One day while searching for mind fuel on the Internet I came across a website asking to describe my “deconversion.” This word was new to me. The website was an infidel site and after understanding the word meant “deconversion” from a religion, I realized I was never converted to a religion so could never be “deconverted.” This also prompted me to question why I was never converted and why I was so different from the many that converted to religion and the few that “deconverted.”
I know now my belief existed from birth and was not developed. All newborns are atheists by definition. Atheism is the lack of belief in a deity. Newborns cannot have a belief. They may be born into a believing family, but cannot have a predetermined belief. Consequently, they are atheistic until converted. This takes me back to the original paragraph. I was never converted to religion so there was no way to be deconverted. Following is a rough sketch in chronological order of the happenings that confirmed my atheistic belief.
Religion and church were not a big part of my childhood. I was the oldest son of an extremely poor family of seven children, a father, and a mother. My mother, I think, was a Christian, but my father never dropped clues as to his spiritual thinking. My mother was a strong woman, and my father was a man of both physical and emotional strength. They were very moral and principled parents. They instilled this morality in each of us children. My father’s only vices were cursing and on occasion enjoying a single beer. The only thing I remember him making a moral stand against was gambling. He made many stands for honesty and justice and other moral issues. Both parents were moral if not religious people.
Sunday school attendance was something I was exposed to but it was never forced, discouraged or encouraged. Our family members attended the Methodist Church (now the United Methodist Church). By family members, I mean the siblings. I have no recollection of my mother attending either Sunday school or Church during my childhood. In her waning years she attended regularly and was definitely a believer. Looking back on it, I am sure she didn’t attend during our youth because it was a full time job preparing the children to attend. Also, she never had the so-called Sunday-go-to-meeting clothing. To my recollection, my father never darkened the door of a Church–other than maybe to fix a plumbing problem. That’s another story.
Writing the previous paragraph brings to my attention that I never knew my parents’ spiritual bearings. Once, speaking with siblings concerning my father’s acceptance of Christ prior to death, my oldest sister said she knew he had accepted Christ on his deathbed. I question this. According to some of my readings, it is not uncommon for deathbed acceptances to be presumed by religiously presumptuous relatives.
As earlier stated, I was neither encouraged nor discouraged from seeking a faith. One thing I remember about my early association with religion was that I didn’t fit. Be it the required dress on Sunday, tithing, or the offering. It seemed that it took money I didn’t have. I didn’t fit in.
I joined cub scouts at the appropriate age, but didn’t understand or accept some of the pledges we performed. I remember reciting The Pledge of Allegiance each day at school. Sometime in Junior High (now called middle school) the pledge changed and the “under God” was added. The change was essentially unnoticed by me as well as most others. It meant nothing to me.
At the age of thirteen I accepted a job at a grocery store. Socially, I fit in better but I still didn’t have an understanding of this thing called religion. I lacked the imagination to substitute bread and wafers for flesh, or grape juice and wine for blood. While in high school a friend asked me to attend the local Christian Church. The proceedings were completely foreign to me. The Christian Church performed communion each Sunday. Not knowing the difference, I followed my friend down the aisle for communion–too embarrassed to sit by myself in the pew. Later, I learned that a person should be baptized before partaking of the communion. All in all, I was a misfit in the church.
My Junior or Senior year in High School I had a date with a Catholic girl. To that time, I thought the religious things were only for Sunday. I didn’t know religious beliefs affected a person’s daily routine. Just get along and be happy was/is my philosophy. Anyway, after attending a school function on a Friday evening with this Catholic girl, I suggested that we have a sandwich at the local meeting place. She said she would like to order a hamburger sandwich but would not be able to eat it until after 12 midnight. She explained that Catholics could not eat meat on Fridays. This is what we did. We ordered it and looked at the hamburger until the clock struck midnight. My thoughts were she could eat it now if we were in a different time zone. What if our clocks were wrong? Would she go to Hell just because my watch was not correct? Or could I go to Hell by association. Boy what a burden to carry. I not knowing of Hell or Heaven could go to Hell just because my clock was inaccurate. A person would need a very reliable clock. This meant I couldn’t be a Catholic. My watch was a $1 pocket watch and was not that accurate. If I was a Catholic and my watch didn’t keep accurate time, I could go to Hell. I am making light of this, but it just didn’t fit my logic. Shouldn’t we measure right and wrong and whether a person should go to Hell on things of substance instead of frivolous things like when we could eat a hamburger. Why did Sunday stuff have to come into play of real life? Couldn’t we just do good, not hurt anybody and do what we all know is moral? What’s this no meat on Friday stuff? Oh, I almost forgot, she could have had a tuna fish sandwich at anytime.
One thing I do need to state now is that I am not making judgment on other religions. I am stating the case on why I can’t believe. It doesn’t fit my logic.
