This post may seem to rattle on and on (they may all seem that way) but I just want people to know what lead me into this lifestyle. I'm very sharing of who I am and what makes me who I am today and, because of that, I can ramble on and on for hours.
Did you know that in a 2006 nationwide poll by the University of Minnesota, researchers found that despite an increasing acceptance of religious diversity, atheists were generally distrusted by other Americans, who rated them below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society"? Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry. Penny Edgell, the lead researcher in this study and an associate sociology professor, said, “Our findings seem to rest on a view of atheists as self-interested individuals who are not concerned with the common good.”
Back up a few years to another study and you'll see that from 1990 to 2008, the number of atheists (and/or those claiming no religion, agnostic, humanist, etc) jumped from 8% in 1990 to between 15 and 16.1% in 2008. Yet another study done by The Barna Group, found that "they tend to be more educated, more affluent and more likely to be male and unmarried than those with active faith" and 1 in 4 adults between the ages of 18 and 22 describe themselves as having no faith. One in every four!
Okay, enough about studies now. When I was growing up (some would argue this has yet to occur) my parents didn't run a religious household. Neither did they run an anti-religious household. They left it up to us (four kids) to find, follow and research religion and God ourselves. Out of the four of us, none have ever been to jail or have ever committed a crime, none have drug problems, none are alcoholics and all are generally considered to be pretty good people. We all found God in our own time and in our own way.
I was around 14 or so when I first paid attention to any talk about God as far as following religion, from a friend. I had, for as long as I could remember, believed in God, but believing and following the teachings of any religion had never even entered into my mind. I began to attend church. I still remember the name of it: Windsor Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. I met some great people there and felt good about myself.
It was through that church that I was baptized and, eventually, "saved". Admittedly, when I was saved, I was asking the youth minister about what exactly "being saved" meant. He explained it to me and basically talked me into doing it right then. So, I followed what he said, word for word, and was then saved. A few months later, the youth group was invited to a church camp with many other church groups from around the state (Texas) attending. I remember meeting a girl there. Her name was Cindy and she was all I thought about the whole time I was at that camp. The services and other assorted activities were merely background. Cindy was so pretty and I remember I was sitting next to her in an auditorium a few days later when a sort of "call to be saved" session started happening. I have no idea why, but I started bawling. It was then that I realized I hadn't really been saved before and was about to again...for the final time. I attribute the tears to the overwhelming feeling of doing something good and so powerful for myself.
Another thing I remember about ol' Cindy was a discussion we had after camp was over, via snail mail. The Internet wasn't around yet. I had told her a band I was very into at the time and loved everything they put out. That band was Ratt. I even included a photo of the band from their fan club mailer. A week or so later I received her reply and was surprised to read her basically "going off" on me for daring to send a photo of a group of "Satan-worshippers". That was the last time I heard from Cindy and it was then that I realized the power religion and/or belief in God has over some people.
That was my first taste of judgment by a religious person. In the many years since, I've seen much, much more. Now, let me make clear that the religious are not the only judgmental people I've met, but in my experience, they have been the most harshly judgmental. I understand that all groups (religious, atheists, etc) have extremists and take their devotion, or lack thereof, to levels that shock even their own kind, but it has been the religious, Christian primarily, that I've seen be the most cruel to one another. Not all Christians, just a lot of them. I have witnessed in my 12 or so years on the Internet, many Christians berating each other for not being "True Christians". It seems to be a competition with some of them. That being said, I've also seen atheists claim that others weren't a "real" atheist.
Other things that put a bad taste in my mouth about religion were a "friend" and an admissions counselor.
The "friend" that attributed to my growing disdain for religion was a guy who used his religion, spirituality and knowledge of the Bible as a weapon. A weapon that thrust forward the automatic assumption that he should be trusted and that he was a great person, through and through. This man turned out to be a compulsive liar and thought the Earth revolved around him. He could lie as easily as state his name.
The Admissions Counselor was a guy, I believe his name was Robert, for the University of Phoenix Online. I, being on disability for severe anxiety and some other issues, got interested in designing, creating and maintaining web pages. I had an average-to-above-average knowledge of HTML. However, I soon realized that web sites were being created, in whole or in part, in other programming languages such as CGI Scripting, PHP, etc. I was being left in the dust as far as methods and being competitive in the web design field. Well, I shared this with the admissions counselor and my desire to become more up to date with my methods and to learn these programming languages. He, almost immediately, had just the course schedule for me. As we spoke and he did his thing, he went on and on about how spiritual and religious he was. Going so far as to say he was going to be becoming an ordained minister soon, he made sure to include some reference to God, religion, etc in every comment and answer thereafter. He was clearly using it as a method to gain my trust...or, at the very least, strengthen it.
Long story short...well, not so short, is it? Is anything I post ever short? I was so proud of myself. I had taken a step forward in trying to better myself and spitting in the face of my anxiety disorder that limited me so. I was kickin' butt and taking names in the courses. They had little...well, no....they had nothing to do with programming languages or anything of the sort, but I figured, "Meh. So these are the throw-away crap courses ya gotta take to get to the real one". It got to the third course before I started struggling and, again, realized, "This stuff has zero, zilch, nada to do with anything even remotely programming languages!" I started asking my fellow classmates what their goals and future plans were and all of them...every last one of them, said they were doing Business Administration. My jaw dropped and I was devastated.
