This is the first in a series of posts in which I will answer, from my own perspective, many of the questions that believers ask of atheists. I invite you to ask questions and leave comments for me.
Why do you hate God?
Short answer: I don’t. How can you hate something that doesn’t exist? However, I think it is important that we atheists who are former believers openly discuss our paths to atheism, including any feelings of resentment we had that led us to question our faith. Acknowledging those feelings will validate those feelings for the believer who may be ready to begin the journey to enlightenment.
My first sense of conflict came in my early teens as I was becoming increasingly sociopolitical aware. I was raised in the Episcopal church, a tradition that was playfully referred to in-house as ‘recovering Catholic’ or ‘Catholic light’. My understanding of the teachings of Christ included taking care of the sick, the poor, and the oppressed. That understanding lined up quite nicely with my upbringing in a liberal Democrat household. However, as I learned about the political views of the adults with whom my family attended church – ‘poor people are lazy’, ‘if you want health care, get a job’, ‘homosexuality is immoral’, etc… – I was having an increasingly difficult time understanding how people who worshiped the same god, prayed the same prayers, and believed the word of the same bible, could hold such divergent views. I remember the first question I had that challenged my indoctrination being, “how can people treat their fellow human beings with such contempt Monday through Saturday, then come to church on Sunday and ask for forgiveness over and over again?”. In retrospect, my Humanism was in conflict with my Christianity.
As I got older, I began to seek out a denomination that fell more in line with my political ideology. Each experience left me with the same question: How is it that belief in the same god can lead people to such divergent views of how to treat one another? The answers from Christians were, in retrospect, predictable – freewill, man is fallible, it’s all part of God’s plan, etc. I found these to be very unsatisfying answers. It seemed to me most likely that we all were simply interpreting the word of God in a manner that was in line with our own views, and then seeking out like minded people to join in celebrating those views as good in the eyes of God.
But which group is ‘right’? Which denomination? Which religion? All of them? In that case, what’s the point? One of them? If that’s the case, we are doomed to annihilation. None of them? That is the answer that made the most sense to me. However, accepting that answer would mean that the foundation upon which my life was built was nothing more than a fairy tale. That internal conflict joined forces with my genetic predispositions to depression and alcoholism and led to some highly self-destructive behavior on my part.
I have been dealing with clinical depression to varying degrees of success my entire life. I will have been sober for nine years this June. I have been through a nasty divorce from which I still deal with anger issues. Tearing down the facade of faith and rebuilding my life based on reality and reason and the principles of humanism has been the most difficult thing I have ever done. To date, it has been a twenty year journey. I harbor a degree of resentment towards my parents for indoctrinating me. But that resentment is tempered by the knowledge that they were indoctrinated as well, and were only doing what they believed to be in my best interest.
Every day, I gain additional insight into what it means to live life according to humanist principles. This is the only life we have and it is wholly up to us what becomes of it. The knowledge that there is no divine plan or purpose is tremendously liberating. The understanding that everything that exists, including us, is the result of natural processes behind which there are no guiding hands or so-called intelligent design is so much more awe-inspiring than the arrogant notion that everything has been created for us.
I do not hate God. I loathe what belief in deities is doing to the human race. I do not hate religion. I despise the permission that religion gives to the faithful to oppress others and destroy the environment. I do not hate the religiously faithful. They are all victims of indoctrination. I am frustrated by the willingness of the faithful to subjugate their intelligence and humanism to the dogma of the tribalism of religious faith.