“To surrender to ignorance and call it God has always been premature and it remains premature today.” -Isaac Asimov
There are a lot of things which make me uncomfortable with the idea of religion. Unfortunately (for those involved) my societal exposure has largely been to Christianity, and as a result my opinions have been formed with the Christian doctrine as the pivot around which many of my thoughts about religion revolve. It is not that I am specifically picking on Christians; it’s just that I am more familiar with their doctrine and history than any other religion. The following observations which reinforce my atheism are therefore centred on Christianity because my thoughts have been most influenced by it, not because I consider any other religion better or free of faults. I am just as incapable of accepting the doctrines of Judaism, Islam and every other religion. Furthermore, this is an essay about why I cannot follow a religion, and as such, I have chosen not to include any apologist pandering about the good things done in the name of religion.
Ever since I was a small child I was different from my peers in a fundamental way: I was not taught to believe in any kind of god. My parents are both non-believers. My mother had been raised Roman Catholic, but became a Jehovah’s Witness and then finally became an atheist. My father was raised agnostic and will probably remain so the rest of his life.
As a result I was fortunate enough to be raised in a warm, loving home where fear of punishment by someone other than my parents was never in my mind. I was encouraged to ask questions and not to accept deficient answers (like “because I’m an adult and I told you so”), a trait which emerged in my three year old son when he chided me “Mommy, ‘because’ is not an answer,” I should have known better, even though his question was about why it rains and I was framing an answer, using “because” as a placeholder as I tried to put a complex natural process into terms that he would understand.
Being the self-assured, intelligent brat I was, I often got into raging arguments with my young friends and I can distinctly remember the following conversation with one of my closest childhood friends;
SD: “There is no God”
Friend: “Yes, there is”
SD: “There is no God, show me the evidence!”
Friend: “Yes there is, my mommy told me so!”
And so it continued.
Throughout school I was excused from religious studies classes, although I occasionally chose to participate in them. Instead of indoctrination I was given free rein of the library during all religious classes and assemblies. I was not alone, there were a half a dozen other students who sat out of the Bible studies, unlike me all of them were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and my inquiring mind led me to sit in on a few of their gatherings. I was welcomed with open arms, but I was disappointed to find that their meetings were just like all the other Bible study classes and I soon went back to the science section of the small library to look for the real answers.
For every book I read, for every question I asked on the topic of religion I got entirely contradictory answers from many different people, however, my parents consistently encouraged me to continue asking questions until I found reasonable answers. I attended a few Sunday school classes, I took part in some Bible study lessons, and I even spent a weekend at a Christian camp, surrounded by people revelling in their delusions. It seemed obvious to me all the way through that there are no answers here, just stories and a strong sense of belonging to a community.
Now that I am an adult I have become a far more outspoken atheist (not that I was reserved about it as a child, hopefully I am slightly more eloquent now) and I have often offended people by airing my views (not that I intend to), but not everybody responds with fear and aggression. Two years ago I was admitted to hospital for a gall bladder removal. When the nurse standing at my bedside was filling out my admission form she got to the small block for religion and I will never forget her response when I told her that I am an atheist. She looked flatly at me and asked “Is that a kind of Christian?” She had never before been exposed to the idea that a person could go through their entire life without a God looking over their subconscious shoulder. I calmly explained exactly what it meant to be an atheist and she was genuinely fascinated by the fact that I drew my strength from the love of my family and friends, that when something terrible happened I would turn, not to my imaginary friend, but to my real friends and loved ones, that I did not need a God – let alone Gods – in my life.
I was taught the creation myth long before I was told about the Big Bang theory. It’s a fanciful story, you have to admit, that a powerful being created the universe in six days, by willing it into existence. Everything! From the tiniest sub-atomic particle to the grandest galactic super cluster, with all of the intricate complexity we can (and cannot) see, with the power of a wish! I was told that this mythical being created the first humans, Adam and Eve, out of mud and then breathed life into them. Well, how did he do it I asked? Where did the power come from? I’m clearly not made of mud! I could never get a satisfactory answer for my creation questions from religious institutions. “Because we say that He is all-powerful”, “because the Bible says so”, never satisfied me. It was not a good enough answer, as Bertrand Russell says “Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence”.
The Big Bang theory does answer questions, it tells us about how the universe came into existence. The evidence for the theory is overwhelming, including the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMBR) and the observable differences in the ages of galaxies (far away galaxies are much older than nearby ones – this can be observed with a large telescope and small understanding of how light is red shifted as it travels through the universe). Science is not limited to a single answer, as is religion. We don’t have to look for answers in a book written by Bronze Age people with limited horizons, their universe being made up of what a farmer could see from a mountaintop. We are not tied to an outdated, dogmatic text which asks us to abandon our natural inquisitiveness and replace independence with submission and the desire for evidence with faith. The theories of the Big Bang and evolution by natural selection are constantly being tested and refined, being forced to answer questions put to them by anyone and everyone who has a mind to do so (and some who have no minds but try to anyway). Do you doubt that the Big Bang is the spark at the beginning of the universe? Read about it, research it, consider the evidence with an open mind, and ask questions of the professional physicists and cosmologists. If one of your questions reveals a major flaw in the theory it will be re-examined and updated (and you’d be in line for a Nobel Prize). Try and do the same with religion and you will be labelled a blasphemous heathen, excommunicated and condemned to purgatory.
