Monday, April 29, 2013

Misconceptions - Atheists can't have morals without God!

Can Atheists have morals?

Short answer, yes. And we do.

I have to admit, I don't understand - even having been in that world - how people can say someone without religion can't have morals. Christianity has only been around, at most, two thousand or so years. If you pick the various councils, or the conversion of the Roman emperor as the start date, it's less than that. Plus, of course, Christianity didn't spread to the entire world right away (and still hasn't.)

So claiming that without Christianity you can't have morals is just insular, arrogant, and somewhat short-sighted. Did the greeks (from where we get some of our ideals) not have morals? Or the Egyptians? Or the Chinese, one of the oldest extant civilizations?

Now, that's not to say their morals were the same as ours. You can't even say everyone today, even in the same country, state, city, or belief system, have the same morals. Some look at divorce or gay relationships as immoral, others see the denial and repression of those people, or of forcing a couple who really would do better apart to stay together, as immoral. Who is right?

Morality is rarely black and white. It's part of why we have multiple definitions for things, even that should "at first glance" be considered cut and dry. It's why we have suicide versus "self-sacrifice" - someone cutting their wrists out of depression and dying and someone jumping on a grenade to save their friends, fellow soldiers or family are both just as dead, and both made the decision to take an action to kill themselves - yet one is a sad loss, the other, while still sad, is seen as noble and heroic.

What makes one "better" than the other? The intent and the result. And this, to me, is the key to what morals are.

What does morality do? It gives us a guide that lets us live together - as a family, as a culture, a tribe, a nation. A deity can be created to "hand down" those morals, but it's really not needed. Murder, for instance - the killing of another person, not in self defense or defense of family or nation - is generally seen as wrong. (I say generally because, even here, we hit shades of grey - we in the West see "honor killings" as wrong, for the most part, while other cultures see it as right, if not a duty, to restore family or personal honor. But while it is murder, they don't consider it murder... part of what makes this discussion both difficult and contentious.)

And morality both changes through time, and gives an insight into a culture. For instance, rape is wrong. Rape is immoral. It's an absolute violation of someone. Today, people go to jail for it. Yet, in the bible, the restitution for rape is... that the rapist can marry his victim. (Talk about torture for the victim.) Why? At that point, women were, essentially, property. Raping that woman damaged another man's property and lowered her value - so the rapist made up for it by basically buying the property, with as little emotion as if someone ran into a car and had their insurance pay the damages. Today, most of us would see that as absolutely sickening.

So, the Christian's question, typically, is "without God, where do you get your morals?"

I can only answer this for myself, of course. But my secular morality can often be boiled down to "Does this make things better for someone else, or hurt them? Does it aid society in making it better, making it easier for us to get along, and/or treat each other equally or not?" If it improves the general welfare, even if it doesn't make my personal life easier, it's usually "good" or "moral." (Not to mention legal.)

This is why I don't steal, for instance. Sure, I could steal groceries (theoretically) and feed myself at a fraction of the cost it does now. It would be personally advantageous. But the result is that the grocer loses money, not just directly through the loss, but through replacing it, through time spent finding out who did it, possibly by hiring more security or installing security systems, and if enough people did it (and he or she didn't go out of business) by raising prices on everyone. It's a loss as a whole. (Even ignoring my own risk of jail time.) It's bad for the community as a whole. It brings everyone down.

This is also why I support things like same sex marriage. Denying a loving couple the same right as a mixed-gender couple to publicly acknowledge their relationship and get the benefits (and responsibilities) of it makes them second-class citizens. It makes them "less than" everyone else. This is not fair or right, and to me, needs fixing - especially since every argument against it is either illogical, fearful, ill-informed and/ or religious, versus factual, in nature.

So, yes. Atheists do have morality. We don't become lawless creatures just because we have no deity we worship.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Misconceptions - Why do you hate god?

One of the things I'd like to tackle are misconceptions about Atheists. Now, it's hard to honestly say, 100%, that "This is what atheists think." Just like it's hard to say 100% "This is what religious people think." Religious people, even in the same religion, can't agree - for instance, baptism of a baby by sprinkling, by dunking, by going to a river or by getting gatorade dumped over your head? (The last being popular in the Church of Football. That may not, technically, be a religion.)

Atheists are people. I'm sure some do hold a "hatred of God" (or Allah, or whoever else.) But to me, that's utterly nonsensical, for reasons I hope will be clear - and I hope they'd think about.

So. One of the common Christian questions that gets tossed out at Atheists, other than "why did you become one" is "Why do you hate God?"

Let me answer that by asking you a question. If you're a Christian, why do you hate Zeus?  Or Athena? (Not from Battlestar Galactica.) Why do you hate Marduk?

Now, the Christian may, depending on how fundamentalist (and I mean that basically in the way I was raised in the church) they are, say "I hate them because they're actually Satan's demons who led others astray!" Which makes sense within your mythology (and despite my nonbelief, I'm using that word to mean your canon of beliefs.) But do you actively hate Zeus? Do you spend your time going around saying "That Zeus, man, I know nobody believes in him now that I know of, but he just burns me up!"

No, not likely. Why not?  Simple - you don't believe in him. Not just you don't accept the tenets of the faith, like a Baptist doesn't believe in Catholic saints but knows to Catholics they exist and intercede. No, to you they're nothing more than stories with no power or reality behind them.

Well, for the Atheist, that's the case with all gods. We (I should, properly, say "I" but as a general rule...) don't harbor a personal hate for the "person" of Jahweh, El, YHWH, etc. because we don't believe he exists. The evidence is not there for us to think otherwise.

An Atheist actually, personally hating God is like someone who doesn't believe in leprechauns hating leprechauns. It's illogical and a waste of energy.

Now, you will hear Atheists say they do hate God. Many times, though, that's a lazy shorthand and the atheist should be called out on it. They don't hate "God." A nonexistant being didn't do anything. What they probably are railing against is a church, or the actions of believers, or some group doing something horrible (whether letting a woman die because they wouldn't abort an already dead baby, destroying historic sites,  mistreating someone because they're gay, or starting a war) in the NAME of a religion or deity. Sometimes it's out of true belief, and sometimes it's an excuse - but the atheist finds the actions (and the religious reason/excuses behind it) sickening.

What makes it more sickening is that, to the atheist, this life is the ONLY one you get, that not only should you make the most of it but, really, as a good person you should try to make it better for everyone. And as the exact OPPOSITE of that, the religious zealot - the ones beating and condemning to death, murdering, starting wars, etc. - believe that not only are they killing unbelievers, but that after the death OF those unbelievers, in many religions they'll now be sent to be tormented for eternity.

How utterly sick is it to wish that on another human being? And this is not the slang "sick" which means "good" or "impressive," either. I do mean lunch-losing, gut-wrenchingly sickening. And it's not limited to any one religion or period of time, either.

So when an Atheist says they hate "god," they don't - it's hard to personally hate something that doesn't exist. However, they can most certainly hate actions taken in the name of a belief system, and this, quite often, is what is meant.

Monday, April 22, 2013


So, how does one move from Christian guilt to being an Atheist?

Everybody's journey is different. Some can just say "Bollocks" and shed it all. While I'll admit to some doubt about those people, I'm sure some can - and stick with it. Really, it's hitting indoctrination and superstition with a sledgehammer of logic and just shattering the shell and walking out.

For me... not so much.

I did manage to make church basically not a part of my life. As I mentioned in the first part, I'd have called myself a "nonreligious baptist" at the time, as much a contradiction as that might be. I lived on my own a little (well, in my brother's apartment,) and really between school and jobs didn't have time for much besides eating and collapsing, much less religion or socializing all too much.

Eventually, from financial pressures (see also "rent" and "low paying job,") I moved down to Florida to be with my folks (again) and finish school without worrying about rent. I went to church, mostly to keep them happy (and visit, and hey, free food afterward at least once a month - got to love southern Baptist cookouts and pot-lucks!) But really, I didn't believe.

That little time apart shocked me, really, when I saw how into it my parents had gotten. Part of it was social, sure - but this time, there was no dating interest because I couldn't see myself getting involved with someone from the church that was so into the bible and all the ritual and restrictions. That couldn't see the goodness and worth in themselves, and had to take all the blame for the bad things, and give "all the glory to God."

I did agree, once I had a computer and printer hooked up (going to school to be a draftsman, after all) to help them make the church bulletins. And some of the things I saw...

While I was down there, for instance, Disney agreed to extend some recognition and rights to same-sex couples. (Mid 90s, I believe.) Shortly afterward, as usually happens, we had wind and tornadoes hit. Not a surprise. And none of them, I have to note, were anywhere near Disney. However, this didn't stop some of the preachers and televangelists insisting that this was "God loosing his wrath upon Disney."

And I saw this, in my mother's handwriting, in the notes for the bulletin. She had crossed it out before she gave it to me - some logic prevailed, I suppose, or maybe it was just that it was tasteless. But it turned my stomach to think that this - which did affect some people I knew, not gay, by the way - had been turned to serve the purposes of hate and bigotry.

Worse, that this example had crossed the mind of the otherwise sweet, loving, caring woman who was my mother long enough for her to think it was appropriate and write it down in a bulletin to be handed out to others.

I stared at it a while, feeling sick and angry, debating if I should confront her over how sick that was. Finally - half for not wanting to cause a scene, half knowing I WAS angry and it would be bad to face her that way with this - I passed over it and finished the bulletin.

I never did confront her about that. Time passed. And she still held very anti-gay biases - if she met anybody she suspected of being gay, or knew he was (always he, I don't think she ever really pictured lesbians) I'd hear about the "oh so feminine" guy. Even the server at one of the restaurants we went to regularly, later in life - if someone fit a gay stereotype (a bit of speech, lip gloss, walking, kind of "pretty," for lack of a better way of putting it) it was him without going over the top. She even asked me, talking about him - "Doesn't that bother you?" And just didn't seem to understand how I could say "no, it doesn't."

(For the record, yes, I am straight. Happily so. I love women. I'm turned on by women. As a thought experiment once, after talking to a gay friend of mine, I tried to think of getting involved with a guy. I don't mind seeing guys kissing or holding hands - kissing is a little odd to me. But if I put myself in that situation? Immediate turnoff. Other guys absolutely, positively don't do it for me, no matter who I try to picture. I found it kind of amusing that I couldn't even picture kissing another guy without getting a bit "erg... no." Even without a beard.)

In any case, thanks to the Internet, I met people. Including a woman from Oregon who eventually became my wife. And who I had to lie for as she drove down to move in and get married.

See, she was a witch. A wiccan, if you prefer that term. I'd met her - and her priestess, and others - when I went to oregon... I went there after meeting her online, talking all the time, and falling for her. I mentioned to my cousin she was studying witchcraft. Well, my cousin eventually told her mom, who told her sister (my mom,) and my parents sat down and said "She's not entering this house if she is!"

Knowing nothing about her. Or her religion. Or anything else. Instant ban. Instant dislike. Instant bias.

So, yes, I admit I twisted the truth there. "I said she was studying - as in comparitive religions and mythologies. We talk about it. Obviously someone misunderstood." And when Leah called, I warned her...

Fortunately, we had our own place soon, and were married. She still went to church with my folks, and generally got along with them  - but that always, always hung over my head.

I never did "out" her. Not my place to, after all. It was none of their business, and that hatred made me sick.

I was fairly fed up with Christianity at that point, too. My mom, for instance, earlier had flipped at seeing a hint book for Diablo. Yes, a video game. She didn't want to see "his face" in the house. She was on the edge of grabbing and ripping up the book, I'm sure.

In any case. My wife got sick. The hospitals couldn't say why, even with two spinal taps. We thought it had to be environmental, so - especially after losing my job for having too much time off (going to her father's funeral, her getting sick, finally me getting ill for a bit - none of which I could help) we decided to move back to Oregon. (Big mistake, job/finance wise, but otherwise...)

While there, I joined the coven. I started delving into paganism and Wicca. I met druids. And the people I met were... well, more like the Christian ideal than most Christians I knew. It was weird. And it was... liberating.

At one point, I was sure I had some sort of spiritual insight. That obviously the spiritual truth was like (my oh so clever analogy) a diamond - the whole truth was big, and multifaceted, and changed the way you looked at things so that when you looked in YOUR facet, your belief system, you couldn't see exactly what someone else was seeing! And this explained how nobody had quite the same explanation of god, spirits, the afterlife! It was impossible for us all to see the same thing! If everyone saw that, though, we could get along, hold hands and sing kum-ba-yah!

Yeah, Naiive.

Regardless, they were good people. And fun. Generally poor, but in good spirits anyway.

Then we found out why she was sick.

She had Multiple Sclerosis.

No praying, no laying on of hands, no anything helped her. Still, I could handle that. If we moved back home, where I had family (not FL, but WI, where I grew up) we could get her better care and a caregiver for the time I was working. She agreed - we needed money coming in, after living with her mom. I moved to WI... then it happened.

