Sunday, March 4, 2007

My Atheist Self

All blogs have their beginning. Even blogs that don't live past the first post start somewhere. So, despite the longevity of this blog being a complete unknown, here I go.

With atheist blogs in particular, the traditional first post is the "giving up God" story or the "coming out" story. Almost in the same way that the first issue of every superhero comic must deal with that hero's story of origin. Are we the real life superheros? I look at my kids, and I know that one of these days they're going to realize that there are two sides to religion. You don't have to believe. And if they choose the rational truth over the anesthetic lies, then yes. I will feel like a real life superhero.

My own atheism probably didn't inspire anybody. My parents raised me in a Unitarian Universalist church, although they were very non-specific about their religion. More recently, I've determined that my father is an agnostic and my mother is a pantheist. They both very supportive of me being a full-out atheist.

There was never really a time in my life that I wasn't an atheist. But I would say that there were three pivotal moments that led me to realize that is what I was.

The first moment was one day when I was four (I think it was about four). Some kids at school (I went to a Montessori preschool for a couple of years before I started first grade, and this was during Montessori) had mentioned God, and I had no idea what they were talking about. I asked my parents about it, and my dad responded with, "Well, some people believe...." It was the "some people" that caught my attention. It meant that it was optional. It was not required. It wasn't universal.

A couple of years later, another piece of the puzzle fell into place. I read a lot, and was an advanced reader for my age. One of my favorite books was D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths. What really interested me was that nobody believed in Zeus anymore. At some point, people had stopped believing in the Greek gods, and started believing in God. So, what religion was next? Religion appeared to be evolving along with civilization. Which meant that it was only 'true' relative to the time of its believers. Which meant that mankind generations in the future might not -- or probably won't -- believe in the religion we have today.

At this point I was solidly atheist, although I was really hesitant to ever say so in front of anybody but my parents. But I was definitely not happy about this God thing. I remember once refusing to join the soccer team at the Boys Club because the membership form included an oath to God. I threw a childish temper tantrum at the time, but I wish I could go back and give that kid a big pat on the back just for the principle of it. I hope my kids will be aware enough to know how wrong it is to force an eight year old to sign an oath to God before they can be part of the team.

About the only public show of atheism I had in me at this point was that I refused to say the pledge of allegiance. And in certain settings, to not bow my head or close my eyes during a group prayer. It wasn't until fifth grade that I started telling my friends -- only when they asked, mind you -- that I was agnostic. I felt that 'agnostic' softened the blow. I still flabbergasted the other bible-belt children, but I wasn't too far from fitting in that they really excluded me. (At least, not for my religion. I was enough of a geek even then that they probably figured my religion was just one more oddity.)

The third and final moment happened during late high school. I was finally growing some self-confidence, and it was manifesting in my being more open about my beliefs. I was even occasionally bold enough to debate other students about the existence of God. I was THE science geek of my grade, which gave me a pretty good foundation of knowledge to pull from, for a high-schooler. But what happened that really made a difference to me, is that I switched from calling myself an agnostic to calling myself an atheist. I had known for some time that I was using the term agnostic to avoid the really scary discrimination and distrust that comes with the term atheist. But now I was ready to do something about it. I decided -- once-and-for-all, as it were -- that I would no longer be so meek as to lie about who and what I was just because I was afraid of the response of other people.

This was huge. My self confidence went through the roof, and I began what a theist would call a spiritual journey. I suppose I should call it a rational journey. I really began to explore the notion of being atheist. And I became proud of it. College only bolstered this. My college was probably 30%-40% atheist, which helped me feel like one of the crowd. (it was maybe another 30%-40% catholic, and the rest scattered among a wide variety of denominations).

Unfortunately, these days I am finding myself much more withdrawn. I feel more limitations. I have clients. Family. I am more aware -- and more incensed -- over issues such as God in our pledge, the separation of church and state, and polls that determine atheists to be the least trusted minority. I'm feeling much more oppressed than I did six or seven years ago. I feel like a minority. I am also feeling very much alone. I work at home, and rarely leave the house. I need a way to speak to others like me. I need to find my voice and become that self-confident atheist once again.

So while I am keeping my atheism very low key to strangers and clients, I am also trying to find a way to speak to others as an atheist. Which is this blog. This is my Atheist Self.



19 comments:

Naomi said...

Welcome to a very big club! No leader, no dues, no rules, and just one agenda: to push back against the tide of creeping theocracy.

When you get really lonely and want to hang out with some of Atheism's "kewl kids", drop into God is for Suckers! dot net, where the only line we draw is: no fundamentalist proselytizing!
http://gods4suckers.net/

If you're in a thoughtful mood, the best place is at EbonMusing's DaylightAtheism. He's a genius at de-constructioning christianist thinking...
http://www.daylightatheism.org/

If you're into politics covered by an atheist, check out VastLeftWingConspiracy.
http://vastleft.blogspot.com/

Be sure to enter this URL when you comment, so that you get some traffic back here.

Blogging can be a Zen-thing, giving satisfaction, validation and focus. And atheist bloggers are ready to be your family.

Naomi, contributor to GifS (the other two are just great sites I've found)

David W. said...

Thanks Naomi, for the warm welcome! I've been reading GifS for a couple of weeks now, yours and Pharyngula's were the first sites I found.

Thanks for the great links too -- the Daylight Atheism site has also led me to a lot of great new material -- I'm especially happy about finding the Skeptic's Annotated Bible!

Sacred Slut said...

Hi David! Welcome to the atheist world. Your story is great. You can really count yourself lucky that you avoided the Xian brainwashing so many people have to work to overcome.

Thanks for the link to my blog. I hope to read many more of your posts. Great writing.

Alexander said...

I was directed to your blog from DaylightAtheism, and I have to say that it was a particularly good reccomendation on his part.

I'd also like to say that you are far from alone in the world, I was a very meek little atheist geek myself for a while, and I only just recently came out to my immediate family (my extended family would take it even worse than my immediate). Needless to say, I didn't have the most welcome response.

I did, however, gain a great deal of confidence from the "debate" that raged from my little revelation, and I hope that you find someone closer to you who you can openly discuss your atheism with.

David W. said...

Hi Alexander, welcome! I am very happy to have found so much support in the atheist community online -- I should have started blogging about this a long time ago!

Debates are like energy drinks for atheists. I find them invigorating! They're great for boosting confidence, too. I just need to find an outlet nearby where I can debate sensibly, without it becoming a heated exchange that would damage a good relationship. (read: not with a close family member or client)

Alexander said...

I would have to say that internet debates would be the easiest to arrange--a quick visit to talk.origins would suffice--but I doubt you would make any headway. Most of the theists I've seen on forums such as that are completely hardened against logic, they'll just scream or post nonsense until you give up.

If you were to find a religious person nearby who would be willing to debate you, or an atheistic club or society that might host such a debate, I'm certain that you would find some more satisfaction, even if it does not sway the person you are debating.

Here is a resource that I used to good effect during my "debate":

www.evilbible.com

David W. said...

I've also recently discovered IIDB.com, which has some debating on it also.

Thanks for the evilbible.com link -- I'll have to add that to my link list! Another good link I've found recently is TalkOrigins, and their Index to Creationist Claims. Very valuable for debating young/old earth views.

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