I became an atheist at the age of 50. I had been a Southern Baptist Deacon, conservative Republican, NRA member, and supporter of people like Ted Cruz. So in other words, I was a misogynistic, nationalistic speciest who prioritized the fictitious life to come over this life.
I’ve been in the tech sector on the business generation side, so I was/am well traveled and work with execs from across the country. I have a BBA from one of the nation’s largest business colleges. Still, I was under the impression that there was an unseen order to reality and that god was real. I could tell that the Bible wasn’t literal in most ways, but I none the less thought it was true in a deeper, more profound way.
Early in the Summer of 2015 I happened to see a walking-with-dinosaurs type program about the early days of the dinosaurs as life emerged from the Permian Extinction. Included in the program was a dog-like creature called Thrinaxodon. It was a mammal like reptile that appeared part dog and part lizard. The circumstances of its existence couldn’t have been worse; it and the few other life forms that made it through the Permian Extinction are arguably the most abused specimens in the history of life. Just about all life on earth died, and these guys barely made it.
The program made the point that all mammals are related to Thrinaxadon, but that isn’t what hit me. What hit me was how unkind and unfair the whole thing seemed for this dog like creature (I love dogs). A cornerstone of the Christian faith is that people don’t know god’s ways but he is in control and makes all things work together for good. The Permian Extinction makes a mockery of that belief. No plan could include the needless suffering of so many animals 251 million years ago. The fact that it was a dog type victim allowed the whole thing to filter past all of the mental barriers of my religious delusion.
This event was one of the two moments that created the epiphany needed to dismiss all supernatural belief. I pursued more insight, which included David Attenborough’s “First Life” BBC program. I then wanted to hear debates with leading Christians, and in the process I came to know Christopher Hitchens via Youtube debates. His reasoning and mockery were extremely effective on me, and as a proof point to one of his arguments he mentioned Lawrence Krauss’ work on something-from-nothing. I followed up on this and listened to Krauss’ arguments and that was it. I was finished with faith.
Here is the reason that Krauss’ work is so important: Existence. I don’t mean our existence, I mean existence in general. Most educated Christians believe in god and at the same time recognize that we aren’t the center of the universe, that demons don’t cause illness, and that Noah probably didn’t have an ark with every single creature. They, like me, were raised our whole lives believing that there is this unseen but incredibly important dimension to life. They, like me, look for the kind of evidence that we rely on for every other decision in life, but we don’t find it except in a few spots. Those spots are in the current unknowns of science, especially the origin of life from non-life and, more importantly for many, the mystery of existence itself. It was destabilizing to me to realize that there are really good working hypotheses about how the first self replicating molecule evolved. That left existence.
If god is the creator, which is arguably the most common description of god in the bible, then he had to create something. If he didn’t create the universe, then he isn’t a creator and the bible is wrong in every conceivable way.
Lawrence did two things at once. First, he described a plausible means by which something can come from nothing. The other thing was within my mind; in reading what Lawrence Krauss hypothesized, I could see that, whether he had it perfectly correct or not, the final answer will be scientific. It will not be supernatural.
I am embarrassed by what many of my fellow atheists must think of me right now. It is silly to go so long in life without making that connection. Still, that is pretty much what happened. I knew the bible thoroughly. I taught adults the bible, I read it over a dozen times cover to cover, and have some knowledge about ancient Hebrew and Greek. I was personally instrumental in convincing hundreds of people that Christianity was true. I was deeply convinced of the truth of the bible and Christianity. I was perfectly wrong.
When I realized that I had been so gravely mistaken, it was the most pivotal occurrence in my life. My positions on every front had to be reconsidered, my family had to know, and I had to come up with new meaning in life. Because of a matter that was in the news in that time frame, which was the Kentucky clerk who wouldn’t marry gays, gay marriage was the first to be considered. I changed my position on gay marriage, abortion, capitalism, the nation-state model, morality and ethics, animal rights, and many other things.
I think the single hardest thing was something that someone who has always been an atheist might not understand. I genuinely thought that if there was no eternal life then there was no real meaning to life. It is so silly to me now, but I had that deep conviction for decades. There is a lot to discuss on this point, but I’ll leave it alone to keep this short. But this issue was the single heaviest anchor that bound me to the Christian faith.
I abandoned the Republican party and volunteered for Hillary and local Democratic politicians. I am now a secular liberal progressive humanist. My immediate family has been split on this whole issue, and I saw some members vote for Trump. My extended family almost entirely voted for conservatives, and best I can tell everyone in my community voted Republican.
Becoming an atheist for me was like waking up. Imagine a person who wears kaleidoscopic eyeglasses. The person sees everything that a non-theist does, but it is categorized and set on edge in a way that distorts its place in reality. All the images and colors of the world are the same, but they are mistakenly segmented and disassociated from each other in a way that severely distorts reality. Imagine that visual analogy applying to just about everything. I didn’t have to relearn things, but I had to resort the whole lot.
A few luminaries of the atheist world were especially helpful to me, and they are Christopher Hitchens, Lawrence Krauss, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Youtube was the best medium.
I was really hoping to make this a short piece, so apologies for the length. I am so very glad to be free of that delusion and I deeply appreciate being able to hear from other atheists. I am from a ranching background in Texas, and live now in the mountains of Arizona. I currently live in a Mormon community, so I am absolutely drowning in mysticism. That said, a community of fellow atheists is like oxygen to me, so thanks a million for being here and for reading this.
Thank you for the post (received anonymously over at Atheist Republic) and for contributing to my Insight guest posts, providing a glimpse into the lives of atheists around the world and an opportunity to connect with bloggers of a similar nature. If anyone would like to contribute theirs, feel free to comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
AR is a great place to meet like minded atheists and they are very active on social media, in particular their Facebook page, which can be viewed here.
Thank you for sharing your story!