Becoming Atheist

Some nights ago, at the time of writing, I was involved in a conversation in which the topic of religion came up. These days when I’m involved in such conversations the other participants typically recoil in shock, horror or disbelief regarding my views and rationale. However in a rather interesting turn I was given the question of “When did you know that you were an atheist?” to which is a point that I would like to elaborate on a bit further than the confines of that conversation.

Reflecting on the past, I can say with certainty that I was one of the fortunate few handful of children who grew up not having to suffer the indoctrination of the inherited subscription domain or having to be subject to the rather overt and horrifying recitations of scripture from either the aforementioned or any other subscription domain. Despite the fact that my mother, who descended from a largely Christian-based family, was evidently agnostic, she was far more pragmatic in the sense that she found it more reasonably sane to permit me to come to terms with these things in my own way. On that account it should be said that no one rational person could or should criticise her since the alternative would be reprehensible in the context of humanism. The interesting result of that though was that until the age of twenty, any thoughts I had regarding these matters essentially culminated in a vacuum i.e. there were no direct external influences on the thought processes. It wasn’t until then that any considerable effort was put into research and study of this.

Digressing, there is no way I could ever claim that I was spiritual or religious in any sense as a teen and young adult with that type of flexibility permitted. Interestingly enough, when I elected to start attending a local church every Sunday and then to take it to the lengths of participating in a Bible Study programme on Wednesday evenings when school was rearing its head the following morning (this went on for a year), there was never any blowback from my family for that. My grandmother may have been mildly pleased to see this but part of me thinks that she subconsciously believed that I was passively Christian and never addressed the issue with me. Even during that time, there was no epiphanous moment where all teachings, be they either direct (dogmatic, if you like) or translated via lateral interpretations, momentously forked my life onto the path of permanent subjugation and blind humility. In fact it was quite the opposite as it did little more than fuel the fire for questioning everything. Regardless, it never pushed me consciously to the point where the true realisation of my thoughts came to fruition.

Potentially ironically, for readers who are of the religious vantage point, and I should think it may be a fair portion of all available ones to choose from (religions and not readers), the climactic point was when my mother died.

To illustrate the backdrop to this a little more clearly, my mother was a recovering heroin addict. To this day the exact cause of her death can be associated with one of two possibilities: strictly an overdose due to relapse or an adverse reaction between medication she had been taking at the time and the relapse (the relapse was the constant). At the time of her death, she was a 39-year old single mother of three who had given up everything she had to raise her children to the best of her ability and also to take care of her mother who had fallen victim to emphysema and a myriad of ridiculously prolonged coalescing systemic failures, both physically and mentally, and clearly had battled with personal issues herself. During the funeral service, my grandmother was sitting forefront with the casket in plain sight bawling more than one would think possible for any person capable of doing so. As the pastor crossed her way, she agonisingly mustered the will, in between all of the tattered breathing and incoherent slewing of words it caused, to ask him verbatim: “Why did God take her? Why didn’t he take me instead?” In as cool, calm and collected a fashion as one can respond, without the slightest hint of hesitation that would indicate a momentary doubt in self-assurance, with all the conviction he could pour into a single statement, he knelt down to meet her gaze and looked her directly in the eyes and uttered the words “Because God decided it was time to call her back.”

Note that going forward, I’ll be referring to “God” in lieu of generalisations that I’ve used to this point.

Possibly because of the situation at the time, all I could feel was rage and anger toward this man. If any lines of condolence are to be offered, even for those within the context of the subscription, rationale like that is really the least kind and efficacious thing to say. What I had come to realise not long after though was that the man himself was not to be held accountable for such grievance, instead the principle of the religion to which he subscribed to deserved the vitriol. However there were several other things that became overtly apparent to me after her death that are detailed in following.

Right from the start, it should be obvious to any reader, I would hope, that arguing over the source of the reason he had given to her is essentially moot. Debate can be carried on over if this was the intent of God or not or if the recited line came from the scripture in either a literal or lateral interpretation, the former more plausible, but it ultimately deters from what really happened there and is largely irrelevant. Why? Consider the possibility of the situation whereby this man who uttered this line to her had been either (A) a man who subscribed to a different religion or (B) a man subscribed to no religion at all. It’s very plausible that had my grandmother asked this A or B man the same question, his response arguably would have been different in the sense that it may have lacked confinement within the context of religion or could have been more empathic. While it is also possible to suggest that the man as he were was simply caught in the moment and incapable of coming up with anything remotely sound at the time of being asked, keep in mind that he responded back to her without the slightest hint of hesitation. He was well prepared for that which speaks more toward his well-groundedness in the doctrines of his faith, and possibly even to an extent a resultant detachment from the human condition, than in the well-being of his fellow persons. Which, again, is not his fault explicitly.

