“…I guess maybe a basic question I’ve always wondered is when did you first decide, figure out, choose, I guess, to claim atheism? Was there a specific moment? or did you hear/learn different things in religion and realize you didn’t agree with those other beliefs?”
I’m excited to engage in this discussion! It’s been quite some time, and I think your question is perfect. I’ll do my best to answer it.
Well, I don’t often recall a timeline, and this may sound a bit cliché, but I recall claiming agnosticism in college. I grew up Protestant (Lutheran) and rarely attended church–I enjoyed the singing, but it was merely going through the motions for me. So, I would add the notion that I was always agnostic. I have had very little religious influence in my life, but there was never a singular, defining moment when I became an atheist. And when I was agnostic I despised organized religion. It was, again, a very cliché moment where I would sit around with a bunch of liberal friends bad-mouthing all the evils/hypocrisies of religion, yada, yada. There was more of a clear moment in my life when I stopped acting that way–when I stopped badmouthing organized religion, and decided to let everyone be the best they can be, regardless of religion/faith/etc. That singular act has made me much happier.
But to your question: During the years I claimed to be an agnostic, possibly 5-6 years ago, I knew I was an atheist, but was scared of announcing it due to the social stigma it carries. I had to find positivity and acceptance with it so that I wouldn’t wear it on my forehead bearing some sort of undeniable confrontation. I remember knowing it, but it was not due to any outside force like morals, or some wisdom or something. I don’t have any singular devotion to science, or mathematics, or any supposedly “faith-busting” ideals. I’m just quite content knowing that this is it; that there is nothing after this, and that I am responsible for only my feelings and myself. And I am aware that accepting an “after life” is part of the Christian doctrine–something I wholly will not accept.
But, here’s the thing: knowing that this is it–that my life only lasts this one time–I feel much more compelled to treat my fellow man with utmost respect. It is a cliché that when an atheist feels he/she only has this one life they turn to amoral hedonism, but I don’t think this is true–at least not for me. I feel much, much more indebted to my fellow man for creating this society, and much more indebted to understanding and loving their lifestyle. It’s odd. And I don’t think I’m explaining this as well as I could. Hmmm… here’s one: I read a lot of Dostoevsky’s novels. That really pushed my moral understanding. His writing, especially Crime & Punishment, is absolutely incredible. Oh, here’s a story for you. (This is getting long, so I apologize.)
In 2004, I was traveling through Europe on the cheap–figuring out things and such after working in Rome, Italy. I was reading Crime & Punishment and had just finished the first section, where the poor student Raskolnikov murders this old pawn-broker. It was vivid. Novels/stories are always very vivid for me. Then I went to sleep in my room at this hostel in Krakow, Poland. To my surprise, there was another person in the room. I didn’t know him, and he just arrived that evening. We exchanged greetings and went to sleep; he on the lower bunk, me on the upper opposite bunk. During the middle of the night, I started snoring. In those days, I snored loud. Well, he started screaming at me to shut up. I woke up, startled, and went back to sleep. A few minutes later, I was snoring, and he was yelling at me to shut up. I fell asleep again. Only this time I was awoken by him shaking my bunk bed so that its metal frame smacked hard against the wall over and over. He was now screaming at me to shut up! I felt so much fear. I envisioned axes (the weapon Raskolnikov used) and blood. I was so afraid that this man, this man screaming at me, could kill me right now. I must have awoken during a vivid dream. I tried desperately to stay awake, fearing what might happen if I fell asleep. Well, eventually I turned over and fell asleep. And didn’t hear from him again during the night. The next morning I stopped around the corner before the lobby desk and listened to him complain about my snoring to the desk clerk. After he left, I came around the corner and spoke to the clerk. I switched rooms that night, and the next evening met a lovely couple from Australia.
It’s a trifling anecdote, but for some reason it always stuck with me as a moment I realized the actual capability of Man. There are so many other moments, and I hope that we can discuss them, but for now I’ll leave it at that.
So, I’ll put the same question back to you, and add one. First: what was your moment? Or evolution of moments? I’m afraid I may have let you down with mine, but as far as I know, most of the Christians I have met have a very specific narrative moment of belief. So, here’s my added thought: there is no such thing as choice. No one chooses anything. We make decisions, surely, but there is no choice. I would like your thoughts on this notion; especially as it appears fatalistic, a notion usually reserved for the faithful, but from an atheist’s perspective.