I sunk in my chair and just sat there stunned. It had become blindingly clear that I had been flat-out LIED to just to "earn my business." Sadly and very reluctantly, I dropped out. During the "exit interview" I mentioned to the guy (completely different guy) how disappointed in myself I was but also that I felt I had been deceived merely to get me to sign up. He sounded truly sympathetic, not just like it was his job to hear me out. I casually mentioned the admissions counselor's name and the guy's response floored me. "Yeah. You're the third person today that's leaving because of being put in the wrong courses and all of you were admitted by 'Robert'," he said. My disappointment turned, at least partially, into anger. It was eventually forgotten. Forgotten until sometime in 2006 when a federal student loan for my attendance with this online excuse for a college was now being garnished from my Social Security Disability check showed up in my bank account and was $50 short. After looking and looking for any reasons for this, I finally called the Social Security Administration to find out what was going on. It turns out I had received some $1500 student loan from the government for use at the University of Phoenix Online and it was payback time. Since then, they've taken my two economic stimulus checks and the last cost of living allowance increase given to those on Social Security. I never saw a dime of them and they're now garnishing my disability check for $96 a month for something I would have been fully willing to pay for if I hadn't been lied to.
It was in 2006 that I opened the door that I had, for my entire life, kept sealed shut and didn't dare even approach; the door to doubt. Let me interrupt myself here to explain that I truly believe most who aren't raised atheist but turn that way, probably do so not through negative happenings but through those happenings allowing the seed to be planted. The "door" being given a second look. It's the negative happenings, for me, that made me feel just a little less guilty for even considering doubts. They are not why I reached the decision that I did.
I, quite literally, took time and just sat there and thought. I analyzed everything about me and everything about my beliefs. I guess you could say I was having a heart-to-heart with myself. (Let me remind you that these are/were my thoughts to myself and are not meant to mock or offend others) I came to the realization that this whole "God thing" was a load of crap. Thoughts like, "Worship my father and live by his word or burn for eternity" and "...but you have free will," etc were running rampant throughout my head. Yes, I realize this is a major, major over-generalization and both leaves a lot out and says my thoughts pretty harshly, but they were my thoughts. For over a year I struggled with my changing/changed beliefs and remained in the atheist "closet" the entire time.
I began to think of how I would "defend myself" to believers - young and old and how, if the opportunity presented itself, I would debate or explain. I began to think of questions that many, many people ask:
- Why do churches full of people worshipping God, get struck by lightning and burn to the ground, killing all inside?
- Why did all those people have to die on 9/11?
- Why do babies die?
- Why do good people die suffering deaths?
- Why are there people out there starving and their crops dying?
- Why are there over 150 religions with over 100 million followers if only one can be right?
- Why are there over 133,000 different variations of Christianity alone?
I used to be the first to say, "Don't curse God for the things you don't have until you've thanked Him for what you do have". I have always, always "done unto others as I'd have them do unto me". Long before I knew what God and religion were. I don't have all of the Ten Commandments committed to memory, as I'd bet many of you don't. I thought I did until I quizzed myself. (I always choke under pressure) The bottom line is, religion and the belief in a higher being and consequences after death for things done in life, can lead people to do very, very beautiful, meaningful and fulfilling things. It does not, however, mean only believers do good and meaningful things. We're not the devil and outcasts society has made us to be.
Ironically enough, being saved or finding God is sometimes referred to as "seeing the light". Many atheists feel like that's what they now have done. Just a different light. I hope this has shed at least some light on the issue of atheism and atheists for you. We're just like you. We just choose a different belief system....or lack thereof. Good does not necessarily have to mean God.
I'll leave you with a partial list of famous or celebrity atheists: It's long but many names may surprise you.
- Andy Rooney (60 Minutes)
- Angelina Jolie
- Barry Manilow
- Woody Allen
- Lance Armstrong
- Isaac Asimov (Science fiction writer)
- Warren Buffett (investor, businessman and philanthropist)
- Rodney Dangerfield
- Jodie Foster
- Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft)
- Gene Roddenberry (creator of Star Trek)
- Katherine Hepburn
- Jamie Hyneman (Mythbusters)
- Penn & Teller (both of them)
- Billy Joel
- Bruce Lee
- Jack Nicholson
- Eddie Izzard (comedian)
- Keanu Reeves
- Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple Computer)
- Frank Zappa
- Phil Donahue (former talk show host)
- Ray Romano (comedian)
- Albert Einstein
- Ernest Hemingway (author)
- Napoleon (French Emperor)
- Mark Twain (author and humorist)
- Alfred Hitchcock (filmmaker and producer)
- Charlie Chaplin
- David Bowie (British musician)
- Many many Nobel Prize winners
I have implemented a new commenting system. Sadly, in doing so, I inadvertently lost all comments made prior to December 28, 2011. My deepest apologies to those this adversely affected. If it's any consolation, it makes my blog here look pretty darn unvisited over the years.
If this article is still online, I'll still reply to any and all comments that warrant it. Never feel like an article you view here is too old to bother with. Comments are always welcomed!
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