I began questioning my established faith of Mormonism when I was about fifteen. Being party to a divorce between my parents, I was raised by my Mormon fundamentalist mother in Utah Valley, the capital of the Latter-Day Saint church. Her beliefs were reinforced by my maternal grandmother, and all of my friends enforced the xenophobia so sadly typical of Utah Mormons. As a child, I was afraid of those who were not members of my church. To me, the church meant stability and protection from ‘icky’ things, such as homosexuality and divorce.
There are two reasons that are the most likely top contributors to my membership in the LDS Church for so long; the emphasis on family surviving death, which comforted me in the temporary loss of my father and the permanent loss of my stable family, and the concept that questioning church doctrine is satanic. For those not raised in a Christian household, it is hard to understand how genuinely frightening, especially to a child, and most especially to a child scarred by what I felt was abandonment and apathy from my parents, the concept of satanic influence is. Satan was an explanation for all that was evil in my youth, and when I thought of questioning the god that my mother picked out for me, and her mother before her, I felt uneasy and physically sick.
I am fairly certain that this nocebic reaction that I had was due to the fear that I had been raised to foster; a fear that, sadly and painfully, my own sister still possesses. We were raised to fear ‘Satan’, but I began to fear ‘God’ as well. What if he disapproved of me? What about these nagging doubts in the back of my head? Will he punish me for those? Mother said yes. It added to my anxiety about death. As I grew older, I genuinely feared death; not for the physical implications, but for the concept that I won’t have believed hard enough.
My relationship with my mother began to deteriorate as my reasoning capacities enhanced. I began to get interested in politics. At this point, I had a schedule to see my father, whom I dearly loved and got along with well, once a week and on alternating weekends. I was enrolled in a Mormon-based private school and began debate there. I would talk to my father about what we were learning at school, and how my debate teacher was dead set on ‘proving’ through various fallacies (that I unfortunately fell for) that homosexuality had severe political implications, even to the destruction of the American nation. As a side note, this is a common, almost canon, religious belief among Utah Mormons, who fancy themselves as heroes in a war against the homosexual satanists. As I would discuss with my father, something puzzling would happen. He would disagree with me. I began thinking critically about the issue and how fallacious it was to suggest that homosexuals would bring death and destruction. So I began taking the other side. Then something even more interesting happened; my father still disagreed with me.
My father was attempting to help strengthen my thinking process. He would disagree with whatever position I took until I could adequately defend it, or until I changed it. Through this process, I began developing, much to my mother’s chagrin, a process for critical thinking. I joined the ‘evil’ Democratic party and began participating, with my pet issue being homosexual rights. My ‘Home Teacher’, an authority in the LDS church who visits an assigned family to preach more about Mormonism, began berating me in lessons, calling my participation with the party ‘brainless’ and ‘contrary to God’s law’. Around this time, I turned fifteen.
I began learning about the teachings of Mohandas Gandhi at this time. His life spoke to me; it was love and compassion that I never saw within my own church. He had a humility that neither the megalomaniac Joseph Smith nor the supreme megalomaniac ‘God’ had. I promptly converted to Hinduism, and remained a closeted Hindu for a while. I guised my vegetarianism as a philosophical choice (which is what it is for me today), and my meditation as ‘just thinking’. Finally, I could bear it no longer; I had to come out to my mother.
I was sixteen at this time. I did what I had to do, and told my family. I was greeted with mixed feelings of contempt and genuine grief. My sister told me that I had destroyed my family. My step-father began sending me the works of Hugh Nibley, a Mormon young-earth creationist. My mother would stay up with me, fighting until one in the morning about theology. But still I remained strong in my new-found faith. That was when I made a second realization.
It wasn’t faith at all. I did not believe in the Hindu gods anymore than I believed in the Mormon god or the Catholic god. While I held, and still somewhat hold, a fancy for the idea of reincarnation, I didn’t even accept that as fact. I wanted proof. I wanted something tangible. Hinduism was not my religion; it was (and still is) my philosophy. I accepted the Gandhism of non-violence (known as ahimsa) and kindness. That was what I guide my life by. But why did there have to be a supreme power, or life after death?
