The beginning of my journey
My journey started in a fundamental baptist church in Northwest Indiana. Even by Indiana standards my church was extreme, but it was all I knew. Literally my entire life revolved around the church which is why I attended our Christian school from 3rd -12th grade. Of course a non-accredited school, run by ultra right wing conservatives (more concerned with teaching Bible stories than any other subject) didn’t lend for a solid education. But I did develop a deep love for religious history. Despite being handicapped with the lack of information afforded, I found enough about my religion and the religions of the world to fascinate me.
Several years later I came out as gay. Which is a HUGE no, no in the Baptist movement (see anything Westboro Baptist). This admission forced me out of my church and I began a journey to find another, more accommodating place of worship. I started with a Lutheran church. I had heard rumors they were gay friendly. I soon learned those rumors hadn’t reached Indiana and the Lutherans were just as close minded as the Baptists. So I tried a non denominational church. At first they seemed pretty hip and open minded. Someone said “We must all learn to co-exist. It’s not about the name we use when we worship God, it’s about worshiping him at all.” Boy that sounded nice! Unfortunately the gays couldn’t worship there either which I found even more insulting than the Baptists and the Lutherans. At least they had the balls to call me a heathen to my face rather than trying to woo me in and then silently judging me.
I couldn’t bring myself to try the Catholics. The sex abuse scandal had split wide open just a few years earlier and I couldn’t pretend to have any respect for the Church. My last effort at some form of Christianity was the Unitarian Church. Of course they would be offended that I classified them as Christians. But since the Unitarians are just as caught up in their rituals as the Catholics and Protestants I don’t know who they’re trying to kid. I was momentarily impressed with the bowl of condoms sitting next to the pamphlets on the front table. I wondered if maybe I had been wrong all along and this was secretly a sex orgy meet up. Sadly I sat through an incredibly boring and scripted hour long service only to be bitterly disappointed at the end. I grabbed a handful of condoms anyway as I left. My mother had been adamant that this gay thing was sure to wear off and I thought I might as well be prepared for a sudden hetero experience.
At this point I decided to branch out and try a different religion all together. The problem was, I knew little about other religions. Most of what I had been allowed to read growing up was all told from a very slanted, christian perspective. I knew about some Middle Eastern and East Asia religions but only in a negative light. So I headed to my local library and began searching the shelves for an Encyclopedia of Religion. A title caught my eye, “Gods Lunatics” by Michael Largo. Great! I thought Another one of those bitter Atheists trying to make fun of what they refuse to accept. I heatedly grabbed the book and read the back. I was actually surprised, it turned out I had found my encyclopedia.
If you’ve never read Largo’s book and you enjoy brief histories then I highly recommend it. For me, it was exactly what I needed. A one to two page summary each of 1,001 religions. While Largo can’t contain his sarcasm periodically towards some of the most extreme of religions, the account as a whole is pretty straight forward. (If you ever read this Largo then you’re welcome for the free plug.)
As I begin to read I started seeing similarities between the religion of my youth and many other religions. I thought this was odd since my leaders had always been so fervent in teaching us followers that we alone had the “truth”. I didn’t have much access to the internet at this point in my life so my work was all done through old fashion book study. I did check out a few documentaries from the Library as well to aid in my research and I began to map out the history of religion. After a few months I came to an unsettling conclusion: all religion was a man made tool used to manipulate and comfort humankind (but mostly to manipulate). And that almost every religion was a copycat of previous religions and folklore.
It was so obvious but yet I could see why most people had never stumbled up this discovery for themselves. For starters, the leaders of nations had worked tirelessly for millennia to convince the masses of a need to please the god/gods. Naturally the leaders would interpret the gods needs which inevitably coincided with the leaders desires. There were many other reasons people had clung to religion for so long including tradition, community, personal guidance, answers to life’s problems, a desire for justice, and a fear of death. In fact, until the Renaissance and the advances in medicine, science and technology that followed, mankind really didn’t have a reason to dispose of religion.
Realizing why we had religion, it didn’t take me long to question the existence of a god. If we didn’t need religion, then did we need a god? I read a few more books but this time from a scientific approach. I admit I pulled a classic budding atheist move and first read Dawkins The God Delusion. However he did make many compelling points against the existence of a god. Yes his analogy of the Flying Spaghetti Monster rang true for me and would cement my decision to identify as an atheist rather than an agnostic. But that came still later.
My biggest argument for the need for a god was morality. If we concede as a whole that there is no god, will mankind continue as a civil and moral society or disintegrate into savagery? I found a book by Matt Ridley, The Origins of Virtue, which I later discovered is a very popular book in the field of science and morals. This book very clearly detailed where humans get their virtues/morals. The tit for tat theory and subsequent studies were the most compelling argument for me. I cannot recommend this book enough.
I continued to study the subjects of religion, evolution and human psychology and eventually came to my personal belief that the probability of a god is in fact as likely as the probability of Flying Spaghetti Monster hurdling through space. Most important, I came to see the incredible harm religion has place on all of humanity and that is the purpose of this blog. Whether an individual chooses to believe in a god is of little concern to me; but the infiltration of religion into our politics, education and social issues quite frankly terrifies me. So i’m dedicating this blog to addressing these issues, answering questions for the faithful and the faithless, and cataloging my own experience and journey as an atheist in the most religious developed country in the world.
Enjoy! – H