It's the question I get most when I tell people I'm an atheist. So here's the answer.
I don’t know why I’m an atheist. I just am. I grew up in a country where low-age indoctrination was just accepted. In my school we would pray daily, sing hymns, and go to church services for Easter, Christmas, Harvest Festival, et al. My parents weren’t regular churchgoers, just wedding, funerals, and christenings. I was baptised shortly after birth, and I’m now my eldest niece’s godfather*1. I joined the Cub Scouts and then the Scouts, both of which required me to swear an oath before god, and the national anthems I still sing with pride both have heavy references to Christianity.
But for all that I never really believed in any of it. I cannot remember ever actually believing there was a god. Ever. I never did anything more than mouth the words. I would sit in church listening to the Padre droning on about the bible and not swallowing any of it. I viewed the bible as a slightly interesting book with some vaguely useful advice but nothing more than that. I began to be annoyed by Christians very early on. The question I dislike most is the one that goes “how did you become an atheist?”, to which I normally reply, “I was born an atheist, so were you. I didn’t become an atheist, you became a Christian”.
Thanks to an ex I dabbled in what could possibly be classed as witchcraft. I owned my own tarot deck and I was pretty good at reading runestones*2. I still wear a pair of pendants my wife gave me, a gold eagle’s head and a silver eagle rampant, a result of me explaining to her about a ritual my ex went through to identify my “spirit guide”. But I didn’t really believe that either. I wear the pendants because they are a gift from my wife, nothing more.
I was raised to question. That was my father’s big thing when I and my brother and sister were growing up. Always question. So when I noticed that the whole business of Easter had absolutely nothing to do with Christianity, I questioned. I learned about Eostre, the pagan goddess of spring and rebirth, who was associated with anything to do with fertility, such as chicks, rabbits, and eggs, and I found this remarkably familiar. I learned how the recently converted Romans usurped the pagan festival of Eostremonth and replaced the goddess with the death and resurrection story from the bible. I also learned about the winter solstice, with its traditions of Yule logs, and a period of worship known as “the twelve days of Yule”. I even found out that the Anglo-Saxons celebrated the 24th of December as the last day of the old year, celebrating the 25th as “Mother’s Night”, the birth of the New Year, a perfect place for the story of the Nativity*3.
My readings about the history of Christianity in Britain led me to other questions. Like, how did the vampire legends of Eastern Europe include the idea of holy water and crosses, when the legends in many places pre-date Christianity? The same answer presented itself. The Christian Romans usurped the local legends and religious practices in order to force Christianity upon the population. The whole image of witches as old hags with cauldrons, black cats, broomsticks and lonely cottages in the forest*4 was developed as a method of usurping the power*5 of the “village wise woman” from most of Europe. Over the years my disinterest turned to dislike*6. Christianity had stormed into my country and destroyed almost my entire cultural heritage.
A friend of mine at school had parents who followed the Druidic faith and I remember him coming in to school one day very annoyed because his family had gone to Stonehenge*7 to celebrate the summer solstice and found that the government had fenced it off, preventing the people from getting close to it. The Christian right had been trying without success to get the worship there to stop. So they’d solved the problem by deciding that, as a site of National Heritage, people shouldn’t be able to go near it. By cloaking their agenda in the façade of “protecting our nation’s historical sites”, they’d managed to deny the Druid’s right to worship there.
But it was when I came online that my dislike turned to disgust. Online, I ran into the worst that Christianity has to offer. It was then that I developed what one friend dubbed "The Theory Of Self-Perpetuating False Belief*8”. As far as I was concerned, the majority of Christians don’t actually believe in their own religion, but because they were raised in “the faith” they pretend to share it. Every person of faith goes through doubts. They question their beliefs. Some turn to the dark side and become atheists*9 or agnostics. Others find their faith inside them. Most don’t, but want to believe so desperately that they feel compelled to maintain the façade of faith. Online, I discovered, were thousands – probably millions – of Christians on the Internet, all desperately trying to justify their own faith. This is why I get annoyed when people try to offer “proof” of Christianity. Fools who claim that Noah’s Ark has been found*10 or that the Ark of the Covenant has been located*11 or that the blood of Jesus has been located and DNA examination proves he didn’t have a father*12 or that the cross of Jesus was located*13. What these people are doing, I decided, was seeking proof to justify their pretense of belief. It’s like millions of people worldwide had decided to take Pascal’s Wager at face value*14. I respect any Christian who is comfortable enough with their beliefs that they say, “it’s a matter of faith, not proof” when questioned, but people who claim that there is proof just wind me up.
Since coming online I’ve become more expressive in my atheism. I’ve mellowed with recent years, but with age come experience and even more cynicism*15. The Theory of Self-Perpetuating False Belief now has a further level. Some Christians, in my opinion, are so scared by the idea that their beliefs are false that they actually delude themselves into believing, as it were, that they believe. You can spot these by the way they use such phrases as “I can’t believe in a word without god” and “when I see the beauty of the world I can’t believe that it was all accidental”. So desperate are they to believe that they believe that they are terrified by the idea of there being no god, and thus, any hint of the truth must be quashed lest they be forced to confront their own doubts. Without god their lives have no meaning. So they search for proof and, finding none, ridicule those of us with the strength of will to live in a world where we make our own meaning.
Here’s where I am now. I live my life, I have my own problems. I won’t preach, I don’t proselytise, and I don’t seek to convert. Leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone. But I do seek to be armed with the knowledge to rebut those Christians who refuse to allow the same respect for me. And I do feel slightly guilty for taking on such easy targets, but I do enjoy it.
*1: Yes, I did the “respect the family” jokes. Doesn’t every guy do that, as if we were the first person in the history of man to think of it?
*2: Or, at least, pretending to.
*3: Decorating your house, Father Christmas, gift-giving and, presumably, bad sweaters and argyle socks as presents from older aunts also pre-date Christianity.
*4: You really want to know? Okay, the village wise woman would be old, because the tradition was to apprentice a young girl with her to take over when she died, and it took a long time to learn all the herbal lore. She would probably be ugly because any comely girl would be arranged to be married rather than being apprenticed in this way. She would own a cat because in any forest-based house, which contains quantities of food, grains, herbs, pulses etc, there will be mice. She has a cauldron bubbling on the fire because most herbal remedies involve poultices, broths, salves, etc which would require cooking of the ingredients. And she would have a broomstick because, well, everyone had one. And pretty much everyone had warts at one time or another, British weather being what it is.
*5: Simply put, it was a method of ensuring that the people took their problems to the priests rather than the wise woman. The fact that prayer doesn’t cure boils - but the funny smelling poultice does - ensured that enough people were protective of the “heathen witch” to ensure her survival, albeit in a much reduced capacity. Toothache and piles will burn through the strongest faith.
*6: And dislike leads to hate, hatred leads to suffering. Truly, Christianity is the Dark Side.
*7: I’ll repeat the old joke here, just for completeness. Yes, there was a Strawhenge and a Woodhenge, but the Big Bad Wolf huffed and puffed and blew them down.
*8: Probably not an original theory, but one I hadn’t heard of when I came up with it.
*9: And it’s interesting that Microsoft Word, which I’m writing this on, capitalises “Christianity” automatically, but doesn’t do the same favour for “atheism”.
*10: It hasn’t.
*12: This would only be provable if Mary’s DNA had also been found and a comparison made. Oh, and only provable if the blood of Jesus had actually been found, of course.
*13: If you assembled all of the pieces of “the one, true cross” together you’d have enough wood to build a house.
*14: Which is, of course, why so many Christians quote it, despite the fact that it was destroyed decades ago.
*15: As if I needed any more than I had.