The kind of atheist I’m not
Friday October 22nd 2010, 10:10 pm

I was raised in the 1960s by an upstanding pair of parents in a rather conventional US midwestern household. Mom was a hairdresser when she wasn’t housewifing and Dad was an elementary school teacher and later, principal. As a schoolteacher in that place and time, one was expected to keep up appearances, so Sis and I were dutifully shepherded off to a Lutheran church every Sunday. Even as a 7 year old, I had a belting voice and could rattle the rafters, so I was put in the choir. There was a Sunday school after the church service. The high point was doughnuts in the church basement after the service. Bring on the cream sticks with chocolate icing.

But somehow, Pastor Buchholz never was able to get one rather core idea through my head- that there really was a god. Even as a kid-kid, completely innocent of any contact with anyone who professed a lack of belief in gods, I thought the whole idea of an all-powerful invisible man was just about the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard. The idea that the Earth was created in 7 days by some bloke snapping his fingers was a total implausibility. The NASA Apollo missions were ongoing at the time and I was very much a big science geek kid. As such, I had a fairly realistic idea that an Earth would be pretty hard to cook in just 7 days and that it was just a tiny speck in a very large universe full of such specks. It was immediately obvious to me that humans were animals like any other and that save a few differences, not terribly special by comparison.

I didn’t think everyone who did believe in gods was a blithering moron, because in the midwestern USA in the 1960s, that would have been… well, everyone. Probably the most accurate term to describe my relationship with religion was indifference.

One day when I was perhaps 9, Dad piped up and asked Sis and I if we would mind much if we didn’t go to church anymore. This sounded to me like more pancakes and comics on Sunday, far superior to getting in uncomfortable clothes and schlepping off to a place full of people I really didn’t care to see, to listen to some man in a gown tell me more and more about something that I couldn’t possibly care less about. Waytago, Dad! More pancakes, please.

And so ended my relationship with religion for a good long time.  As a schoolkid through the 1970s, I always identified as a non-believer and simply ignored any religious activities promoted through the school.

However, Ronald Reagan became president of the United States, Anita Bryant started demonising gays instead of selling me orange juice, anti-choicers started hassling women at abortion clinics and nutballs like Phyllis Schlafly came out of the christian woodwork to set back the gender equality clock to 1952. When I found out my maternal grandmother was sending money to televangelist Jim Bakker, then I got angry. I’m confident I could have successfully remained fully ambivalent about religion until religion started imposing itself on my world in a rather real way.

Sometime in the early 1980s, I became a bit more militant about my atheism and began using the term as a self-descriptor. However, I’ve never had much interest in shifting the mindset of religionists. A good friend who was a lifelong Catholic approached me one day about his consideration of attending a church where they ‘spoke in tongues.’ I think I successfully talked him out of that but to this day, he’s still a Catholic.

I have long believed everyone has the right to be wrong- until the wrongness steps on my toes. When religionsts want to force their trip on kids in public schools through ‘intelligent design’ nonsense, when anti-choice crusaders harangue women going to abortion clinics, when public law is infected with some sect’s dogma, I’ll be out there in steelcap boots seeing to it that the godbotherers keep it in church. Beyond that, I really don’t care what religionists get up to. I’m not interested in debating creationists, debunking ‘intelligent design,’ nor arguing with christians through duelling Twitter or blog posts. However, I am not an accommodationist. I DO see the harm religion does and would like to see fewer people harmed by it.

I’m not a PZ Myers, though I admire his lucidity and militancy. I’m not a Richard Dawkins, but I appreciate his direct commonsense criticisms of religion and of the Catholic church in particular. Mind, I’m probably more like PZ and Dawks than I am Phil Plait as I find a bit of dickishness, satire and ridicule to be useful tools when dealing with religion. Dawks makes the point that he’s generally not trying to influence the hardcore religionists per se, but rather those standing on the sidelines watching the fray, and toward that end, it doesn’t much matter if you offend a few godbotherers.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go don my black cloak, have a nice glass of chilled christian baby’s blood and plot the demise of a bunch of christians in my soon-to-be-built atheist death camp.


3 Comments so far
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Brilliant piece, just coz I love pancakes so much not to mention a good giggle.

Comment by kerryn 03.19.11 @ 5:21 pm

You don’t mind if I worship you, do you?

Comment by steck 04.02.11 @ 4:30 pm

Yeah, Paul, I really kinda do mind being worshipped. Worship is all about muttering silly stuff to yourself. I’d much rather you tithed, thanks. 😉

Comment by weez 04.02.11 @ 5:04 pm

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