(this was originally over there and might still be there but i’m over here now so thought i should move it. I wrote it to explain why I’m atheist. I would transfer the comments from over there to over here but dunno how to do that. So if you wanna see comments prior to March 9th 2012 go over there)
I’ve been trying to piece together for myself at what point did I become an atheist? It’s not like I woke up one morning and realized hey I’m an atheist, and yet at the same time, it kinda is. Not too recently I just realized that not only am I an atheist, but I have been one for some time and I didn’t really realize it. I was trying to NOT be an atheist for the longest time. I was desperately clinging for years to the idea of a deity, long after it just stopped making sense.
Why did it stop making sense? I was born a Christian, into a Baptist family. I was raised by a woman who still strongly believes in the Trinity, and has personal anecdotal evidence to support her beliefs. Practically since birth I’ve heard stories from my mom about how during times of stress in her life she has heard her god speak to her. She has seen Him in out of the body experiences and dream-like moments of premonition. You can laugh all you want, but my own mother told me she met Jesus Christ. My own mother admitted to seeing the ghosts of recently departed people visiting their own funeral. These events were very real to me from childhood, because my own mother told me they happened, and I had no reason nor desire to ever question my own mother. My entire life, I have been strongly motivated to take everything and anything else I’ve ever learned, and make it relate to my mother’s anecdotal evidence of there being a deity. If it didn’t make sense, my mom trumped pretty much everything else, and for the longest time I never even thought about this. I never questioned it. No matter what else goes on, there’s a God. Cuz Mom said there was. The alternative that my mother was either lying to me or delusional, was simply an unthinkable direction to allow my brain to go.
It’s never sudden, but it’s always sudden.
One of my favorite atheists, and a favorite long before I realized I was one myself, is Joss Whedon. He made a little TV series called Buffy The Vampire Slayer. One of the many episodes of that series written by Joss Whedon is called The Body. Quick summary for the uninitiated: Buffy is a vampire slayer who had saved her mother countless times from vampires and zombies and ghosts and monsters and even another vampire slayer. However, in season five Buffy found her mother fighting cancer, and cancer is something at which a vampire slayer is completely and utterly powerless. It’s kinda hard to use a wooden stake against cancer. But Buffy’s mom went into remission and everybody thought she beat it. Then one day Buffy comes home and Joyce is on the couch with her eyes wide open, and she’s never getting up again.
So Buffy finds herself at the hospital later that same day, and the rest of her friends have all run off on various errands because after a loss like this everyone feels like they have to go do something to be useful or whatever, and Buffy’s just sitting there in the waiting room and her friend Tara is sitting next to her. Tara had lost her own mother not long before this happened, and seemed to have come to terms with it. Tara and Buffy sit there alone for a quiet moment and Tara tries to think of something to say to comfort her friend. What comes out of her mouth has haunted me for years: “It’s never sudden, but it’s always sudden.” They knew Buffy’s Mom was sick, and had been fighting cancer all season, so her mortality wasn’t sudden, but then they thought she was okay. So when she died from complications of cancer recovery, it was sudden. It’s possible for something to be both sudden and not sudden.
I’d experienced that myself about when this episode of Buffy came out. My dad died in October of 1998 and this show was first broadcast in February of 2001, so dad’s slowly failing health and then quick decline were still fresh in my mind when I saw The Body. I was right there with Tara when she said that to Buffy.
So from birth I was a Christian but around college (or was it high school? Actually I think as early as junior high) I found myself questioning first the Baptist denomination. It seemed petty for example to not allow dancing. Also, though I attended many different Baptist churches, they all seemed full of people more interested in showing off what they’d purchased that week than in exploring their spiritual awareness. Attending church seemed to just be something traditional to do and didn’t have any actual meaning behind it. So as soon as I was old enough to not HAVE to go, I stopped going. I still considered myself a Christian, but prided myself in not being religious.
In the past ten or fifteen years I’ve thought of myself more as a Deist than a Christian. I still held as best as I can to Christian structure because it was like a security blanket, but I was painfully aware the god I believed in could actually go by the name of Jehovah, Yahweh or Allah as easily as “God.” In fact, my impression of a god had to wear many hats. I refused to accept that any one denomination or religious doctrine was more or less right than any others. The more I learned about other beliefs, the more I found there were commonalities and well as contrasts, and that these different elements seemed as much byproducts of cultural evolution as anything. No one really knows who or what God is. There’s a lot of guesswork going on.
And just who wrote The Bible? Men who were presumably inspired by God, and we are not to question the lack of credentials of these people. In fact whether it be a shaman or a pope or a televangelist, the only criteria that appears to be necessary to be a Man of God, is to have enough self-confidence to go around demanding people acknowledge you as such. Well, that and you have to be able to talk a good game.
