And on the first day, I was an atheist
This is the story of my not so spiritual journey. Let us begin with my upbringing. I was raised in what can be described as an agnostic theist environment. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s when you believe in a god (or gods), but don’t feel you can know for sure whether it, or they, exist.
My mother was brought up learning about several different flavors of Christianity (Lutheran, Catholic, Evangelical), while my father was raised in a Southern Baptist environment. Neither of them clung to faith, but fell more into the camp of “spiritual, but not religious”.
Suffice it to say that from a religious standpoint, I wasn’t pushed in any particular direction as I was growing up. As I matured into a young adult, curiosity led me to question what this god thing was all about. I asked a friend who worked at a local church (non-clerical) if he could procure a Bible for me. He thoughtfully obliged and I began, periodically, to read from it.
Shortly thereafter, I worked up the courage to attend my first services at a local Methodist church. It was a relaxed service (casual attire) where I met lots of friendly and welcoming people. At this point I was still non-committal to a place of worship, but it provided me the push I needed to really dig into scripture study.
During my biblical studies, I began to wonder if I needed to find a more permanent spiritual home. After some research, I happened upon Mormon.org, home of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. After a few in-home lessons with the missionaries, I was making arrangements to be baptized. During my time as a member – roughly two-and-a-half years – I held several leadership positions.
My gradual separation from the LDS (Mormon) church was prompted by a few different areas of contention. The first of which I’ll describe as “sinners guilt”. This happens when an individual doesn’t feel they’re living up to the covenants they’ve made, or the standards of the church. Though many belief systems share some form of this, Mormonism, if practiced to the letter, can take its toll on the psyche of its adherents.
Most individuals holding leadership positions will have a certain number of the congregation reporting to them directly, for an assortment of reasons such as monthly reviews, temple worthiness interviews, action plans, teaching responsibilities, missionary work, etc. This kind of hierarchical structure inevitably breeds an environment of idol worship, whether intended or not.
Another point of contention was with outmoded ways of thinking. As with most major religions of the world, women are often regarded as second class in a number of ways. While they can hold leadership positions in a specifically tailored-for-women branch of the church called the “Relief Society”, they’re completely denied other opportunities to lead congregants as Bishops, Stake Presidents, Apostles, Prophets, etc).
Combine these issues with a lack of acceptance in an ever progressing society, and it wasn’t long before I resigned not only from my post in leadership, but membership as well.
Even as a member of the LDS church, I was still curious about different belief systems. I began to study a bit from the texts of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Like Christianity, they all have good elements, but they also share a common thread of negativity I didn’t agree with.
After my formal resignation of membership from the LDS in April 2014, I continued to study from texts such as the Lotus Sutra, the Bhagavad Gita and the Quran. It wasn’t until autumn of the same year, that I began exploring atheistic literature.
Around the holiday season of 2014, I bought myself a copy of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. The book not only opened my eyes to the many absurdities of religious belief but also to the atrocities they can lead to. This helped me to gain the necessary courage to publicly identify as an atheist.
I’ve always been able to convey my feelings well enough to friends and family, so when it came to my atheist realization, I chose to approach my most religious friend with the news first. At present, I would say the majority of my friends and family are aware of how I choose to identify. Though not every conversation goes as smoothly as planned, and I do get some resistance from one of my friends who is hopeful that I’ll someday rejoin the flock, I wouldn’t change a thing about how I’ve gotten to this point.
In closing, I’ll leave a brief remark as to why I’m an atheist. I’m an atheist because I know my morals don’t rely upon a fear of retribution or punishment. I am an atheist because the evidence is overwhelmingly opposed to the existence of a creator. And lastly, I’m an atheist because we’re all born that way.
• Joshua Brown, 29, is an American living in Ocala, Florida. He is an IT consultant, atheist activist and freelance writer whose interests include philosopy, cosmology, literature and sociology.