Monday, December 5, 2011

My Story (pt. 3) The Baby Atheist

To summarize and perhaps clarify previous installments, I was raised in an ultra-charismatic household.  Supernatural events and ideals seemed to define my early experiences as a Christian.  My mother was a key component to my understanding of Christianity and world view.  I was somewhat lackadaisical while growing up in my Christianity but later embraced it passionately as I tried to find answers to my suffering with OCD.  I even bought the audio version of the Bible, so I was always trying to immerse myself in scripture.   I was consistent with church attendance and reading up on some of the latest apologetic works of people like Norm Geisler.  I understood that I was saved by grace, so this wasn't some attempt to earn salvation.  I simply wanted to be a well-versed and knowledgable Christian.  I wanted to also find some healing for my mental issues.

The A-Unicornist, who I became reacquainted with on Facebook, was initially someone I was trying to convert as Christ called the church to make disciples.  My best arguments were no match for his well-reasoned counter-apologetics and science.  I ended up de-converting in the process, and my journey as a baby atheist soon began.

I think it's very common for many baby atheists to immerse themselves in what science and other well-recognized atheists have to say.  It's like getting a new toy.  You just can't get enough of it, and I was no different.   For someone who really didn't like to read, I sure was checking out a lot of library books and purchasing some must-haves.  I may have read over 25 books that first year which probably doesn't seem like a lot to some of you bookworms, but it was quite a drastic change for me.  This didn't include the time I devoted to my own blog that I started at the encouragement of the A-Unicornist nor did it include the time I spent reading other blogs, listening to atheist podcasts or checking out the latest YouTube clip by one of my favorite outspoken atheists. 

 As a bit of a digression, this learning process obviously continues to this day.  I'm still watching videos, listening to lectures and tuning in to the weekly podcast, The Atheist Experience.  I'm just pacing myself s bit more and recognize that I don't have to know everything now.  As a baby atheist, most of us are so excited and exhilarated that we don't take the time to reflect.  My next installment will cover the period of reflecting and reexamining my worldview.  Atheism isn't a worldview in itself.  End of digression

The four-horsemen became familiar to me for the first time.  Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens were all voicing many of the same things I had come to believe, especially Harris.   I was becoming more knowledgeable in the subject of evolution and even began reading up on Stephen Hawking.  I must confess that I'm still quite the novice and intimidated by cosmology and astrophysics.  It's not something that I was formerly educated on or previously interested in.  It was also something that I left to God to worry about since he designed everything anyway.  

During this time, I was attempting to keep my blog a secret from family  which was no small task since I was enjoying it so much.  I didn't necessarily want anybody to know about my atheism.  What would my father-in-law believe or my wife?  As you may recall, my father-in-law  is a baptist preacher and then there was my mom to worry about.  It seemed like I was going to have to be a loner for the time which wasn't all that bad.  I never was the most sociable person to begin with.  In another sense, I was so convinced that the God of the O.T. was a moral monster that I really didn't care if people eventually found out anyway.  I figured that they were the ones with the problem of defending this nefarious brute.  

It's amazing how I never saw what was right before my eyes.  As a Christian, I never even considered that God might not be real or that the god depicted in the Bible was evil.  I always started with the presupposition that he was real and omnibenevolent and any evidence to the contrary was simply a misunderstanding of his nature on my part.  But after having my eyes opened, it became clear that he probably wasn't real.  I never took the stance that he certainly wasn't real as a strong atheist would say but probably not real.  We aren't dealing with certainty here.  I'm not certain that Bigfoot doesn't exist, but I think that he/she probably doesn't.  

Initially, I just told my wife that I was playing the devils advocate.  She would see a comment of mine on Facebook that was not very christlike shall we say, and I'd just play it off by saying that I just wanted to see what others thought.  Or, I would be listening to an atheist podcast and make the excuse that I was just wanting to know  more about my enemy so I would be better equipped to handle them.  I wonder how many baby atheists do this as an attempt to mask their true identity from Christian family members while still immersing themselves in their newfound identity?  I suspect that there are quite a few.

