Converts, Tue, Jan 29 2013 #(153)

Jan 29, 2013

Hello! I am a 42 year old woman from Indiana. I am not a blogger. I do not have my own website nor am I active on social networks. So, this is my way of raising my hand to you and letting you know another non-believer has surfaced. I hope the telling of my personal story isn’t too muddled. I’ll do the best I can.

It has been a life-long process for me. I was raised a protestant Christian in a relatively small town in south-central Indiana and was baptized twice. First, when I was 12 because when asked if I wanted to be baptized I was afraid if I were honest and said “no”, everyone would think I didn’t love God or Jesus. I didn’t want to stand out and be thought of as horrible. I don’t believe they would have, but that was my fear. I was baptized again a year or two later because I felt I was ready to “accept Jesus”. I quit going to church when I was around 19 or 20. My dad had quit a few months previous because of a personal conflict with something our pastor said in church relating to “bench warmers”, so I felt the door was open for me to act on my own philosophical conflicts with religious dogma. I was then on the path to finding out for myself what I believed about life and the universe. At the time, I was simply searching for the “real God” without interference from unhelpful readings of ancient scripture. I had already let go of believing in Hell and Heaven. God was still not so easy to let go of.

Growing up, my family did not read the Bible at home. In fact, religion/God/Jesus was hardly discussed at home, except perhaps at Christmas time but even then only as it related to Jesus being born in a manger. Very simplistic talk. We went to church on Sundays where we got exposure to the Christian religion, and we came home and lived our lives as well (as Christian) as possible. My father did not strike me as “religious”, but he was very moral and strict in teaching us not to lie, cheat, steal, etc.; only on occasion would he would mention the “pearly gates”. My mother was, to me, like her mother, the example of a true “Christian”. She lived the nicest teachings of Christianity including not pushing it on others. She would sometimes tell us (almost as a reassurance) that our church did not originate from the more radical First Church of God of Kentucky, but instead came out of Anderson, IN. I later came to feel and learn that our church was actually pretty fundamentalist, at least in terms of the church teaching that the Bible is the “word of God” and that the scriptures and stories of the Bible are true, including Noah’s Ark and the virgin birth. I do not remember ever being told that the Bible stories I learned as a child were just stories. I also remember many sermons of “fire and brimstone” being preached. I grew up with a great fear of the Devil/Satan. I feared that any misstep on my part, weakness, would invite Satan to enter my mind/body. So, if I was meant to read between the lines, no one clued me in. I told my mom that a year ago and she was shocked that I had had that fear. When adults do not carefully instruct children in truth and reality, that is the result.

Despite having been baptized in the Christian faith, and growing up a good girl who didn’t break rules at home or in my spiritual life, I began to feel conflicted internally. First, perhaps, when I learned about evolution in my high school Biology class, and often while listening to sermons that criticized groups of people who I didn’t feel were deserving of it (i.e. casual drinkers, couples who divorce). The only outward questioning I did was when I asked my biology teacher, who also happened to attend my church occasionally, if he believed in evolution. He simply said, “it’s not a matter of belief”. That got me to thinking, though I remained conflicted about the stories of creation for a bit longer after that. Evolution was a taboo word in my life (at least as I perceived it). As was the word atheist. To be an atheist was to be the darkest of persons. Frightening and mysterious. Bad. Who would suspend belief in God? When my brother pulled me aside during church service one Sunday to tell me he was gay, I had more truth that brought internal conflict between sermons preached against homosexuality and knowing and loving my brother. I had a strong feeling that something was wrong with religion. That was the beginning of the end of religion for me.

I have wondered why, out of all of my family members, some very well-educated, am I apparently the only one to let go of belief in the Bible and God. I held out for as long as possible before finally being honest with myself. Until admitting it to myself last September, I had not once listened to or read anything by any atheist or non-believing authors or public figures for fear that their words would influence me in my “quest”. I wanted to come to a decision on my own. The first time I heard Richard Dawkins speak was the day I finally said out loud, “I don’t believe in God.” Then I got on YouTube and watched and listened to several well-known non-believers: Dr. Dawkins, Julia Sweeney, Sam Harris, Daniel C. Dennett, Bill Maher, Lawrence Krauss and Christopher Hitchens. It was refreshing.