We called and talked. She always had time, even if I didn't have much to say - work job one, go to job 2, sleep and pay the rent isn't that exciting. Then one day... she didn't. In fact, she didn't answer.  I called her for days trying to get in touch with her, and never got a call back. Why? She had had a grand mal seizure. She was in a coma for several days.

When I finally found out - NOT thanks to her mother, but with friends - I called the hospital nightly. Finally, I got to talk to her, and it was like talking to a 5 year old. And later, someone who was delusional. (The 9/11 attacks happened during one of her stays - she was in and out of the hospital in Oregon - and she had some fairly... trippy conversations after it.)

Unsurprisingly, no amount of praying - even with my folks' church joining in - did anything. Well, it made those praying feel better, I'm sure... did she get out of the hospital? In order to go to a nursing home and rehab for a while, not much of "divine intervention" there. Was she fine afterward? Only until the next seizure. She was in and out of the hospital constantly.

Me, I picked up (fairly rashly) and came back, at a lousy time of year to do it. There was no way she'd be moving cross country - or that I would be able to work and care for her.

Long story short, over time she saw this, and the fact there was no work to be had, stressing me to the point I'd probably be hospitalized myself soon, and started talking about divorce.

With all this, I tried to hold on to some sort of faith. There had to be a reason, right?

Some two years later, my family came together to see my father one last time. And a few months later, to bury him. 

One of the things I see given as a reason to hold on to Christianity, or religion in general, is the "comfort" in times of grief. Dealing with my father's death - I can't say it helped.

It didn't really help with the divorce, either, though by this time I was drifting farther away from religion in general - the social aspect was fine, but as far as the beliefs? The feeling of some "higher power" out there? All the questioning was coming back - and the answers were all pointing at "no." The evidence was getting shakier and shakier.

At this point, I'd moved back in with my mom - after the divorce, I needed time to get back on my feet, find a good job and, as a side benefit, help her out. She was still having a few problems after my dad's death. So it was a good deal for both of us. I helped with some bills, helped out around the house as I could, and we helped each other.

She was still very christian. I went to church with her a few times, but at this time I was fairly... areligious. God no longer seemed like an answer to anything, much less someone or something that would have an impact in life. I was probably closer to how I'd heard deists explained - that, maybe there was a god, but he'd pretty much just set things in motion and stepped away to let things go how they were. We were, basically, a lab experiment. (And by "we" I mean the entire universe. Humans, earth, amoebas, cats, whales, palm trees, ear wax, galaxies, everything.) 

I'd also started re-igniting my love of astronomy. Astronomy is an absolute deathblow for the "specialness" of man, or a tribe of people, for a universe-wide deity. You look up, and the points of light you see in the sky are light that's anywhere from, oh, 18 minutes (if I'm remembering my distance to Mars correctly) to billions of years old. That some of those tiny, tiny points dwarf our sun - and not by a little. Some of those tiny dots are entire galaxies, even clusters of galaxies, with billions of stars of their own. That many of them may well not BE there any more, having used their fuel up before modern humans even poked their noses out of their caves.

I couldn't help but think, in context, how much more sense a "local" god - a god of a city or nation, such as Zeus, who lived "over there on that mountain" made. It made sense that one who lived there and could see you would pick your people as their own, and fight against other gods. It's just like national emblems - Brittania over English troops, for instance. And when the Israelites came up with their god - well, he was an evolution of other national and nature deities that lived nearby. Their idea of the "universe" was a firmament just overhead, after all. So in that worldview, that understanding of the universe, it makes some degree of sense to think an "all powerful" being would look down and say "Huh. Jews. I like them, I'm going to call them my chosen people."

I can't help but wonder if, had they had the knowledge of the universe we do now, if there would be no (religious) jews, just a nationality. Because when you can hop a half-hour ride on a beam of light, look back, and not be able to pick out your home among all the other points of light - and then realise that humanity, ALL of it, is taking up a tiny, tiny fraction of that point of light, and that all these other points of light (some - many, apparnetly - with planets, possibly with life, all mind-numbing distances away)  - I can't help but think they'd think just how silly it would be for not just humanity, but one specific, tiny fraction of humanity, to be "chosen" by that deity. And how foolish it is to fight for whose idea of deities is right.