I hope that you come back for my final installment as I discuss the reaction of some of my family when they found out that I was indeed a follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and how atheism has changed me as a person.  In many ways, I believe that I'm a more well-grounded and stable person now.  This theme needs to be expanded upon in my next installment.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My story (pt. 2) If You Can't Beat Em', Join Em'

It was about this time when I tried my hand in the stock market for the second time in my life.  I had been unjustly fired from my previous employer and had already been studying the market before getting the boot.  I spent the next year taking online course work in the stock market and losing my ass in online trading.  I continued to seek God's wisdom and favor as I made trading decisions.  My mother had told me about a woman who prayed before each stock trade and made a ton of money doing it.  As usual, there seemed to be no divine intervention from the Lord.  Yet, I never became bitter toward God for not helping; I just continued to try to be the best Christian I could be.

 It was also about this time that my long held beliefs were really put to the test.  I was searching Facebook for long lost pals and came across Mike Doolittle's profile.  It was unmistakably the same fair skinned, blonde haired guy that I met some 19 years earlier.  I asked for his hand in Facebook friendship, and he soon obliged.  But there was something wrong with this Mike Doolittle.  He kept making post after post and comment after comment of anti-Christian rhetoric or had the audacity to display scientific related materials discussing evidence that contradicted some of my most cherished beliefs. Just about anytime I put something up regarding my belief in Christ, he would challenge me in some way. For a time, I actually blocked this guy from my facebook. I can't remember exactly why I eventually unblocked him, but I think it was because I wanted to confront him. It wasn't long before I decided to go toe to toe with this non-conformist in a showdown at the virtual O.K. Corral.  Armed with materials from my favorite apologists and theologians and wanting to be the best Christian possible, I vehemently argued my case against such topics as evolution and God's morality.

Speaking of evolution, as a bit of an aside, I never believed in it nor was I properly educated on the subject.  Even in college, the subject just never came up.  I never thought about it enough to even know what I thought about it.  In short, I just believed whatever Hank Hannegraff or Norm Geisler said on the subject.  It was just a lie and full of misinformation.

Needless to say, I soon realized that Mike was telling the honest to god's truth.  There was a wealth of evidence confirming evolution as a fact.  Scientists almost unanimously agree that evolution is the best explanation for the diversity of species and the progress of our own.  It's awfully hard to continue to side with the fundamental Christianity I was used to when they are at odds with the scientific literature.  Not being raised as a moderate or liberal Christian, I didn't have the convenience of accepting evolution while discarding the story of Genesis as a metaphor.  

Mike pointed me to books and online articles discussing the latest research in evolution from--this is a shocker--real scientists. We also discussed some of the theories on astrophysics and origins of the universe. I quickly defined myself as a young earth creationist (YEC) as it aligned with the literal interpretation of Genesis. I honestly had never heard of the term before, but Mike laid it out for me. This was all well beyond me, but I sure just wanted to say that God took care of it all and leave it at that. Mike wouldn't let me get off that easy. Being far more advanced in the topic than I, he explained scientific theory and plausible hypotheses regarding the universe which don't necessitate a creator. We went over big bang theory, string theory, multiverse theory and many others. As the A-Unicornist often quips, the only thing worse than a god that doesn't exist is a god that might as well not exist.  

But Mike really put the nail in the coffin when we started talking about God's moral behaviors.  The O.T. had bothered me before but nothing that Lee Strobel couldn't fix.  After all, God was doing neighboring nations a favor when he demanded the death of children.  They got the automatic ticket to the greatest show on earth, heaven.  We can't all be so lucky.  As for the doctrine of hell, it was our own fault for going, and we chose hell over heaven by rejecting our savior.  We were going exactly where we wanted and asked to go.

Needless to say, Mike opened my eyes to the brutality involved in all of that.  We have a god, full of omnisicience, that still creates beings he knows with foresight will be eternally separated and punished for lacking belief and living apart from this taskmaster's own desires.

As far as the OT goes, Mike helped me realize that a secular morality was superior to God's.  I vividly remember watching The Stoning of Soraya M. and that was the final straw.  I could no longer worship a god with such a capricious and cruel nature.  Even if he was real, I wanted little to do with such a beast.   As the saying goes, if you can't beat em', join em'.   I raised the white flag and surrendered to an insurmountable amount of evidence in favor of evolution, against YEC and impressive moral arguments confirming secular morality's superiority.  

