Friday, April 12, 2013

Natural Born Skeptic: My Atheist Journey Part 1

Chapter 1: From Skeptic To Antitheist

In The Beginning

I have to be honest when I say that I never actually believed in god. The closest I ever got to believing was a relatively short phase of agnosticism. I was raised in a secular home by secular parents that I guess could be described as culturally Catholic. We celebrated Christmas and Easter, especially in my early years, although I was never really taught the connection between these celebrations and Christianity. I was actually sent to a Christian preschool when I was 4 not because my parents were trying to inculcate me into religion, but because it was cheap. It was there that I was first exposed to religion and was taught some of the traditional Christian beliefs. Before eating we were all instructed to say, “God is good, God is great, let us thank Him for our food, amen.” For some reason I never once questioned why I was being instructed by the teachers to say this before lunch as I recall now years later, especially since we didn't do this at home. I guess it was just something I did as a child who was too young to question the rationale behind what I was being instructed to do.

That year at the Christian preschool academy was not something I look back at as a bad or traumatizing period in my life at all. I actually have fond memories of that time. What’s interesting to me about it is that the experience never rubbed off on me in any lasting way. Once I got home it was back to my godless secular family, where mom and dad were about to separate. My dad, who was never at all a religious person, moved out of the house when I was about 7 and like almost all kids whose parents divorce, I stayed and lived with my mother. My mother was a lapsed Catholic and never inculcated me with any religious beliefs. I remember asking her when I was a kid about 5 or 6 what happens after you die, and I remember her telling me that “when you die you just die.” She said you basically just go into non-existence just like it was before you were born. I’m not sure why, but I was actually satisfied with that answer. I just didn't expect there to be any rewards or punishments of any kind in some afterlife. It all just seemed so natural that when you die, your consciousness becomes extinguished like the flame of a candle that has run out of wick. I never had any problems with the finitude of life and accepting that one day I would die and cease to exist. Reflecting on this years later, I now actually prefer that death is final.

The only exposure in my family to religion was through my maternal grandmother, who my mother, my sister and I would occasionally visit on weekends as she lived only a block away. Although my mom was not religious as an adult, my grandmother was a devout Catholic. She was a biblical literalist who believed that Genesis, Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark and the flood, and all the other preposterous stories in the Bible all had literally happened according to how the Bible said they did. I remember her trying to teach me about the Bible when we would visit and I remember immediately putting up a wall of skepticism. Since I could remember I was always into science and I knew about evolution, the age of the earth and the universe, and I knew that they all contradicted what the Bible said. So like a typical skeptic, whenever my grandmother tried to tell me about Adam and Eve I brought up evolution and dinosaurs and she’d struggle to explain how that all worked with the Bible’s version of history. I must have been about 6 or 7 when these “debates” happened, and looking back, I can see that it was just my nature to be skeptical towards anything that contradicted known science. As I grew older my grandmother would occasionally ask if I had reconsidered Christianity again, I guess hoping that my skepticism was just a phase. But I’d always be honest and tell her that I was still a non-believer and she eventually stopped proselytizing. She was a very nice woman and died of old age when I was 25. I have fond memories of her.

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