At some point, I realized I was no longer agnostic. Not even deist. The idea of a god starting things off was just nonsensical - and people using this idea to belittle, even kill others, was abhorrent. That there was no morality in the bible. There were some common-sense, decidedly not divine revelations but common sense means of keeping a community running (do you REALLY need a god to tell you "Hey, dont' kill, don't steal from your neighbor?") That the only thing religion had to offer - not church, which could offer some socialization - was fear, fear that drove this unprovable, improbable idea they were selling of a god and an afterlife.

At that point, I realized I was an atheist. I'd come all the way out. Hell held no fear for me, because it was an improbable, illogical construct. God had no evidence for existing. Heaven? Also made no sense. (Not to mention sounded like torture to feed something else's ego - an eternity, yes, ETERNITY, praising one being? That sounds like hell, frankly.) Ghosts, spirits, and souls? Zero evidence, but plenty of evidence for wishful thinking and what we've discovered about brain chemistry.

I never told my mom. At this point, she was declining. I helped her come to a decision to leave one church where she'd been going, and mostly was going out of loyalty to my deceased father, but was decidedly unhappy, to another where (most importantly to me, given her health and social and mental health,) her friends were. I knew she couldn't accept me being an atheist. I could, of course, afford to move out, get an apartment, take care of my own bills, still come by and see her (once she was no longer angry,) but it was best for our peace to not tell her. She never understood why I didn't enjoy her religiously-based intolerance of gays - pointing out an apparently gay waiter and giving the usual "tsk, that's too bad," making some comment (so out of line with a normally sweet, lovign woman,) and then, seeing my reaction, asking me "doesn't he bother you?" She didn't seem to understand how I could say "No, he doesn't." I'll say she at least honored my decision not to attend church (though the invitations did still come once in a while.)

Eventually, cancer claimed her. At the end, for her frustration with chemo and the like, she - not god, not anything else - made a brave choice to face the inevitable, to not prolong what would not be a happy end to life through more surgeries and less-than-50% chance chemo.

I didn't actually see her leaning on her bible then, either. I saw her strength coming from inside to make it through her last days and weeks.

And of all the times I'd had to face death so far - my ex-wife's seizures and coma, which tore me up, my father's, which lingered with me - I was most able to handle my mother's, this wonderful woman with human flaws, who I was very close to - the best. I knew she had nothing to fear from maybe having messed up and missed her chance at an afterlife, despite being a generally good, helpful, loving person. No "limbo," no "purgatory," not that those were ever part of our lives when we were religious anyway. No, just a woman who'd lived her life, done the best job she could raising her family, and passed away peacefully at the end.

I mourned, of course - but I was most at ease with her death because I knew that was the end of any pain and suffering. Not because of a concept of heaven, but because she was finally done with it. I missed her, of course, but I understood and adjusted, and cherished memories.

I looked back at my own life, and realized I was more at peace with myself and the world, more accepting of others, more driven to create equality and pick others up who'd had trouble, and cherished my loved ones more as an atheist than I ever did as a Christian. I had a drive to make the most of this life. To help others suffer less, because there was no "eternal reward" for them to go to - this was their only shot. To see that there was no "chosen" group - we are all human, all sharing the same DNA, the differences between us so minor that there's no reason to put someone down because of race, or hair color, or being gay, or being a man or woman. Certainly not for our own artificial dividing lines of nation or religion.

And I also realized I had to get that message out.

So here we are. And I hope you get it, and consider it, and what it can do for your life. 

My name is Eric McCann. I'm an Atheist. Let's talk.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Where I came from, part 2.

There's another effect that this self-guilt had. That this oh-so-christian "You're not good enough, you're a sinner, you deserve Hell, all good things are God's" did to me.

I'm a bit shy and quiet by nature ("until you know me." Really, some of my friends can't get me to shut up - or not throw a really bad pun out!) But I was already fearful of not being good enough for God. So early on, my interactions with the opposite sex were... not spectacular.

Now, every boy, to some extent, deals with rejection. It's part of growing up. Some can brush it off and say "hey, it was worth a shot, getting slapped by her is still attention!" For me? No. I already had this sense of not being good enough, not being worthy - so early on, I came to any potential happiness or relationship already rejected and expecting it. To the point where I Wouldn't even try.

Besides, if God wanted it, he'd have some obvious way of saying "Hey. Her. Go talk to her now, and she will be yours," right? Yes, that (and the mentality I had to be The Provider, The Decider, Stoic and Handling All - which is a LOT to put on a teen!) really didn't help.

