Converts, Wed, Jan 30 2013 #(1219)

Jan 30, 2013

My story is kind of long, and I have the horrible curse of being both long-winded and uninteresting, so I will do my absolute best to keep this as short and interesting as I can force myself to keep it. So I'll skip most of the details…

I was born into a family of mixed-marriage. I'm the oldest of two children, and now 22. My family is half-Jewish (my dad's side) and half-Catholic (my mom's side). The Church I attended when I was young was actually rather liberally religious. I was taught in CCD that Genesis is metaphorical and meant to be taken as such. I was taught that the Bible was written by men. They were divinely inspired, but not corrected (the reason given was something about God refusing to mess with Free Will). Later in my life we moved from Connecticut (where I was born) to Georgia. During this time, Mom found a Church and Dad found a Synagogue, and we started going to Synagogue more regularly while continuing to attend Church. Things went like this until Dad decided to become a Hazzan. We started to go to Church less and less and Synagogue more and more. We also started keeping Kosher, and I rebelled against immediately because Bacon Cheeseburgers are the best… and I LOVE shellfish (and I think the tradition is pointless because the Kashrut laws were health laws for a time when the desert-dwelling Israeli's were cooking on rock slabs by the sun, so are pointless today).

At 13 I was Bar Mitzvahed, and at 18 I was Confirmed (Judaism… and yeah, even I noticed the almost complete rip-off from Catholicism… I can't figure out why). I even began reading Torah in shul…

Which is when my doubt began. I didn't usually look at the English translation of what I was going to read from the Torah when practicing because reading wasn't about the Torah itself for me… it was about getting over performance anxiety (I'm a musician and intend to have a band… I'm already recording an album). But my mom's Dad (who had just been confirmed as a Deacon in the RCC at this time) once, about a month before I turned 19, asked me if I knew what I was reading… so one Saturday, after I had read my part of the portion for that day, and had gone home (after Synagogue was over and my family and I had enjoyed the after-services lunch [Oneg]), I read, in English, what my portion was… and I was beyond disgusted.

It was the law saying that if a man rapes a virgin, he must pay her father 50 shekels and marry her. WHAT KIND OF PUNISHMENT IS THIS?!?!?!?!?!?!? I decided that day it was time for me to read. What I had was the JPS translation of the Tanakh. And I read it. It took me a good 3 weeks, but I read it. I then hooked up with a friend who had a copy of the Septuagint and a Greek lexicon, and with the aid of a Greek professor who lived on my friend's street (who was an atheist), we spent the next 3 months reading it together.

I began wavering on my readings of the Torah in shul, only reading portions of what I considered “positive” sections of the Torah (Joseph reuniting with his family, for example). But I had, at this point, outright rejected the Bible. I also began studying religion and coming into contact with Christian and Jewish fundamentalists. As a result, I was beginning to grow a major dislike of organized religion. Soon, I had even rejected Judaism, and was then someone who believed in a “God whose name is Love” (you'll need to watch Bill Hicks's stuff to understand).

At the age of 21 (actually, I was quite nearly 22), I picked up Dawkins's book “The God Delusion”. At first, I was somewhat dejected by what I saw as “Dawkins's failure to separate faith from religion”. About half-way through, despite that criticism, I found I agreed with quite a bit of it, especially his section of the Biblical Proofs of God's Existence (that's not exactly what it was called, but I don't have my copy of the book with me at the moment), and so I joined the forums. My introductory post on the forum will show that I did believe in God. However, not long after, I read chapter 4. When I had finished that chapter, I had to put the book down, because for the next few weeks I struggled with some questions:
“Why did I still believe in God when I had rejected the only evidence of his existence? Did I even believe in God, or something else entirely? What was it that I believed in?”

My answers were a while in coming. I had become a fan of Bill Hicks just before this, and held to his view of humanity as “a virus with shoes”. I agreed with it because I had always struggled with mild depression (not always mild, because at one point I was suicidal) from being a complete outsider at school (until college I only ever had one true friend, and even now my social life is more online then it is offline). And, of course, by extension, I was a fan of George Carlin, whose view on humanity, as we know, was similarly bleak. It was by being introduced to Australian comedian Tim Minchin, joining the fan forum (Angry-Feet), and interacting with the members there that I realized that there is, in fact, more reason to love humanity then to hate it. I did find an answer to my questions. I realized that I did not believe in God; I just didn't want to believe in humanity because I was blind to what good there was to believe in. I then realized that there was reason to believe in humanity, and that was when I became an atheist.

I then started Chapter 5 of The God Delusion, and finished the book. I became enthralled by science, though as a consequence found myself in the middle of the Creation/Evolution debate. Obviously I supported Evolution. I had always been taught that Evolution was a fact, but I had never been taught about Evolution (although, admittedly, in school, mostly thanks to poor teacher, I never really cared about science). So I had to teach myself. I headed to Talk Origins, Wikipedia, and so on. Then I picked up Dawkins's “The Greatest Show on Earth”. I am also expecting Jerry Coyne's “Why Evolution is True”, and I'm continuing to search out books about Evolution and the evidence for it to educate myself. Natural Selection has certainly raised my consciousness, and it is partly thanks to “The God Delusion”.

Now, I do not think that private faith is itself bad. I'm fine with people who believe in a higher power or powers as long as they don't shove it in anyone's face, and as long as they don't let that belief blind them to reality. However, I am proud to join in the debate against fundamentalism, and I hope to educate myself enough to become a strong voice in the debate. Now, I simply listen to the debate and educate myself in what I don't know. But I find life wonderful, the Cosmos wonderful, science wonderful, and, of course, reality wonderful, and I look forward to the day when fundamentalism is gone.

Nathan Hevenstone
(United States)
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