I am a senior (age 74 at this writing) and only recently admitted to myself that I am an atheist. I was brought up in a conservative (aka fundamentalist) Presbyterian church but went to a “liberal” Presbyterian college (The College of Wooster) where I was introduced to a more scholarly approach to scriptures. From there I earned a Masters in Religious Education at Union Theological Seminary. While I understood that the stories in the Bible (particularly the “Old Testament”) were just that – stories, it never occurred to me to actually reject the entire thesis of the Christian faith.
I worked as a Director of Religious Education in a large Presbyterian Church. When my children were born, I worked as an education consultant (doing curriculum workshops and teacher training). I gradually moved into Parenting Communication Training, went back to school for a PhD in Communication and formed an educational non-profit corporation (Interpersonal Communication Services, Inc. – ICS, Inc.). I worked free-lance for many years – more in some years and less in others as I reenetered the 9-5 work force in university continuing education. Now that I am retired, I have reactivated my corporation and am doing a fair amount of writing and training.
Over the years I moved into the United Church of Christ, then the Unitarian Church (which felt like a breath of fresh air), and now none at all. I “demythologized” and satisfied myself that it was the Christian values that interested me.
Since I am no longer dependent upon the church for my employment and my children are raised, and I’ve remarried to a “skeptical” Roman Catholic (who is really an atheist, too), I am now free to admit that “demythologizing” really meant that I did not believe the essence of the Christian story. Voila, I’m an atheist.
Reason and science suggest to me that the notion of “God” is only a notion – not an entity to be seen or touched or heard. God is no more real than Santa Claus – a mythical character that embodies meaning. “God” (and Jesus) embody love and creativity, just as “Santa Claus” embodies love, joy, and giving.
Having been influenced over my lifetime by the biblical writings, I came to wonder what role those writings had in my beliefs. I remembered that even my earliest critical Bible study (i.e. OT and NT when attending The College of Wooster and later during my studies at Union Theological Seminary in NYC) had taught me to understand these writings in their historical context. I came to understand most of these writings as stories, myths, or parables, that held a sort of “cosmic truth” but were not true, as in historical or scientific fact. Probably beginning with my OT studies at Wooster I’d come to understand the creation story as a story that provided an explanation that put God in charge. Other stories, like Jonah and the Great Fish, Sodom and Gomorrah, and many others were stories told to make a point. I even saw some of the Jesus stories in this same vein. For example, I did not think that Jesus really walked on water or turned water into wine or fed 5000 with two loaves and fish, or healed blind man or the lepers. I saw them as stories to demonstrate the reverence the writers had for Jesus and the power that he commanded. Why would I not see the stories of Jesus’ birth and death also as simply stories or myths?
I’m sure the answer to that question had to do with an unconscious fear of what it would mean to say “I don’t believe” or “I’m not a Christian.”
It was probably when I read Who Cooked the Last Supper, by Rosalind Miles sometime around 2006 that I began to think critically of the Jesus stories. I became acquainted with the literature that describes the ancient religious myths and saw parallels with the Jesus stories. I read of the many cultures that believed in deities born of a virgin and stories that circulated that were similar death and resurrection stories.
This freed my mind to see the Jesus stories in a historical, literary context, just as I had seen so many of the other OT and NT stories.
I began to realize that life without God is not an empty, purposeless existence, as many would think. It is an emancipation of sorts – freedom to decide for myself my life’s direction. I no longer had to ask “What is God’s will for my life? or What would God want me to do?” Sometimes, I’d hear the “tapes” from my parents in my head and ask “What would my mother think of that?” but I know that I’m now an adult and am able to ask myself “What do I think is the best path for me at this time?” It’s so freeing and empowering!Free of the dictates of scripture or the Church, reason is able to take over.
When I became acquainted with the Freedom From Religion Foundation and Dan Barker’s thinking, what he said made sense. Speaking of God or the Supernatural, he says:
- It’s does not make sense.
- I don’t need it. I can be good without believing in the supernatural.
- Religious beliefs can be dangerous. (Consider the wars and strife that have resulted from conflict over religious beliefs.).
How do I feel about the years that I devoted to the Church? I have no regrets. I followed what I believed to be true and important at the time. And, clearly, religion/faith/belief/Christianity has made positive contributions – for me, for many people, and for society. Although I now realize that I don’t have to believe in God or be a Christian to be good, I will admit that the positive virtues I adopted as I matured came to me through the Christian Church.A friend of mine who also questions the historical basis of Christianity calls himself a Christian. When I asked him why, he said, “Christianity is the best metaphor for love that I’ve ever found.” I think that works for a lot of people.
For me, however, it seems to ignore the lesson of love available from other sources. One of the most refreshing aspects of my years with the Unitarian Universalist Church was the introduction to wisdom and trust from so many sources.
One of those sources was the Code of Hammurabi, the King of Babylonia in the 18th century before the Jesus. Learning about this as a freshmen at the College of Wooster first opened my eyes. I’ve been on a journey ever since.
I now live in a retirement community and have become politically engaged, so I am surrounded by community and a fair number of “soul mates.” I realize that it was community that held me in the church, but no longer need that, and I no longer want to support what I now see is fiction.
I’m in the process of writing “My Religious Journey” to try to sort out for myself (and for my children) how my beliefs evolved.