The last few days have been … eventful, you could say. This is a long post, so bear with me.

On Saturday morning, January 19, 2013, I revealed to my wife that I’m an agnostic atheist. It should be noted, however, that I didn’t call myself those words. ”I no longer believe,” was the specific words I used after giving a little bit of a back story and run up to the conclusion of my internal deliberations over religion. I was holding her hand as we sat on our bed.

She cried. It didn’t matter that this didn’t come as a total surprise. She knew I’d drifted away from church activities, prayer, and my overall spirituality. It still hurt her to hear.

Then her sadness turned into a bit of resolve.

“Just let me know how you want the kids to be raised,” she said to me.

“It’s not like that. You and I are still a team. We are still equals in raising our kids. I just want for us to make sure that they have a strong education in science and are able to come to their own conclusions about our universe.” I gave some examples of how things are and can continue to be.  ”I don’t mind if you all still pray over the food. I’ll sit quietly and respect that. I don’t mind you going to church. It’s a great place for you all to be able to socialize and have friends. I’m not opposed to religion, I just don’t personally believe anymore.”

She seemed satisfied with that.

I raised an issue that I was most terrified about, if you remember from previous posts: A major condition under which we were married has changed. We were both Christians. Now we’re not.

Even a couple of evenings earlier I was reminded how difficult this may be on our marriage. I went alone to fill up our minivan with gas. She’d had the radio on a Christian station and I listened as a preacher talked to college students about five things to make sure of when you get married. Number one on his list was that both spouses are on the same page religiously.

“We never were,” she chuckled through tears. True. She is a conservative Christian and I was … more moderate.

I told her that the preacher went on to say that a believer should NOT marry a non-believer.

“Are you saying you don’t want to be together any more?” She asked the very pointed question.

I assured her that I very much do want to be married, but I knew it would be difficult and I wasn’t able to predict how she’d react to my announcement.

“We’re still married. Even if things have changed since we got married, I’m still going to honor that commitment,” she replied.

What a relief!

I shared with her that I’m completely open to pursuing couples therapy about this. This is a huge deal, and I told her that I feel it’s completely appropriate to talk with someone and work through things together.

No decision was made about that, but we did reaffirm our love for each other and concluded that we’ll continue to talk about all of this.

In a later conversation on the couch, she made it clear to me, “Just so you understand, I still know that God is real.”

“That’s fine, Honey. I’m not going to try to convert you away from that. I can’t prove that God isn’t real, so it would be arrogant for me to try to change what you believe. I’m just saying that I can no longer believe unless something changes and I have more evidence going forward.” She seemed willing to leave it at that.

The next morning, I helped the kids and her get ready for church. I helped get the kids into the van and waved to them with a smile on my face as they drove away. While they were gone, I got some grocery shopping done.

When they came home, my wife told me that she hoped it’s okay that she talked to the minister who married us.

Phil — not his real name — is probably more conservative than my wife is. That said, he’s willing to have a respectful, reasonable discussion with people who do not agree with his beliefs. He and I have had some lively discussions on Facebook before he ever knew I’m a non-believer.

I told my wife that it’s fine that she talked to him. In our first discussion on our bed, I emphasized that she has every right and should feel comfortable to talk to anyone she wants. It would be unfair for me to ask her to keep my status a secret if she feels she needs to talk to someone. Since he was the person who married us, she wanted to get his input.

She relayed to me that he doesn’t see why we couldn’t make our marriage work and that I’m “still a good person.” He reportedly offered to talk with us anytime if that’s what we desired.

Last night I went to another session of the community meeting I spoke about previously. Phil is another one of the people who assists with the organization of the meetings and distributing the food. He and I spoke (in the following paraphrased conversation) about my newly-found lack of belief and he asked me some direct questions:

“So what led you to come to this decision?”

“How much time do you have?” I quipped. “Seriously, it was a conclusion that I finally came to after several years of doubt and being a lukewarm Christian. I just realized that what I knew of religion and God was just too inconsistent to continue believing in.”

