May 24, 2005

Journey of an Atheist, Part I

I've really enjoyed reading personal accounts from several atheist bloggers about their journey from religion to atheism, so I figured it was time to share mine. If nothing else, it will be a good excuse for some self reflection around how I came to believe what I do.

I was raised in the Methodist church by parents who were not particularly religious but who thought that it would somehow be good for me to be exposed to religion. They also attended church for the social networking, but the primary reason was that they wanted their child exposed to it.

My earliest memories of religion involved fear. Like our primitive ancestors, I was afraid of the unknown. As a young child, just about everything is unknown. Added to this, I was a bit more neurotic than most. I prayed because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn't. Nobody really threatened me with hellfire and damnation; it was just the idea that if there was this invisible man in the sky with all these amazing powers, I better not disappoint him. My prayers were never about asking for crap I wanted and almost always attempts to prevent bad things from happening.

Entering public school (on the West Coast) exposed me to a couple of new ideas. First, I learned that religion was something that was considered private. One did not generally discuss it or hear about it at school. This was very different from experiences I would have later in Mississippi, and it set me up to believe that everyone would regard religion as a rather personal matter. Second, despite the rather private nature of religion, the children generally assumed that everyone was Christian. This type of Christianity in no way resembled the evangelical freaks I would encounter later, but there was surprise and sometimes ridicule for the children who did not identify as Christian. Subtle as it was, the expectation that everyone would fit in did include religion. I had friends of all different Christian denominations (including Mormons), but religion was almost never discussed.

Church was a formal, stuffy affair where children were expected to behave themselves. At this particular church, young children were dismissed mid-way through the service and before the actual sermon to go to Sunday school in another building. I guess the adults realized that we weren't going to understand the sermon (they were right about this). We were always relieved when it was time to exit the sanctuary and head off to Sunday school. I remember very little about Sunday school except that it involved a lot of singing, was always more focused on the younger children, and that I was happy when it was over.

On to Part II.

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