Thursday, March 1, 2012

I Shouldn't Have to Hide

Sometimes circumstances in your life culminate in such a way that inspires you so much so, that you have to put it on record.  This happened to me roughly five minutes ago.

You see, I've been considering a blog post about a particularly sensitive topic for a few weeks, based mainly on a few conversations that I've had with a couple of family members over the past few months.  Suffice it to say, there are some things that loved ones say or do where you have to take a step back and let yourself process the entire situation.  Now that I have had a couple of months to think, I believe that tonight I finally found my focal point.  And if you haven't guessed by the title, it's high time that everyone, including my family, understands that I shouldn't have to hide my atheism.

All of this began when I told a few of my family members that I had been invited to be a blogger on the Atheism United website.  This was a proud moment for me for several reasons.  One, I've been searching for a way to start making a difference in my community.  Two, it gives me a chance to offer help to someone that might have been through some similar situations that I've experienced.  And three, I already love to write, so why not join other like-minded folks to further the cause?  So it should come as no surprise that after Brian Sapient (the overlord of the Rational Response Squad) invited me to become one of the bloggers, I ran around my house like a giddy teenage girl after her first kiss.  Seriously, I damn near wet myself.

Then there's the other "big" news for me.  In a few short weeks, I'll be attending the American Atheists National Convention in Bethesda, MD.  WOOT!!!  Just like the AU website, this convention has me as giddy as a school girl.  I'll finally get to sit down and listen to lectures from people like Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, and Greta Christina.  And on a bit of a self-serving note, I'm really hoping that the AU site will be available to the public by then.  The site is still in beta, and I know how difficult it is to get everything perfect before opening a site to the public, so I won't be holding my breath.  But if the site isn't up yet, don't despair, I'm taking my tablet PC and bluetooth keyboard so I can continue blogging furiously on the Rail Bender while I'm at the AA Convention.  It's going to be a fantastic trip!

Now, back to the subject at hand.  For those of you that think this is a recent thing for me, I'd like to try to change your mind by giving you a bit of my personal history.  I began questioning the existence of god while I was still in high school.  You see, I couldn't understand how all these horrible things could happen to perfectly innocent people, or to children, every single day around the globe.  Disease, dehydration, disasters, starvation, murder, rape...  I began to wonder how an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent "God" could allow such wretched things to happen to innocent people.  I mean, who better to protect the powerless than a supreme being, right?

I decided then that the only place where I will find some answers would be the Bible.  So I took it upon myself to finally read it (KJV I believe.)  Remember that all of this happened while I was still in high school, which meant that when I began my journey, I knew nothing of the Bible beyond what had been spoon-fed to me in Southern Baptist Churches.  Needless to say, none of my questions could be answered from a supposed divinely inspired text.  As a matter of fact, reading it resulted in the exact opposite, and it was the first time I said to myself, "There is no god."

The end of my belief came while I was in college attending one of my absolute favorite courses: Zoology.  I was extremely lucky in that I had a fantastic instructor, Dr. Jimmy Throneberry, a now retired emeritus faculty at the University of Central Arkansas.  As we began to cover the Theory of Evolution, he said something to the class that has made a difference in my life ever since: "If you're going to be honest with yourselves, then you cannot mix science with faith.  Because science cannot consider the supernatural as a viable answer.  If you do, you're just being lazy."  That was the first time I had heard that type of reasoning, and boy, did it make perfect sense!  There's no way you can take what we know about the Earth, what we know about life on Earth, and conclude that some god created the Universe just to step aside to watch it evolve for billions of years.  Furthermore, just because science hasn't answered a particular question, doesn't mean that the religious get to fit a god into that gap.  Again, that's lazy.  All of this meant that if I was going to be a scientist and to finally be honest with myself, I had to stop clinging to naively convenient myths and face an uncomfortable reality.  There is no god.

I flirted here and there with trying to find my faith again, but I never could get past what I knew deep down to be the truth.  Several people will recall, especially my wife, that I honestly gave Christianity and church another shot right after she and I were married.  We even went so far as to join with a few other families to try to start another church in Benton, Arkansas.  I went through the whole process, including a relatively uncomfortable interview where I had to answer questions of faith posed to me from one of the local Evangelical Pastors available (we hadn't found our Pastor yet.)  Through all of this church founding business and the ensuing interviews, the truth still nagged at me: There is no god.

So, I finally reached a point in my life where my strength overcame my fear, where I could be confident that my beloved wife would love me no matter what, and where I could stop pretending that an all powerful being existed when I knew there was absolutely no evidence to suggest it did.

THERE IS NO GOD.

Like one of my personal heroes, Richard Dawkins, I too consider myself about a 6.9 on the spectrum of theistic probability.  Anyone paying attention might notice that I'm not a 7, which means I'm not willing to say for certain that there is no god.  Many would then proceed in labeling me as an agnostic, giving them some hope that I might change my mind some day in the future (you know, like my deathbed or some silly notion.)  Let me help you from wasting your time by reassuring you of one thing: given everything I've read and all the research I've done, there's absolutely nothing you can say to convince me to lean toward belief.

And don't make the mistake in thinking that this was an easy journey for me.  As I've mentioned here and previously, it took me years to finally be able to honestly say to myself and others, "There is no god."  In case you're wondering and you have time to read more, I've actually covered this topic in a previous blog post.

There will be others who will insist that I'm just angry, or selfish, or even militant, because I don't keep my decision to myself.  If you're one of these dear people in my life and feel the urge to come to me with any of these platitudes (or any variation thereof), I suggest you take a minute and read a relatively short article by David Niose titled, "The Myth of Militant Atheism".  Please, of all the links I provided in this blog, make sure you read that before coming to me.

Finally, let me make it very clear that I welcome anyone who wishes to talk to me, face to face or on the phone, about my decision to present this so publicly.  However, I simply will not have this conversation via texts, or email, or Facebook, or Twitter, or any other electronic communication.  I have been an atheist for a very long time now, and it has given me the wisdom to know that the only way that I can be honest with you, is to do it the old fashioned way.

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