My mother was the daughter of a prominent Methodist minister in Omaha, Nebraska. In 1942 she had a husband and a baby girl named Donna. By July 1944, I was born. Like every other baby there, I was not an agnostic, not an atheist nor was I a Methodist. I had just simply arrived at the Omaha Catholic hospital with no gods in tow. And for that, what did they do? The first thing they did to me was slap me. The second thing they did to me was cut my little pecker skin off. They could have saved the second step. Ugh! What a beginning. They'd make me cry, one way or the other. Those Catholics...what a crazy bunch of people!
I grew up in a tiny Iowa farm town about fifty miles east of the Missouri river and Omaha, Nebraska - inside of northwest Iowa. We had lots of hailstorms, lightening and tornados. My mom would take us kids to a storm cellar during storms and she would read the bible to us by candlelight. My mom was really afraid of storms. I once escaped from the cellar and ran to the car so I could pretend I was driving it in the storm and to get away from all that boring bible stuff. On the way back under a yellow sky, I stopped in the hail and dared god to strike me with lightening. Mom and the three kids watched me do it. Mom and Donna freaked out. That was god's first test and it was great fun to do. I yelled to them, "see, he can't really hit me". I just loved shocking everyone with god temptations. My brother and sisters believed all that bible stuff but I just thought it was crazy talk. My brain worked differentLY from the other kids' brains. I still like to do that sort of thing to this very day. As an adult, I never had to worry about breaking the news to my mom that I didn't want a god. She grew use to knowing that side of me when I was a kid.
When I was about nine my mother found it necessary to come out to me with an important family secret before I found out from someone else in the family. Namely, she didn't want me to find out from someone from her husband's side of the family because it might go against her. Because of me, that side of the family didn't like my mom much in 1944. Well, maybe not me directly, but indirectly anyhow.
My mother had had me by another man while my dad was off fighting in World War II. This was an unpardonable disgrace for my father and his family. When her husband got back from the war MY mother was threatened with a divorce and possible loss of my older sister Donna, if she refused to give me up. Omaha is the home of Boy's Town. It is a Roman Catholic institution. It is an orphanage. My preacher grandfather hated the Catholic Church with a vengeance and from what I later heard from him the feeling was mutual. My mother was under extreme pressure to give me up for adoption to Boy's Town by her husband and his mother and the rest of his family. There were two problems though. First, my mother didn't want to give me up, and second, Boy's Town was in Omaha, Nebraska. My mother's minister father didn't want the embarrassment of having his own daughter give her son up in disgrace to Boy's Town. He especially didn't want it to happen where he ministered at the biggest Methodist church in town. Omaha was where all the Catholic clergy Knew him and his bigoted hatred of their religion. (Grandfather once got caught washing his hands in the holy water bowl at the Catholic Church and laughing that holy water actually had a genuine practical use for Methodist too!) Boy's Town would one day become the center of the largest Pedophilia ring scandal in the nations history but that's a whole separate story. Any way, to my grandfather preacher and my preacher's daughter mother, Boy's Town was not an option for me. I got lucky! As fate would have it, I would not become a Catholic fuck-boy.
Mom stuck to her guns out of necessity and her husband ultimately backED off out of fear that she might actually win in court and take my half sister Donna with her in a divorce. Now the interesting thing about this whole episode is that my mom's husband's side of the family was not much into religion at all. To them my birth wasn't a matter of sin, it was a matter if disgrace and an insult to their son. The whole episode, although finally resolved by stalemate, nevertheless drove a wedge between my mother and my father that lasted for years. They had another boy and girl, but jealousy, resentment and mistrust finally broke up the marriage when I was in high school. So much for Christian family values!
That aside, when I was nine, mom and dad sat down together in unity and explained it all to me at the kitchen table after sending the other kids out to play. She to assure me that I was still loved by the whole family, and he to make sure I would still love him. I assured them that it was ok and that I was satisfied that I was loved. My dad cried. I didn't know why because I thought that I should be the one who is crying, not him. My brother and two sisters had already been told and so over the next couple of days they all did their best to treat me with care and love and tell me that it didn't make any difference to them. In a couple of months the shock of it was pretty much over but the impact of it was not. I started to question in earnest everything in my world. As my father, my dad was a supreme figure. But now, as the other kids' father but not mine, he was no longer a supreme figure to me. He wasn't a bad guy, but he just wasn't any longer a god-like super figure to me. He was just a man with no commanding, biologically vested interest in me. That god was now dead! I had to accept it and deal with it. I was lucky that he was so egalitarian towards me and the other kids or I might have found some reason to rebel against him. I could not.
I had started questioning religion and god's authority and power way before I was nine. Now I was really hot on the trail of god and on the very premise of god as a fact. And what about the bible and the honor thy father crap that mom used to read to us? Hey, who's my father anyway and does that apply to me now? I thought that if I was deluded all of my life about my father down here, how do I know that I haven't likewise been deluded about the father up above? I reasoned that if the father I had on earth was not really my dad, maybe the father I am supposed to have in the sky isn't really my sky daddy either. Well anyway, I did what any normally inquisitive child would do. I questioned everything and everybody much closer.
Some times things that don't seem right aren't right. Like all those bible stories mom used to read. You feel it but you don't know why. Perhaps you feel it through instinct and intuition. When I first realized that I didn't look anything like my brother and two sisters although they looked similar to each other, I thought it seemed wrong. When Dad looked like the other kids but not anything like me I wondered about it but I never did know enough to ask anyone about it.
Well, now at age nine, I finally knew why. Daddy is not always who you think he is. I extrapolated from my mother's revelation to me about my birth, that not only your earthly father but also perhaps your sky daddy is not necessarily who you think he is. At age ten, I elected to become my own grandmaster. My mythical celestial sky daddy was killed. Now, I was on my own. I would stay that way.
Having my reality turned up side down was good for my brain. It was mind expanding. I learned that it's good to be your own person. It's good to be your own master. It's good to be a person with no overlords and no external grandmasters.
Escape from the gods is very hard for the average person to do. People who can't escape theocracy usually start out in life infected with a pre-planned cultural deceit, and ultimately die unaware of it. The name of the infection is institutionalized industrialized religion. It's sad but it's true. It's the industry of priest craft. My mother's dad was infected by it, my mom was infected by it, and she infected me. I was no different then any other young boy. I merely escaped early in life because I was suddenly mugged by a new reality. I had an early life, reality "shock treatment"! A shock treatment bordering on the experience of a cult follower "deprogrammed" by a cult deprogrammer in the 1980's. I had a shock and awe experience! The only difference is, I didn't need to exchange one set of dogma for another. I got the gift of skepticism in exchange for dogma.
I became a cultural atheist when I first became aware that there was an actual group of atheist people to hook up with in Austin and I became a part of it. I have heard somewhere that the difference between a cult and a real religion is a hundred years of survival. Maybe the same goes for an atheist community. We shall see! My personal goal is that every atheist in Austin and any other town of its size, can meet and get to know at least 100 other atheists personally by joining a local atheist community. It may take 100 years, but I think it is entirely possible that it will happen quicker. Time and technology are in our favor. Isolation, aside from religious intolerance, has always been the worst enemy of atheists building a community. The Internet is killing that isolation very fast. We are growing and we are continually changing the culture. It has begun.
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."