conversations with a born-again atheist: an atheist’s testimony (part 2)

faith and reasonIf you’re new to the party, HERE are the previous posts in this series. If you want to skip the history and prefer the twitter version, I’m having an ongoing conversation with a born-again atheist. When I say “born-again atheist” I mean he was a born again Christian, but is now an atheist.

Below is part 2 of AtypicalAtheist’s response to my question:

How did you – a self-professed born again Christian – become an atheist?

CLICK HERE to read part 1

AtypicalAtheist: Fast forward to my senior year and I’ve proposed to high school sweetheart. When we begin discussing our wedding plans, we needed to agree upon what church we’re going to be married in. Hmmm…. well, by this point, I wasn’t affiliated with any specific religion anymore and really was a bit hostile to the idea. She wasn’t regularly visiting church either, but was of very strong faith. But I was rather firm that I didn’t want a standard service. Instead, I wanted something like a “New Life” kinda service (I may have that name wrong, but the idea is about right). Basically something more non-denominational. She assented to this I think without us really getting into my hostility toward the bible and toward what is now commonly referred to as “organized religion” – I didn’t have that moniker for it, but that’s what it’s now kinda lumped into. Anyway, we were married by a pastor in the Lompoc Mission – definitely not a traditional service.

Our first seven years of marriage were perfect really. We mostly didn’t attend church services, although occasionally, I was asked to attend an Easter service or my wife would just go to a service without me. Then she got pregnant after much trying in our seventh year. Here is where things began to change a bit for me, and where our perspectives on religion had a much more consequential impact. I was certain that I didn’t want my children “brainwashed with religion” (you can check with my wife – I’m certain I used that phrase a time or two) and she was aghast at my contempt for it. But it wasn’t based on deep research at this point, only based on my prior readings of the bible really. I remember two very distinct clashes between us in these early days that forever changed our personal rules of engagement on the religion issue:

1- We were in the outlet mall near I-Drive and there was a Christian store that my wife and kids wanted to go into. My wife started showing my eldest a bible and I nearly had an aneurysm (you see, my wife has never actually read the bible), and I made quite a pitiful scene in this store. I raised my voice saying things like “Do you really want your daughter to read how it’s ok to sell your daughters into slavery since it’s permitted in ‘your’ bible?” and “The amount of killing, rape and plundering makes this book rated X in my opinion. There’s no way I want my daughter to be reading this trash”. Suffice it to say that it was an embarrassment for all.

2- One year, my eldest was about 2 maybe, and my wife wanted us to go to a church service. During the service, I was openly hostile to the pastor who was just doing his thing… I was loudly sighing in disagreement and basically making an ass out of myself. I was in his place of worship trying to appease my wife by going to a service, and yet I was acting like I was in my own house being put off by his message. Again, a childish response to my ever-growing disagreement with religion and the bible, but my wife swore to never ever ask me back into a church service. It was for the best really.

As years passed, I (on more than one occasion) would make sure that any reference to God or Jesus based on some story, song, movie or whatever was at least accompanied by a quick (although probably painful from my wife’s point of view) mention that history is replete with people using gods to explain phenomena they couldn’t explain any other way. For example Thor… (blah blah) or Buddha (blah blah). You get the picture. I didn’t want only Christianity to be mentioned – I wanted all kids to know for sure that there are opposing views to religion and that just because mom (or dad) believes X doesn’t mean there aren’t other areas to investigate. I mentioned comparative religion many times in those years. And, to my wife’s credit, she was completely onboard with the idea that we shouldn’t just mention God/Jesus either. On this level, she completely agreed.

I started really researching atheism somewhere in my 30s. My wife started regularly attending church alone, and to counter this, I believe I went on a research “binge”. My spare time was consumed with reading books on various topics covering religion, evolution, and atheism. I purchased books, used the internet to research critiques for and against religion in general, not just against the revealed religion of Christianity. Ultimately, after much research, I concluded that I am, after all, an atheist. I am without belief in a god or gods.

There was one other blow-up regarding religion in my family I’ll share – largely because it shows my inability to convince anyone to “convert” to atheism, and why I’ve adopted a live-and-let live policy on this topic. My eldest daughter was dating a creep (yeah, he really was a creep), but the creep wanted her to go to church to be with him on Sundays. My wife was more than happy to take her. At one point, there was a large blow-up in front of my eldest daughter regarding my concern that church would somehow brainwash her. This, it seemed, was happening in spite of my attempts to educate my kids that religion isn’t necessarily true and that it was the construct of a superstitious people long ago. Anyway, my wife and I walked for hours around the neighborhood park one evening as I carefully and thoughtfully laid out my “acquired” evidences for the absurdity of belief in gods. And here’s the thing … it didn’t matter. To my wife, her faith is more important than facts. Her faith is more important than reality. It’s what gets her through her day, and to take it away by brute force would be evil. She needs her faith – who the hell am I to try to wrest that from her grasp. What a jerk I was in that moment. It was momentously important to me that she see the “truth”, but it wasn’t important to her.

What did turn out to be important though was this – by introducing the notion of multiple competing religions to my children, and multiple competing versions of “the truth”, I believe we’ve equipped our children to make a decision regarding their assent or rejection of religion. Instead of just being an atheist because daddy is, my kids know that many people believe a variety of things, and it’s up to them to make a decision based on research, not based on passed-down edict. I think we did that well my wife and I – and it took great concession / compromise on both our parts. If my wife had it her way, her children would be in church every Sunday. If I had it my way, my children would be in a free thought meeting every Saturday. We do neither, and instead have encouraged our kids to research and make up their own mind.

In the end, I’ve asked myself this… How would I feel if my middle child wanted to go join the Latter Day Saints? Well, I guess I’d be disappointed – unless of course, she researched the various religions, visited them one by one, and decided for herself that it was the one that represented the truth to her. In that case, I’d feel like we succeeded.


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