One of the defining moments of my life was when I first read about the theory of evolution. Having attended a fundamentalist Christian school all my life, I had only heard about Creationism. Evolution was mentioned in class, but only in a ridiculing manner. My teachers scoffed at the notion that we were “descended from apes” and other lesser creatures. Man, according to Scripture, was a special and blessed creation, given dominion over the earth and all that inhabited it.
Being a natural skeptic and a voracious reader, I stumbled upon Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species when I was a teen and was enchanted by the elegance of his theories. I failed to see how evolution necessarily disproved the existence of God. In my mind, I thought that it was impossible to know the method by which we were created. I found it laughable that God created all of the universe in seven earth days. I knew that time was relative, there’s no controversy about that. How would a supernatural and omniscient being be bound by ordinary time and space, when He is above and beyond it? My fellow Christians were rabidly opposed to the theories, however. There seemed to be no way to reconcile belief in both evolution and a Creator. It was very clear that if I chose to believe in the process of evolution over many millenia, I was denying the literal Word of God, the Bible. I dared not voice my questions in school or in church. I kept secret my surreptitious studies. In my little world of religious indoctrination, I was a heretic. Like a baby Salem Witch, I hid my evil thoughts from my peers and my teachers. My inability to question led to the death of my faith in God.
Maybe it wasn’t fair to God to stop believing in him. After all, it was his self-professed disciples who forbade the use of my own mind and intellect. These same people who told me my mother would go to hell for being a non-believer would say in the same breath, “but our God is a merciful God.” No, he isn’t. Your God is an angry, vengeful, jealous God bound by space-time. Contrary to what a truly all-powerful being should be capable of, this God is an unimaginative God who says stuff like “let there be light,” and plays games with forbidden fruit. He creates the curious and inquisitive humans, but forbids them to use their innate (god-given?) intellect.
How do we reconcile our Christian roots with the cruelty we inflict on others, and the callousness we exhibit for those not like ourselves? How can we profess to love God and yet treat his creation like our dumpster, destroying the creatures and the environment that we should be preserving for our children? The words we espouse are not always reflected by our actions. Similar to the God of the Old Testament who says he loves us, yet incinerates two cities for wickedness and destroys nearly everyone in a flood, the human race reflects this angry God bent on vengeance. If a parent chose to treat his children this way, he would be judged a monster. If the God of the Bible is the literal God of creation, he is a psychotic egomaniac. God didn’t create us in His image…we created a God in our own image. Could it be that we have led ourselves astray?
As a very young girl I took to heart the Ten Commandments, and internalized a code of behavior that still guides me to this day. I abhor dishonesty and cruelty. I feel compelled to help others, to honor my family and my marriage vows. The Golden Rule and the words of Jesus still inspire and uplift me. My code of behavior, however, is what led me to denounce my faith in what most people call Christianity. I cannot ignore my intellect and my understanding of scientific principles. I didn’t want to stop believing in what I was told. I simply COULD NOT believe the literal words of the Bible. Lying to myself was not and never could be an option, BECAUSE of the Christian values instilled in me since I was a very young girl.
I mourned the loss of my faith for many years. Even more, I mourned the relationships that I lost by leaving behind the superstitions of my childhood. To this day, I don’t discuss my beliefs with many people. Contrary to what they say about the “War on Christians,” we atheists and agnostics endure a very special and insidious type of scorn. We are both condemned to suffer an eternity and hated for the threat of “godlessness” that haunts the believer. To label oneself as a nonbeliever is to invite condemnation and ostracism. Already a half-breed in a sea of white faces, I don’t like to advertise further proof of my “otherness.”
Still, when I am feeling confrontational, I debate with the biblical literalist. I have an edge, because unlike most other Christians, I have read the Bible in its entirety and studied it for most of my life. I feel perverse delight in quoting scripture to prove my points. The Old Testament is ripe with quotable quotes to baffle and inflame. Conservative politics of late has been so contrary to the teachings of Jesus that I frequently quote him to refute the selfish objectivist philosophy that seems to have usurped his teachings. It is invariably a pointless endeavor, but I enjoy sometimes placing the holier than thou in the uncomfortable position of cognitive dissonance that makes them squirm and lash out in anger and frustration. I was there, once upon a time, trapped between the limited definitions of piety and the limitless potential of the mind and imagination. I seek to shock them, wake them, open their eyes to true divinity.
All of the universe is a wondrous window to true beauty and immortality. We need not limit ourselves to the simplified stories told to an ancient people who could not fathom infinity. From the stars we were born, and from the vastness of the cosmos we found ourselves here on a verdant globe. It is indeed a miracle for which we should be thankful. I know I won’t reach the heaven about which I was taught. I don’t wish to go there, surrounded by the people who would shun me for using the mind I was born with. Instead, I will return to that from which I was born: the earth, the universe, the infinite.