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Created on May 04 2010
I am an atheist. I can now state that I have believed in no gods all my life; it's just taken 54 years to be able to verbalize it. It was a real revelatory moment in my life, much like when at 18 I recognized that I was gay. I have always been gay, but I learned to put a label on my feelings, and I understood myself better. Then I was able to get on with my life.
Coming to the realization that I'm an atheist has been a similar 'Eureka'-type experience for me. I was raised in protestant churches, studied pipe organ performance at university, where the only hope for a job was in the church. Fortunately, it was easy to hide behind the organ console and only pretend to believe. Some time ago I quit playing, and now build pipe organs, so that I don't have to work in a church in order to pay the rent. In recent years I joined a super-high Episcopal church. I had always been fascinated with the smoke and bells (and dresses!) associated with high-church worship. I became an acolyte and thurifer. I had a great time swinging the thurible and I excelled at censing things. However, I still didn't believe in god. Soon the novelty of the drama wore off and I was left empty and bored with all of it. I haven't been to church since.
I've always experienced confusion regarding the concept of Christian sin. I never felt I had sinned. Don't misunderstand: I don't consider myself to be a perfect person, or one who is better than anyone else. I don't break civil laws (except the usual minor ones that everyone 'breaks'). I adhere to the golden rule, the basic tenet of most religious and spiritual philosophies. Of course, there are the sins in the bible. What a truly odd and contradictory list of items! But what is to be considered a sin in modern times? What should I confess to if I was of a mind? I hadn't a clue. Yet, people confess their sins on a weekly or even daily basis, and then continue to act as they did before without overt change. This includes clergy. I was baffled. But, it baffles me no more. It's one of those concepts with which I don't need to wrestle anymore.
I also considered the possibility that all religions are simultaneously true. That would mean that when people die, they would go to one version of heaven plus several versions of other people's hell. Sounds like a giant traffic jam, and sounds like hell would win. King Solomon is up there, somewhere, dividing up souls? A much more plausible idea is that there is neither heaven nor hell, or any of the other claptrap that dreamt them up. Any other solution involves arrogance, as in "I'm right, you're wrong." I began to contemplate many other religious premises with fresh eyes and tossed them out as conflicted and incredible. I became a skeptic.
Shortly after I renounced the church, Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and both of Sam Harris' books came to my attention, which I devoured. This opened up a new world for me. It's much like realizing one's gayness, and then discovering a world of other gay people. As a member of Mensa, I've discovered a community of atheists there. We have a tremendously active online group of remarkably diverse and opinionated people.
I am convinced that, sooner or later, science and rational thought will prevail, and that humans will give up their silly notions of supernatural beings. I don't hold out much hope that it will occur during my lifetime, however. I think that religions were invented, and gods created, to explain the unexplainable. We don't need them for that now. Greek and Norse gods came and went. The gods du jour will fade away, too, since they have outlived their usefulness. But, churches are big businesses that won't disappear quietly. It's too bad that so many people are so terrifically worried about their next lifetime that they squander this one, the only life they have. Such a waste.
Being an atheist has given me the freedom to think and question. Being skeptical has allowed me to discard old beliefs and pretenses, and get on with my life here. It's been a tremendous relief to not believe.
Mark Hotsenpiller
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