Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The day I discovered a life without religion

I don't talk about religion very much (anymore), as I've learned that in order to follow through on my belief that it's really no one's business but my own, I should probably live like it. Others are much more open about it. This is fine, I suppose, but more often than not, I just don't care what anyone believes (in a religious sense) and certainly don't care what anyone thinks I should (or should not) believe.

I've also discovered that most people are not interested in changing their views, despite persuasive arguments and (more importantly) evidence opposing their belief structure. Most simply are interested in spreading their views like cheese whiz in the wind.

I open with this because this post will be about religion, and specifically about the day I discovered that I am not religious. The purpose, however, is not to encourage others to follow my path, or to become atheists, or to keep on fighting the good fight of believing or not believing. I post this simply as an explanation to a couple of people who have recently asked.

I discovered I was an atheist in high school. There was no metaphorical light bulb, no epiphany during a long, sleepless night. I was a skeptic from an early age. For example, I never recited prayers with others, found repeating the Pledge of Allegiance in elementary school odd and (later) cult-like. I thought singing hymns was corny, listening to sermons borderline tedious, and reading the Bible a source of constant confusion.

I grew up in a christian family, in a christian town, in a secluded part of rural America. Speaking out or against the prevailing belief structure of the community was not done. It may not have been dangerous, necessarily, but it certainly was ill-advised. As a result, I had no one to talk to, and given my age and relatively lower-middle class upbringing, no access to information that may have provided some sort of comfort or corroboration.

But I reached the tipping point by posing a question. If I somehow grew up in complete isolation from the rest of the world, would there be enough evidence for me to "discover" the religion I grew up with? By complete isolation, I mean forever without other human contact, no access to religious texts, etc. Although I am certain I would have found the world mystifying, I could never really come up with examples to lead me to discovering evidence of the god most religions I was familiar with were touting.

This question led me to a second. These religions almost universally require belief without evidence (faith) for admittance into some sort of supernatural, posthumous promised land. Well, how would I know that if I hadn't been in contact with others during my lifetime? Would this god give me a free pass for being blissfully ignorant?

These hypothetical examples did not really sit well with me. Taking "other humans" out of the equation did not really lead me to discover the same things. This would not be true of other things. For example, I could independently discover scientific evidence without access to other scientific work on the subjects of interest. At that point, I had convinced myself that I should be skeptical of anything that I would not think of or not be able to prove in isolation from others.

On this day, some time during my sophomore year in high school, I discovered a life without religion. This status has not changed.