Here’s my problem. I want to believe in God and religion. I do. I want the certainty that comes along with it. I also want the comfort in knowing that when I die, I could be reunited with the ones I love. But I can’t. I’ve tried. I have prayed to God for years to help make me believe. But all I’ve ever received back is silence. Which can mean only one of two things, so far as I can tell. That I am either damned and have been from birth, or, and more likely, that God doesn’t exist.
I tried to be a religious person. The impulse lasted approximately one year before it one day vanished. I went to sleep one night and when I awoke the next morning the capacity to believe was gone. It simply wasn't there anymore.
The way I look at it is that I didn’t have the talent to believe. I’ve always had a hard time getting past the obvious fiction of the whole thing. Having grown up in relative poverty, religion held complete irrelevance to my life. I had no time for it and the religious leaders had nothing to say about it either and if they did it was only to say that suffering, on the whole, was a good thing. Which only infuriated me. Which is probably one of the reasons I was so angry as a young man. To a large extent I still am. As a result I lost all respect for any type of authority. Which has both served me as well as handicapped me in life.
Religion proved to me that authority was impotent when faced with real problems. So my eventual atheism had as much to do with human reason, as it did with a rejection of authority itself. But, digging deeper, I realize now, that my eventual atheism, had just as much to do with a rejection of family itself.
My Dad’s side of the family were a very religious clan. They honestly used to scare me. They are, in a word, fanatics. Even today they are more like relics from another time than actual people. Curiosities meant to be displayed and gawked at by foreign tourists.
They eschew television, makeup, short-sleeve shirts, jewelry, pants, any form of entertainment outside of the church, up to and including, and especially, books.
I always felt looked down upon whenever I was around them. Because even though I was a part of their family I was still separated from them by my mother, and more importantly, by my mothers religion.
My mother belonged to a different denomination. She is a member of the Old Regular Baptist church, Indian Bottom Association, while they belonged to the Holiness church, which is a branch of Pentecostalism.
As a boy I can remember plenty of times being dragged to those old camp meetings where they worshiped under a tin roof with sawdust on a dirt floor, high upon an old strip mining site. The shouting, the hysterics, and for me, the confusion and fear.
My father, earlier in his life, had previously belonged to the Holiness church, converting and then joining my mothers church only after they were married. This infuriated his mother of course, whom I have heard, on more than one occasion, scold him by telling him that he, “Once knew good, but has now strayed.”
Once my mother found out about one of these exchanges she too was upset. Mostly because my father hadn’t bothered to defend her and let his mother talk about their sons mother in front of his children in such a way. I’ve overheard many such conversations however, conversations that I won’t recount here.
And so gradually, over the intervening years, I came to hate that side of the family. Admittedly, hatred may be too strong of a word. But I did stand against them. I did not wish to be like them in any way, shape, or form and so naturally atheism was as far from where they stood as I could get.
So I ran from them. I ran from sports. I ran from conservatism, from anything that might link me to them either familially, culturally or otherwise. This I think played the biggest role as to why I can’t believe, even though I never really believed to begin with. And then, of course, after a time, I soon discovered philosophy and the arguments against religion gave me a more solid foundation to stand on. Reason alone had finally pushed me across the dividing line I had been toeing for so long and I credit Richard Dawkins’s book, The God Delusion, for giving me that final push.
In response to all of this, several people, i.e. family, have said to me that my disbelief is only the result of “hasty conclusions” and is nothing more than a sure sign of, not only “my foolishness,” but of “my own vanity.” I don’t deny these charges. I have weaknesses in my personality and pride is certainly one of them. My conclusion, however, is that man created God in his imagination when he realized his deficiencies, limitations and shortcomings. In this way he got the courage he needed to face all the trying circumstances he encountered and was finally able to meet all dangers that might occur in his life and was also able to restrain his outbursts in both prosperity and affluence. We carved an idol out of fear and called it God.
As uncomfortable a thought as this might be to some people, it should still be preferable to the alternative. To accept it, means to become an adult.
But, atheism, is really a forced position if you think about it. Atheism simply means a disbelief in a God which by default makes you an atheist. But there aren’t specific words for a disbelief in anything else. There is no term for someone who doesn’t believe in leprechauns for example. I just don’t believe. Why does my disbelief need to have a special label attached to it that also brings along with it so much ideological baggage?
Nevertheless, my last conception of God, right before I lost the capacity to believe altogether, was in Spinoza's God, also sometimes referred to as Pantheism, which basically means that God is everything, God is nature itself. And once I realized how ridiculous it was to think of God in such a way, once you define him to mean literally everything, what meaning does it still have? And what happens when we drop the word God altogether? Nothing. Everything stays the same. The sun still rises. Gravity still holds me to the earth. God I found, in the end, was just another meaningless hypothesis.
*originally published at As It Ought To Be Magazine*