I’m very honored to have a guest post today. Athol Kay is a fellow atheist and blogger who has what I think is a very unique and useful website. Check it out at Marriedmansexlife.com. Unlike so many websites dedicated to using Game and Pickup Artistry to “pick up hot babes,” Athol takes the same principles and uses them to teach men to be better husbands, and in the process, get laid like lovebugs in Lower Alabama in June. A lot of his material goes along with the evolutionary principles I talk about here. I’m especially happy to have his contribution now, since I’ve been interested in the “human side” of atheism recently. It helps to be able to empathize with and get to know individual atheists, I think. So, thank you Athol.
Firstly a big thanks to Hamby for this opportunity to guest post here. I write a fairly closely themed blog about positive steps to take for married men to have a good sex life and while I do have an atheist perspective, my blog isn’t “about atheism”. It really doesn’t matter how well I wrote this post, on my own blog it would be out of place. My thanks.
My name is Athol Kay. I’ve been an atheist for around 14 years now. This is my story.
I had a fairly normal nominal Christian family and I probably went to church maybe half a dozen times before I was seven years old. The traditional “hatchings, matchingsand dispatchings” of christenings, weddings and funerals accounting for every visit. Then I fell off the second story of the school fort, landing on my head and was basically left concussed and sitting dazed in a classroom for hours before my parents were contacted and I could be seen in a hospital. I remember nothing of that day other than after the fall I had an odd taste in my mouth and my face was numb like I’d been to the dentist. In disgust at the school my parents switched me to a private Anglican (aka Episcopalian) school called St Mark’s for the following year.
At St. Mark’s I first ran across Christianity seriously. It was basically a day school version of Hogwarts but with churchly content instead of magical content. Though to a young boy there was little difference in effect. There were Divinity classes, two church assemblies a week with singing, choir and a great library stuffed with books on Christianity and religion. I remember reading a large children’s encyclopedia of the Bible during lunchtimes when it rained – soccer in the Birdcage when it was sunny of course. Mr. Kirby did double duty as Reverend and Headmaster and was no less an imposing figure of benevolence and authority than Dumbledore. Likewise his unexpected death (I forget what of) left no less a vacuum. All in all I loved St. Mark’s and discovered that I was a natural at understanding the stories and putting together the history of the Bible. I really have very little negative to say about St. Mark’s. I loved it. The only problem was that it stopped at the end of Middle School.
Come High School and it was back to the world of the secular. Without the constant surroundings of St. Mark’s my awareness of religion shifted to the back burner. I was a Christian, but others weren’t and that was okay. I wasn’t like the kid in the Closed Brethren that had to eat by himself at lunchtime and couldn’t watch films in class. That was odd, but at the time it simply seemed logical. He was Closed Brethren, so he was excused from class if we were doing something sinister like watching a documentary on weather patterns in science. In retrospect… wow.
Towards the end of High School I stumbled across the parachurch group Youth For Christ and what up until this point was a fairly benign experience of exposure to Christianity suddenly accelerated. This was an aggressive fundamentalist evangelical group and I was an easy convert seeing I already had all the background information from St. Mark’s stored in me like a sleeper cell and the call to action, to make a personal commitment to God, to be Born Again, activated me and my mission began.
After that it was a roller coaster nine years from becoming Born Again at age 16 to my final decision to simply disbelieve in Christianity by age 25. Rather than rehash everything I’ll simply state some of the evangelical merit badges I’ve earned, and then we’ll head into the why I no longer believe…
Merit badges: Dozens of camp leadership experiences for youth groups and Youth For Christ. Worship leader for youth group, short term mission in Fiji, full time worker for the Bible Society for 15 months, preaching in evening service. All in all I think I was one of the best and the brightest of my church peer group.
But there were also terrible problems as well. I was shoved into accepting a literal biblical worldview of angels and demons, while at the same time I was studying for a degree in sociology. Plus I was also studying world religions at college. The internal mental conflict was extreme; I did consider suicide upon occasion as a way to just stop it all. I badly wanted sex as well, but that was forbidden. Essentially all my girlfriend relationships imploded over this issue. I found myself despising my quite loving parents for their failure to be Born Again. For a long time I was determined to become a minister and that destiny seemed set and I would have become a good one… except in the back of my mind I had concerns about my ability to not lose my faith… and I could foresee that a minister that looses their faith is a very bad place to be in. The choice of faking it all until you die, or walking away from everything with no marketable skills seemed absolutely appalling.
Now as to the “why”.
I find the conflict between a liberal and a literal approach to the Bible a key problem area. This isn’t limited to just Christianity but all the “holy book / scripture” based religions. Once you take scripture as “100% holy / inspired / true” you run into a problem of having knowledge and culture to advance beyond that which was accepted at the time of the writing of the scripture.
I find fundamentalist approach to scripture essentially quite logical, but they can be quite objectively wrong about factual things. Pat Robertson for example claiming the earthquake in Haiti was the result of God smiting them for their sin is monstrous, but also quite logical from a literal framework from reading the bible at face value. In half of the Old Testament God was doing just that sort of smiting. Likewise if you accept that the Bible is 100% literally true, then it’s a logical thought to proceed with the idea that if Jesus cast out demons into a herd of pigs, then demons are real.
Faced with some objectively wrong statements – the earthquake in Haiti was for example caused by the natural phenomena of plate tectonics, and that there are no objectively observable demons to be seen – it becomes tempting to reassess some “Biblical Facts” in light of modern knowledge. This is called the liberal approach to studying the Bible.
