Many of you reading this know that I am an Atheist. I am also a frequent reader of the Reddit community. Earlier today, I commented on a post in the Atheism forum. That comment sparked quite a discussion, as you can see from the comments that followed it.
I feel that I should take this time to explain why I am an Atheist.
I was born into a Catholic household (well, my mother was a Protestant, but my father ruled the roost, so we all played by his rules). I attended Catholic school from preschool through first grade (about three years). At the end of my first grade year, we moved and my parents could no longer afford private schooling for me. I did continue to attend CCD classes (basically, Sunday bible study) as a child. I attended those classes until my Confirmation into the Catholic Church at age 14.
Religion, while present at home, was never of extreme importance in my family. With my mother being a computer programmer and my father being an architect, education, logic, arts, and science were important in my family. While most kids my age were playing with G.I. Joes and Transformers, I busied myself with chemistry sets, an electronics education toy (it was a board, about 8" x 12" with various electrical components set on its surface that could be wired together in a variety of ways to create a variety of gadgets), and other toys that promoted science and creativity.
Because of my interests as a child, I was never one to accept the validity of blind faith. As a child, and indeed to this day, I will only believe something to be true once I have proven it to myself to be true, to the best of my ability. This made me a ton of fun in the bible study classes. I was always the first one to question seemingly impossible events held as truths by the Bible. I was often ostracized in elementary school for questioning the existence of God. After all, if He couldn't present himself to me and prove His existence, why should I blindly believe in Him? Early in my years, however, I wasn't willing to abandon religion altogether. Catholicism was important enough in my household to make me believe that some sort of faith or spirituality had to be true. Around age fourteen, just about the time of my Confirmation, I picked up the hobby of studying world religion, in hopes that I might find my path.
At age sixteen, I realized that it certainly wasn't Catholicism that was the true faith, as I was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. After getting into a religious debate with the local Cardinal, a man in his early 40s, who had devoted his life to religion, I actually caused him to question his own faith, simply by playing "devil's advocate" and using a bit of logic and what little I had learned so far about other religions. As he was always a man of conviction, particularly when it came to his faith, he couldn't handle the doubt I had caused him, and arranged to have me thrown out of the Church, calling me an unrepentant heathen. Any faith that had high-ranking clergy being such sore losers certainly couldn't have been a true faith - particularly when a man's lifelong devout faith was called into doubt by a stupid, bratty sixteen year old kid using elementary logic and a brief understanding of world religion.
It was at that time that I started studying world religion in earnest. I started following the faith of the ancient Celts (one of several faiths that modern Wicca is based on), a polytheistic, matriarchal faith, based soundly in nature and ritual. At a time that I was not willing to give up on religion altogether, it made the most sense to me, particularly that the core belief was basically to accept all and harm none. A religion that truly strove for peace? I was all for it! On top of that, I liked the core philosophies, identified with many of the deities, and liked the loose practices of worship of the religion - no set times to worship, no real structure to the religion outside of a small group of like-minded followers, if one even chose to worship in a group - solitary practitioners were just as accepted, holidays were basically the same as I had been raised with in Catholicism, so sacred days were not too much different. All in all, for my late teenage years up through my mid-twenties, it was the perfect religious path for me.
Around age 20, the small group I practiced with felt that I had learned enough to allow me to lead. As a recognized priest in the group, I made my ordainment legal by registering with the Universal Life Church. By getting an easy ordainment with the ULC, suddenly any rites and rituals I performed were legal under law. I often chose to perform marriages for friends, and because of the open nature of the Celtic belief system, I could perform a marriage rite in any manner that was requested by the bride and groom, though it was most often performed in accordance with the Celtic, Norse, or Wiccan faiths. My ordainment with the ULC is still legal today, though if I choose to perform a marriage ceremony, it's most often a secular one.
My adherence to the Celtic belief system found me with my "imaginary friends". I fully believed that I had spirits that walked with me, guiding me through life. While they were not real, I believed they were, and that belief got me through some of the toughest times in my life. In my late teens and early twenties, I was plagued with severe depression, often borderline suicidal. My faith in these imaginary friends and the Celtic belief system is one of the only reasons I still draw breath today.
As I got older, my faith began to wane. The imaginary friends didn't seem to be around as often, and the spiritual tenets of the religion didn't seem to hold so much truth. My secular life was what was important to me. My career, my scientific and artistic pursuits, my need to just get by, from day to day, in a rough job market - these are the things that I really focused on.
It's difficult for me to mark one single event that really caused me to give up my faith. Perhaps it was the frequent meditations that failed to contact the imaginary friends. Perhaps it was the increasing number of papers and articles I read about Atheism. Perhaps it was a result of getting more interested in politics and world events, and realizing that no God could exist, and allow the world to get into the sorry state it's in. Perhaps it's just the increased logic that comes with greater experience, and the thought that an invisible omniscient or omnipotent entity is more of a fantasy than a reality.
After my mid twenties, I identified as an Agnostic, still hesitant to give up on faith altogether. As recently as a year ago, I still identified as an Agnostic. Even though my religious faith had dropped to virtually nothing, I still wanted so dearly to be proven wrong that I wasn't willing to give up on the possibility of knowing something greater than this secular world.
It's only in the past year, as I enter my mid-thirties, that I've really identified as an Atheist. I'm fairly certain, as best as I can prove, that there is nothing beyond this secular world. In saying that, however, I do still believe in ghosts, though not in the traditional sense. I believe, through the nature of quantum theory, that there are likely to be dimensions of existence that cannot be observed by humans with our current technologies. As our knowledge of string theory and the nature of sub-atomic particles develop, I cannot help but to wonder what exists that we cannot yet observe. I call myself an Atheist because science cannot prove the existence of something intangible to human observation. Human scientific knowledge is also but a thimble full of the waters of a vast ocean of potential knowledge.
I am an Atheist. Prove me wrong. I want you to.