Friday, October 24, 2008

Atheist Meme

I read Intrinsically Knotted's answers to the Atheist Meme that's going around and, boy, is she a tough act to follow. Here are mine:

Can You Remember The Day That You Officially Became An Atheist?
I can't point to a specific day but it happened a few months after my son was born. My wife and I were Wiccans and we had discussed raising our son in the same tradition. Our committment to the rituals and practices had been waning for a while and the more we thought about it, raising our son in any sort of religion made us feel like we were lying to him. Read my wife's detailed account.

Do you remember the day you officially became an agnostic?
On this point, there was something closer to a flash of "Hey! I'm an agnostic". Actually calling myself an agnostic was a gradual process that started when I went to college. Before I became a Wiccan I was a Christian. An Episcopalian, to be precise. I even went to a college with strong ties to the Episcopal church. However, it was not a university which preached at students. There is a seminary there but the undergraduate college is not a religous school. Sewanee taught me to think.

I had been an acolyte (that's "altar boy" in Catholic-ese) at my local church while I was in high-school and I was reasonably observant (I was baptized at 13 and I went through confirmation around the same time) but my belief had not been strong for years. The combination of a good public school education, being on my own for the first time ever, and learning how to think about things rather than blindly accepting them led to my letting go of Christianity.

I remember walking in front of Sewanee's beautiful chapel one day and saying, "I do not accept Jesus Christ as my lord and savior". That was a wonderfully freeing moment because it meant I no longer believed in Hell or any sort of punishment for not playing by the rules of the church. I filled that gap with paganism shortly after graduating from college but that was just the next step towards my atheism. See the answer to my first question for how that went.

How about the last time you spoke or prayed to God with actual thought that someone was listening?
That would have been some time during high school but I cant remember the year. Perhaps when I was around 16 or 17. I remember praying during church services and I know my belief that there was an entity on the other end waned but, again, it was a gradual process.

This is a good time to mention that, for me, prayer was replaced by 'positive visualizations' and other new-age substitutes. So, even though I didn't believe that God was going to help me, what I was doing was functionally the same as prayer. Then, when I became a Wiccan, I believed that 'The Universe' was going to respond to my entreaties.

I've let go of all that.

Did anger towards God or religion help cause you to be an atheist or agnostic?
No, I was never angry about religion. It just didn't have a place in my life anymore. I'm still not angry about religion even if certain of its practitioners piss me off. People can believe what they want as long as it doesn't hurt others. Also, don't try to convert me. I've been there and done that.

Here is a good one: Were you agnostic towards ghosts, even after you became an atheist?
I stopped believing in ghosts before I stopped believing in God.

Do you want to be wrong?

Not at all.

I will be unpleasantly surprised if I discover that all of the things we have done on this planet (for good or ill) aren't our own doing. All the beauty and wonder and science is ours, damnit. We did this. There is no Satan. Some people are just assholes. There is no God. Some people are just altruistic and those gorgeous mountains grew out of natural geologic processes.

I won't tag anyone in particular but if you're reading this and you want to answer the question, please do! I like reading other people's stories. If you post about this, please let me know in my comments.

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Anonymous said...

On that last one, YES. I love that we can take responsibility for the awesome things we've managed to do, and own up to the bad things as well, instead of assuming we would never have managed without God pulling the strings. And it's much more thrilling to know that natural occurrences are nobody's creation than to see them as the work of an omnipotent being for whom it was a trivial task.

Joy said...

I followed basically the same progression you did except that I became an agnostic during and after college. After reading Ayn Rand, I susbscribed to The Objectivist Newsletter and leaned in that direction for a long time.

No matter what I believed at the time, I never strayed from agnosticism. I didn't say a lot about my beliefs to you when you were a child because I didn't want you to blurt stuff out to teachers and some family members. I like to stay under the radar so I can keep teaching in a small town in the Bible Belt.

Although you were brought up with a Christian influence, you weren't brought up as one. I intentionally kept you away from all that until I thought you might need a church to attend, and I could tolerate the Episcopal Church in our town. As you remember, we tried several before settling on that one. I'm glad I exposed you to some of them. The Bahamarimbas were an interesting group, especially that guy Casey.

As it turned out, it led you to Sewanee which as we know provided you with an excellent education and a wife.

I think of all this like being in school. Some people are in basic math religiously and others in calculus. It fills a need, and I prefer to think for myself. I like the way you explained that in your "wrong" question.