...since I wasn't always.
When I was a little kid I noticed that my dad did not ever go to church or talk about being religious. Simultaneously my mother would force my sister and me to go to church and special classes on the weekend to learn about Catholicism. I hated to go to church. It was boring and I felt like my life was literally being stolen from me. I also thought it was unsanitary to drink wine after all those other people. I also did not like wine.
Once, when I asked my mom about germs on the communal wineglass she said, “don’t worry. God will clean it.”
My dad was a voracious science fiction reader and science-buff. So I would often read over the short articles in his Science News magazine. And while they were over my head, I started to realize how ridiculous the nonsense I was being taught about the bible was.
This made me a skeptic, but it did not turn me into a full-tilt atheist – let alone a Secular Humanist.
I started asking questions in my Catholic classes. And the nuns were none-too-pleased about it. They would tell me how God did not want women to have abortions. I asked why and they told me God loves life and that one of those aborted “babies” could have grown up to cure cancer.
I returned the volley with this: “If God likes life so much then why doesn’t he just give me the cure. I’d be happy to give it to everyone.”
Eventually, nuns and creepy priests-in-training who taught those classes took to inviting me to leave when I would question too often. Flattered by their invitations I would often walk out unceremoniously and stand in the snowy cold of Ohio winter rather than listen to their craziness.
Around this time, in my early adolescence, my skepticism about religion led me to disavow God. Looking back on it, it was rather thrilling. And it came down to this: My dad shared a refrain with me that still sticks with me today: “Religion is a crutch for the weak-minded.” I don’t know where he got that, I only know it re-sculpted my mind and I knew then that my dad did not believe.
When it came time to be “confirmed” I told my mom that I was just going to go through the motions and lie to the priest about believing in God. I told her I did not believe in God anymore. My dad watched this whole thing closely, and merely suggested that I play along with the ludicrous ritual to keep from making waves.
For me, as a working-class kid in semi-rural Ohio, the wonders of science came mostly in the form of Nova documentaries on PBS or my father’s aforementioned Science News magazines. So, these did little to really push me over the edge into atheism. What did it for me was misery, sadness, poverty, wars, famine, disease, the cruelty in everyday life, death, pain, etc.
I just could not understand why an all-powerful god would allow this when he could just make the whole place a paradise. So, for a brief moment, I was like: “This God guy is a total asshole. I hope he sends me to hell. I’ll help Lucifer raise hell!”
But then I just started to think that the chaos I saw throughout my community and on TV throughout the world was just that – chaos. No God governed us. We governed ourselves, for good or bad, in a bicameral congress with Nature.
And all the science I learned from then on only reinforced my atheism.
And one day, when I was 16 and a hardcore atheist, I was in an argument with my superstitious Catholic mother about going to Catholic classes on weekends. The argument was heated. When my dad finally got in the middle of it he said, “Leave the boy be! He doesn’t need to go to those classes anymore. He is old enough to make his own choices. And it looks like he made his choice about religion.”
It was an amazingly liberating moment. No more church. No more Catholic classes. No more creepy priests and nuns. I was freed from religion.
Through college and grad school I dabbled in Atheist related activism, nothing too big. And what I noticed was that atheism lacks a set of values. So, I felt a void.
Ironically, my highly religious mother got me into reading Kurt Vonnegut. I tore through all his works. When I began reading about Vonnegut I found out that he was a secular humanist. And then I read about humanism and I joined the national organization for humanists – the AmericanHumanist Association – when I was in grad school.
The void of values I found in atheism was filled by the philosophy of secular humanism. Now I am both an atheist and a secular humanist. And I am proud to be a dues-paying member of the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix.