I don’t plan for much of the site to be about atheism specifically – it just isn’t among the more interesting of the various religion-related topics out there to be discussed – but the question of what I myself believe on the subject of religion, and why, seems like a rather obvious bit of background that anyone reading this is likely to be interested in. Hence the title of this site, and hence I’m going to start out with the story of how I reached atheism myself.
This is the first part of what was originally a single very long post on the subject. Following a bit of feedback from my first commenter, I’m now going to split it into four different parts.
The backstory to the backstory here is my family background. My mother comes from a nominally Protestant Christian background, and my father came from a nominally Jewish background, but, as you can tell from my use of the word ‘nominally’, for both of them it was more of a cultural thing than a strongly-instilled faith. So, when the two of them met and fell in love, religion doesn’t seem to have been too much of an issue for either of them. (Or for their respective families, apart from the time my mother inadvertently caused dire offense to my paternal grandfather by leaving a cross on top of the chest of drawers in her room when she first visited him.) They raised me and my sister without a religious faith, and it was never a big deal within our family.
Except to me, because I was fascinated by the whole concept. I can’t remember first being told that my mother was Christian and my father was Jewish (they always described it that way, rather than ‘lapsed’ or ‘non-practicing’, or anything of the sort); as far back as I can remember, I was looking for more information on the topic. What makes some people Christian and some Jewish, not to mention all the other religions of the existence of which I was vaguely aware? Which of these are right, if any of them? Is there a God at all and, if so, what does He think?
I grew up in England, where we don’t have any sort of separation of church and state but where, paradoxically, nearly everyone seems to care a great deal less about it than people do in the USA. So, I didn’t have too much exposure to any type of fundamentalism, but I did grow up with prayer in school assemblies (which is far duller than everyone in the States seems to think when they’re arguing about it, by the way) and with heavily Christian-oriented R.E. lessons (I doubt very much that that teacher would get away with it today, but this was in the early ’80s) and somewhat Christian-oriented English lessons (same teacher, who took the opportunity to use The Tanglewood Secret and Treasures of the Snow as set texts), and with a general background miasma of Christian-oriented theism in the culture around me.
And I looked for more. I plumbed the public libraries for books about religion (this was in pre-Internet days). I tried a few times to read the Bible from the beginning; admittedly, this was less in a spirit of religious inquiry and more a kind of Everest-type ‘because it’s there’ mentality (without the tenacity of Hillary and Tensing on that score, alas; as I recall, I always bogged down somewhere around the Kings/Chronicles bit) but I did try, and also tried as hard as I could to close my mind to the uneasy recognition that the God portrayed within really did sound an awful lot like a self-centred child having a tantrum. (“Well, if you’re going to hang out with other gods like that, I’m just going to take my marbles and go home! Hmph!” Um, this was God, right – surely I wasn’t meant to be having that reaction. Best chalk it up to my own inability to understand.) I spent hours weighing up various arguments, trying to open my mind and make myself reachable to the God that many sources assured me was just trying to get in touch with me, trying to figure out whether the flickers of response I got in return were anything more than my own mind trying to manufacture something meaningful.
In all honesty, I couldn’t say they were.