“Okay, I can respect that,” Phil replied. “But now the question is what’s the alternative?”

I was confused. “What do you mean, ‘alternative?’” I wondered if he was going down the route of “what will happen when you die?” He didn’t.

“Well, by ‘alternative,’ I mean what explanation is there for everything? What is there beyond ourselves?”

I looked around the room, motioning with my hands. “What you see is what you get? Reality is what we can observe and test,” I said.

“Sure, but what about where everything came from? How did it come to be?” He was being calm and respectful, but genuinely wanted to see if I’d thought all of this through.

“Well, I rely on what science has been able to make theories about, test, and replicate results for.”

“Okay. I just wanted to make sure you were continuing to keep searching for answers,” he replied.

We talked more about my continued commitment to my wife and kids, wanting to be a respectful non-believer because there are a LOT of disrespectful non-believers out there — as there are very disrespectful believers out there, which he acknowledged.

It was a good conversation, and one I’m sure we’ll continue at another time.

So now my wife knows and we remain committed to our marriage and each other. We will continue dialogue about all this and probably get some counseling. The man who married us is aware of the situation and we will likely talk more about this in the future.

Now it’s time to figure out when and how to tell others.

What’s My Angle? (or, How I Became Atheist)

Posted: 17th January 2013 by Beyonder in Uncategorized
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In journalism, they say that every story has an “angle.” In other words, one cannot be totally impartial with one’s writing and the story must inherently approach its topic from a particular point of view — however much the intent is to stay as impartial as possible. What gets included versus what doesn’t becomes part of the angle. How things are described becomes part of the angle. Whose story is being told becomes part of the angle.

So I have to ask myself as a newly-formed agnostic atheist: What’s my angle? Why do I call myself that? How did I get to that point? What importance does it play in my life’s story?

If I feel like I believe in a supernatural power, do I personally need to have proof to validate that belief or is belief enough to support itself?

First, my belief slipped away on its own. At some point I realized, “I’m not sure there is a God because what He is supposed to be and what I’m seeing Him to be just don’t add up. Some examples:

  • I would pray because the Bible says that if someone “asks,” they shall “receive” through prayer. I saw this happening with no consistency or credibility.
  • I began to really struggle with the idea of a supernatural being that “loves” me so much that they’re willing to give me the right to make my own choices, but will make me spend eternity in misery if I don’t make the right ones. That’s incredibly coercive and manipulative!
  • Several of the tenets of my religion were incredibly contradictory of each other: Love they neighbor as yourself, but treat them as less of a person than you — that’s the one that gets me the most.
  • The stories in the Bible were just too silly to continue believing: Noah’s ark. David and Goliath. Jonah and the whale. Heck, even Adam and Eve!

Essentially, the Bible and everything I had believed in became a house of cards. When one card starts to fall, the whole thing crumbles to the ground. It went a little something like this.

