Matt R., Converts, #(2008)

Jan 14, 2015

I was raised Jewish in a household that had a Jewish mother and father that had converted in order to marry her. My father rarely shared much of his religious views with us (there were 4 boys) because my mother wanted us to believe in Judaism and he was an atheist. This situation presented a great deal of friction through most holidays, especially the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. My father had to pretend to care about going to services and it was transparent to my brothers and I that he did not want to. We were part of a conservative congregation, perhaps a little more old fashioned than some. To the non-jew that means services were pretty boring, non-interactive reading in mostly Hebrew. For children that meant sitting quietly for several hours while people read (rarely even sung) in a language you couldn’t understand, not something you would ever look forward to.

I do not know the exact age that I started to truly doubt the “word of god” but I remember laughing at the story of Noah in Hebrew school (Bar Mitzvah prep) by about age 11. We had an orthodox female teacher that gave us more in depth information regarding the story than I had previously heard. One detail was that Noah lived to be 600 years old. At 11 I knew that was over 10% of the existence of the universe according to my religion. She claimed that with god, it was possible.

While this was taking place I had started taking Latin in public school. I loved the mythology, the stories contained everything a preteen boy (especially one like me that had hit puberty) would find interesting, sex, violence, partying and corruption. I quickly began to wonder why this was regarded as mythology but other religions were not. I asked several people and was generally pointed to the story of Abraham and his conclusion that there could only be one god. In some cases it was laughed off as a ridiculous suggestion/question that all those gods could exist. My response to that became, is it really more ridiculous than one god creating everything? To that there was generally anger at an inability to provide a decent answer.

These type of back and forth conversations continued over the next couple of years as my Bar Mitzvah approached. By that time I had taken an interest in math and science and the stories began to seem more and more absurd to me. I can remember my father bringing home the science section from the New York Times weekly and reading about recent discoveries that were in direct contrast to what the old testament claimed. It was around that time that my belief (or non-belief) in any deities or supernatural beings was cemented. I spent many nights in bed wondering how heaven could hold every soul that has ever existed (yes I found time in between the other thing that teen boys do in bed) or how Noah could have rounded up millions of species and got them all on a boat and made them get along or how Sarah had given birth to Isaac at 100 years old (I think that was the age I was told) and many other typical questions that could come up from reading the bible.

The more I learned about science the less believable these stories became. By my late teens I was a self described atheist. It was not just science that swayed me though. It was an increased understanding of history and the beginnings of people living in groups that lead me to believe these stories were created to help lay a foundation of rules. Most of the ten commandments still ring true today (certainly not the first) and it is easy to reason why these were written as gods law. Other influences came in the form of literature, like “Night” by Elie Wiesel, and his loss of faith that an omnipotent being would allow such horror as WWII. All of these factored in to me being an atheist before I left for college.

I did not identify myself outwardly this way for several years. Mostly because when I did I was usually met with the typical condescending responses that I was evil, not really an atheist and just saying that or that I would change as I got wiser. This was in the mid 90’s and much progress has been made with attitudes about atheism(at least in the northeast part of the USA) and a much more significant part of the population identifies this way. I thank those that have laid that foundation and hope to help continue the progress toward a more secular society.

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