One of the most odious proclamations I have heard is that it is impossible to feel love if you do not believe in God. This is a claim that will never sit well with me. Does the Christian church mean that no one can love another person, that their emotions are somehow illusory, if they do not conform to the faith? Or does it mean that only God can truly love a person? How do I reconcile that with the fact that my son, who is too young to have been indoctrinated, clearly loves me and his father? How does my deep love for my family mean less because I refuse to accept a religion? I know that I love my family and friends, that I am always concerned for their safety, happiness and wellbeing. To claim that I cannot love because I am an atheist is an insult of the highest order and I will pull a Buzz Aldrin on the next person who tries it.
Another thing for which the major religions of the world should be ashamed is their treatment of women. It is not surprising to me that a book written by old men should contain such disgusting, discriminative instruction as this paragraph;
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety”
– 1 Timothy 2:11 – 15, King James Version
For the most conservative denominations of the Christian church the Bible is considered to be the divinely inspired word of God and, as such, accept all teachings therein as true and inerrant. Looking about us today we may forget the strictly held views of the Christian church which persisted until less than a century ago.
Almost every day we are exposed to some example of how different major religions suppress its female adherents. There is a large population of Muslims in Durban and I regularly see women in full burqas going about their lives, these women cloaked from head to toe in loose black cloth invoke a deep sadness in me. Jokes aside, the burqa is a sign of sexual oppression more obvious than any other. For a Muslim woman to reveal her face in public would bring great shame upon her family. I consider the superstitious, ignorant covering up of a woman to the extent of a full burqa more shameful, but who am I to question the established doctrine? I might start a war…
Which brings me neatly to my next point; I cannot ignore the fact that uncountable scores of people have been killed in religiously inspired wars of one form or another. From overt campaigns of extermination such as the genocide of European Jews at the hands of the Nazis and the current East-West war which started when a group of religious extremists killed thousands of civilians with well aimed aircraft, to the covert extermination of people and cultural diversity caused by the spread of missionaries across the globe. In one way or another, religious intolerance is responsible for the deaths of millions of people. MILLIONS! And you supposedly can’t feel love if you don’t believe in God!
Is the overly restrictive, fear inducing submissiveness encouraged by religious institutions in order for them to increase their own wealth and power? I certainly think so. Name one man who controls the thoughts and actions of more people alive today then the Pope? Perhaps Barak Obama comes to mind? The population of the United States of America is 300 million
, and any pronouncement by Obama would be considered more of a general guideline really. Roman Catholicism is the indoctrination of choice of more than 1 billion people worldwide (this is an estimate because there is no church wide census). That’s approximately half of the worldwide Christian population and more than 1/7th of the entire human population of the planet. You want wealth and power? Don’t become a rock star or the president of the USA, set your sights on the Pope’s office – as long as you are not a woman. But being a man whose lifelong sexual repression has turned him into a sick, twisted, child molester is A-OK with the disgusting, morally corrupt church.
If ever there was a human institution which inspired more bigotry, more oppression, repression and abuse, inspired more people to murder one another, engendered more distrust, racism and hatred than religion I am yet to discover it. I am an atheist today, not only because of all of the issues I have raised above, but because, thanks to my wonderful parents, I made it to the age of reason without being indoctrinated.
In preparation for this article I asked my mom a few questions regarding her religious upbringing so that I could communicate her experiences in her own words. I asked three simple questions and I received many answers.
What religion did your parents raise you under?
Mom: My mother was a Roman Catholic and I went to a Convent for the first three years of my schooling. My father was an agnostic, and I think he dabbled in Scientology because he spoke about L Ron Hubbard with some respect (!) When I was about 12, I joined a Baptist church, mainly for the social interaction.
What made you decide to become a Jehovah’s Witness?
Mom: I liked the fact that they were much more sincere in their beliefs than the main-stream Christians. They really tried to live according to the Bible and to spread the word, which they honestly believe is what God wants them to do. They’re very kind, and take you into their “family” willingly, and they have a very strong social bond within the church – mainly, I think, because they are different to the others, so they have to stand together. They also believe that because they are persecuted, they are the Chosen people and will be the only ones to survive Armageddon. Unfortunately, after a while I saw the cracks showing, and I realised they weren’t as morally upstanding as they pretended to be, so I left. It was all a bit intensely religious, and I was starting to have doubts about the whole thing anyway…
Why are you an atheist?
Mom: Once I grew up, I realised I don’t need a God to lean on, I have no need for the crutch of religion, and I prefer to think my own way and behave my own way, without someone else dictating to me from a pulpit. In any case, I can see no proof of God, no proof of the doctrines, and I think religions in general suck – they all contradict each other, even those that are supposed to be the same – how can any of them claim to have the Truth? So much harm is done in the name of religion…. I don’t want to be identified in any way with any of it! I’ll make up my own mind, based on what I can see and can understand, and what science tells me and that can be demonstrated to my satisfaction.