  • The Bible is the holy book of my Christian religion. It is supposed to give all moral guidance as to how to live the right Christian life. Okay.
  • Not all guidance in the Bible was followed by any Christians I know or me. This is because some guidance was applicable only in the time it was written. Okay.
  • So how does one choose what to follow and what to ignore? Prayer?
  • After praying, what I was feeling right to follow and right to ignore was different than many other Christians. Uh, next?
  • So, the Bible is supposed to be the word of God but was written by people … who are fallible. So what, if anything, can be credibly believed to be the word of God?
  • Meanwhile, science is testing and verifying measurable, reproducible knowledge about the universe that contradicts what’s written in the Bible. Huh.
  • But God is still there, right? Something had to create the universe. Something intelligent had to make us, because we’re so awesome and earth is so perfect for supporting the amazingness of living creatures here, right? Then I saw this video:
  • Riiight. Okay, but people have near-death experiences and see  heaven and talk to dead relatives and all of that. How could that happen if there isn’t something supernatural? Then I read about all kinds of studies that have been done about such things. Most fascinating was this article. Wow.
  • Okay, so there’s probably not a God, but I have no way of knowing that for sure. I don’t believe there is, though, and nothing in the known universe has really shown any evidence that there is — except that maybe God started the known universe and left.
  • In that case, what do I believe — if anything? You know what? I’ve concluded that I don’t have to believe in any higher power. I don’t need to be a part of any named religion or belief system to find meaning. For now, I’m sticking with agnostic atheist. I don’t believe, but I don’t know for sure. It’s unlikely that I ever will.
  • Oh, a sidenote: Where do we go when we fall asleep? Our consciousness disappears for that time, but we wake up essentially the same person. Are we like computers that get shut off? The hard drive (our brains) store our data while the RAM is powered down? Is dreaming part of our brains rebooting at the end of sleep? I’m still trying to learn more about this.
So where does that leave me? (Again, we’re going through essentially the same thought process I did over the course of a couple of months) Here are the conclusions I’ve reached:
  1. I know that I exist in some form. What that is, I can’t even be sure. Maybe I’m a human body in a pod connected to a huge server farm ala The Matrix. Maybe I’m just some cosmic energy field that exists within this body made up of space matter while I’m awake but pass into another realm — or even disappear — when I sleep.
  2. We humans are so smart, but we’re infinitely dumber than that. There’s so much about our existence that we don’t understand. We really don’t even know how much we don’t know.
  3. I now have no reason to believe that any kind of god as has been described or worshiped by any religion in history even exists. If I had to bet, I’d have to say the closest thing to “god” that does exist is a collective consciousness formed by all the energy of all matter in the universe, but I’m not willing to hang my hat on that as a religion or belief system with a name or title.
  4. Without a credible book to tell me how to live, I’m going to stick to the Golden Rule, a simple and perfectly reasonable construct: Treat others how I would want to be treated. Even more simply, I try to choose understanding and compassion before uninformed conclusions and judgment. Why not? That truly seems like it would lead to more happiness.
  5. I don’t think that life needs to have proscribed cosmic “meaning.” We can make whatever meaning of our lives that we want. By making rational decisions, treating each other with understanding and compassion, taking care of our planet and never stopping being curious, we can move humanity forward and do some pretty cool stuff while we’re around. Essentially, make some lemonade from the cosmic lemons we’ve been given.
I like that. I’m at peace with that. That’s a good angle to take.

If You Want Something Done Right …

Posted: 15th January 2013 by Beyonder in Uncategorized

There’s something oddly liberating about becoming atheist. Since I don’t believe there’s any higher power to fix my problems for me, it FORCES me to do it myself. It makes me more accountable for my own actions.

Now, I’m not saying there isn’t accountability in Christianity — the only religion with which I have had close association. You’re accountable for your actions, a.k.a. “sin,” and are supposedly going to answer for your life’s work when you stand before God on judgement day. You will have to answer why you didn’t properly toe the line Jesus laid for his followers. You will have to answer why, even though you were a “good” person, you probably didn’t market to potential new believers enough, a.k.a. “spreading the gospel.”

What I’m talking about with this post is prayer and action. As a Christian, I so often prayed for God to do this, to fix that, to heal this person, or to comfort me about whatever.

I’d even pray that God would “bless this food that it will nourish and strengthen our bodies,” even if I knew that a cheeseburger and a Coke was probably NOT going to. A funny example of this was shared by Christian comedian Tim Hawkins:

Now, instead of just blindly hoping that Cheetos will magically change into carrot sticks, I know that I must make better choices about the food I eat. If I eat junk food, I’ll be less healthy. If I eat good food, I’ll be more healthy. Pretty simple — no god necessary.

They say that “if you want something done right, you’ve gotta do it yourself.” As an atheist, I have no other choice, and that certainty is actually quite refreshing.

What I Mean Calling Myself An ‘Atheist’

Posted: 9th January 2013 by Beyonder in Uncategorized

When I call myself an “atheist,” I say it in the purist sense of the word: without belief in a god. I no longer believe in any supernatural beings, whether that be God (with a capital G), Thor, Zeus, etc.