I still remember the first girl I was... infatuated with. Carrie. Cute, smart, funny, curly red hair and freckles. Yeah, charlie Brown's "curly headed red-haired girl?" I had her in my class. Fifth grade. You know how big moments stick in your mind?  Here's mine:

Her, me, friend of hers, friend of mine. I *obviously* liked her. I'm fairly sure she was VERY aware of it. We're the only ones in the classoom - we're in instead of at recess for some reason.

My friend: "Well, do you like her?" She can her.

Me? "Yes." Immediate reaction - "You're not good enough. And she doesn't go to your church. This is wrong." And I, in my first big bonehead move with the opposite sex, with someone who probably likes me, add "As a friend."

Which I get right back. And kick myself for saying for years afterward.

Now, yes, part of that WAS we were fifth (maybe sixth) graders and these hormone things making us like the girls we thought were "icky" before were weird. I admit that. But my deeply ingrained Christian guilt also took my big declaration, which was frightening to say - "Yes, I like you!" - and threw it in my face and forced me to basically say "not that way. Be alone."

I was very aware of that guilt and of not wanting God's disapproval. After all, would she (weak girl she was... ugh, yes, I had that attitude! Even though I knew she was smart, fun, and clever - kind of the opposite of weak - cognitive dissonance is the religious person's friend!) eventually be my Delilah? Would she want to seduce and tempt me, maybe even want to 'do it' outside of marriage... never mind I didn't know what 'it' was, or how it would be done? No, best to not risk making God angry. I'll do it to myself before he has reason to, like a good Christian.

All of this fed on itself - not wanting more rejection, the sense of disapproval from God (yes, disapproval from a nonexistant being,) guilt - on top of just teenage reactions. I didn't know how to act. And on top of it, MORE disapproval kept me from doing what my peers did. I don't mean teenage sex - sure, therew as some of that going on - or drugs (we had our stoners like everyone else.) I mean just going out with friends. Going to a roller rink? Which, yes, was a big thing. Well, they played that satanic rock music there. And the roller thing was somehow sexual anyway - bad! Bad! Repress! Repress! Concerts? I didn't listen to rock music! And what teenager in the 80s wanted to go see Roy Clark with my parents? Or the Nutcracker? (Yes, I saw them both.) Parties? Well, I was already ostracizing myself from my peers, so who would invite me, and why would I go to these non-church parties where, I was told, there was sex, and drinking, and probably darker things like drug use going on?

Thing is, I didn't go to church parties either. Why? Mr. Pot (not the leafy kind) looked at Mr. Kettle (the pastor's son and the other kids in church) and thought they were boring and uptight. I don't think they had parties, actually. So I didn't bother getting to know them better and do stuff with them. (Besides, why would I want to spend more time around his father, Mr. Fire-and-brimstone, You're guilty sinner I should burn you now than I had to by listening to him Sunday?)

Of course, I was also cut out of other activities my age group enjoyed. Like, oh, Halloween. I used to trick or treat when I was little... but I still remember the yearly speech about how it was actually "the pagan holiday Sam-Haine" where "the Celtic god of death was worshipped," and witches, pagans and satanists captured and sacrificed children to Satan. Even getting candy gave Satan power! Oh, and (to give you more of an example of the utter crap I was shoveled, and believed wholeheartedly - because, after all, the pastor was God's chosen teacher for us, and he wouldn't be wrong or lie, would you mr. Brown?) why didn't this make the news? The media, the police and doctors were infiltrated! Yes, they had witches and satanists IN THEIR RANKS, rotting them from the inside and covering up these hundreds or thousands of missing kids! Abortions? Those done around Halloween were really sacrifices! There were more done around then! Don't let your kids dress up and go trick or treating!

Yeah. Bother looking this up? Nope. (Not that we had the internet then, but there were still public records that could be checked - that, if you'll notice, he put doubt on, because Public Authority Was Compromised.)

I'll touch on one other vivid memory of the attitudes pushed by that church. I don't remember the rest of that sermon, but I remember the pastor preaching about gays. He went to explaining what a fagot was (note, one G) - kindling, essentially, used to help start a fire. And declared in full on Preacher-speak that "We called them (the gays) faggots because we felt they were fit to be burned!"

