I often times get reactions from people of faith which declare I am angry, or attacking them; that I am hate filled, that I hate them or hate God. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have known a great many people of faith in my life, and by and large the majority of them have been nice, well intentioned people seeking to do good things and live a better life. I have no issue with people of faith in this wise, and I feel they are absolutely entitled to their beliefs.
I am not an expert. I hold no degrees in theology or philosophy and I was in fact raised in the Christian faith myself. I grew up with God as a real tangible thing, a reality everyone around me accepted and took for granted as a reality. A reality I fully embraced as a child, I wanted to be the next Elijah, a truly useful spirit powered tool for God.
My family attended the Congregational church in town weekly, and participated in rummage sales, church picnics and pancake dinners. I attended Sunday school every week and services after that. At the age of eight I was given a pocket KJV NT, and unlike the other kids, I began to read it diligently. In my mind God was a reality, not a concept, therefore knowing more about God seemed prudent. In the KJV NT the Old Testament is referenced almost instantly in the generations of Matthew, and it continues to reference the Old Testament. Since the New Testament is built upon the Old Testament I borrowed my Mothers Bible and re-started my learning with Genesis. Why not start at the beginning of the book after all?
That same summer I turned nine and became a real pain in the ass for the Sunday school teacher. I asked questions, all the time, and I quickly learned that simply by reading the book I was outpacing the knowledge the teacher had. The last question I asked in Sunday school was “How is it that God thinks it is ok, or holy, to collect the foreskins of 200 men as a dowry? That is murder and mutilation, which is a sin.” The teacher was utterly unfamiliar with this part of King David’s tale, and my being able to point it out chapter and verse sidetracked the class and left her speechless, she had no answer.
Apparently she had been talking with the Reverend about me, and brought this issue up. He came to my mother’s home one afternoon and told my mother I was no longer to attend Sunday school, and that if I had questions I was to seek him personally. “I was a seeker, therefore I will find”, he said that I was on meat already when the other children still needed milk. I was welcome at Services, but not at Sunday school, as I distracted the other children from accepting Jesus.
My mother had a family friend who was an elderly man and a local Roman Catholic priest. Knowing that attending Catholic Church would irritate my mother I went behind her back and engaged in a long conversation with this priest, which resulted in my learning the Catechism from him directly, on the down low. I truly wanted to know God, but these two churches taught different things about the very same God. I needed to understand why that was.
My mother had a stroke the next spring and became paralyzed. As a result of this I became a state ward, a foster child at 11. It was here that I continued my studies. My first home, where I was for a year, were southern Baptists, the next were a different form of Baptist, then the next were Methodist, then Episcopalian. So I learned not one Christianity, but several over this time. Saved by works, not by work but by Grace, not by Grace but by faith, not alone but by a combination of the three, and so on. Seemingly endless internal conflicts. Each church leader explained that their way was the correct way and that Satan had mislead that “other” church.
My faith in the truth of Christianity had faltered, but my faith in God remained. Surely I thought, these are mysteries which men do not understand but which God does. I thought that not everyone was gifted enough by God to understand these mysteries as his purpose for each person was not the same. I was filled with a zeal to understand more and know God better in a more personal way. As a young adult I studied in several churches and with families who followed other churches, Universalism, Unitarian, Pentecostal, and even Mennonite. I traveled to two monasteries and also studied there for a time, with Jesuit and Trappist monks. All I got from these were more explanations, which were not in the text themselves, but rationales of men.
I took to reading, Augustine and Aquinas, CS Lewis, Tim Lahaye, Mike Warnke and many older pastors of our own revolution and the great awakening. I began learning church history, and looking outside the Christian faith at other religions and their explanations for the really big questions, like why we are here and what is our purpose. I read the Tao Te Ching, the Bhagavad-Gita, The Upanishads, The Doctrines and Covenants, the Book of Mormon, Buddhist texts, and parts of the Qumran. I read philosophy, mythology and folklore and was startled to see the similarities and perhaps even plagiarisms from these into the Bible. I began to read history and the saw evolution of religion in history.
The model I had been raised with for God, (an all knowing, all powerful, all loving, timeless, and ever present being which could be felt but never seen) simply did not match the book which claimed these things about it. I began to look into the Bible itself and how it came to be and was shocked at the levels of misinformation and disinformation these churches had told me. All I could see were works of men.
Even then I could not abandon my idea of God “for we see through a glass darkly” and I could not imagine that a whole segment of society had been fooled by religion for thousands of years. I could not discount the bright minds who had lived inside these religions and denominations, but neither could I find true coherence and truth. Yet I kept at it. I prayed the prayer of James “Let he among you who seeks wisdom ask of God, who gives liberally and upbraidith not.” I kept at it and step by step I evolved in my understanding. Over time my position evolved from Christian, to deist, to atheist.