It does NOT mean:

  • I hate God — after all, how can you hate something you don’t believe in.
  • I have been lured into evil by Satan — again, I don’t believe he exists.
  • I am incapable of being good and treating others with love and kindness.
  • I am against the idea of people “having religion.”
  • I disagree with all tenets of religious faiths.
  • I am an activist bound and determined to destroy religion.
  • I try to convert others to atheism.
  • I think that theists/believers are idiots.
  • I mean to insult or offend believers — though I’m sure I will.
  • I am not “spiritual.”
  • I am Humanist.
  • I have all the answers to the origins/existence of the universe.
  • I am right (that’s why I’m also agnostic).
Now, some non-believers think that the term “atheist” is tarnished, overused and abused by activists trying to destroy religion. To some extent, it is.
Instead of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, however, I would like to be someone who tries to bring the core meaning back to the word “atheist” and untarnish its reputation.

Well, THAT Was Weird.

Posted: 9th January 2013 by Beyonder in Church, Uncategorized
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So, I said a prayer last night.

I was asked to. In front of several people. Okay then.

Our family is part of a local program that helps lower-income families learn about different topics, socialize, and even take home some food. We meet twice a month in a church building and the whole thing is sponsored by two local churches. We joined before I became atheist, but we continue because it’s nice to spend time with other people and the food does help us out.

One of the coordinators, knowing that I have been a religious person, asked me to pray over the pizza that we were all going to eat at the meeting. He obviously, however, doesn’t know that I am now a non-believer.

“Would you please say a prayer over the food?” he asked me, after calling me by name.

Oh, crap. He just asked me in front of about 20 people to say a prayer. I’m an atheist, but nobody knows that. I can’t just say ‘no.’

“Uh, yeah,” I replied.

Okay, it’s been several months since I’ve done this. Let’s just bang this out, keep it simple and be done. The prayer went a little something like this:

“Dear heavenly father,” I began, with my head bowed but eyes open, staring awkwardly at the tabletop where I was sitting. “We pray that you will bless this food that it will nourish us and give us strength.”

So far, so good. I continued.

“Please help it to also give us the energy we need to be able to go from here and minister to others. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.”

WHEW! It’s over! He thanked me and we went on our way.

Yeah, that was weird. It felt like was speaking into an empty chasm that I was pretty certain had no occupants. They were words formulated to sound just right, but had no emotion or real intent behind them. I felt no holy spirit. I felt no comfort in the prayer. The pizza didn’t feel any more nutritious to eat.

Before I was atheist I said plenty of prayers that I now believe simply went into the chasm. I see now that they were not answered. There was no certainty that any being other than those in earshot heard them. That’s what this felt like.

But mostly it just felt strange to say a prayer again.

Non-Committal Atheists in Our Midst?

Posted: 8th January 2013 by Beyonder in Uncategorized
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So a thought struck me recently: How many people really don’t believe in a God? How many Christians don’t buy the Biblical history of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection? How many Muslims really don’t think much of Muhammad?

For several years before settling on being an agnostic atheist, I “believed” in God, Jesus’ resurrection, Jonah and the whale, etc. Except I didn’t. Not totally.

I was the perfect “lukewarm Christian.” Never really on fire for God unless all hell was breaking loose and I needed something, skeptical of the resurrection, not very interested in studying the Bible, and pretty dubious about stories in that book.

Was I an atheist all that time? I honestly thought that I believed in God. I thought that the stories in the Bible were true. I thought that praying to a god made a difference in things. If you’d asked me then, “How much do you believe in what Christianity tells you about the world?” I would have responded with, “Oh, I believe it wholeheartedly!” I would have been lying to you.

Many times my belief did waver. Many times science revealed something that contradicted scripture and my faith took a tiny hit. Many times praying for stuff didn’t pan out and even though I “asked,” I did not “receive” like the Bible told me I should.

Each and every time this happened, I’d think in my head like a good little Christian, “God is in control. You must have faith. God will provide the answers. If science says something is a certain way, God must have made it that way…” and on and on. ”God answers prayer in His own way,” I would tell myself — because it was told to me. “God answers all prayers, but sometimes the answer is ‘no.’”