Don't ask me how I came out of that being a believer in equal rights for everyone, gay, straight, any race, creed or color... maybe it was my love of history showing me what the lack of it did.

In any case, over time I started shedding some of this. I realized how shameful my attitude about Lennon was. I even got a (somewhat real) stereo - TWO tape decks AND a record player! - and played the heck out of Boston's Third Stage album. (As an aside... with today's CDs, I think people really miss out on grandiose, epic artwork.) I started listening to other music... and less and less Christian radio. I was introduced to Rush, Yes, the Moody Blues - and eventually introduced myself to Queensryche, all showing me rock wasn't what I was told, that it could be epic, grand and thoughtful. And getting me to play bass guitar...

But still the Christian guilt chewed at me inside.

I questioned. I researched. And... well, if you look at the flight tests of the F-22 Raptor, at one point you'll see one try to land and the computer go wonky, putting it into an oscillation... eventually destroying the airplane.

I started into a Christian Guilt oscillation as I tried to reconcile the doubts and logic I had with my Christian upbringing and guilt.

I would buy things - for instance, my interest in mythology and folklore (which, ironically, "didn't apply" to the bible... /sigh) dragged me over to White Wolf's Vampire and Werewolf RPGs. I spent money on these - not an insignificant amount. Never got around to playing them... because, in what I imagine to be similar to a manic/depressive's cycle in some ways (I don't know, honestly) I'd go from enjoying myself and really getting into the world, into guilting myself and - not selling, not giving away, but THROWING away hundreds of dollars of books. Just to re-buy them later when I realized how silly that was... then threw those away two years later.

Now, I don't blame Christianity for all my faults - late teens, early 20s, you do stupid stuff. And I can, I suppose, even say it kept me out of trouble - I never got to where I liked beer, never started driving drunk, and know I don't have kids somewhere I don't know about because I didn't screw around. However, when you're raised in the Cold War under a (real) tension between two superpowers that could, quite literally, clean life from the face of the planet (and the president calls the foe evil, and supports Israel) ... well, obviously the End Times were here! (Aren't they always?) Which didn't help the guilt.

But I can blame it for wasting money. And for keeping myself down, because I wasn't worthy. For the hate I was finally learning to shed. For keeping me from asking questions and going out and *getting* things instead of wasting time trying to figure out if it was "god's will" or not. For wasting time trying to figure out why I wasn't good enough for God to start rewarding me, despite tithing and doing what I should, despite fervent prayers, instead of kicking myself in the ass and saying "You want it, you need to do this, learn this, and GO for it."

Christian guilt is driving down the freeway with the parking brake locked. it really slows you down. The only difference is, if your brake is locked, the burning you're smelling is real, as opposed to the hell you're trying to guilt yourself and others away from.

So how did I start to escape?  Yes, spiritually journeying and trying to compromise... a path many ex-Christian Atheists will probably empathize with.

And we'll get to that next time. 

Welcome! And where I came from... part 1.

Very creative title for the first post, I'm aware. :)

You may have come here by a link, or by a search on atheists and atheism. One way or another, I hope you'll find useful information and amusing musings as this blog grows over time.

So what is this blog about?

Atheism, obviously. Specifically as it's experienced and thought about by me - and I remember to post. (With luck, that'll be at least every monday.) Atheists are a growing segment of American society - the USA being the most religious of the developed nations (and, along with that - and despite our fierce national pride - well back in the rankings for literacy, science knowledge, and public health and well being, but way up in incarcerations.) There's a number around 20% being thrown around - the problem with that number being that it's from a poll asking how people identify themselves, and as I recall, it's "nonreligious."

Which isn't the same as Atheist. That covers agnostic - those that believe in a vague "higher power" somewhere. Heck, that can cover those who are believers but don't go to church. For some time I'd probably have called myself a "non-religious baptist." I was raised baptist, and generally held to the tenets of it I had been raised in - salvation by accepting Christ, baptism after you reach an "age of reason" and can accept and understand it, public declaration of your faith followed by baptism by immersion, joining a church, no need for popes, bishops or other intermediaries and the like. So I would, for years, identify myself as "baptist" - but really didn't think I needed to head to church and listen to the same sermons and such. I had the bible... and, to be honest, didn't like the anger at others and at myself that the preachers I was used to planted in me.

So I would have said I'm baptist, but didn't need the trappings of religion. And I was happy with that for years. I'd occasionally drop into church (and had a few different "baptist" experiences. Yes, a southern baptist is far different from their bretheren in the midwest!)

