Why I Am an Atheist

PZ Meyers has been doing a cool thing lately on Pharyngula (in addition to the other cool stuff he’s does) posting submitted essays on what brought their writers to atheism. I wanted to share my own.

I was conceived through IVF by two lesbian women, my parents. My donor was anonymous and to this day I have no idea who my biological “father” would be. I don’t think being gay has ever been easy, but today society has made huge strides towards tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality. I was born in 1987 and spent the first ten years of my life experiencing the kind of bigotry that existed back then. When seeking a donor for my conception, my biological mother was told by her doctor that if she wanted to get pregnant she ought to stand on a street corner and get inseminated that way. When I was born, I was not permitted a hyphenated surname from both my mothers, as hyphenate names were only allowed between the mother and father. My biological mother had to change her last name to a hyphenate, have my last name changed as well, and then switch hers back in order to accomplish this. When I was 12, my moms won a 6 year court battle with the government of Alberta to allow my non-biological mother to be legally named as my adoptive mother (from a legal perspective she had previously been my guardian). I am to this day immensely proud of them and the fact that they were able to set this precedent for other gay and lesbian parents to legally adopt children together.

But the point is that I was born with a front-row seat to the kind of persecution that gays and lesbians were experiencing, primarily at the hands of religious right-wing lobby groups.

Whether this actually affected my views of religion is hard to say. I know that my biological mother considers herself a Unitarian, and that my other mom tends to avoid labeling herself when asked. Religion doesn’t come up very often with us. I do remember being dragged to church every couple weeks and sitting there. The only thing I can recall about the experience is an immense sense of boredom and hunger. It finally got to a point where I so desperately did not want to go one week that as my mom was insisting we head out the door that I finally just yelled at her “I DON’T EVEN BELIEVE IN GOD.” This was almost 15 years ago and so I don’t remember the details too clearly, but I don’t think I was made to attend church that day, nor any day after. And for that I am intensely grateful to my parents for not forcing a religion upon me.

But even before that incident, I honestly cannot recall a moment when I believed in God. I would hear stories from adults about how you were supposed to just feel his presence (yes, lowercase ‘h’). How you could tell when he was listening. How he would speak to you if you prayed to him. I felt absolutely none of that.

What you have to understand is the notion of being six or eight years old, having all the adults in your world tell you about this thing that you should feel, and not feeling it at all. I was so confused at what I must have been doing wrong that I couldn’t feel this miraculous presence. Imagine being that young and having every grown-up tell you something that you know to be wrong. It’s extremely alienating. I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. Wanting nobody to know about my inability to sense God, I kept my disbelief a secret until that one day when I had just had enough of sitting in the pews with my stomach growling, having no idea what I was supposed to be listening for in the stories that the boring man at the front of the room was telling.

But even after coming out to my parents and experiencing no wrath or disappointment, I was still alone; confused at how I was the only one who didn’t feel this mystical connection.

Then, when I was roughly 13, my parents bought a VHS copy of a movie they had seen in theaters a couple years earlier. That movie was Dogma, by Kevin Smith. It’s a good movie, but there was one moment in that movie that was an enormous revelation for me. In one of the earlier scenes of the film, Ben Affleck’s uses the word “atheist” (or, as I thought it was said at the time “apheist”), and it was obvious from the context what it meant: a person who doesn’t believe in God.

It was such a small thing, but in that moment it was like being hit with a wave: “There’s a word for it?” I thought to myself, “An actual word that means that I don’t believe in a god? That’s me! And the fact that there’s a word for it? That means I’m not the only one!” Years of loneliness poured off of me as I realized that somewhere in the world there were other people like me who didn’t believe. Not only that, but there were enough of us that English had a word for us. I didn’t know who these other non-believers were, but all of a sudden I knew they were out there, and I felt a connection to them: stronger than the supposed connection with God I was supposed to have felt growing up.

That was the day I was no longer just a kid who didn’t believe: I was an Atheist!

(well… at least I was an Apheist: it wasn’t until early in high school until I actually met a fellow non-believer and learned the right word…)

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