I came to see over the years that God was not actually in the equation of this reality. Men were writing in God everywhere they did not have a factor for the equation of reality. Everywhere there was an unknown religions claimed God in some way, and never had any evidence to show this was the factor which should be substituted for X in the equation of reality. This belief gave people hope, but it also made people miserable. While it guaranteed an eternal life for some select few, it remanded the rest to perdition of some kind.
These ideas, every single one, from every faith and denomination all had a key flaw. They claimed the God I had believed in (with a few notable eastern exceptions), and then promptly began setting limits on this God, in a great many ways. They belittled God into something they could accept; something which fit their own rationale. Faithful people cherry picked parts of the Bible to do so, ignoring other verses, giving great renown to one passage and then creating explanations why other passages did not conflict, when they plainly did.
I do not recall a single moment of “OH, there is no God!” and I do not to this very day claim there is no God. I could not prove such a claim. I had by then learned the difference between Gnosis (knowledge and claims of knowledge) and Faith. I did not have a direct knowledge of God or lack of God, which made me Agnostic simply because I lacked the universal knowledge required to have true knowledge of God.
I had long ago come to the conclusion that most people of faith I knew did not have actual faith. They prayed for God to do this or that, which told me they did not trust that, no matter what, it lay in God’s hands and inside his plan. Prayers for anything other than thanks made no sense, as surely the all-knowing God knew me better than I knew myself.
I knew no one had such true knowledge or the world would be one religion. There would be no argument about it, because whoever had the true knowledge could simply prove their position, but not one could. What I had was Faith, a trust that no matter what God was on my side and things would therefore work out for the best.
I ceased studying and simply lived my life, raising children and working. Striving to be the best human I could be because I had come to view this life like a Deist. That this life is a classroom and everything in it a lesson for the next life. I did not stop learning, I just did not focus on religion anymore. I chose instead to live an examined life, to garner an introspective mindset.
As time went by I learned more things and I came to see that I had no evidence for what I believed, that I was believing in God more out of habit than anything, and I could not justify such a belief without the evidence to back it up. I was no different than every other human of faith, I believed because it made me feel safe, protected, and loved, but I had no evidence for any of that. In fact the book I had gotten most of those ideas about from I no longer had any faith in, because I had learned how it was created.
I do not recall a moment when I stopped believing, I just realized that those beliefs did not hold water. All the mental gymnastics in the world did not make the vessel of Faith Sea worthy. From that point forward I just lived, trying to be a good person because that is how I would want to be treated, using the empathy I had for others as a means to accomplish this. I no longer worried about disappointing God and instead focused on my life and my children.
I did not speak out publicly against religion. I did not enter into discussions with others about God or their faith unless they were unfortunate enough to actually knock on my door. In the city where I resided I made several “do not knock” lists because I was always willing to talk. Chances were however that whomever was knocking had not done the required reading which put them at a distinct disadvantage.
I had learned as a believer, that voicing difficult questions to people of faith can demolish their faith. I did not want to harm others. I was at peace for the first time on these issues, and figured others would have to do all the work I had do to come to such conclusions. If you were knocking on my door that told me you were seeking such information, and I was happy to share. None ever returned.
These were happy years, with tribulations and trials, but also moments of great joy. I had, and still have the very same warm, fuzzy, loving feelings I had before, I just no longer attributed them to a God I was unable to prove. A spectacular sunset which at one time would have had me saying “Look, God is painting in Impressionist style!” would instead have me curious as to how the sun created such hues, and I would go and try to learn more about it (pollution and wildfires cause these as do volcanoes). I spent almost 25 years in this peaceful bubble.
I had come to see that all religions were invented to soothe men’s fears of the dark, and then became a tool by which certain people manipulate and tax other people. I saw horrific things done in the name of God, which the perpetrators inevitably claimed God commanded. Waco, the Oklahoma City bombing, and of course 9-11, but that was far from the end of it.
Genocides were ongoing, often with a strong religious element to them, and individuals claiming to represent God spewed hate on the airwaves. They randomly blew up buildings or became assassins based upon their understanding of the book, their Faith. Then in 2008, a “Good Christian woman” by her own description, some 80 years young, found it socially acceptable to spit on my son because he did not fit her model of a “good Christian”.