I started doing something in my teenage years, though, that really breaks faith. I started questioning. And no, I didn't do it as teenage rebellion. See, my pastor was big on anti-rock, on Chick tracts (shudder) and more. I believed - fervently - that satanic priests secretly blessed rock music and concerts (you usually couldn't see them in the darkened halls.) I was, shamefully, HAPPY when John Lennon - who'd been pushed, to me, as an example of a high priest of satanism and worldliness, with his drugs, naked album covers, and (oh so threatening) peace, love and equality lyrics - was murdered. This is where religion had been pushing me. I was sure one of my friends - a mormon - was being deceived by Satan and going to go to hell. Never mind the Catholics, who were obviously the masses following the Whore of Babylon and all going to hell as well... do I sound like I'd have fit in perfectly well, if you'd given me a gun, in Northern Ireland? Or with Westboro? (No, that's not where I went.) Or in the various European wars between Protestants and Catholics, probably murdered by the Inquisition?

Yeah. I look back and that's freaking scary.

I listened to country music, mostly because it's what my mom played in the car. I didn't really pay attention to what they were singing about (some nice love songs and such, sure, but plenty of betrayal, drinking, sex and the like, too... just like rock.) When I finally got a radio of my own? Surprisingly, my parents gave me (the airplane nut) a "top gun" cassette. And a Chariots of Fire one - loved that movie. Fairly tame, for "rock." But still... and I listened, at night, to Focus on the Family, John MacArthur (usually went to sleep to his preaching) and... the guy whose name I can't recall, from the Crystal Cathedral. Yeah, I drank the Kool-aid in by the gallon.

Still, one of the books we had available to save us from this sinful draw of rock music was "Backwards masking unmasked," talking about how evil the Stones were, the Eagles, all the somewhat popular (I don't know if they were popular at the time, I didn't listen to rock music!) bands of the time. The other thing I had - and I don't know HOW I stayed religious given how much time I spent here! - was a wonderful public library. I love libraries. While other kids went to roller rinks (of course, pumping out rock music, evil!) and movies, I went to the library. I walked there in winter. The library was my second home.

One of the things they had were... LPs. Yes, actual vinyl. Now, let me note the Rolling Stones "Sticky Fingers" album cover - with jeans and an obvious zipper to unzip - didn't exactly dissuade me from this hyperfanatic view of rock music! But when I saw one or two of the albums mentioned as having backward masking, well, I had to find out how and where they said this stuff, and then show my friends to save them!

Can you see the problem?

Yeah. It wasn't there. No hidden messages, no matter how hard I listened. Yes, backward playback is (was) used in some albums, for guitars and other interesting sounds... but no "Smoke marijuana" or "Satan is God" or "Kill yourself" messages. No matter how I listened. No matter what speed or where. And I tried HARD to find it... I was told it was there, these people wouldn't LIE, would they?

Yeah, yeah they would. And they counted on people not testing what they said.

Here's the thing, though. Did I bring my questions to the pastor? Or to my parents? NO! Instead, I was burdened by guilt by nobody other than myself for daring to question!  I got down on my knees, sure God was going to see my doubt and say "Y'know, you question, you're due for a burning, boy!" and send me to hell or strike me down as I was walking to school, because, well, he did that sort of thing and it was his right! I begged forgiveness, quietly but fearfully, in the basement, away from everyone. (Which isn't as bad as it may sound, we did a lot in that basement - I had a section set aside for toys and, later, model building, Air Hockey and more - it was a nice basement, and cool in the summer.)

Yes. Questioning was not a good thing. Questioning was to be feared, especially if it touched on faith. Never mind that I read my Bible and saw things that didn't make sense - both in the sense of "If God is loving, how can he condone or order that?" (with the catchall "He's God, his word is all" answer/excuse,) and in the sense of flat out contradictions. Questioning. Was. Bad. How dare I doubt God?

So my questions sat inside me. And sat. And made me feel guilty beyond reason for having them. Which made me fearful for my life and "eternal soul." And, when bad things happened, well, I obviously deserved them. Why would God listen to my prayers for help when I questioned him? I had a debt of sin even after accepting Jesus! Yeah, I know, that's not really in the bible - but I believed it.

And so they sat. And festered. Until finally I had enough distance to start looking at them again.

We'll pick this up in part two.