Growing a Brain

Why am I an atheist?

The hardest part of being an atheist is trying to figure out how to answer a simple question from a new friend or relative: “why are you an atheist?” How do you tell someone that their religion is stupid? It’s not exactly the kind of thing that will grow friendships and keep relatives on your good side.

I am always terribly tempted to say “I grew a brain” when asked that question. But I bite my lip and mutter something else. “It’s a long story,” or “I just don’t believe.” Then, of course, they say, “why is that?” Again, the old “I grew a brain” comment comes to mind. But I still don’t say it. I’ll say something like, “it doesn’t work for me.” They’ll usually say something like maybe I should try God or “come back” or some shit like that.

Of course, I did not actually grow a brain. I simply let the one I have work as it should after a long while. I did that most cursed thing that religious leaders hate. I went to a “secular” college. Even worse, I pursued knowledge on my own, apart from college. I learned many new things but the most important thing I learned was how to think. I learned to analyze reality, to look at things from a distance, to consider all angles of something.

Over a decade ago I examined my life and saw that I had been bashing my head against a wall. I saw corruption within the leadership of churches. I was lied to. I was sometimes treated lousy. Moreover, most of the “christians” I’ve known paid little heed to what they were expected to do, did not “love thy neighbor” nearly as much as the book says to do (if at all), and did not study the bible as I did. I asked myself, “what’s wrong with this picture.”

I dug into the history of the church. The real history, not the “history” taught in churches. I was already having trouble with some of the absurd stories that the bible told, like Noah and the flood, and the guy eaten by a fish. Another thing that bothered me was all the murder and genocide in the Old Testament. For a god to be so “loving” he sure encouraged, promoted, or carried out murder and genocide very often. Between my research and my misgivings I started to push away.

Already teetering on the brink of disbelief I found a picture from the Hubble Telescope that changed me forever. It put the last “nail in the coffin” of my faith. The picture was the Deep Space Survey. It showed thousands of galaxies in just a small fraction of the night sky. The implications of that photo are huge. It implied strongly that the universe is filled with countless billions (trillions? More?) of galaxies at distances that are unfathomable. There’s no way some “creator” made all that, and even if one did, why would it/he put so much attention into a tiny, tiny planet like ours? For me, this was the end.

The whole world opened up for me once I pushed away from the walls of religion. Lots of the things I’d struggled with made more sense. Human motivations became much more clear. I no longer worried about what would happen after death. The most wonderful thing is the guilt I always had of not being adequate evaporated.

Humanity was never meant to be chained to a belief that belittles and demeans us and demands that we “worship” and ask “forgiveness” for our every action. We are not meant to kowtow to some invisible and (I know now) non-existent god. We are free to be who we are. We alone choose our fate. I am delighted to be me and not worry about whether or not I’m “doing the right thing.”

Fast forwarding to today, I’ve become very used to being an atheist. I live life according to our innate morality. We are beings that have always had an understanding of what is inherently good and bad. Religion merely codified something born into us. There’s no “judgment” or “hell” waiting for us though. If we screw up or do something “bad” in the view of humanity we only suffer the consequences of that act, not some horrible, vengeful deity.

Once and for all I overcame the emotional strangle hold religion places on humanity and learned to view life logically and intellectually. I saw just how absurd and stupid not just christianity is but all religions that follow some absent and not-existent deity. But those still bound up in their emotional prison just can’t see what’s outside.

Religious people just do not understand and fear keeps them from trying. So when they ask why I’m an atheist they don’t really want a valid answer. They want to hear me say something like “I hate god” or “I want to live my life as I do so religion is in the way.” That would validate their faith. It would not be a denial of the existence of god, just a rejection of “truth.” It would mean I am redeemable and gives them hope I could “come back.” But my answers, when I really lay them out, frightens them into shunning me.

What’s a person to do, then? Nothing we “heathen” atheists can do. We are separated by a chasm that we cannot cross to reach them. They have to come out from their emotional prison and cross over to our side on their own. The best thing, then, when asked “why are you an atheist” is to change the subject. “I just am. What do you think of the weather today?” Amen and Selah!

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