Sent in by Ricky W.
This is a somewhat concise testimonial about logic and morality, and my journey to atheism from Christianity. Firstly, I should mention that I love animals. I'm a vegetarian, in fact. Now actually - much like with atheists, there is usually a backlash against a person who even mentions that he or she is a vegetarian. As soon as that admission is made, defensive questions like, "So you think I'm immoral?" or "Why do you hate humans so much?" pop up. But I'm sure that people here will be less reactive and merely listen to how my thinking process has unfolded. So let's begin.
The reason I'm writing this is that many Christians and other religious people question people's ability to act morally if they don't have a personal God who hands down rules from on high. They think that if there is no God telling you what is right and wrong, that you will have an "anything goes" attitude, and not care about anyone else. My experience shows that this has no factual basis whatsoever.
Let's go back to my childhood. My family was secular, although my mom had gone to Catholic school and she considered herself to be a Catholic, still. One day, I asked my mom why we didn't go to church, and that was the start of a nightmare that repeated every Sunday morning. My mom, feeling guilty that she hadn't gone to church or taken us to church, decided that from then on, we'd attend church, and I and my brother were to go to Sunday school. (If I could only have those wasted Sundays back...) So we started going to a Catholic Church. I must say that overall I still like the Catholic Church (of today) better than many other Christian sects. See, we just sang hymns for most of mass and didn't really get into much besides that. It was more of a ritual, even though Latin was no longer used. There were no "gays are evil" or "vote for this conservative politician" lectures by the priests, for example. And we never even had to read the Bible. Knowing a few things like "Noah's Arc" was good enough. So, at no point did I become a bigot, even then.
One thing I thought back then, was that my suffering showed that I really cared. During mass, I would never go to sleep, and I got angry because my parents let my brother - who didn't seem to care either way about the church - to sleep through every week's mass. I stayed attentive. I cared. I would pray the same prayers over and over again, every night, perhaps for an hour each night before going to bed. I thought that praying was the least I could do, even though I was slowly developing insomnia. (Even when I finally tried to go to sleep, I became unable to. Thankfully, this ended a few years after praying - around when I got into college.) I started to dread bed time, because I didn't want to pray. On the bus to school, I also prayed, but I felt embarrassed, so I tried to hide my clasped hands and closed eyes (the only true way to pray, right?). At the same time, I felt guilty for trying to hide my faith - for being embarrassed about it in the first place.
I was one of the last kids in the neighborhood to stop believing in Santa Claus, although, again, I felt embarrassed for believing in him and I also felt guilty for not speaking out about his existence despite the embarrassment I would receive. I mean, Christians were eaten by lions and still firmly proclaimed their faith. The least I could do was put up with some embarrassment, I thought, but I couldn't. Now my love of animals starts to come into play. It was Christmas Eve, and my stockings were out, and I noticed another stocking. We had a cat named Ollie (and I thought of her as my sister). So I asked my mom to hang a stocking for Ollie, too. By my mom's subsequent horrified expression, which showed for half a second before she could conceal it, I knew that there was something very wrong. My mom said that Santa didn't have any toys for cats. For some reason, I just became really suspicious, because I seemed to have caught my mom off guard. It seemed like she was caught in a lie. From then on, I became skeptical, and maybe the next Christmas, I just asked, point blank, if Santa was real. The answer was that he wasn't (although he "exists in our hearts" or something like that, supposedly). I don't blame my mom for misleading me. I had many nice Christmases, both before and after my realization, but it got me to thinking more.