I have to believe that my own personal life experiences, including education and family history have attributed to my “breaking the spell” of my delusion, as Dr. Dennett puts it. I am a middle born child (first girl), very shy and introverted, reflective, practical and I think very moral and ethical. I have loved nature, animals and science from an early age. All pluses. I watched a lot of television growing up, which was my escape from a stressful family environment. Some may say that watching a lot of television can be detrimental to a child’s development. That may be true, but I see it as a positive in my life. I watched everything I could from an early age: the news (with my dad), political conventions, sports, old movies from the 1940s on up, Charlie Chaplin, The Three Stooges, The Pink Panther, science fiction programs (Space 1999, Star Trek, Buck Rogers, Battle Star Galactica), police and detective shows, dramas, mysteries, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, Marty Stouffer’s Wild America – I basically loved any program that featured wild animals and nature, especially if Jane Goodall appeared in it. She was my childhood idol. In addition to being exposed to various programming on television (much of it before cable TV came into our home), I was fortunate in the teachers I have had and in the fact that I took a couple of college classes in critical thinking and philosophy.

There is something to people clinging to religion and their church lives and connections in order to “belong” to something bigger. I never was one to strongly want to belong to a group, other than sports teams and the occasional school club. But nothing like a club of shared beliefs like. I didn’t gain any sense of identity that way. I think that mindset helped me to be able to reject religion. I have no known friends or family members who share my view of life or the universe. Whenever I even approach the full picture of my beliefs the person I am speaking with gets a stricken look on their face like I’ve suddenly turned into an alien creature. It is a bit lonely living honestly, but I can’t live any other way. I can’t pretend to agree with everyone else around me who wants to believe the Bible is true because the alternative is too frightening for them to face.

My father passed away a few years ago, but my mother is still very much alive and in good health. I was probably more afraid of telling her of my epiphany of agnosticism/atheism than anyone else. I feared it would hurt her more than when my brother announced that he was gay. She accepted my brother’s sexual orientation (though other family members did not), but announcing my new status as a non-believer would be a bigger challenge. I didn’t know how to bring it up without making it a big deal than I think it should be. I also didn’t want to upset her. But I felt that by not telling her (and the rest of my immediate family) would be like deceiving them. How could I just nod and smile when they talked about their beliefs and not let them know I no longer agree? As it happened, my two youngest nephews who are quite adept at asking very personal and probing questions, got it out of me instead and while my mother was present. She was surprised, but admitted to me (to my shock) that she didn’t know what “agnostic” meant. After I told her (and my nephews), she didn’t say anything. I don’t have many opportunities to bring up deep subjects like this so I am still not sure she understands fully what that means to me. I have decided to let her figure it out in stages on her own as I make repeated statements about my thoughts on the topic of religion, whenever the topic arises. She is one person whom I feel does rely on her belief in God to get through life, having lost her husband and more recently my oldest brother. So, I have no desire to try to separate her from her beliefs. I do slip on occasion, arguing against the integrity of the scriptures and the Bible as a whole, but I stop when I realize what I’m doing. I would like for her to be okay with the idea of there not being a god who answers prayer. But, I do not wish to push my non-belief on her any more than I like for Christians to push me on whether I accept Jesus as my savior.

I want to be more open about being “out” as an atheist or agnostic, and am in the process of ‘arming’ myself with knowledge so that I can articulate my views and arguments intelligently to any believer who has an answer for every question or challenge to their scriptures, their holy book and their beliefs. I also want to respond correctly to young people who might ask me questions about my views without pushing too much. I still feel strongly about letting young people find their own path to the truth.

Thanks for listening and thank you for being there for non-believers and society at large.

Diane Beagle

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