As a child, I was taught there is a god, there is a Santa Claus, there is an Easter Bunny, and there is a Tooth Fairy. At five years old, I was sent to catechism. My family was not religious but my mother wanted Catholic children. There I learned about Jesus. I read in my study book of mostly cartoon drawings that Jesus was a good boy, he would bring in firewood for his parents.
I asked my teachers, “When did Jesus live?” They told me something about the calendar and years. I asked if anything was written about his childhood and I don’t recall what they said. I asked, “How does anyone know if he was good boy and brought in firewood?” I was met with evasiveness and distraction. When I got home, I asked my parents the same questions and they told me the stories were written in the bible. I vaguely remember saying something about the stories of Jesus’s childhood not being in the bible. The question stayed with me of how people know about Jesus. I was told the “the bible” was true, so I believed the bible was true. I was also told that Christopher Columbus “discovered America” and I believed that before I learned more.
Facts and authoritative accounts of history change the stories we learn as children. When the stories we are told lack factual support, then we must accept the stories are true when the stories are rational and it is reasonable to accept them as true. At nine years old, a local Pentecostal church had a “Joy Bus” driving through the neighborhood, picking up children for their church. A reverend of the church lived in the neighborhood with his family that included a thieving son (he stole my transistor radio). I got on the bus and attended the church that summer in 1975. Youth reverend thief boy bragged about how he read the bible “cover to cover” five times. I wanted to read it but my family didn’t have a bible laying around.
I finally convinced my mother to find a bible to let me read and she let me read her grandfather’s bible that she held on to for sentimental reasons. I had to stay near the encased bookshelf where the bible was kept and read it there. I started from the first pages. I read something to the effect, “Everything in this bible is true and nothing can be changed.” Then I read the book of Genesis. My child mind could not understand why any adult would think it is acceptable to let a child read about sex and such disturbing ideas about sex as what it is written in Genesis and elsewhere in the bible. I asked my mother about the sex described in the bible. I do not recall her reaction but she did seem surprised. I asked questions about what I read in the bible, never getting answers.
I studied life and existence and thought about the idea of a god sometime after Christmas when I was nine years old. If a god is real and Santa Claus is not real but they have similar supernatural powers and both lack authoritative historical accounts, how do I know what is real? I spent some time thinking about this. My thoughts wandered to a nihilist sort of fate, that everything we know ends when we die and there is nothing that remains of who we were, except in the memories of others and the artifacts we leave behind. I pondered an egocentric existence that I later learned was a form of solipsism, where we are the center of existence and everything that happens around us is part of our own thoughts. I wondered if there was a sleeping giant and we are a part of that giant’s dream and when the giant awakens, we all cease to exist. I reached the conclusion that there cannot be a god because the idea of a god doesn’t make sense.
If there is a god, then what is it made out of? If there is a god and god made man, then what is the purpose of man? The bible describes people as playthings for a god and animals as playthings for people. These ideas are absurd and insane. So, with a god, man has no purpose outside of being a toy. By ten years old, I reached some conclusions. The stories of a god do not explain natural phenomena. “Obedience” to the god in the bible requires people to be cruel to each other. There is nothing in nature that can be explained by a god, so there is no reason for a god. People want to believe there is something about their consciousness that will live on. I determined at ten years old that if there is something outside of our physical existence, then it is something that we are all a part of because we no longer have our physical selves to separate us. There is all but there is no god.
I talked to my mother. I tried to break it to her gently. I asked her what it means if someone does not believe in a god. She said that the person was atheist. I asked her if anything bad would happen to atheists and she may have said something about them not going to “heaven.” I said something about if there is no god, then there is no heaven. I asked her if it was alright for me to not believe in a god. Her response was pensive; I sensed her hesitation about the question. I asked what is called when a person does not believe in a god but they are open to the idea. She said that was agnostic. So, I said that I would be agnostic, then.
The next day or so, I talked to my best friend, she was a year younger than me. I told her I didn’t believe in a god. She exclaimed (I rarely see that word, anymore), “You have to believe in God! If you don’t believe in God, you’ll go to Hell.” We discussed the matter as the nine and ten year-olds we were. She would not let go of her dismay that I didn’t believe and I was not going accept any ideas of a god without some reason to believe in one or facts to prove one exists. I learned right away, being atheist is not something I could share. Sometimes, I would tell people I was agnostic and explain, for the purposes of placating the emotions of “believers,” that I was not convinced of any stories of a god but I am open to the possibility.
My questions of religions, spirituality, ideas of gods, supernatural realities, magic, and everything else people believed, continued and still continue. In my early 20’s I made affirmative efforts to study life and beliefs of life beyond the physical existence we accept as real. I hung out with trance chanellers, UFO watchers, gurus, psychics, and people who used crystals and pyramids. I learned a lot about how people come to believe things and a few things about why people believe things. My mission at this point in my life is to share what I have learned on my path of being atheist.