Instead if you look at the phrase itself and think about its implications through invocation, things start to get a fair bit muddy. By any clear perspective it implies that even though God created all things, it is perfectly content with violating its own rules, ad arbitrium, regardless of the collateral cost. The key focus here is on two points: violating its own rules and disregard for collateral cost where both are very obvious violations of the ad nauseam human-centric agenda it is purported to exhibit. Projecting this onto the situation at hand, you then should be able to rationalise the statement as to mean that God cares about my mother and so decided, executively, that she had to die to come back to Heaven. Bear in mind here that her behaviour clearly didn’t warrant this type of reward if weighed against the faith but according to this emissary that’s certainly where she’s at. But God is also supposed to care about my grandmother who was forced to sit and stare at her daughter’s corpse and be told that she simply was instructed to return from whence she came. That then implies that God’s care is revealed to her in the form of anguish, misery and further declining health and this is supposed to forge her into a stronger person because of it? God is supposed to care about her three children in a similar fashion? It should be a clear cut case that provides evidence for the following statements:

  • God is immoral
  • God is one of the worst introverts ever conceived
  • God’s behaviour is more akin to that of a prepubescent child
  • God is incapable of being a solution, or shim solution, for the question of death as it pertains to living persons

Having read that, please take care to understand that I understand wholly that the summation of my rationale here has been well beaten and run through the philosophical ringer on more occasions than I even care to count. However as a moral agent it is absolutely impossible for myself to either outright or conditionally grant impunity to this God, as it were, simply on account of any of its other supposed omniscient, omnipotent or whatever other meta-man qualities it is purported to have. Any other of my fellow moral agents would be remiss to not see this instance for what it is and put to it the same scrutiny that we would to any other construct of our fellows on this planet.

I also want to take heed to mention that the idea of apostatizing had never occurred to me. Mostly because I wasn’t a subscriber to begin with but when I use that word here it’s to coyly describe the idea that I look for answers outside of the God that was invoked here, which the act alone seemed ludicrous when the answers were essentially obvious. What difference would it have made if by chance some other God had answers that this one couldn’t provide? If another had a different cosmic plan or a different set of ideas about our providence regarding the afterlife or how we get there or how we’re supposed to behave toward each other or in the name of (the agony), the fundamental flaws would always be the same and, by nature, derivative. The rather disgusting paradox where multiple religions exist proves, well enough I should think, that not only are deities/Gods constructs resultant of ourselves but also that they can provide no answers for any questions which we ourselves are incapable of answering by any functional means. While many have tried to capture the essence of “the answer for both life and the afterlife,” no one person, be they, humourously, either simply men or Gods, has been able to provide an account sufficient enough to subjugate our minds completely to. Actually, the phrase “the answer for both life and the afterlife” presupposes that there was a question to begin with.

The rest, as they say, is history. I could further present arguments to debate the existence of such a being or the implications of religion as a whole on our society but I wanted this essay strictly to be a brief account on the foundation for my religious divorce since most people ask.

Quote from Christopher Hitchens

An excerpt from his book Arguably: Essays from the first essay titled Gods of Our Fathers: The United States of Enlightenment which was a review of the book Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers by Brooke Allen:

“In 1821 Thomas Jefferson wrote of his hope “that the human mind will some day [sic] get back to the freedom it enjoyed 2000 years ago. This country, which has given the world an example of physical liberty, owes to it that of moral emancipation also.” I think that Allen is not wrong in comparing this to the finest passages in Edward Gibbon. She causes us to catch our breath at the thought that, at the birth of the United States, there were men determined to connect it to a philosophical wisdom that pre-dated the triumph of monotheism. It is the only reason for entertaining the belief that America was ever blessed by “Providence” – as Roger Williams named his open-minded settlement in Rhode Island, a refuge from the tyranny of Pilgrims and Puritans.”

A lot of people like to forget that these Founding Fathers ideally strove for a secularist society. One in which we’ve severely strayed so far away from.