Wednesday, June 4, 2008
How did I get here?
My family is southern baptist. In fact, most of my home town area is southern baptist. I grew up in a town that is about 80% black, with a very high rate of poverty and unemployment. Not surprisingly, there are probably more churches per capita than most towns of similar size. Driving up and down the windy, dusty roads you see the unmistakable white steeples of a traditional southern black baptist church about every two miles or so.
My family, though not really the bible-thumpin' fire-and-brimstone type, went to church at least 2-3 times per month. That doesn't include the bible studies, choir rehearsals and other assorted meetings of the holy that my parents frequented but (thankfully) didn't force us to go to. It's kind of odd that with all the indoctrination I was surrounded with, it just didn't 'take'. I can remember being a kid and staring out the window during church services bored out of my mind.
When I got old enough to understand more of what was going on I became really confused. I didn't understand the things people would say-- "I want to thank god for getting me safely up and down the dangerous highways" or "I want to thank god for waking me up this morning". It was confusing because those things tend to happen about 99.9% of the time anyway so why was there a need to thank god? It's as if these people just expected to die every time they went to sleep or set foot in a vehicle and had to express gratitude every time it didn't happen. Beyond that, if there was a glorious heaven as everyone proposed then what was the harm in dying? Why thank god for keeping you in this 'earthly struggle' and delaying you from 'winning the battle' and taking your 'place among the righteous' in heaven?
My first reaction to these questions was to distance myself from fundamentalism. By fundamentalist, I mean an individual who believes that god directly intervenes in people's day to day lives. I became more moderate, and I thought there was a god but he doesn't really interfere in our day to day lives at all. I also started thinking of god as an internal sort of happiness or peace (nirvana?) that everyone should work toward. Moderation is where I stayed throughout my teenage years. I would pray, but my prayers become more of a recital of things I wanted to happen/change/reflect on as opposed to asking god to do things for me. I actually think a lot of people fall into this category, which is weird considering that 100 years ago today's moderation would have constituted atheism, but that's another post.
It wasn't until about a year or two ago that I seriously considered that I might be an atheist. It wasn't a traumatic realization, probably because I was never really religious to begin with but there are those who struggle mightily with that very same realization. There are questions I had that I was finally able to fully articulate to myself. (Why is christianity any different from any other discarded religion? If god exists, then why do people suffer so much? Why is it that there's nothing about nature that suggests humans are special?) At the urging of a friend I bought a book on atheism and haven't looked back since.
So there you go. From disinterested in religion to confused to religous moderation to full fledged atheist. And it only took about 20 years! I actually just realized how long of a process this was. I can't imagine how difficult it would have been if I had been really engaged in the church. It kinda makes you sympathize with people who hold on to religion despite the mountains of doubt they sometimes feel. It is difficult to let go of something when you grew up within it.