June 1, 2005

Journey of an Atheist, Part II

This is a continuation of a previous post. Part I can be found here.

During my junior high years, my attitudes toward religion began to shift as a result of several factors. First, as my self-confidence gradually improved, I found myself praying less frequently. Since my primary motivation for prayer as a young child related to anxiety, it is not surprising that prayer ceased to be relevant as anxiety was no longer problematic. Second, my classmates increasingly viewed religion and religious persons as worthy of ridicule. Being "bad" was cool, and being a church-going "goody-two-shoes" was not. Cigarettes, heavy metal, and MTV became part of the context. Third, I became increasingly bored with church. Every Sunday I tried to think of creative ways to be permitted to skip church. Although I could tell that my father would have preferred to stay home and watch football, my mother continued to insist that it was good for us.

My boredom with church gradually turned to intense dislike and eventually hatred. It was completely irrelevant to my life. When I forced myself to pay attention, I noticed one contradiction after another. I looked around and found myself wondering why the people in the room didn't seem to live their lives in accordance with what they supposedly believed. What hypocrisy! Sunday mornings brought frequent arguments with my parents, as I was no longer afraid to criticize what I saw as a major waste of time. Somewhere around the end of junior high and beginning of high school, my parents finally decided that I was old enough to refuse church if I chose to do so. I would go willingly on Christmas eve, Easter, etc. but that was plenty.

The culture of high school was similar to junior high (i.e., excessively religious kids were often the butt of jokes), but there was an important difference. For the first time, I was exposed to evangelical Christianity (e.g., "Don't bother to ask her out - she's one of those Bible thumpers."). I had a close friend during this time whose parents were both pastors at an evangelical church. While he was anything but religious, he was required to attend a church where speaking in tongues was common. His parents would later burn his heavy metal record collection, conduct a full-blown exorcism over him while several parishioners held him down, and eventually throw him out of their house.

By this time, I had discovered politics, science, and philosophy. As I found myself in agreement with my parents' moderately liberal politics and was excited by learning about world history, science, and philosophy, religion transformed from a well-intentioned waste of time to something much more sinister. Faith demanded blind acceptance of things which had been disproved by science. History demonstrated countless atrocities committed in the name of religion. Philosophy showed that morality need not derive from religion. Perhaps most significantly at the time, my increased exposure to politics convinced me that the overwhelming majority of people who called themselves Christian were hypocrites because any true Christian would be a strong advocate for social welfare and would oppose the greed of big business (this was happening in the Reagan years).

On to Part III.

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