My parents belonged to a group we simply called ‘the brethren’, one of many groups stemming from the teachings of John Nelson Darby. During my formative years in the 40’s, 50’s and early 60’s, international leadership of the group came from a man named James Taylor. He died in the early 50’s, and that was probably the first time something made me question brethren teachings, as it didn’t seem possible that such a singular man could be mortal. The brethren went through a period without a strong leader, and then in the late 50’s, Mr. Taylor’s son, James Taylor, Junior, succeeded in eliminating all other competitors for the spot by introducing a doctrine of separation. This cruel teaching meant we could no longer ‘fellowship’ with loved ones who were not among the brethren, including my father’s own father and brother. When I saw their reaction to this message, I knew I would have to leave sooner or later.
When I was 18 I left home abruptly, after I was told that a private incident (underage drinking) was going to be reported to the brethren. I decided this was the moment, took my bankbook and left. I was able to survive with help from some schoolmates and, later, from my grandfather and uncle. About six months later I enlisted in the US Air Force. When I finished my tour I used the GI Bill to complete an undergraduate degree and found employment.
When my first son was born, I had a sense that I ought to belong to a church, so I became a member of a Lutheran congregation I had previously served as a Boy Scout Scoutmaster, and was active in it for several years. However, I never really learned the doctrines and some events, such as replacing the hymnals with more modern versions, didn’t seem right to me. Eventually I left.
After a divorce and several years of single parenthood, I married a Catholic woman, to whom I am still married. I have attended many of her services, but have consistently refused to become a member, though I sang in the choir for several years.
Some years ago I read “The Four Gospels”, a book that seeks to identify the true voice of Jesus. That was a real eye-opener, particularly when I noticed how the sayings evolved over time as reported by different writers. I became very suspicious of the Apostle Paul and now regard him as simply a compelling speaker and writer who invented the Christian religion based on his Jewish upbringing and some stories he heard about Jesus.
I have further come to see Moses as a similar figure – a leader figure who was not afraid to use the crutch of “God told me” to compel behavior.
However, I only became an atheist when I was able to construct a full narrative of how life came to be and how life evolved to produce the diversity we see on the planet today. Much of the narrative came from Richard Dawkins. I am particularly fond of his audio recording of Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’, which I have listened to several times. I own several more of Dawkin’s titles, including “The God Delusion”, “The Magic of Reality”, “The Ancestor’s Tail”, and “The Selfish Gene”.