I humbly ask that you stay tuned for the next installment as I discuss what being a baby atheist is like.  I say baby because it's quite similar.  I found myself soaking up information like a sponge and voraciously reading everything I could get my hands on.


Saturday, December 3, 2011

My story (pt.1) Knee Deep in Supernaturalism

The wonderful Advocatus Atheist himself, Tristan Vick, has inspired me to tell the personal story of my own evolution into a rootin’ tootin’ atheist. I may have delved into portions of my story in the past so please bear with me if some of it sounds familiar. I was raised in a very fundamentalist household from day one. My mother is the main source of my religious upbringing. Although initially raised as Baptist, she later met a friend who would forever change her perspective as she began attending services that had a more charismatic leaning. These were the kind of services that you didn’t feel like you got your money’s worth unless you got spit on by the preacher in the process. People frequently spoke in tongues and flailed around aimlessly. Attracted by the supernaturalism, my mother continued to seek out churches such as these from that point onward.

I remember the dread of waking up on Sunday mornings and waiting for the bedroom door to open. I always crossed my fingers in hopes that my mom would let us stay home from church. This was seldom the case early in my life. As time went by, our church attendance seemed less consistent. Nevertheless, my mother continued to amass an impressive amount of books regarding the word of faith movement. You know, the whole just ask for whatever you want and you should get it unless you don’t have enough faith theology.

My mother suffered from a series of rashes when I was around the age of 7 or 8. Being wealthy at the time, my mom had flown around the world in search for a viable cure. She had seen many of the most famous dermatologists around but none could seem to fix her ailment. One night, she asked for my father, brother and me to pray for her. We got in a prayer circle and laid hands on her. Miraculously, by the next day or so, the rash had subsided substantially. I don’t think she’s had another outbreak since. It was moments like this where I first realized the apparent power of prayer.

My mother experienced bizarre, demonic visions of hell and torment as well. She told me that she had actually been dragged down the stairs by some force which just continued to utter the words, “If you don’t, if you don’t.” She said that there were demons all over the place, and even our cat seemed to have a devilish smile upon its face. The next day, she told me that her forearm was sore from where this spirit dragged her body. Stories like this were very common place in my family, and her childhood friend had even more creepy stories that kept me up in the wee hours of the night. On one night, I thought that I saw a demon myself. He had a monkey face and was standing beside my bed. I pulled the covers over my face frantically and waited it out. We lived over what was thought to be an old Indian burial ground. There were many reports of ghosts walking around at night and disturbing residents. It seemed like I was knee deep in supernatural occurrences. I think that these experiences certainly shaped my world view.

By 10th grade, I was attending a private Christian school and not particularly enjoying it. Like most Christians, I said that I was a Christian but lived outside of the teachings. Out of our graduating class, I could probably count one person who seemed genuine about their Christianity. It wasn’t until meeting my wife that I really began to establish a strong relationship with God.

Certain stressors began negatively impacting my life which seemed to coincide with my urge to get closer to God. I don’t fare well with change unless my back is against the wall and married life certainly seemed very different. My Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) became front and center in my life, and I was looking for answers. I really began to study the Word under the influence of my father-in-law, who happens to be a Baptist preacher. I was reading apologetic materials by the likes of Norman Geisler. I was regularly tuning in to the Bible Answer Man broadcast with Hank Hannegraff. I even tried my hand at being a youth teacher but that was fairly short-lived. Attending several services and study hours became common for me. In short, I wanted to be the best I could be at walking the Christian life. I wanted to conquer my OCD using God’s power, but there seemed to be a nagging problem. There was some cognitive dissonance brewing in my head regarding prayer. I couldn’t understand why God would heal me if he allows children to die. I felt like I was inevitably stuck with OCD because there was no reason to believe that God cared about mental illnesses when he didn’t care about starving, emaciated children. It wasn’t too long after this issue came to a climax when I became reacquainted with a long lost friend that was very instrumental in turning my life around. His name is Mike Doolittle AKA A-Unicornist. I encourage you to tune in to the next installment as I delve into the debates I had with Mike as he methodically destroyed my arguments and opened my eyes for the first time.