Note: This is a follow-up to my post, Why I argue against religious belief, because, in my opinion, it’s not enough to criticize without offering an alternative.
I was never a very religious person. The closest I came was during my teen years when I consistently attended the LDS (Mormon) daily religious instruction known as Seminary, and of course the regular hours-long service on Sundays. I observed the rituals and prohibitions (well, most of them), tried to get my family back to church, and embedded myself in the cloistered LDS culture.
But even then, I never felt committed. Other Mormons talked about “feeling the Spirit,” which always remained an alien experience to me. I never tithed, and I never seriously thought about going on a mission. There were two constant nags in my mind which probably explain why. The first was the rank hypocrisy and intolerance of the Mormons I knew – some of it even my own – which belied the carefully cultivated Mormon notion that we were specially imbued with spiritual righteousness. The second was the BS factor. I could never quite swallow the explanations we were given about certain difficulties with Mormon history or doctrines.
When I essentially quit the LDS in my late teens, it was not to join another religion (unless you consider surfing a religion, which some certainly did!). Part of the reason was some bizarre experiences I had with my stepmother’s own brand of Christian fundamentalism (e.g., curses placed on fellow Christians, beliefs in demons, etc.). Religion, or at least its Christian variant, thus came to represent something rather backward and superstitious in my mind. I did not immediately become an atheist, however. I retained god-belief and even prayed on occasion, but never did I obtain that “touched by the Holy Spirit” experience so many believers describe.
My path to atheism began by chance when a Mormon contacted me a few years ago and asked if I would like a home visit. Mormons, you see, consider you a member for life, unless you’re kicked out or take specific steps to remove yourself from their rolls. Incensed that I was seemingly being tracked decades after I stopped attending church, I began the formal process of disassociation. I’m not sure why, but this prompted an interest in learning about Mormonism, but from an outsider’s perspective. So I started reading material critical of the Mormon faith, primarily from Christian sites such as Utah Lighthouse Ministries and the Institute for Religious Research. I was completely fascinated and appalled by what I learned; “scam” is a word that often came to mind. I read LDS apologetics and literally laughed out loud at their feeble, logic-defying rationalizations.
Somewhere I read – it may have been from a Mormon – that the very kind of attacks used against Mormonism could be levied against Christianity. A light immediately went on, so I began research into Christianity and discovered that the accusation was true. Even more, when I read Christian apologists, I found they employed precisely the same fallacious reasoning as their LDS counterparts.
This realization was the final push I needed to become an atheist. Every religion I’ve encountered is built on the same foundation of myths and tall-tales, so obviously untrue it sometimes boggles my mind that people actually believe the stuff it peddles. One need not be an atheist to relate to this feeling; every believer feels the same with respect to some other religious belief system. Atheism merely extends the insight to all, without prejudice.
What does all this have to do with what atheism means to me? Very simple: atheism means to me the search for truth, unburdened by ancient and disproven dogmas. Since most of the world remains mired in such traditions, atheism also means progress in humanity’s development. It is the viewing of reality as it actually exists, not as we wish it to be. Atheism is not in and of itself a worldview, but it does unlock the doors to those which arrive more effectively and efficiently at truth.
As an atheist, I feel free to explore, discover, and revel in the life experience. And even err, because that is often how we grow. Religion is a cage, while atheism is an open plain, a blank slate, a clear window. It allows that alternate views may be true, even religious ones, which cannot be said of those religious views themselves, divisive and discriminatory as they are. The simple fact that no rampaging army has been rallied in its name is enough alone to commend it.
This is why I am an atheist.