Friday, October 17, 2008

Blog meme: My first day as an Atheist

I've been tagged by Kazim (aka Russell Glasser) of the The Atheist Experience regarding a new blogger meme regarding atheism and agnosticism.

Can You Remember The Day That You Officially Became An Atheist?

Difficult question.  I don't remember the date I admitted to myself that I was an atheist.  I would say it was a gradual process, so naming the date would be as difficult as naming the day I became a mature adult.  But I do remember the day that I outed myself as an atheist, the day that I first told someone else that I no longer believed in God or could honestly call myself a Christian.   That would be December 27, 2001, and even then my confession was pseudo-anonymous.

I had been lurking on a message board peopled primarily by atheists, agnostics, and other free-thinkers with the intention of winning them to Christ.  My first post was in September 2000.  I had assumed my arguments were fresh and powerful and quickly learned they were anything but.  Over the next year of reading, thinking, talking privately to Kazim and others, and lots of desperate prayers, I finally had to admit I couldn't believe anymore.  I posted a long confession to the atheist board on 12/27/01--first to confess that I had been trying to win them to Christ, and second to confess that I was as of that day officially an atheist.

Probably a month earlier, a board member and I had been engaging in an e-mail discussion, and I was asking him a lot of yeahbut questions--"Yeah, but isn't it possible that God exists?  Yeah, but how do we face death with dignity?  Yeah but, yeah but, yeah but?"  My correspondent finally saw through my desperate pleadings and said, "You know what?  I think you're already an atheist--you just haven't admitted it yet." 

That statement hit me between the eyes like a bullet.  I raged, flailed about, got my back up in righteous anger--then felt my shoulders slump when I realized that he was probably right.  I later told him that he was right, although to my dismay I can't find that e-mail anymore.

About three months after I outed myself pseudononymously on the message board, I formally told my wife, and a week later, my two closest friends.

Do you remember the day you officially became an agnostic?

That came probably two months later, when I re-read George H. Smith's Atheism: A Case Against God.  My first reading of Smith's book was instrumental to me in becoming an atheist.  My second reading completed the package by fully explaining to me the difference between agnosticism and atheism.  Like many people, I thought that agnosticism was a wishy-washy half-way point between belief and non-belief, a milquetoast refusal to commit one way or another.  Like most things about atheism, I was wrong.

I see the two as different methods of thinking.  Theism or atheism describes what you believe about God.  Agnosticism is about what you know about God.   Two completely separate realms.  I can believe in God, but not know anything about him, like the Jewish philosopher Maimonides.  Or I can claim to believe in God and that I know about his nature, like most theists do.  Or I can just say I don't know if God exists, and I don't believe that he does.  Ergo, I'm an Agnostic-Atheist.

I'm fully aware that an estimated ten percent of conversations among atheists involve ironing out the definitions of 'atheist' and 'agnostic.'  These are the meanings that work for me.

Did anger towards God or religion help cause you to be an atheist or agnostic?

Of course not.  I'm no more angry at God than I'm angry at Darth Vader for killing Obi-Wan Kenobi.  However, I would be angry if someone told me that Vader was completely justified in his killing and that we should look to him as an example of morality and justice.

When it comes to God, I'm angry that people brush aside his Noahic genocide, his Canaanite ethnic cleansing, his capricious wrath against mortals, his eternal punishment for disbelief as mere trifles to be swept under the rug called "Righteous Justice."  I have to remember, though, that I used to hold these very views myself, even use them against others.  I'm not proud of that, and the memory of that holds me in check from blasting out against those who would urge me to worship a deity that would damn me for not worshiping him.

Here is a good one: Were you agnostic towards ghosts, even after you became an atheist?

Yes, but that was merely a happy accident of my Christian upbringing.  "It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgement."  So saith Paul, so say we all.  Ghosts didn't exist--not because we don't have souls, said my Christian self, but because our souls are not allowed to loiter around on Earth causing mischief.  Today I say that ghosts don't exist because there's no evidence for the human soul, and all accounts of ghosts have natural explanations or contain logical absurdities.

Do you want to be wrong?

Sometimes.  I would love nothing more than to know that there is a God who will clean up after my mess, who will rescue me from any danger I get myself into, who will always love me even when I'm unlovable--sort of like a robotic puppy with Coast Guard training.

But most of the time, no.  I'm a grownup, and  I will not bow down to any lord or master.  When I formally declared that I was an atheist, it was as though the sun had finally emerged from behind the clouds. I felt as if heavy chains fell off my back. I was finally able to get off my knees and stand erect as a member of the human race. I became more happy than I ever was as one who believed that I was worthless and corrupt in God's sight. Instead of seeing all people as either fellow believers or hopeless sinners bound for eternal damnation, now I see all people as equal. I now take full responsibilty for all of my actions, good and bad, instead of hiding behind the idea that an innocent man took my punishment and let me off scott free. What's more, I no longer fear death, but embrace and cherish life to its fullest--all the more so because this is all I will get.

For all of that I have atheism to thank.

I'm passing this on to John Loftus of Debunking Christianity.

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