My friend Gary has tagged me to answer a few questions regarding my atheism. Sorry it’s taken me so long, Gary. I’ve been a little preoccupied with U.S. politics, as I’m sure you can understand.
Anyway, here goes:
Can you remember the day that you officially became an atheist?
It was actually quite a process, so I couldn’t say exactly when I no longer believed. I do recall the first time I ever used the word to describe myself. It was strange but liberating.
Do you remember the day you officially became an agnostic?
Given that agnosticism is a statement or position of knowledge that can apply to atheists as well as theists, I’d say I was always agnostic. Well, maybe not always, but probably from around the same time I figured out there was no Santa, which was around age six.
I’ve always known and accepted the difference between belief and knowledge and, therefore, have always been agnostic.
How about the last time you spoke or prayed to God with actual thought that someone was listening?
I guess about eight years ago. Although I still believed that someone might be listening, I admit that I was beginning to feel a bit silly.
Did anger towards God or religion help cause you to be an atheist or agnostic?
This is the question I was looking forward to, in a way. I’ve avoided discussing this for years because I know how easily my answer can and will be misconstrued. I will begin by saying that, despite claims and accusations made by theists, no atheist is angry with any god. Anyone who is angry with a deity is not an atheist by definition. You cannot be angry with someone you don’t believe exists.
But, yes, I would say that anger with God played a part in my becoming atheist. Allow me to explain:
Throughout my life as a Christian, I often had questions and doubts about things. When that happened, I sought guidance from fellow Christians who reminded me that faith is the substance of things not seen, etc. I was discouraged from “thinking too much” — literally what I was told on more than one occasion. My doubts were just Satan trying to draw me away from God, and giving any time or consideration to the questions in my mind was dangerous to my faith and my “walk with the Lord”.
Being Christian and believing in God was all I had ever known. My mother was a preacher’s kid, my father a deacon in the church. I didn’t know how to be any other way, didn’t really see a need to; so I did what I had to do to preserve my faith: ignore the questions, pray and ask God to remove the doubt from my mind, order Satan to flee from me in Jesus’ name, etc. I did anything and everything, with the exception of being honest with myself and giving myself enough credit to accept that I was an intelligent person with legitimate questions and that I deserved better than excuses and fairy tales.
After a long battle with cancer, my younger sister died in agony at the age of thirty. And you bet your ass I was pissed off at God! This time I was angry enough, for long enough, to begin critically examining my belief system. I no longer accepted what I was being told. I was not “speaking” to God, so I couldn’t distract myself from rational thought by praying. I allowed myself to think and refused to feel guilty. I figured that if God couldn’t stand up to scrutiny, he wasn’t much of a god; if my faith couldn’t endure examination, it wasn’t worth having.
It was a process, but one by one, I was able to peel away the irrational beliefs I had held for more than thirty years. I did it with reason and good old common sense, by letting myself think. Eventually, I realized that I was no longer angry with God, but only because I no longer believed there was a god to be angry with. I was free to grieve my sister’s death without the added burden of a loving god who let her die and betrayed me in the process. It was cancer. It was dreadful, but it was no longer personal.
So, yes, anger played a big role, in that it lead to the process of critically examining what I believed and finally realizing that there was no reasonable foundation for believing any of it.
Here is a good one: Were you agnostic towards ghosts, even after you became an atheist?
I guess as agnostic as I am about anything else for which there is no evidence, one way or another.
Do you want to be wrong?
I wouldn’t say I want to be wrong, but I wouldn’t mind being wrong. To echo Gary (who echoed Christopher Hitchens) knowing God exists and choosing to worship God are two entirely different kettle of fish. And I would not choose the latter.