Coming Out (or just venting)

This is a letter I’d send to my mom, if I had the nerve and if I thought it would open the door to something better. But I’m not sure about either.

I know I don’t write to you often. I worry about this because I don’t want you to think it’s because I don’t love you. Quite the opposite. But it seems I have fallen far from the tree. Many of the things I care about, the hopes and worries I have for my kids, how to fix some problems I see in this country, my love of science and reason, even my hopes for where humanity will go in the decades and centuries to come and how I might in some small way contribute to that – I worry that my true feelings on all these things I care deeply about would be offensive to you. And so I censor myself to safe topics. But I am a passionate person, so it is hard.

If, in response, she expressed interest in knowing who I really am, and what I care about, and what really concerns me and bothers me and downright makes me sad and angry at times… what would I say? I suspect that day won’t come, and even if it did this list will probably be too raw and direct, but let’s get it out there:

  • I am an atheist. I do not believe in the Judeo-Christian god, or any other supernatural being.
  • I believe in reason.
  • I don’t believe in heaven, hell, demons, angels, or gods. This life is it. Be in the present. Value it.
  • It’s hard for me when you pick on Mormonism for being so strange, and you seem to want me to join in. Sure, it’s crazy! And yet your beliefs are just as crazy – a virgin birth? Creationism? People living to be 900 years old? Talking to invisible beings? Worshiping a god who kills and has temper tantrums? That a blood sacrifice is good and has some sort of eternal meaning?
  • Currently in Nepal, the festival of Dashain is underway. Mass animal slaughters occurred just two days ago, to appease the god Durga. Wow. Animal sacrifice is alive and well in the 21st century. Can’t we leave all this behind?
  • The Judeo-Christian bible is a nasty thing. I will not let my kids read it until they are old enough to read it from a literary and historical standpoint. The god in it kills huge numbers of people, and requires animal sacrifices. The bible teaches intolerance and exclusivity, and blind faith that this is all well and good (because god does, after all, work in mysterious ways). It is, to borrow a quote, a Grimm fairy tale.
  • The bible even specifically tells you to stone me, your son, to death. (See Dt 13:6-10.) I don’t believe in that god, but I believe in the application of reason, so I am serving another “god”. Kill me. The letters to the Corinthians are much kinder; according to them I should merely be shunned (2 Cor 6:14-17). You cannot avoid these awkward versus, because the old testament is still relevant (see Matt. 5:18).
  • The Koran is even more direct that I should be killed.
  • Why do you think 911 happened? There are many reasons and nuances, but at the end of the day, if those people hadn’t believed, truly believed, that they would be rewarded in heaven for killing the infidels, it would not have happened. Faith is dangerous.
  • Read the news headlines sometime, and consider how much of the strife in the world is fueled by religion. “Ethnic” strife is almost always religion. Terrorism. AIDS (because condoms and education are bad). Inequality and lack of opportunity (women, homosexuals, anyone different.) Stem cell research being stalled. Show me a killing of a homosexual and I’ll show you a religious tie. The Mormons just had their conference, and made the headlines because of intolerant teachings. Education tax dollars being wasted on creationism, when we should be teaching our kids critical thinking and science.
  • John Lennon had it right with “Imagine”.
  • I am a patriot, in the old sense of the word, not in the 911 sense. I believe in the Constitution. I support the first amendment, and the separation of church and state. James Dobson (whom I know you respect) is not a patriot. He worked to get the National Day of Prayer passed in 1952. (Note that this falls squarely in the McCarthyism era.) This is in direct violation of the first amendment.
  • I contribute money to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).
  • The FFRF challenged this law, and recently got it overturned, and will be fighting an appeal. Why in the world is our own government fighting against our own Constitution? Because they want votes, and 70% of the population believes in Sky Fairies. But the Constitution was written to protect the rights of the minority against the majority. The majority doesn’t need protecting.
  • Even with as bad as the present times are, I’m glad I didn’t live a mere two centuries ago. Have you ever read detailed accounts of what occurred during the Christian Inquisition? I have, and reading slowly enough to let the words sink in and to truly appreciate what occurred almost made me physically sick. What would drive people to such cruelty? Faith. If you truly believe your holy book and take it on faith that every word is inspired by god, then the Inquisition was justified.
  • The Catholic church did not condemn torture until 1816. The last killing associated with the Spanish Inquisition occurred in Mexico in 1850. A person was burned to death (although that is a gross simplification of what the burnings actually were like, but I won’t go into that). It’s scary to me such things are so recent of a memory. It could have been me.
  • Believing only in Jesus and love, and claiming it is not “religion”, does not wipe all this away. It’s still faith, which means it is still arbitrary and dangerous. A good moral code can be derived without faith. In fact, reason is a perfect ingredient.
  • I value the truth. This comes in many contexts, whether it is in the application of the scientific method, or honesty with oneself, or with interpreting the facts in an unbiased manner. I bristle at how much of history is currently being rewritten by the religious right in this country. This country was NOT founded on Christianity. Most of the signers of the Constitution were atheists, agnostic, or at most deists. Research this (but not from a Christian website or book) and convince yourself. Nor was “In God We Trust” always on our money or in our pledge. (Once again, look to the McCarthy era.) But Christians want to rewrite history.
  • I cannot, with good conscience, teach my kids conflicting ideas. (Such as: history is simple; Muslims are mean but Christians are loving. Killing is wrong, but the bible is true and god is good. Math and science is good, but the Creationists are right. Lying is wrong, but the Christians are good to try to rewrite history. The list could go on.) I will be honest with my kids, to the degree appropriate for their ages.
  • I have been fighting this mental battle for nearly 20 years. I have managed to shake the beast off my back, completely and for good, just over one year ago.
  • Other than my occasional mental anguish (such as I am getting out right here), I have found life to be much more meaningful and precious since I gave up god and became a rationalist. This life is it. Get all from it that you can. Find truth. Love hard. Advance knowledge. Be kind. We are all humans.

Probably a better, less confrontational approach is to recommend the book “Letter to a Christian Nation” by Sam Harris. But that’s not as therapeutic for me.

October 18, 2010
1309 words





ccoffing on GitHub

ccoffing on LinkedIn