Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Days to Remember

Atheist Jew offers an interesting New Meme: Can You Remember The Day That You Officially Became An Atheist?

1. Can You Remember The Day That You Officially Became An Atheist?
For this question I am using the standard definition of atheist: Answering the question "do you believe in God" with a NO.

A. No, not specifically. I do know that by spring of 2007 I was writing snarky rejoinders to Mary Grabar on townhall.com. It got so bad she pulled the column off-line. By that time I had read Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation, after seeing it advertised in Harper's Magazine, sometime in the fall of '06. Dawkins and a re-reading of Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World followed shortly thereafter. Around the same time, I joined the UU church, which has been a source of joy, courage and renewal for me.

However, during preceding decades I had considered myself an atheist on and off. But back then I tended to give knee-jerk responses based on mood or mindset, without really considering what it all meant. The same held true during the 15 years I spent being religious.


2. Do you remember the day you officially became an agnostic?

A. This was very much a gradual process, starting with my "renunciation" in 2002. I remember starting by being angry with God -- see below -- but trying to qualify it by saying I had nothing against organized religion.

3. How about the last time you spoke or prayed to God with actual thought that someone was listening?

A. Okay, now this one I can answer: the days leading up to Friday, August 9, 2002. As I've described elsewhere in this blog, I'd just come off about a month's unemployment and was working one temp job after another. Like a good li'l Christian, I was "giving thanks" when a new assignment would come, but almost as soon as the prayer went up, bam, the job was gone. This went on for a few weeks. At one point, I said "Okay, let's see what happens if I don't pray any 'pleases' or 'thank-you's.'" Sure enough, that particular assignment showed signs of turning into something permanent. Then I fell back on habit, prayed on it, and whoops, another dead end.

That particular Friday was the end of a week spent interviewing. I had a fair amount of time to think, since the temp assignment was undemanding. I'd gotten so into the habit of putting my mind on auto-pilot, just "waiting to hear from God," but for a change, I began thinking about happier times in my life. I zipped back to spring and summer of 1987 -- those were happy, optimistic times. But then I attended a Messianic service (ironically, also on a Friday), thinking it was something that might improve my life. In the ensuing 15 years, I miscarried, my parents died, my marriage went down the tubes, my finances were in turmoil, I totaled my car, got chicken pox, and experienced ups and downs in jobs and relationships. It came to me in one incredible moment of clarity: I had been much happier before I became a Christian. I may not always have made the right decisions, but they were "my" decisions -- what the fundies call "leaning on your own understanding" -- rather than waiting for the Sky Wizard to give me clues. In a fair amount of disgust, I asked myself what kind of sheep I'd turned into. I felt more excited and turned on about life than I'd felt in a long time; that evening and the weekend that followed, I couldn't think of anything else. All I could think about was the person I had been "before," and went about working to recapture that sense of myself.

I felt no particular surprise on Monday when one of the places I'd interviewed at called to tell me I had a job. Another temp assignment, but this one was long-term and it gave me the spare time I needed to fine-tune my resume; ultimately, I landed a permanent job, one of the best I ever had. It greatly enhanced my net worth and lasted until I moved to where I am now.

There have been ups and downs in my life, but that decision marked the beginning of a trend of improvement that began with my 4-year depression lifting and continuing to today. By the way, today's my 50th birthday... Yay!!

4. Did anger towards God or religion help cause you to be an atheist or agnostic?

A. Yes. But it was also anger toward myself. If not for that, I probably would have sunk back into passive mode. Calling myself a sheep somehow jolted me out of my complacency and made everything else happen. It was as though I took my ego out of mothballs and put it back on.

5. Here is a good one: Were you agnostic towards ghosts, even after you became an atheist?

A. I'll let Atheist Jew answer this one, since my POV is quite similar: My honest answer is yes, for a little while I think. But I don't believe that ghosts are possible anymore, probably because I've become more of a militant skeptic atheist type, reading lots of science stuff and all in the last 5 or 6 years.

And I'll add: I haven't totally abandoned astrology, though even at its peak, my interest was cautious and laced with solid skepticism. I enjoy looking for correlations between what's actually happening in my life and what shows on a chart. Occasionally I find them, but more often than not, I don't. The more I study REAL science, the more confident I feel in dismissing paranormal stories I hear, regardless of how sincere or credible the storyteller may seem. The closest to a "spiritual" bent in me nowadays is a fondness for Stephen King's fiction.

6. Do you want to be wrong?

A. NO. I spent 15 years being wrong. All it was is wasted time. I can't afford to squander time anymore. Being "wrong" means surrendering my own judgment, and I've belatedly come to understand how precious it is. I intend to nurture it.

3 comments:

Lugosi said...

I can't really pick a specific day that I became an atheist. I guess I just gradually fell away from the Catholic church.

However, I can definitely say that the church's molestation scandals certainly spurred my belief that religion was nothing but a scam.

I would also have to say that 9-11 was a touchstone moment for me, hammering home the fact that religion of one sort or another has been responsible for a remarkable amount of violence throughout history.

The problem is that man is the one creature on Earth which is understands the concept of mortality. Accepting that "this" is all there is to our existence is a bitter pill to swallow. That's why the idea of an eternal soul was invented.

Volly said...

Lugosi,

Thanks for weighing in. I just Dugg your piece on Joe McCain. Thought it was brilliant.

/v

William Cooney said...

Incredible introspection in this post! Like you, I celebrate the Feast of the Renunciation. And tough as it is to admit, I am kind of bitter about the whole mess. What I wouldn't give to have had a childhood free of all that religious nonsense. To say it was all moral and religious overkill is an understatement!

I'm going to ask myself all those questions - maybe try what you did and wrap my head around it in a blog post.

As for the day I officially became an atheist - the best I can come up with is that one day I realized I was capitalizing the word "Love" whenever I used it as a noun. It was my way of replacing God as the supreme entity in the universe. It's incredibly powerful, and I see it as a uniquely human quality.