The Human Face of Atheism

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Photo by lisaleo @ Morguefile.com

I have found one thing very odd during my time in the blogosphere. Despite my atheism, I have for some reason attracted a small contingency of openly religious bloggers. I have no explanation for this, though I suppose it can be chalked up to mundane demographics like the geographical location of the bloggers.

For a while, I was trying to figure out how to broach the topic of my atheism. I could do what other atheists do and argue my position and I could a pretty good job too. Indeed, I could spend the rest of my blogging career refuting theistic claims. Yet, I also shy away from that because the atheist-theist dialogue is painfully static. Most of the atheists I know are still refuting Pascal’s Wager, usually because theists don’t check beforehand to see if this is an argument that has been presented before. This ends up with pages upon pages of refuting the same arguments. I would never run out material, but I’d be making the same arguments over and over again.

Yet, I can make one observation: Atheism, as viewed by most theists, is misunderstood at a very fundamental level. Even my dentist’s assistant had trouble grasping the notion and I get a lot of people asking me if I celebrate Christmas. Surprisingly, not only do I celebrate the holiday, but it is also my favorite holiday for a very specific and secret reason. Though you may be able to wring it out of my offline friends because they know.

Since logical argumentation doesn’t seem to be advancing the dialogue, I decided it would instead be more productive if I simply told my story. How I came to atheism, and what has changed as a result.I also really like the personal story of atheism, seeing the story of atheism being taken out of purely abstract concepts and given a human face. So, just how did this start?

Where It All Began

I spent a good portion of my childhood in the Baltimore community of Govans. Our community was very tightly-knit. I knew my neighbors well and there were frequent playdates with them. I began my long road to geekdom with the purchase of a Sega Genesis and the original Sonic the Hedgehog.

A good portion of this time was before the advent of the internet, for better or for worse. It was an age of CDs, Blockbuster video, and the nearby Funcoland for obtaining my magical cartridges of joy for the consoles I had growing up.

But it was also a time in which my family and I would walk to church every Sunday. Our church was fairly liberal with my experience divided over two different pastors. They were warm figures, kind men with big hearts. At least that’s what I remember of them. I know that pastors are people just like us and thus have their human flaws. But they were good people, not the fire and brimstone type that invoked the use of fear to move us.

My experiences with the congregation have been positive as well. Before the era of Facebook, it was how I kept a social network. I was good friends with several members of the congregation and we remained in contact for many years.

Paradise Lost

However, when I was nearing the edge between childhood and adolescence,the so-called “preteen years”, I was introduced to my very first “adult” concept. Unlike many teenagers, it was not sex I learned about first. My first adult experience was death.

In many contexts, children are introduced to death in a simplified manner. A dog, possibly a grandparent that is not as well-known passes away. The impact is there, but there’s some distance. This wasn’t the case for me.

It began with my mother’s death, which was sudden and traumatic. It was the end result of a long battle with depression, and that went on to form the basis for everything else in my life. We moved from Govans to Pikesville, my father remarried, and the wheels for a troubled adolescence were set in motion.

What will surprise most people is that this was not what caused my atheism. Indeed, I became more religious and got more involved with the community at church. Though I was not Catholic, I opted to go to a Catholic school.

One of my old friends made the offhand joke that going to a Catholic is the best way to become an atheist. This actually hits home more so than she had realized.

My intellectual journey to atheism began when we studied the Bible, oddly enough. We examined it as one would any other text. It was an enlightening experience, but it naturally came at odds with being the supposed word of God.

My time was curtailed when I switched schools, I started going to a public school. Overall, my experience was a positive one. I performed better academically in that setting.

But like many stories featuring a straight adolescent male protagonist, I found myself infatuated with a young woman. She was not in my classes, but we did bump into each other during study hall.

As it happened, she knew one of my friends at church and decided to show up there. I interpreted it as a miracle, a big green light from on high.

That didn’t end well, though. My interactions with this person soured, mainly because I grew uncomfortable with some of the information she had disclosed to me. So much for a sign, I thought.

But I pondered upon it some more. What was the meaning of this? I racked my brain for answers but came up with nothing that really made any sense. I eventually got to the point where the only answer that made any sort of logical sense was that it was just a coincidence.

This worked in conjunction with other questions I had about other religions, contents of the Bible, and the overall sense of hollowness that going to church led to. I also began to become more critical of religious institutions around me.

After a long process of introspection and thought, I found myself in the position that I no longer believed in any gods. I found voices of support online, mainly through YouTube’s Prplfox, TheraminTrees and QualiaSoup. (Side note, YouTube atheism is generally very poor and I wouldn’t recommend any of the popular channels unless you want to know that being a jerk has no religious affiliation).

I have heard many misconceptions about atheists floating about, even in my day to day life. I don’t vocalize my position of atheism often because I don’t go to school with the intent to start debates about religion or atheism. I remember hearing that atheists fake having joy in their lives, they have no moral compass, that they’re arrogant jerks, and that they don’t deserve anyone’s time or attention. (It doesn’t help when YouTube and Reddit atheism is so abysmal that there are actual people out there who fit this stereotype to a T).

Yet, if you spoke to my friends and family, they would dispute such a characterization. I would hasten to add that the rise of nonbelievers is noticeable in my generation. This may worry some, but for me I see no issue.

I suppose though, for many people reading this article, they will question my stance on Christmas. Surprisingly enough, it’s my favorite time of year. It is for a very specific reason, one that remains a secret to all but my friends who know me personally. Though the contingencies for a perfect Christmas do not exist this year, I will still take the time to spend with my friends and family.

So, there you have it. A bit of the human portrait of an atheist. Hopefully, this will give some insight of how I came to my atheism and perhaps make the topic a bit more relatable.

 

One thought on “The Human Face of Atheism

  1. Dylan, the more you write (and I read) the more I like and admire you…for your generosity of spirit and your intelligence. People will always disapprove of other’s beliefs. It is human to be wary of things we don’t understand. I am not atheistic, I guess you’d have to call me a theist without churching. I do believe in God, just not all the other junk that goes along with it. Most of my friends are either atheists or lapsed catholics…wonder what that says about catholicism? (if anything). Great post, and enjoy Christmas. No one has the right to say you should or shouldn’t.

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