Raised in a wonderful traditional, conservative Baptist family by great parents, I was dressed in a suit and taken to Sunday school and Church every Sunday. I never liked Church. It seemed stuffy, and boring. I would have much rather slept late, or done something fun, but I didn't have a choice. Nevertheless, at age 9, I volunteered to get 'saved', and was Baptized. No big deal, just something I felt expected to do.
I had learned at an early age not to be gullible, and always make up my own mind about everything. To never be afraid to be unique, and independent, so I was a little bit skeptical about the whole story, but everyone believed it so it must be true. I always considered myself a true Christian, and Baptist.
After High school, I wandered about the country wondering what to do with my life. Along the way, I encountered a group of young Christians who invited me to join them. In the time I spent with them, I experienced a 'miracle' or two, and felt the 'spirit' that they did. Having remembered that my Grandmother, (the sweetest lady ever) had told me many times that I'd make a great preacher, I made the choice to do just that.
Taking much of my college money that I had saved, I went to Israel to learn and experience the Holy Land. I went to all the places talked about in the Bible, and learned more about the Dead Sea Scrolls. I returned and enrolled in the seminary.
Upon studying the history of the text that makes up the Bible, I discovered how unreliable it really was. I had spent my whole life studying the scriptures without knowing anything about their origin, or evolution of the text itself. As I became aware of these things, I knew that I couldn't honestly just have faith in what was written in the Bible. Simply the fact that the origin of the stories of Genesis (1-11) were stories passed from one generation to another, campfire to campfire for unknown generations made them nothing more than ancient, primitive myths, legends, and folk tales no better than any other legends. That any and all references to a god in the Bible from that point on depended on their accuracy, and reliability. It made me aware that the god written about throughout the rest of the Bible was just a god that the writers believed in. Not a testament of its existence.
A great teacher I had in the 6th grade conducted an experiment once that came to mind. He told a secret to the student in the front row of one side of the class, and asked each of us to whisper it to the next until it reached the other side of the room where he asked what the secret was. The last student then told the secret aloud, and nearly everyone laughed. When the teacher asked the first student what the secret was, it was nothing even close to what the secret ended up. Remembering that lesson from the 6th grade, I applied it to the generation to generation, campfire to campfire path of the stories of Genesis. Just that alone made it unreliable.
And that was just the beginning of the path the text of the Bible took. Not to mention the translations, and editings. Even if it is accurate, there is no way it could possibly be reliable. There is not even any text still available to compare to from the New Testament. It turns out that what Jesus said was actually what someone said, someone said, someone said Jesus said, at best. Too many other things didn't add up, too. As far as anyone knows, Jesus never wrote a single word, nor did he instruct anyone to "Be sure and make a note of this". More people saw Elvis after he died than saw Jesus after he died. Too many contradictions, and too much time after his death to accurately report what he did and said. For someone here to save the rest of all Humanity for evermore there is absolutely no secular evidence that he even existed at all. And why would an all loving, all powerful magical man kill a fig tree for not having fruit out of season, and still not save the hungry children of the world?
Knowing that I could not in all honesty to myself have faith in something so unreliable, and knowing that I could not stand up before others and be dishonest, I discarded all plans to be a preacher.
I later realized that any and all 'miracles' I had experienced were just a result of careful selection of coincidences. Careful selection of noticing the good things, and ignoring the bad. I now see Christians do the same thing. When a one in a thousand thing happens that they pray for, they notice that while they ignore the other 999 times it doesn't. They have a tragedy, and claim a miracle if one survives. Nonsense!
Also later realizing that the 'religious experiences' and 'feeling the spirit' I had before were simply emotions I developed in my own brain because of the belief I had, not anything from a magical being. That 'healings' are a result of a placebo effect we can create inside our own brains. And that prayer is no more or less effective than tossing a coin in a fountain and making a wish.
I continue to study the Bible, and ancient mythology. I find it a part of history and history an interesting subject. I'm also sure that I will never completely rule out the possibility that a god exists. I will always welcome any attempt to prove that it does exist, but until someone does, I have no reason to believe in one.
I take pride in my atheism. Not necessarily the belief itself, but rather the means at which I arrived at it. I did not need to believe in a supernatural existence to have a full, happy, rewarding life. To love and appreciate the people around me, and the world I live on. To have a good strong, compassionate, and honest character. I feel good in knowing that I used knowledge, and rational, logical reasoning to arrive at my beliefs. Happy that I don't resort to a faith in something because it might fill a void, or make me feel good.
As of 2005, I've been an atheist for about 30 years, and each day I analyze religion, and the religious, my disbelief is only further reinforced. And the happier I am that I am an atheist. I'm also sure that if religious folks would just stop insisting that I believe as they do, we'd all get along just fine.
From the officers:
The ACA Lecture Series continues Sunday, March 8th at 12:15pm at the Austin History Center, 9th and Guadalupe. The building opens at noon. Ryan Bell will talk on "My Year Without God: Now a Permanent Condition."