Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Why I'm An Atheist

My path to atheism seems to be a product of three main events in my life, the last one pushing me over the edge.  I'd list them (as any good engineer would), but they fit better in a story.  Here goes...

I grew up in a very rural part of the Midwest.  Like, you have to drive an hour to get to the nearest McDonalds.  I have German heritage, and went to Lutheran Church my entire childhood.  I was baptized and confirmed in the church.  It was an evangelical church, but aside from siphoning off money for missions (from people who were mainly lower-middle class), we just left other folks in the community alone.  I learned how the Catholics were wrong, but not much else from the pastors that were in semi-retirement.  I do recall getting the "look at the trees" lesson as the proof of gods creation in catechism, and I recall it being fairly satisfying an answer at the time.  Not so much in the specific sense of "kinds" of life, but more on the grandeur of it all.

At some point in my teens, I contemplated staying there, living a rural existence, but my mother was a teacher at the local elementary school and I was decent at math and science (I remember reading the physics text book and correcting the football coach, who somehow was the high school science teacher, on atomic theory), so off to engineering school I went.

At school in the big Midwest city, I found a church that was of the same synod as my home church and attended a few times.  I was invited to bible study, and while I don't recall the specifics (which is why I don't consider it a very important event), it just didn't make sense to me.  I just stopped going to church all together.  I still went when back in my home town with the parents, but it just didn't fit.

After a couple of quarters, I found my home amongst the nerds at school.  We had the fun that you have at college, but we were focused on learning and doing well academically.  One weekend evening of LAN gaming and various amounts and types of alcohol, the subject of religion came up, and up until that time, the religion of my friends didn't matter.  But, one or two of them were Catholic.  I'm embarrassed now, but at the time I thought I had finally found a place to use all of that Lutheran anti-Catholic training.  Well, after some relatively respectful arguing, where spent my anti-Catholic ammo, I ended up feeling horrible.  Here I was, caring about something I really didn't care that much about deep down, and my friends had the pat answers that they were taught, that they also didn't care much about.  Why the hell were we arguing about this?  There were computer games to be played, beers to be drank, girls, and real knowledge to be soaked up!  This was the first event that led me to become a "generic Christian".  I felt that Christianity was good, but rejected all the sectarian BS.

After college, I was sucked into Silicon Valley at the height of the dot com bubble.  I managed, or rather got lucky, or both, to remain employed as the tech industry exhaled.  Being new to the Bay Area, the diversity of the people was exhilarating.  In Midwestville, the people are white, just plain old European white.  Being the nerdy type, I did hang with the occasional exchange student.  One guy in high school was from southeast Europe, and as my Dixiecrat-esque history teacher put it after asking about his religion: he is Christian, which meant he is OK, unlike one of those Muslims (this was pre-9/11, even).  Anyway, it wasn't like I was a complete back-woods country boy (my mother made sure of that) and made friends whom have a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds in the professional nerd culture.

It was then that I met my now wife of 12 years.  She is from a Muslim country, but one of the of the more moderate ones.  She was (and still is) a believer, just not very specific.  Her dad was more progressive than some of people in Midwestville, but devoutly Muslim.  When we were to be married, her family didn't give me any religious trouble.  I've traveled with her back to her home and the people there are as salt of the earth as in Midwestville (if not more so).  Back then, none of the religious stuff consciously mattered, since we were madly in love.  Our families were just going to have to deal with it and they did.  We did get married in my home town church, but had to consult with a local pastor of the same synod.  They counseled us separately and the local pastor said I've been given the task to lead my fiancé down the right path.  I'm not sure if my facial expression said it, but my thought was "WTF?!?!".  I lied and said I would just so we could get married where it would be best for my extended family.  The experience of love and the exposure to utterly non-Christian culture was the second event that drove me to become a sort of Pan-Deist.  God just couldn't be damning all of those other folks to hell, there had to be multiple paths to god.  Jesus was a good guy and all of the specifics didn't really matter.

Quick side note, while engineering lets you hide god in your worldview more easily than biology or physics, my skepticism was growing toward those that asserted religious knowledge.  I credit the engineering corporate culture to some extent.  The BS is piled so high at times that the clear facts get ignored. I learned that being a general skeptic helped differentiate my work in a positive way and helped cut through the BS for the ultimate benefit of the company.

Not too long after, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, in an advanced stage.  The only thing mildly good about cancer is that it at least gives you a bit of time before you're gone.  It was rough, but even though I hadn't consciously shed my god belief at the time, I knew that it had nothing to do with god.  It was just happenstance that this was how it was going to end for my mother.  I didn't pray, like I used to from time to time for other less predictable things, for her to get better because the science on her condition was clear.  Anyway, while this didn't ratchet me any further along the path to atheism, as I didn't really blame god, I think it may have loosened some resistance.

Then, after maturing as a couple for some years, the instinctual drive for children came knocking.  I know that parenthood isn't for everyone, but it is for me and I couldn't give two shits if its a rational desire or not.  We got pregnant, err, well, my wife did all the hard work of turning that single cell into a baby.  There are only a few moments in life that are profound and the moment I heard her cry for the first time in the delivery room was possibly the most impactful moment.  Strangely, this moment wasn't directly the third event, but it directly led to it.

While being ignorantly in love with a person who depends on you entirely is special and pure, I was bound and determined to get fatherhood as right as I could.  After a week or two, the god question dawn on me.  Holy buckets Batman, what the hell is it that I believe about this religious stuff?  What am I going to teach my daughter?  I may have rejected my core Christian beliefs, but what if I'm doing the wrong thing for my daughter?  Little did I know at the time where this would lead.  I read up on Baptism, knowing that was what saved babies from hell.  But that church I was raised in wasn't right about a lot of things, could they be wrong about that too?  I wasn't going to take her there (I may have Baptized my daughter myself during this period, I don't recall anymore).  There was only one thing to do: Question everything!  I started out in religious arenas, looking for something that fit my beliefs.  Then I found Atheism.  I was hesitant at first with the idea, but convinced myself that it was OK since I could always go back.  Everything started making sense and fell together so well, that I almost couldn't believe it was real.

Now, I'm a happy atheist.  And, I'm a better husband, father, son and overall person for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment