, it's extremely fucking unlikely. What's more unlikely is that a bunch of jewish goat herders figured it all out thousands of years ago and wrote it down in a book full of fallacy, metaphor, contradiction, and vague and physically impossible prophecy.
***Did you see my mental cohesion steadily break down throughout this little spiel? Awesome, huh?***