My first year of college was at Creston Community College in Creston, Iowa. My room was in a dilapidated hotel down town. The Gideon bibles were in each room. The first year of college for me was very trying. Various times I tried to find solace reading the Bible. I couldn’t get past Genesis. There were too many complications. First, it would be this; reading further it would be that. I would backtrack to reinterpret. It was mind-boggling for me. Subsequently, I have tried to read the Bible with the same results.
I roomed with three people my second year at the University of Iowa. One was a pharmacy student like myself. Two were premedical students. Each was religious in varying degrees. The other pharmacy student was religious because his family required it and he was following through with it. One of the premedical students was very religious. One of my first indoctrinations into big-time college was the religious medical student showing me how he bought expensive medical books by replacing the price tag with a tag with a less expensive price tag. On Sundays he would take me and the other pharmacy student to his church. I remember shoveling snow almost covering our cars so we could go to church on Sundays. I do remember at that time feeling that I am finally fitting into this religious system. It still didn’t have logic. Every time I voiced this to a believer, they would refer to the just-have-faith “logic.”
The third year, I roomed with the same religious premed student who was now a full-fledged medical student. Also, we had another medical student roommate. He was a Catholic. I remember a couple of incidents. One happened on an Ash Wednesday. The Catholic roommate returned from an early mass with some ashes on his forehead. I brought this to his attention. He looked at me as if I were an imbecile. He eventually found that I was. The other incident happened on a Sunday morning. My roommates returned from Church prior to me expecting them. I was reading their Playboy magazines and having a beer. I rarely drank beer so it must have been one of those really down days which I had many of during college. They couldn’t believe I was doing that stuff on Sunday. They drank beer and read Playboy, just not on Sunday. What’s the big deal? It didn’t fit my logic.
Early Adult Life
While in college I met and married the love of my life. She was and is a Methodist. Later, I realized this was fate. She did not know my real doubts. How could she, I’m not sure I did. We were married in the Methodist Church in Creston, Iowa. We attended Church when possible, but it still didn’t fit. I didn’t know why. Maybe this was all there was to it? I attended church and if the sermon contained something like, “I know you are Christians otherwise you wouldn’t be here this morning” I just pretended I was and went on. It didn’t fit my logic.
The Viet Nam conflict was in full swing when I graduated from the College of Pharmacy. I was able to enlist in the local Army Reserve. During the indoctrination process they asked my religion. The options didn’t have my choice but it did have the choice of my family, so I chose Methodist. That was the first time I remember having to declare. Was I a Christian? I assumed I was now that I had to finally make a declaration. It didn’t feel any different. It didn’t fit my logic.
Raising a Family
We adopted our son in the fifth year of marriage. The only adoption agencies known to us were faith based. To adopt from the Methodist agency we each had to be Methodists. To be a Methodist, I had to be baptized. In 1968 I officially became a Methodist. I was baptized and became a member of the Methodist Church of Creston, Iowa. I didn’t feel any different. I would still be honorable, just, and do only good. It didn’t fit my logic.
We had two natural-born girls after adopting our son. This made for a nice family. We had some difficulties probably more trying than other families. I will not dwell on them. But during this time, I remember trying to pray. Mostly during organized prayer at Church. It went something like this. “If you get me past this particular situation, I will try to believe.” Of course, the prayers weren’t answered. The faithful would say I didn’t have enough faith.
My employment took us to other towns and in each town we attended Church. My feeling in each Church was that I didn’t fit in. We finally bought a pharmacy in a small community where we became part of the Church family. We transferred our Methodist membership to this Church and I became an usher and Secretary-Treasurer.
One evening, a friend about the same age as us rode home with us from one of our children’s sporting events. This was the first time I realized I may have a real problem with believing. She was a good friend of my spouse’s, a member of our Church and very religious. I don’t remember how the subject came up but salvation was our subject of conversation. She stated that even though my father had been an honest, caring person who did nothing but good, he would not receive salvation. He could only go to Heaven if he accepted Christ as his Savior. I remember thinking that I wanted no part of a deity that sent my father to Hell under those circumstances. Why would a baby, or my father, or even me be sent to Hell just because we didn’t accept Christ as our Savior? What about the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists? Again, what about me? This started me thinking that I probably was without belief. Or at least I didn’t understand it. It didn’t fit my logic.
One Sunday morning when the family was in Church, the television was tuned to the Public Broadcasting Television Network. Bill Moyer was presenting a series of programs featuring Joseph Campbell concerning mythology. In the program he made reference to the myth of Jesus Christ being a lot like more historical myths. Wait a minute! This is blasphemy. I had committed subtle blasphemy–but this was blatant! I was intrigued and read everything that Joseph Campbell wrote. I listened to tapes and watched videos. His discussion was always over my head but one of the things that struck me was that the Virgin Birth, being cast out, returning reborn and the resurrection were not particular to the Jesus story. It has been told of other heroes prior to Jesus’ time and since Jesus’ time. It even happened with the American Indians. How could they all be true? All of a sudden, I was aware of an intellect stating that these were myths handed down through history. Was the Jesus story a myth? Are there people out there who have questions or believe the way I do? I had found one: Joseph Campbell. There have to be others. This was my first revelation. The logic was beginning to fit. The local library was limited and this was pre-Internet. Consequently, my research was limited. Not only by resources but also by time. I left my revelation on the back burner for a while.