From that day forward I became an outspoken atheist, willing to explain to anyone and everyone why I am unable to believe these tales. My daughter had made me a FB page to share photos of my grandson and it was there I discovered that there was a burgeoning movement. A resurgence of freethought strong enough to make Mr. Paine smile. I discovered bestsellers on atheism and guffawed at the Faux Pas of Christians in naming the authors the four horsemen. I discovered the Atheist Experience and marveled that all this had gone on unnoticed by me.
I papered my car in bumper stickers, from Lincoln, Paine, Jefferson, and Adams to counter balance the rhetoric of the Tea party whom the old woman represented. I sported Dawkin’s scarlet A, and I still do quite often. I created a backpanel for a hunting vest I own, which details the Christian narrative in proper Dogmatic form, with very different language. Wearing this I will engage anyone bold enough to proselytize on the street, for if you exercise freedom of speech to champion your belief I too will use my free speech to show you why I find it not valid.
To me these things are no different than a Christian having a fish on their car, or a Jesus loves you sticker, or wearing a cross or crucifix. However the reception I got in public was more profound than I expected, and certainly did not mimic the attitude of tolerance I had shown the last 25 years. The stickers on my car were spat upon, my car was glared at everywhere I went, and once someone even bled upon a quote from Jefferson.
I would be my normal self and help others at doors, with groceries or whatever in society, only now many would see the A or my vest and either be dumbfounded because I was being nice or react in a hostile fashion. Proselytizing loudly at me, which I met with candor, décor and honesty, using the same issues I had known since Sunday school. I often find they did not know their own book. In the end it was always the same, I would either be threatened with hellfire, told I would be prayed for, or both. “Get thee behind me Satan!” was heard more than once, simply for not believing the tale and being brazen enough to say why. It made me wonder if these people had ever read about Jesus at all, because they were certainly not showing me love, but hate.
These things continue online, on my blog, and in real life. I do not intimidate easily, I’m just an older vet. I confront street preachers with these same issues, because in the end no one can prove faith, it is by definition belief without evidence. I spent 20 years grappling with these issues, I do not expect people to change overnight or even at all, but I am certain out there among the listeners are other people just like me.
Might be a younger kid trying to learn or an older person thinking deeply about things they took for granted. They could be anywhere along the path I walked those twenty years and have similar questions. Why should I allow an outspoken proponent of something I find invalid to be the only voice speaking?
My silence these last 25 years had contributed in some small way to an 80 year old woman feeling it was fine to spit on my child. My silence, my failure to speak out ab out how I saw things had inadvertently empowered the believers into thinking they could spit on people without consequence. My mind said, “What’s next?”, and the blood on my car answered in silence.
I respect Liberty. The freedom to live as we see fit, providing that your personal choices are not having a direct negative impact on others. Religion does not respect Liberty much, if at all, and my simple disbelief incites people to rant and rave. You have Liberty to believe the tale in whatever form you choose, and I have equal liberty not to believe that version of that tale or any tale whatsoever. All I am doing is what you are doing, I am saying why I do not believe even as you’re saying why you do. Your faith does not anger me, why does my lack anger you?
I have no issue with people of faith, I do not hate them or hate God. I just do not believe. People of faith however seem to have very serious issues with me, and anyone like me or not like them. Faith is on TV, on Radio, in books and magazines, it is trumpeted from pulpits and soap boxes. We share freedom of speech, so why is it fair to have your speech, but you feel angry and threatened by my own?
I have no issue with you, but your beliefs I do not agree with. If you insist on wearing them, on pasting them on your car, on proclaiming them on the street or even door to door, why do you feel put upon by my doing exactly the same? If you are willing to shout your belief from the rooftops don’t expect me to sit still and not speak up, because I disagree. If you expect to legislate your faith and make our country into your theocracy, expect me to resist. You would too, if another religion were being forced upon you, if you were threatened with hellfire for not believing in hellfire. If people were hostile and intolerant because they have interpreted the book in a differing way, or read a different book altogether.
I have an issue with faith itself, not with people of faith. If you treat me with intolerance or violence, if you mistreat others in the name of your faith or God, then I will have issue with your actions. If those actions continue after I point out how intolerant of others you’re acting, then I will have issue with that individual. Even then my issue will be tempered by my understanding that you have bought into the tale, without doing the required reading.
I will not stand down, I will not shut up, and I will not consent to your belief simply because you believe it. I will explain why I find it unbelievable. This is not an indictment of you, it is a questioning of what you believe to be true. I do not hate you, I do not hate you for your beliefs either. I just do not believe them, and find no good reason to believe them. I hope this clears things up. I sincerely hope you can move past hate and fear and on into love and compassion. Life is much better that way.
“Don’t let the letter of the law obscure the spirit of your love, it’s killing us”—Holly Near