Saturday, April 20, 2013

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.

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