The Liberal approach is very good… at first. However after you start deferring the Holy Scripture to modern science you slowly start whittling away the foundations of faith until the entire religious construct is left swaying in the air like a game of Jenga that is ready to fall. Once you master this approach you end up with the ability to make the Bible say whatever you want the Bible to say. An objective literal reading of the Bible would suggest that something like gay female church leaders would be a terrible sin on a multitude of levels, but using a liberal approach to interpretation you can easily find a framework that supports it as not merely non-sinful, but in fact a brand new divine freedom to be embraced. Simply ignore that bit as historical for the time period, downplay that bit, revise the way we look at that, and lo and behold God is cool with that.
In the end the liberal approach to understanding the Bible as a believer renders the basic text as putty to mold into whatever you want it to say. In my mind this renders the basic text as meaningless as something to base your life upon. If you want to do whatever the hell you want, you may as well just dispense with the middle man and save time and effort. But the fundamentalist approach to understanding requires you to believe things that are obviously untrue. So there is no winning solution possible here.
Furthermore religion is supposed to explain and provide meaning to the way the world is. To the early Romans the idea that Zeus makes thunder is actually helpful and makes sense of the world. As it is, science has repeatedly pushed back the frontiers of knowledge, and “God does it” explains less and less as the ages roll past. We now know that thunder is caused by weather patterns, and is an electrical discharge, which is where electrons leap from atom to atom. So poor Zeus just becomes a failed theory, and is placed with other failed theories in the museum if he is lucky. Modern science explains more than any religious viewpoint can ever hope to and the killer app of science is the way that it is self-correcting over time. A theory may be partially right for centuries, then adjusted in the light of a new experiment or information. Religion struggles forever with the original text as the handbook for all eternity.
Even worse, then you discover the text is troubling in and of itself. One of the first shakings of the foundations of faith for me was Numbers 12:3 “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth”. Instantly I knew that it was simply not possible that Moses would have written that about himself. Yet the fundamentalist and historical viewpoint is that Moses wrote all five books of the Pentateuch. It seems clear that a later editor has slipped something in here. On it’s own it’s not to worrisome, but then you start to wonder what else has been slipped in that isn’t so obvious. It completely undercuts the notion that the Bible is divinely inspired if God tells Moses what to write… and then it goes to the editors for a final polish before marketing designs a cover for it.
Then I discovered that it took centuries of meetings to even decide what books should be included in the Bible anyway. Then I discovered that the different branches of faith can’t even decide how many books are canonical. Protestants claim 66 books in their canon, Catholics 73 and Eastern Orthodox 81. There’s no way to know who is correct as to what is the true scripture, I suppose one must make a leap of faith that God worked best through the committee process of the church of the country you were born into. So when I was struggling to believe in the Protestant view of God, the casual factor was falling off playground equipment when I was seven and being sent to an Anglican school.
Now all this is lovely logical rational thinking, but still kind of abstract to think about. Our minds are upon occasion so slippery with us wanting to believe in something that we are capable of expending great energy at convincing ourselves that what we want to believe is true. This is called apologetics and there are both Christian and Atheist rock stars of faith or lack of faith that make their living off defending those viewpoints. In the end I found after all was said and done, the Bible became a distracting annoyance that on one hand could be viewed from the fundamentalist perspective as divinely inspired but then required having to force yourself to believe that which was clearly untrue, or as a vital historical artifact that was merely quite interesting and culturally influential.
In the end it all came down to what I wanted to believe about Jesus. The turning point for me came once I started really paying attention to the failure of his return. When Jesus speaks of his return, he is explicitly clear that it will happen in the lifetime of his hearers. “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.“ It’s so vital it appears word for word in three of the Gospels; Matthew 24:34,Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32.
Furthermore if there is any confusion in what Jesus said, we can look to the actions of the early church to see that they clearly believed in a literal and imminent return by Jesus. What we have Jesus saying in the text is mirrored by the actions of the early church. There’s no confusion over what he said, Jesus has communicated very clearly. He’s just badly wrong… and if Jesus is badly wrong about something so critical to the entire theological framework of Christianity. Well there we go. Game over. Keep tugging on that string and the entire tapestry of faith will unravel at your feet in time.
Once I came to that understanding, that Christianity simply wasn’t true, it was a short process to divest myself of church attendance, Bible study, prayer and all the other trappings of belief. Since then I’ve found myself become a far happier, more relaxed and kinder person. Ironically I’m more “Christian” now than I ever was before when I believed. With going into the ministry deep sixed, my Plan B turned out to be Nursing and I’ve spent the last fourteen or so years providing nursing care for the developmentally delayed in group home and day program settings. I’ve stayed married, I’ve got kids and pay my taxes. It’s a quiet but happy life. It’s hard to describe the freedom from religion. Everything seems brighter and more hopeful afterwards. Plus you can sleep in on Sunday.
Importantly I’m not particularly an anti-Christian and I’m certainly not a non-Christian. I guess post-Christian is fine, but even that isn’t an adequate description for what I am. Even atheist seems troublesome at times as that seems to imply a theistic belief as some sort of default setting that I am lacking. I’m secular and pro-science. Disbelief in God is as meaningful to me as disbelief in Santa.
I’m also the same person I always was, just some of the content has changed. I didn’t sprout horns, hooves and a forked tail when I disbelieved. I still feel an intense connection to people and want the best for them. I still feel the pastoral mood (for lack of a better word) and caring for others is important to me. I’m still the same little boy that delved into encyclopedias in the library at St. Mark’s when it rained, just now more than ever I’m excited by science and my quest for knowledge and understanding continues on.
I find myself drawn more and more to dealing with relationship and sexuality, particularly marriage as a topic. My ongoing project is at Married Man Sex Life and you are all most welcome to come pay a visit.