8/6/08                                                                                       View Comments

I’ve moved completely into the atheist camp

Sent in by Red Foot Okie

I’ve been visiting this site for a few years now, mostly to read the de-conversions, make occasional comments, and be thankful that my own road to skepticism was not nearly as rocky a path as many of you had to walk.

The short version is that religion was never a huge issue in my immediate family. In fact, it usually only crossed my mind when someone else brought it up first. Put bluntly, education, experience, and living life have led me to become a happy atheist.

The longer version follows:

My family is, technically, Methodist, when they are religious at all. When I was about 5 we moved to a small Texas town and the public school system there was really bad, so I was enrolled in a small Catholic private school. I was warned that Catholics were different from Methodists, and not to be taken in by their ornate churches and archaic rituals.

To be honest, I have only good things to say about that school. They didn’t try to coerce me into going to confession, or converting to Catholicism, or even taking mass (although, weirdly enough, they did let me be an alter boy just because it was something fun to do).

There were three priests, all of whom were really cool. One of them had escaped from East Germany in the 60s and had stories that could turn your hair white.

The rituals were fascinating. The image of tired, hard working men and women coming into the church and lighting a candle for various reasons, is one that sticks with me to this day.

The education I received there was great. And the funny thing is that the quality of the secular education just made the mandatory religion class seem like an incredible waste of time by comparison. It was weird, one hour we’d be learning about the parts of the cell and the next we’d be in a class that looked like it was designed for preschoolers.

There was never any drama, but four things really jump out at me from that time:

1. One day we were learning about the origins of words, and that lead to the origins of the days of the week. Our book had these awesome stylized drawings of Wootan, Thor, and Frigga (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday). I have no idea if the book was secular or religious in its origins, but those images stood out like something from another world.

2. A year later, around Christmas time, one of our teachers gave us an assignment- she wanted us to hit the encyclopedias and write a short report on various random trappings of the holiday. I think I got the Christmas tree. Now, my memory of the details are a little hazy, but I distinctly remember us dutifully reading our reports aloud. Mistletoe, holly, wreaths, Christmas trees, and what seemed like almost everything else, had its origins in Germanic/Scandinavian pagan practices that were appropriated by Christianity. Human sacrifice! Fertility rites! Sacred oaks! The name “Wootan” came up a couple of times.

3. We read a children’s version of BEOWULF. The stylized art was back (not the same artist as the names of the week, but they were both shooting for a certain “look”). And the story! He ripped the monster’s ARM OFF! What fascinated me about it was that, unlike most of the bible stories (which were fun, don’t get me wrong) there was no god or gods involved. Beowulf is a mortal man, up against a bizarre and terrible monster, and he figures out a way to win.

4. Somebody finally asked one of the priests about the dinosaurs. Why weren’t they mentioned in the bible? He either didn’t understand the question, or pretended not to. Like I said, they were great guys, but it struck me as a bit odd that such a big thing as dinosaurs and what became of them, could not have made an impact on him.

My family didn’t go to church pretty much for the entire time I went to that school. But toward the end of my 5th grade year, we went to a Methodist service for something (a funeral or a wedding) and I remember, after four years of Catholic majesty, finding the Methodist church a little… silly. I mean, it was beige, and had electric candles, it all seemed so bloodless.

No wonder they warned me against the ornateness of the Catholic Church! It ran rings around them…

I’d like to say that I decided that Christianity was as much a myth as Wootan and Grendel right then and there. But I was just 11 years old, so I wasn’t nearly ready to make a big jump like that. But, honestly, religion was a total non-issue for me. I hardly ever thought about it—really I only thought or talked about it when somebody else brought it up first.

And that’s how I played it. I had, what I think, is a very common live-and-let-live view.

In sixth grade I discovered the joys of playing Dungeons and Dragons, and realized that not everybody was so keen on that living and letting live view. Of course, D&D got me sniffing out Wootan and Beowulf again. Like so many young nerds, I read a lot of Norse and Greek mythology, and their weird translations in Deities and Demigods.

I’d like to say that I decided that Christianity was as much a myth as Odin and Cthulhu (yes, I’m old enough that I got in on the Deities and Demigods that had Cthulhu in it!), but I was fourteen and wasn’t going down that road.

One thing that really jumped out at me when I began to compare religions was how much Norse mythology really stood out. It came from a culture with no real “priest caste”, and one of its appealing things was that it’s all about problem solving. “Giants steal your magic hammer and demand you send the goddess of spring to them as a bride. You can’t fight them without your magic hammer. What do you do, hotsthot? WHAT DO YOU DO?”

Or my favorite: “Without an impregnable wall, the giants will overrun Asgard and kill you all. The only person who can build such a wall is a giant. His price is the goddess of spring. What do you do hotshot? Do the honorable thing and pay the giant for his work, or look the other way while one of your shape-shifting minions lures his magic horse away so that you can screw him out of the deal. What do you do, hotshot? WHAT DO YOU DO?”

So many of the stories in the bible seemed to end with or hinge on God creating a miracle, or putting an idea in somebody’s head. And so many of the Greek myths were all about things being humans' fault. I don’t recall a single Norse myth where Odin’s presence really helps anybody! Well, I guess there are versions of Siguard and Fafnir where Odin helps him get his horse and tells him how to avoid/use the dragon’s magic blood. Fat lotta good that does him later, though.

And that’s how I played it for most of my teens and early twenties. I met some people of faith that I really respected, but they were far outnumbered by their ignorant, arrogant, passive-aggressive brethren.

There really was no sudden big switch to atheism. It was a gradual process. Even the people of faith that I respected struck me as kind of funny—like they may as well have based their lives on the Silmarillion or Elfquest or something. Or for that matter, on my cycle of the Sea-elves vs the Fog Giants campaign I made up in ’87 (which was, honestly, one of my best).

I went through an agnostic phase in my mid and late 20s. At 29 I went on a trip to England and was fascinated by all the small churches in the tiny towns (it was a walking tour, we spent a lot of time passing through tiny towns), but we were also learning a lot about he English reformation. Catholics slaughter Protestants here, Protestants slaughter Catholics there, everybody slaughters the Jews. What a freaking mess that was.

We were at York Minster when I finally switched over to atheism. What spurred it was that inside the cathedral, at the very top of the tower over the altar Henry the Eight had the ceiling decorated with nothing particularly religious, but the crests of the families that had supported him.

It was all so nakedly political, which completely matched what I’d learned about every other era of Christianity’s history, and pretty much every religion period.

Reading Sagan, Harris, Dawkins, and such, and perhaps more importantly the religious responses to them, I’ve moved completely into the atheist camp.

With the merciless assault on the separation of church and state that’s been going on for the past 20 years, I’ve also gotten a bit more hard-nosed about it all. Is that Catholic school that I attended still a great educational facility? In this day and age, how much education do they do vs. how much indoctrination?

I’m now old enough to have witnessed religion create a huge drag on the lives of some of my friends and family. For some it adds to their lives, I’ll grant that, but others it has outright wrecked (and, worst of all, leaving those unfortunate people convinced that the problem is that they aren’t religious enough). I’ve watched churches relentlessly ratchet up their advertising campaigns to GET THOSE KIDS—something that disturbs me almost as much as the parents who fall for it.

So that’s where I’m at now. No real drama, not remarkable insights. I’d like to think that there are a lot of people like me who, over time and the accumulation of experience and knowledge, have left religion behind.