Tuesday, March 2, 2010

RS Martin (Ontario, Canada)

What was the final "trigger" that convinced you to become an atheist?
Atheism was the default position when exhaustive search produced no evidence for the supernatural.

How did your decision to become an atheist affect your life?
Apostasy earned me formal and informal ostracism by family and friends but my conscience was free. Being true to my convictions is worth it all..."my cup floweth over"..."the peace that passeth understanding"...those "precious promises" finally came true when I let go of god and religion.

Here's the story:
I am a Canadian, bred and born into a horse and buggy Mennonite community where I spent the first forty years of my life trying in vain to fit in. When Mom told me one winter evening in the dim gas-lit kitchen with shadows lurking in the corners that there was a god that could see and hear everything that I did but we couldn't see or hear him/it, I found it rather spooky or scary. It was also extra-ordinarily unbelievable. "How could we know this thing was there? Or where was it?" She said it was everywhere and that we just KNOW it's there. I was perhaps five to seven years old.

I set out to find evidence. Forty years later I still had no evidence. Part of my search included an anthropology class in which were shown videos of aboriginal religious ceremonies and communities including African in the last quarter of the twentieth century. I concluded that it was a human trait to feel as if there was a supernatural realm or god.

The curious thing was that there was no difference in the emotional expression (visual, auditory, and verbal) of the human experience of African "pagan" religions, or the South Pacific Island "primitive" religions, or that of the North American "sophisticated" Christian religion among professors with PhDs. For a time I attended church with the latter.

In addition, all religious ceremonies included the ritualistic behaviour that anthropologists said brought on altered states of consciousness such as trance. Group singing, dance, or prayer can do it. So can being under a mighty tree, or in the presence of a powerful and wise person, or near a tall mountain or building. (I added "building" and "person" because I think it can work the same way.) It is a feeling of awe, or being in the presence of the Other, known in religion as god, ancestor, Zeus, etc.

I was more than forty years old and the stakes were high. If I continued to accept the Christian religion, I would be accepted as a good enough person by my family and friends. They were beginning to accept the fact that I was going to university. Almost I was persuaded. The "god" feelings resonated with me. But was it really and truly God?

There was another part to the problem that was even bigger than the god question. When my mother said that Jesus died so we could go to heaven, it was as if someone had grabbed me from behind by the neck; so shockingly illogical did it sound to my childish ears. I wanted to know: HOW DOES THAT WORK? I was perhaps eight years old.

That question was burned onto my brain and it would not go away no matter what happened or how old I got. The pain of not understanding--of not being allowed to know while at the same time being forced to profess belief in it--still brings tears to my eyes. The Bible says "From the mouths of babes thou hast ordained praise." But it seems that it counts only if the child's mouth reflects what the adults want to hear.

That question nearly drove me crazy. Had de-conversion not been social suicide, my religious life would probably not have outlasted beyond my teens. As it was, I stuck it out till a few months before my fiftieth birthday. I de-converted in the middle of doing a degree in theology. I finally concluded that there is no answer to my question. If there were an answer, I reasoned, I would have already found it. I did not understand all the heavy reading I had to do for my courses. However, I had been taught that Christianity was a religion for uneducated slaves and children. Therefore, it seemed that I should not have to study for years and years in university simply in order to understand it.

Some time later, when I was walking home through the bush from the bus stop, the conviction that god does not exist impressed itself on my mind. I was almost fifty years old and finally free to accept the conviction of my conscience. When I read about Michael Persinger's discovery that electro-magnetic fields can stimulate the god-feeling (http://oldwebsite.laurentian.ca/neurosci/_people/Persinger.htm), I felt I had scientific evidence that gods begin and end in the human psyche. See also "God and the Brain" at http://atheistempire...eference/brain.

My mother's last intelligible message to me was that "Hell is real." She died half a year later. My family and their church did not think I was fit to eat with them at her funeral.

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