My purpose in starting this blog was not to tell readers specifically about me. The purpose was and is to provide a medium to record my philosophical musings about the world. I realize, of course, you can’t neatly separate the man from the musings.
At any rate, in this posting I’ll not even try to make that separation because I want to explain what happened on my way from pre-ministry to confirmed atheism. Atheists are one of the most hated groups in America; even Muslims and Scientologists fare better. So the transformation was not done for social or financial advancement.
From youth to about 19 I was in church 3 times a week with vacation Bible school thrown in most summers. Although I can’t claim consistent piety, I was right in there with the best of them memorizing Bible verses, knowing the stories, and taking them to heart. Since I had a singing voice, I also quite often led the congregation in the shaped notes, four part harmony hymns common in the Church of Christ. I eagerly engaged other students in Biblical arguments with absolute certainty that the Church of Christ was the only true Christian church. We not only implied, but declared outright that no Baptists, Mormons, Catholics, or those in any other “false religions” could make it into heaven.
We believed the Bible to be the inspired and literal Word of God, that faith without works was dead, true worship could not use musical instruments, baptism had to be full immersion, communion was to be a weekly affair, and dancing was a sin and often movies as well. The Church of Christ was, well, THE church of Christ; all the rest were pretenders.
A few instances of actually preaching (yep, that earnest young man in the pulpit, c’est moi) convinced me that a life in the ministry was for me. During my final high school year I made plans to attend a Christian college following graduation. Then I hit the skids.
Well, not exactly right away. The big event was falling head over adolescent heels in love and lust. My high school girlfriend and I wanted to get married in the worst way. Early marriage was not exactly an obligation in the South, but in those days it wasn’t so out of the ordinary either. For employment to fund matrimony I joined the United States Air Force, was trained, assigned to Germany, then welcomed my bride to join me there. I had a lovely wife, a real job, and the confidence of having been born again in God’s only true church on earth! Does it get any better?
Then I began asking myself questions I couldn’t answer well. One was if I’d been physically born into a Muslim, Methodist, or Hindu family, how would I have found my way to the One True Religion? Luckily that was not my problem, but was it just chance? How could I know that I was not just a product of my environment like those others? Was I simply to thank God for amazingly good luck? Faith by itself didn’t make the difference; others have faith as well. Newly burdened with the weight of this inquiry, I set out to discover or develop compelling arguments that I, had I been one of those misguided souls, would have found sufficient reason to gravitate to the Church of Christ or at least to Christianity.
That didn’t go well. I read widely. I enlisted the base chaplain to help. I started little debates to stimulate thought. I was, in short, a complete nerd and bore. What I also was was unsatisfied. My faith-threatening inquiry might have closed a door, but so far God hadn’t opened a window. Rather than failing to find reasons for the unsaved to adopt my inbred version of reality, I was failing to find reasons for me to retain it.
This entire quest was a cerebral one. There was no great loss or disappointment that led me to question the god hypothesis. I was not rebelling against anyone or anything. But within a few months I had graduated from fundamentalist Christian to agnostic-seeker, continuing to read hungrily and to engage with others on religion and its absence. As the years progressed into my early and mid 20s, a godless universe and perpetual ignorance became increasingly comfortable. At this point in my life (age 75) atheism fits me like an old jacket.
I’ve no need to convert anyone to atheism, though I enjoy an intellectual tit for tat just for fun. It is extraordinarily rare that I actually begin a religion discussion. The chief exception is when confronted by the pervasive religious bullying I will address in a later posting.
So my story is a rather simple one. For the past half century I have been an atheist, but far more import is my self-identity as a secular humanist. (“Atheism,” after all, only tells what one doesn’t believe, not what one does.) Secular humanism is focused on our obligation and opportunity to optimize ethical behavior, liberty of conscience, and the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, unguided and unbounded by ancient superstitions, keenly aware that as far as we know, we are all we have.