Later Adult Life
Both our girls were married while we lived in this town. I feel badly that they were each married in the Church of their spouse. I felt that if I had been more attuned to our Church they could and would have chosen “our” Church.
During our tenure in this town, we had one minister that I felt I could speak with. I remember voicing my doubts and she always gave me comfort. Never saying, “you just have to have faith” or “God works in mysterious ways.” The answer usually satisfied my questioning. Sometimes, I wonder where she is and if she still has the faith.
We purchased a store in a larger, neighboring community and moved our pharmacy to that town. We still reside there and my spouse has become an active member of the Church.
The first two years I attended with my spouse and we had our membership transferred from the previous Church. Again, I didn’t fit. Before long I was attending irregularly. I think at this time my spouse was beginning to realize there was something concerning my religion that she didn’t understand and I couldn’t verbalize to her. She allowed me to miss church without too much fuss. We skirted the truth in our discussions, I not being honest with her and she not wanting to believe what I might be thinking.
We were building our business and remodeling a home. These projects consumed our time. I didn’t do much to further my education on the religious question.
Pharmacy is my vocation and photography my avocation. I consider myself a good pharmacist and a fledgling photographer. One of my brothers has recreational land one hour from our home. One day on a photography outing, I joined two of my brothers at this land. They asked me to spend the evening camping. My spouse was gone for the weekend so I stayed. Attendance included my two brothers, two strangers to me, three children of one brother and myself. The campfire discussion focused on religion. Unknown to me, one brother was very religious and the other definitely not religious. I tried to just listen and not join the conversation. Anyway, this camping appealed to me and I am still participating. The campfire conversation is quite often philosophical and about religion. Of course, over time I have had to voice my beliefs. One particular campfire night when my spouse was in attendance, the conversation turned to religion. Someone in the group asked what my nonreligious brother and I believed. My brother said he was an atheist. I remember that word and his admission startled me. He had actually used the work atheist. I couldn’t admit to that, so I said I was agnostic. I remember thinking to myself. That is a cop-out. You are atheistic and won’t fess up to it. However, I didn’t want my spouse or others to know me as an atheist. I had once looked the word up and the definition did not fit me. It said ungodly and other things that didn’t fit. Anyway, this struck a note. I couldn’t say I believed in a deity. I couldn’t say I was an atheist. Very seldom do I admit I don’t know something, so “agnostic” didn’t really fit. What was I?
When we can work them in, my spouse and I enjoy daily walks. During these walks we talk to pass the time and shorten the walk. We talk of family and things, and often of religion, or at least philosophy of religion. I almost always brought up this subject. Until recently, I was still trying to figure where I fit. I think sometimes my spouse thought I was arguing when really I was trying to gain knowledge.
Anyway, on an autumn day in 2002 we were walking and talking and my spouse asked specifically what my beliefs were. I remember distinctly blurting out that, by definition, I was an atheist. It was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. This was the second revelation. I had finally been able to admit what I never knew I was. There was no more guilt. There was no more sin. A deity invented sin and I didn’t believe in a deity. I believed in right and wrong as defined by common sense and the common laws of man. The person I loved, and myself, finally knew what I was.
I remember one time using a search engine on the Internet to look up the word atheist. At that time, I still had a stigma to the word. When the information came up on the screen, I felt like I was breaking some great taboo. Since the day I declared I was an atheist, I have been reading all I can about the subject–to the point of obsession. I have found that atheism does not mean ungodly. It means no belief–no belief at all, godly, ungodly or otherwise. No Satan, Hell, Heaven, God, Jesus, Angel, Holy Ghost, no nothing. I am free of all constraints. The only person I have to answer to is Man–each man. Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you. Quite simple, straightforward. No voodoo, no complications. I believe in Nature, the Cosmos, Man, Truth and Justice, not the supernatural.
I am still thirsting for knowledge about lack of belief and read and study everything I can get my hands on. We nonbelievers are in good company. Historically, those who have promoted knowledge, science and truth are without belief. To my deathbed I will seek truth and knowledge through science without believing in a supernatural power.
I feel that religion is based on fear–fear of the unknown, fear of the mysterious, and fear of death. I have no fear of any of those things. When the atheist Mark Twain (Samuel Clements) was asked if he was not afraid of death, he stated something similar to this, “I was dead 50 million years before being born and it didn’t bother me.” I like that.
There was no conversion to religion; consequently, there was no deconversion from religion.