Really. REALLY?!

I’m fascinated that there are so many people who claim to be religious and say they believe in God and pray and stuff, but they never go to church. Oh, they might the Sunday before Christmas and on Easter. But the rest of the time, nada.

Maybe they really don’t believe. Maybe they don’t buy into the stories just as I didn’t but they aren’t willing to admit it to themselves or their loved ones.

My conservative Christian friends might say that the devil is pulling them away from God. The spirit of sin has a hold of their hearts and they need more church/prayer/scripture in their lives.

I don’t know. Maybe. That’s why I’m agnostic.

I don’t think so. Probably not. That’s why I’m atheist.

God and Santa Claus: The Striking Similarities

Posted: 27th December 2012 by Beyonder in Uncategorized
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A riddle for you: “What’s the difference between God and Santa Claus?”

Since we’ve just moved through the holiday season, I got to thinking about the nature of Santa Claus. This is extra pertinent right now since I’ve become atheist and my son is questioning the existence of Santa.

It turns out that there are remarkable similarities between the two:

  • Children are told about both beings at a very young age by their parents, elders and community.
  • There are books written and various TV programs and films produced about both beings, making great claims about how “real” they are.
  • Many songs are sung each year about both beings.
  • Both beings are capable of creating magical phenomena.
  • People ask both beings for things in hope that those requests will be answered/fulfilled.
  • Both beings supposedly require us to be “nice” in order for them to be pleased with us.
  • If you are “naughty,” both beings supposedly will dole out some kind of punishment.
  • Both are beings that many people believe in but have no real evidence to prove their existence.
I’m pretty sure that our son is convinced Santa Claus isn’t real. He spent the few days leading up to Christmas AND Christmas morning trying to find ways to prove that I, his father, am actually Santa Claus. Being the “good” father I am, I blocked him at every turn.The atheist in me, however — trying to be an honest and open person — wanted to say to him, “Good work, son, you’re right. Santa isn’t real. It’s been a hoax all along to help you feel better about Christmas and to manipulate you into being good.” Why didn’t I do that?

I KNOW that the presents my children received Christmas morning were not delivered by a jolly fat man in a red and white suit who landed on or about our house in a sleigh pulled by reindeer. The presents they opened were the presents my wife and I set out for them that night. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Can I prove, then, that Santa isn’t real? NO. Maybe there really IS such a person who lives at the North Pole and delivers toys to children around the world. If there is, he didn’t visit our house, though.

In the same respects, I KNOW that the children I had with my wife were the result of my sperm fertilizing her eggs. That’s the way it works. Science has proven that to be factual.Can I prove, then, that a god didn’t cause particular sperm to fertilize a particular egg to give us a particular child? NO. Maybe there IS a god who designed our bodies to work the way they do. If there is, it made a lot of strange design choices, though. (For example: Why design one orifice to transfer food AND air both in and out of the body, thereby causing a potential for choking and suffocation? Not very “intelligent” design, actually.)I read on an agnostic/atheist/ex-Christian site someplace that god is just Santa Claus for grown-ups. That actually makes a LOT of sense to me now.

So what IS the difference between God and Santa Claus? People stop believing in Santa when they grow up.

Thoughts on Unimaginable, Violent Tragedy

Posted: 14th December 2012 by Beyonder in Uncategorized
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I have to comment on the news of a mass shooting today at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut.

As a parent, my heart is broken. Though there have been plenty of other news stories of shootings in the last 11 years since the terrorism of 9/11, this is the first to hurt as badly as that day hurt.  As I write this, reports are that TWENTY young children were killed. Twenty. As a parent, my heart is broken for those who will never hug their children again. Instead of joy, Christmas morning this year will be filled with grief.

A little while ago, I began to imagine what it must have been like in the shooter’s mother’s classroom as he killed his own mother and then took the lives of so many kindergartners. What horror they must have felt as the last thing they ever experienced in their tiny lives! It’s incredibly upsetting.