I started thinking about Ollie and if she would go to heaven. My mom said that Ollie would be in heaven because I would get whatever I wanted in heaven, and if I wanted to be with Ollie, I could. But this didn't satisfy me. What about all of the other animals? What about the un-loved ones? The ones without a human "sponsor" to heaven. Before, I'd questioned why bad things happen to good people, and the answer was that life is infinitely small compared to the time we'd spend in heaven. Thus, even someone with the most miserable life on earth would be eternally rewarded, so the previous misery would seem like just the prick in the arm of a vaccination shot (which I still hate, by the way). BUT WHAT ABOUT ANIMALS? So many animals suffer. I witnessed some of it firsthand. Psychotic children in my neighborhood found toads and threw them into a campfire to see how long they would live, for example. Such things scarred me for life. The Bible is very explicit in that it says that only humans (and only Christians at that) will get into heaven. If that's the case, then God is being unfair to the vast majority of his creation - the animals (and, if you are hardcore, every person who is not in your religious sect). Animals with brains and nervous systems - animals that can feel. Animals that were only used for meat - nothing more... Baby cows used for veal that would never be able to walk, lest their meat get tough... Battery hens in a factory farm with their beaks seared off, their feet hideously deformed by growing into a cage, like a tree grows into a pole, their wings never able to be spread because of the tiny size of their enclosures... These creatures would not have any salvation, yet they would have to face unimaginable suffering. There had to be something in the Bible that would give them justice. But no. Although even to this day, I haven't read the entire Bible, I did start to learn more about it. It turns out that humans have dominion over nature. Animal slaughter pleased God (at least in the "good old days"). Jesus, himself, most likely ate fish, and the most holy people of Christianity were fishermen. If I were God, and I were going to come to earth to spread the Truth, wouldn't I firmly state that these animals, that could suffer but couldn't go to heaven for their justice, were not to be killed? Instead, there is absolutely nothing in the Bible aimed at trying to ease animal suffering. They (even moreso than women and children and slaves) are only property, and are at the mercy of the rest of us. And the funny thing is, a person could torture animals just for fun and still go straight to heaven, supposedly.
I realized that someone who didn't even have the compassion that I had towards animals couldn't be God. God is supposed to be the most compassionate being around, yet I was "out-compassioning" him (with regards to both animals and non-Christian humans). How could that be if he were God? And then, how could a Christian say that an atheist needed religion to care about others if I realized my compassion towards animals didn't come from any religious source that I knew of, but instead just came from the fact that I can see when others suffer, and that I don't like suffering, and thus I don't want others to suffer. It's as simple as that.
It seems, I'm "too compassionate". It's fine to have a certain degree of compassion, but when you go overboard - when you start to care too much about the environment and non-human animals - that's going too far. Don't have that much compassion, please! You're coming off as a bleeding-heart liberal! But like an atheist couldn't give up their reason, even if they were "forced" to at the end of a sword, I can't give up my "extra" compassion, even when others criticize me.
For a while, I started looking into other religions. I learned of the Jains. And although I'm an atheist, I still love them to this day. Their beliefs, condensed, are thus: 1) There is no God (although an afterlife exists). 2) We should not harm any sentient creature. 3) "Anekantavada", or "non-absolutism" means that non-Jains may be right with their own beliefs, or lack thereof, and that dogma that leads to hate between groups is more harmful than learning from other points of view. What a world, it would be, if all religions were such. Hinduism isn't so bad either. Take this, for instance. Throughout history, Jains have claimed that their religion is not part of Hinduism, but certain Hindus have said that Jainism and Buddhism can be considered branches of Hinduism. How amazing! Throughout history (and even now to some extent), Christians and Muslims have tried to murder members of "heretical" sects. Of course, there is only one Truth (with a capital "T") and the difference between if you think that Mary was a virgin for her entire life or if she was only a virgin when she had Jesus could have meant the difference between life and a gruesome death. With Hinduism however, they're like, "Hey, we believe in thousands of gods and you don't believe in any gods, but really, I still consider you guys Hindus." Does that attitude show some religious chauvinism? Maybe. Does that attitude vilify and attempt to exterminate all dissenting views? Not in the least.
Later, I sort of thought of God as love, and our closeness to God as the same as our closeness to love. But finally, I came to call "love" by the name it's already known by - "love" - and came to the conclusion that there really is no God. I am now an atheist. Of course, I also used logic during my "fall from grace". I can continue with ten more paragraphs about how religion is completely illogical. But that's been done already, and it's easy to find elsewhere. Instead, with this, I just wanted to show how my own morality, far from being formed by Christianity, was actually damning proof against Christianity.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)