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How did you become non-religious?

Nov 11 2004
on becoming non-religious

Strictly speaking, I did not become non-religious, because I consider myself an agnostic. However, for most of my life, I have considered religion essentially irrelevant. I was more-or-less raised a Presbyterian, attended Sunday School occasionally, and eventually became a member of the church (I think). In short, I went because my parents wanted me to. Something, though, seemed wrong. Why did we have to put on fancy clothes? What about those who didn't have enough money for those clothes? And why did we ritually chant basically the same things each week? From a script, yet! I thought that I would check out a Baptist church because I had heard that you could dress casually. True enough, but after enduring the narrow-minded comments of the preacher, I (and a friend of mine) vowed that we wouldn't return. And we didn't. In school, the "moment of silence" was in effect. A compromise, granted, but it seemed rather pointless. Look at shoes, look at David, look at Eve - wait for God to give me the answers to the test ... waiting ... waiting ... time's up! Was "real' prayer the answer? In periods of depression, I even gave that a shot. Nope. I can honestly say that I have never felt better after prayer. Maybe I wasn't trying hard enough. But that's just it - If we are all part of God's Computer Program, then we cannot “try”. Everything is preordained. God decides who gets Eternal Life, and who doesn't. Now, then, why would God do something like that? Why would God decide that I, who have worked hard for many years, paid my bills, paid my taxes, tried to do right by my wife, my children, and others, yet questioned his existence, am less worthy than Roy Moore, or Pat Robertson? Why would rotten people go to Heaven and good people go to Heck? Slowly, I began to accept that God may very well have been made in our image, that maybe I'm not such a bad person after all, and that I don't need a preacher or a black book written by humans to tell me that I'm not. What works is what works for you. This, of course, does not mean that “anything goes”. Our morals are still shaped by the give-and-take of society, of which religion is only one part. Our greatest challenge, I feel, is to convince religious people that we are not out to eradicate every vestige of religion and spirituality from society - we just don’t want it forced on us. As I said, I consider myself an agnostic, because I at least like to reserve the possibility that there may be a God. However, Herb Silverman's comments on the nature of infinity(ies) may make an atheist of me yet!

Thomas True

Nov 15 2004
"agnostics" are not "non-religious"?

Thomas, thanks for adding your story to the list. It is always interesting to hear about the diverse paths people have taken to wind up at essentially the same place.

However, I'm curious about the very first line of your posting. I had intentionally chosen the phrase "non-religious" to avoid the distinction between "atheist" and "agnostic" (and "bright" and "freethinker" and...) I guess I was under the impression that each of these broadly entailed being "non-religious" in one way or another. Even if you are "leaving open the possibility" that God exists, wouldn't you agree that what you are now is "non-religious"?

As a side note, let me say something about the question of "atheist" vs. "agnostic" (which is actually a different discussion already underway elsewhere at this site). I do not think that saying "I'm an atheist" means that I do not leave room for the POSSIBILITY that there are such things as "gods". Rather, it only states that I believe that there aren't. My beliefs are subject to change as I get new information. For instance, I could say that I believe that there are no humans currently alive who are more than 12 feet tall. I have reasons for this belief (such as knowing that the record is more like 9 feet and expecting that if there was someone who was 12 feet tall I would have heard about it), but I would not deny that I COULD be wrong. I could change my mind and begin to believe in people who are 12 feet tall...but I would not change my mind without some reasonable evidence! In the same way, I have reason to believe that "gods" are just things that people have made up either out of fear or wishful thinking to explain things they didn't understand, and I have no reason to think that there really are any gods outside of the stories those people made up. In that sense, I am an atheist. It describes my present beliefs, and is not any sort of absolutist claim that I know for certain the truth about the universe.


Nov 21 2004
on becoming non-religious (reply)

Hi, Alex,

Sorry I’ve taken so long to respond to your post - I don’t have a lot of free time to write. In answer to your question, well, yes, I guess that, in the sense that I don’t relate to organized religion (and certainly not to disorganized religion), I would consider myself “non-religious”. However, I must confess that there is a side of me that is swayed by the religious argument that humans are fallible, and that there must be something better. I don’t know why I feel this way, because, like you, I want a great deal of evidence that God exists, and I have seen little. I think it stems from the simple human desire to aspire to “be all that we can be”. No, this doesn’t mean joining the Army. I can almost accept a definition of a God who is a “super human”; a Superman, if you will. This, of course, is defining God in terms of humans. Does it mean God doesn’t exist? Of course, nobody knows. The point is, since we can’t say for sure if God exists, we (and here I am referring primarily to fundamentalists) have no business telling others that he does, and we certainly have no business telling others what God “wants”. Do I consider myself an atheist? Since the definition of atheist is “not believing” in God, that’s a bit strong for me, so I will stick with agnostic for now. As Herb Silverman said, it’s a matter of semantics, and we’re all pretty much on the same page. Thanks for the intellectual stimulus. I wish that I could take part in SHL’s activities, but I live about 100 miles from Charleston, so it’s a bit difficult. Great work y’all are doing - pleased with the “In Reason We Trust” plates (a little surprised that the DMV accepted them, though).

Thomas True

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