This blog is about my experiences as an agnostic atheist, so I should share a bit about how that influences my view of this tragedy.

First off, I feel that if I were to pray for those involved, those prayers would not be heard by anything. Maybe they will, but I doubt it. It may sound callous. It’s even still a bit weird to say it, but that’s where I am. I will admit that, as I posted to social media earlier, I almost recommended to friends to pray. I think it was because that’s the world I lived in for my life up until this year. Old habits are hard to break, they say.

I’ve read posts on Twitter that the shooter is going to burn in hell. A religious co-worker said to me, “He’s going to hell.” I also don’t believe that. The universal energy that made up his conscious and psyche has just dissipated, as far as I’m concerned.

But so has that of the children, when that energy should have had Christmases, birthdays, graduations, weddings and other major life events to celebrate. Now it never will, and that’s a tragedy.

The War on ‘Holidays’

Posted: 11th December 2012 by Beyonder in Uncategorized
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“Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Yeah, about that …

As a Christian, the Christmas season was always a time to remember the birth of Jesus and what he would eventually grow up to be: the savior of the world. I sang and performed in many various advent services. My kids have been angels and shepherds and sheep and — you get the idea.

As an atheist, I’m not particularly interested in celebrating all of that now.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I love giving and receiving gifts. I love seeing twinkly lights on houses at night. Having a background in choir, I’d say that Christmas music is some of the best-written music out there. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed going to a performance of Handel’s Messiah recently with my wife — but it was more for the quality of Handel’s writing and the artistry of the performers than the message behind the words.

When I was a Christian, I did have a lot of strong opinions about the “War on Christmas.” Actually, I was one of those who defended the crowd who says “Happy Holidays!” After all, Jesus is NOT the reason for the season. Jesus is the reason for Christmas. There’s still Hannukah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Day and other celebrations happening, too. As a Christian, I was willing to recognize that, but I have attended church with people who feel strongly in the other direction.

Now, as an atheist, my opinions on all that are even stronger. It’s incredibly insensitive to push “Merry Christmas” on people when there are so many who celebrate other holidays — or none at all.

When I was listening to the radio the other day, the DJ said something along the lines of, “Happy holidays, to all of you. If you’re Jewish, Happy Hannukah. If you’re Christian, Merry Christmas. If you’re atheist, I hope you get your laundry done.” I had to laugh.

We have a lot of laundry to get done.

Forging My Own Path

Posted: 10th December 2012 by Beyonder in Uncategorized
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I’ve read a lot online lately about how Christians view apostates or others who leave the fold. The underlying sentiment from these Christians is that we have been led astray. That the forces of temptation, greed, anger, evil, etc. have caused all these people to reject Christ and turn away from God.

That may be for some ex-Christians, but not for me. I’ve never cheated on my wife. I’m not any more greedy than I have been. I haven’t become addicted to anything — no, really. I don’t smoke, drink, do drugs, view porn or anything like that. Nothing happened that caused me to become angry with God and say, “I reject You.”

That would mean I’d still have to acknowledge that there IS a god. For someone to do that and go against whatever that god says they should do, I guess, is disappointing. Sure.

In my case, I simply came to discover that science’s explanation for our universe makes sense to me and that Christianity’s doesn’t. After giving more than 30 years of my life to the possibility and hope that certain miracles will happen and prayers will be answered, I found that they weren’t with any consistency or credibility. I’ve come to realize that the “spirit” I felt before was little more than good feelings and my own consciousness. The miracles I saw happen, while amazing, were likely just our bodies and environment healing themselves in unexpected and significant ways.

I simply gave up the idea of “God” with a capital “G.” I feel no supernatural being to be angry with. There’s no supernatural being to reject. There is only what I see and hear, who I interact with, and the universe in which we live.

Instead of asking, “How can science explain what God has done and what must I believe in even if it’s in conflict with scientific explanation?”, there’s just me and the world explained by scientific fact. Did a god do these things? Maybe, but I no longer have a reason to believe that one did.

That’s my conclusion.