Throughout history, religions are run by a select group of usually men with resources and connections and money, and they tell other people how to live their lives. Things they don’t want the masses to do with wanton abandon are called sins and followers are told to deny the urges of the flesh with a promise of spiritual riches after life is over. Meanwhile, the lofty rich leaders wear expensive clothes and make grandiose temples to honor their god. Oftentimes throughout history, these rich and powerful leaders of religions are eventually discovered to also fall from grace but are often forgiven even if they eventually lose their power, only to be replaced by new leaders who promise to do better. It’s a creepy viscous cycle.
These sins are more often than not connected to things that are deeply ingrained in “the flesh.” Some of the advice makes perfect sense. Thou Shalt Not Kill is just good advice no matter how you look at it. However, then the religious leaders find caveats even for that ‘sin.’ For example, anyone who disagrees with the tenets of a given religion can be killed during a Holy War. Killing in self-defense is perfectly acceptable, and these leaders will say that their god told them to tell their followers to go kill anyone who disagrees with them, as they are heathen and do not enjoy the love of the One True God. There’s a lot of One True Gods by the way. Almost as many as there are sports teams. So I knew all this stuff and more and yet still I found myself clinging to these beliefs that fit me worse than a T-Shirt from fifth grade.
So at what point did I lose faith? Or rather, at what point did I realize that faith is belief in something that can’t be proven, and therefore makes no fricken sense whatsoever?
This past March I had an operation. My first. No big deal. It was a private big deal for me but objectively speaking it was a routine operation. I had an umbilical hernia which was the byproduct of poor exercise and overeating. My own damn fault. And the operation itself was standard and routine. I have never been given any reason to believe I should have had an out of the body experience or a near death experience. There was no moment while on the operating table where I flatlined.
Or so far as I know. I mean. I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t exactly there at the time it happened. I remember cracking jokes in the operating room, asking the doctor to please get this golf ball out of my belly button. Just take a golf club and whack it. Whatever it takes. I was in good spirits. I felt I was in good hands. Capable intelligent people whose careers revolve around doing this kinda stuff every day. I felt good, considering my gut was killing me. The anesthesiologist asked me to count backward from one hundred. I don’t remember actually counting.
I don’t remember anything. When you sleep, and then you wake up, there’s still a sense that something was there between the going to sleep and the waking up. You may not remember any dreams or anything but there’s a sense that time has passed. It’s very vague but it’s there, and we take it for granted.
I remember becoming conscious and it was very dark, later I realized it was cuz I was too weak to open my eyelids. I felt a sharp needle in my wrist and I didn’t want it there, so I remember feeling my left arm reaching over to pull something out of my right arm, and I remember being restrained. Then I went to sleep. And then I woke up in a recovery room and pushed a button asking for vicadin. From the point of the needle in my arm to the point of the vicadin, that was normal sleep. That felt normal. However, the point before that between the operation itself and becoming conscious realizing there was a needle in my arm I didn’t want there, that wasn’t normal. That is Missing Time.
As I was being restrained from pulling the needle out of my arm, I recall being mildly surprised to be alive. There was no out of the body experience during my operation. There was no recollection of conversations that happened elsewhere in the hospital. I was not visited by family and friends who have passed away. I didn’t get to shake Jesus’ hand and marvel at the scars on his hands and wrists. I didn’t get told I can’t stay in heaven because it’s not my time yet and I need to go back. There was none of that. I can tell myself it was just the anesthesia. That I wasn’t supposed to remember anything because they just used strong drugs and there was no life after death moment for me because I wasn’t anywhere near dying. However, if there were a god in the sky somewhere, it woulda been nice if he at least popped in at this point in my life and said hello. After all, he’s on a first name basis with my Mom.
What I experienced can only be described as oblivion. There was nothing. When I actually die, that’s what’s going to be there. Nothing. And I won’t have any emotional response to that because there simply will be no ‘me’ to have any kind of response to about that. At all. And that’s the way it is. That’s the way it’s always been. One can choose to believe all they want but that doesn’t change what actually is. There’s subjective perception of reality, and then there’s reality. You can believe in leprechans and aliens and the Bermuda Triangle and Bigfoot and unicorns and the Loch Ness monster and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri coming to feed on your brains. Believe in whatever you want all you want. If such things actually exist, it’s not because you believed in them. There’s no correlation between believing in a god and one actually being there for you when you have a golf ball stuck in your navel.
I can tell myself it was the moment of oblivion that suddenly turned me atheist. I can tell myself that. I can perhaps even believe it. Unfortunately, there’s evidence supporting another explanation. Before I went into the operating room, a sweet lady visited me in while I waited for surgery. She was a priest and she had the papers I’d requested. The ones you sign telling people that after you become a vegetable and can’t talk or think for yourself and there’s no hope of ever being cognizant again it’s okay to pull the plug. Those papers. So I signed them and she and I had a nice little talk and before she left she asked me if I wanted her to pray over me before going into surgery. I thanked her for the offer but said no. I honestly didn’t think a complete stranger praying over me was going to make a bit of difference.
So I stopped believing before I stopped believing. It’s never sudden, but it’s always sudden.