A Reasonable Atheist

a loose buckle on the bible belt

My Road to Skepticism

I grew up in the Southern United States by Christian parents. We attended a tiny United Methodist Church. On a good day we might have 20 people. The first things I remember from Sunday school are learning Bible stories. Looking back now, I realize that these sanitized versions of Bible stories are one of the things that helped me hold on to my faith for so long.

One particular thing I remember from Sunday school is the felt board. If you haven't ever seen this, it's a board covered with felt on which you can place paper cutouts of characters from the Bible. It's used to tell children the stories, like Adam and Eve, Noah, Cain and Able, Jacob and the Coat of Many Colors, etc. Now-days, I think they probably use cartoons to teach these things. The sad thing is, most people I knew in the church never really got much past these simplified versions of the stories. I call this "Veggietale Christianity".

This continued until I was about 14, when I remember getting pressured to be "saved". And so one Sunday, when the preacher called for anyone who wanted to be saved to come forward, I stood up. I don't remember much emotion from it, except that I remember my mom crying. I remember thinking that she must really love me to cry because I was being saved. It's important to note, I didn't have a "religious experience". At the time, I was just thinking that the act of declaring my belief in Jesus was the point. That somehow God would see that, and that was just "how it worked". I didn't question how it worked, I just accepted it.

In High School my Christianity faded a bit. Honestly, it just wasn't something I thought about in depth. I became the piano player at my church, and called myself a Christian. My High School did NOT teach very much about Evolutionary Biology, and so I don't remember being challenged about that. However, starting in Junior High and going through High School, I became VERY interested in science , specifically astronomy and cosmology. So I ended up believing in the Big Bang, and how old the universe was. I never really went back and compared this to Genesis though.

Then College hit. In college I studied Computer Science. I also joined the "Wesley Foundation". This is where my "religious experiences" hit. I was part of a singing group that would go around to churches and perform contemporary Christian music. I enjoyed it very much. At the time I believed it was because of Jesus. But looking back at it, I think it was mostly because music was another of my passions. After all, I had the same emotional responses playing Trumpet in the College Band. At the same time, I was interested more and more in Science and Cosmology. So I ended up coming up with my own rationalizations to merge what the Bible said with what Cosmology told us about the origins of the universe. I still had not come across the theory of evolution in any detailed way. I mean I had seen the pictures of fish turning into land mammals, tuning in to apes, turning into humans, and I figured it must have happened that way, and then I looked at Genesis and pretended to match up the order the animals were created with the order they evolved.

I realize now that that was a mistake. Once I got out of College and started working, I got disillusioned with my Church. The numbers of people at the Church were dwindling, and I was growing bored of playing the piano at Church services that were exactly the same every week. So I stopped going, making up excuses to tell my parents. Eventually I stopped altogether and the church got another piano player. My parents would try to get me to go occasionally and it would usually annoy me, and I guess they could tell it was, because they eventually stopped.
During this time, I had a friend who always used to call himself an "agnostic". We had long discussions about the existence of God. I enjoyed the arguments, and out of these discussions, I moved closer and closer to what I now know is the "deist" position. I believed that God created the universe, like a Clock.. He wound it up and started it going, but didn't interfere much. I believed he might have interfered when Jesus came into the world, but for the most part, he didn't. I bought the "Free Will" arguments Christians so usually use. This helped explain how so many bad things could happen in the world. God had to take a "hands off" approach in order to preserve free will.

Then I met and married my wife. She had already come to the conclusion of "atheist". In addition, she was a huge fan of Sir David Attenborough and insisted I watch all of his nature specials. This was the beginning of the end for my deism. My deism was propped up on the "argument from design". The final death nell was when I read Richard Dawkin's book, "The Selfish Gene". Then I started learning everything I could about Evolution, having missed it in all my schooling.

Eventually I got into the philosophical arguments about what "atheism", "agnosticism", and other such terms are and what they mean. It was at this point that I didn't really identify as readily with "atheism" alone. And then I happened upon a podcast called "The Skeptics Guide to the Universe" and I realized, that's what I am. A Skeptic. I was ALWAYS a skeptic about UFOs, Ghosts, Psychics, and the "paranormal". But I realized that I'm now just as skeptical about religious claims. I don't give them any more credence than I do everything else.

I still haven't "come out" to my parents about my atheism though. I'm hoping that I can get the nerve to do this soon, as it's really starting to bother me when I go and visit.


2 Responses to “My Road to Skepticism”

  1. # Blogger Ryan

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing your story. I can relate to almost everything you wrote. I like the "skeptic" term as well. That's what I would call myself, too (naturalist is another good one I think). It says nothing is impossible, but if you want me to believe it, you've got to convince me with evidence and reasoning.  

  2. # Blogger The Flying Trilobite

    I agree with Ryan. Very good post.

    It's always interesting to me to hear these stories. I posted my own last year. It differs for me in many ways since my single parent raised me to follow my interests, and religion was never emphasized. I suppose you could say it was a disinterested agnostic upbringing, with loads and loads of fairytales and mythology thrown in.

    I like your writing style.  

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