Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Reflection #2 How it all Started

I occasionally recount the story about "getting kicked out of Sunday school" when I was 10 or 11 years old.  Often the telling of this tale starts when someone asks me, "how did you become an atheist?".  In the interest of full disclosure, I have embellished the story a bit (what good story doesn't require some embellishment) in order to drive home the point.  I wasn't literally kicked out of Sunday school, although my teacher chose to end the class early and talk to me, my parents and the church's lead minister about my behavior.  That behavior was simply me, asking questions.  I can't recall exactly which questions I had asked over the course of several lessons, but they all dealt with the lack of logic of the stories being told and their irrelevance to modern life.  Being frustrated that I was both interrupting the lesson and asking questions that she couldn't answer, my poor volunteer teacher was seeking immediate help - from me.  The solution was that I was allowed to skip the remaining set of "children's" Sunday school classes and attend the "adult" ones, where I was "allowed" to ask one question per class.  As you can imagine, like taking only one photo per day (Jim Brandenburg style), I had to learn patience and develop a keen sense as to what question to ask and when to ask it, in order to get the biggest bang for my buck.  Soon, I got bored and stopped attending altogether.  My main concern was that if there was a God and if he created me, then he also created my brain, my curious nature and the desire to have my questions answered, so why was it so "bad" (I was 11, so I didn't choose the proper word, "threatening") for a kid to ask questions about the Bible?  I was sure that it was God's will to have me there at that time and place, asking those questions - but it seemed to some people that Satan himself hand delivered me to the church each and every Sunday at 9 am to mess things up.

The fundamental problem really wasn't the stories and their irrelevance to modern life (although those factors made them seem silly), but as I read more and learned more about other cultures and other mythologies, I realized that the main point of these writings was an attempt to use allegory to teach people how to have empathy for the human condition and to prize love and happiness over materialism.  I could deal with THAT, what drove me nuts was the mysticism and faith that every religion in the world seemed to require, that went above and beyond the story telling and teaching and entered the realm of fantasy.  DANGEROUS fantasy.

It strikes me as sad and ironic that some religious leaders today (and in the past) have railed against "modern thought" and "rock music" and "television" and "violent video games" as being the causes of "the fabric of our society being ripped away".  School shootings MUST be due to video games, the internet and rap music......  They make claims like, "we are desensitizing our youth to violence and obliterating their innate respect for other humans...blah blah blah".  Have they read the Bible (especially the Old Testament)?  Have they read the Koran?  Have more kids been killed due to any scientifically proven link between video games and school violence OR have more been killed in the name of Christianity, Islam or even, dare I say it "Freedom and Democracy"?  I know that we all know the answer to that question.

Strangely, some of these same "leaders" are against abortion under the concept of "the sanctity of human life", but have no problem with capital punishment, believe that any gun control is evil and can sleep at night after sending other people's children over seas (sometimes ill-equipped), to fight wars that by most expert accounts have no actual connection to improving our nation's security.

Yes, I would be the first to agree that anyone can find examples of corrupt, philosophically inconsistent and morally bankrupt atheists.  So what?  My main point is that there is no room in dogma for asking questions and THAT is a potential source of danger and ruin to any culture. 

So, if you refer to my four-quadrant model from my previous post, you may correctly assume that I have lopped off the theist quads like Ned Stark's head, when it comes to my belief system.  While you'd be correct, I think that it is important to walk you through the process that took me from asking questions in Sunday school to abandoning the notion of any higher power at all.  The next few posts will have me recounting that walk and the insights that I have had along the way.  My method is not a new one, it has been used for thousands of years by people much more creative and intelligent than me.  Simply put, I try to make arguments in favor of my once current/former belief system, then dissect them, dismantle them and move forward.  The result is always a better understanding, but not always THE ultimate understanding.

It will start with my next post, "Defending Theism".

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