June 1, 2005

Journey of an Atheist, Part II

KISS in concert in Boston, 2004
KISS in concert in Boston, 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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. It had also become increasingly clear that there was nothing on the receiving end of my prayers. At least, I never received any sort of response that would suggest that there was. Second, my classmates increasingly viewed going to church and expressions of piety as uncool. Being "bad" was cool, and being a church-going "goody-two-shoes" was not. Cigarettes, heavy metal, and MTV became part of the context. Church did not fit into this. 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. With my increasingly rebellious streak, this would set the stage for plenty of conflict.

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. The sense of hypocrisy became overwhelming. 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. to appease others, but that was plenty.

The culture of high school was similar to junior high (i.e., excessively pious 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. This was the first time I had encountered anything like this. Sadly, it would not be the last.

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. I began to discover freethought, and I saw that 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 who had embraced capitalism and a disdain for the poor over Jesus.

On to Part III.