Very recently, I went on a tour with a Mormon choir. I had been de-converted from Mormonism for a while, but out of duty to the choir director, a friend of mine, I chose to participate anyway. The songs were all about praising a god that I had long ago determined to be non-existent. We sang to the megalomaniac illusion with an hour long set, and with each passing minute I felt more guilty. I would have to go on to do this six more times on the tour.
Right before this tour, I began reading ‘The God Delusion’ by Professor Dawkins. I had known of him for a while, and already looked up to him greatly for his intellectual honesty. This was the first book of his that I had read, and I was excited to have such a companion on my odyssey through the unquestioningly faithful LDS hot spots that were scheduled on our tour of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. I finished it promptly and then commenced with Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’ to begin understanding Natural Selection, which I had a newfound fascination for. I was, however, extremely careful to not mention the personal beliefs that I had developed to anyone else, both out of fear of the reaction and of ‘tolerance’ for my peers’ beliefs.
This was a recipe that was doomed to fail, unfortunately. An exceptionally obstinate peer of mine, whom I shall call Suzan out of respect for her own personal affairs, began attempting to ostracise me from all of my friends and peers on the trip. She asked me, completely innocently, what my plans were for the future. I mentioned my university career and how, and I quote, ‘I’m going to be focused on me for a while’. She indignantly responded that that was selfish (which it might have been), and told me that it needed to be about god as I was approaching Mormon missionary age. I responded that, frankly, I would not make my life about a god that I believe (I added this out of sensitivity to my environment) does not exist. That was when problems started occurring.
She, as a ‘romantic’ young woman, began questioning me about ‘true love’ and the existence thereof. What this had to do with god I was unsure, but somehow that was her great trump card whenever we got into an argument. I professed that I did not believe in ‘true love’ because I did not believe in fate. The response I got was a mutation of the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy, about how my beliefs were invalid because I was an atheist. It got to the point where she convinced the younger of our peers to harass me in any instance that they could.
While this was irritating, it was not unbearable or even offensive to me, as these individuals had simply been raised since they were small children to be xenophobic and aggressive in their religion. What really bothered me was the fact that the older chaperones on the trip, specifically a man whom I will refer to as ‘Scott’, for the same reason listed for ‘Suzan’. ‘Suzan’ was questioning me on the tour bus once again while ‘Scott’ was seated behind us. It was a somewhat lively debate, once again about human affection. I denoted in my argument at some point that one of the main goals (as I understand it) of genetic life is to replicate its own genetic code and pass it on to future generations, which could explain some parts of the science of human affection.
‘Scott’ decided not to have it. As I quote directly (the incident is still rather vivid in my mind), I was turned around in my seat and told, quite loudly, ‘That’s crap. That’s a bunch of crap! It denotes that there is no god, and you *have* to stop spreading it around. Do you understand me? That’s a bunch of crap.’ He was greeted with applause from ‘Suzan’ and her cohorts.
This instance of blind scientific ignorance would not have phased me if it hadn’t been for a few factors. First, ‘Scott’ made sure that it was loudly announced, thus terrifying any closet atheists on the tour into submission. Second, what I was stating was simple biology to my understanding. It was not Darwinian, it was not Dawkinsian; it was simply fact. Science. ‘Scott’ was afraid of science, as he, a religious fundamentalist, rightly should be. My science, actual fact, scared a fully grown, elderly man.
It was here that I realized a few things. First, that, while I was offended and embarrassed by the fact that I had been so powerless to respond out of a desire to keep the peace, I held the power to refute ‘Scott’s claims through what I had learned from Darwin, Dawkins, Hitchens, Sagan, and all of my scientific heroes. Second was that very few people (three to be exact) came to my aid, and, of those three, none were taken seriously by the choir director when they shared their story. It was the genuine desire of this religious organization to silence opposition. Third was that I could no longer tolerate religious ignorance like I had in the past.
My conversion really ended there. I was set. I am a happy Dawkinsian atheist, and I live my life by my two favourite mantras: ‘Vi Veri Veniversium Vivus Vici’ (By truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe) and ‘Famum Extendemus Factus’ (My fame is expanded by my deeds). I need no threats from a higher power to be good. I am good because it is the right thing to do. And, to anyone reading this, if you aren’t already, you can be good without god too.