But, now I will come out again for a different reason. I am an atheist. I will pause here while you gasp...
Better? Good. It's probably an anti-climactic one as well but it's important for me. For years I have described myself variously as gnostic (due to my flirtation with an early form of Christianity) or agnostic. Agnostic was always a nice dodge since it didn't seem to put people off quite so much. However, in all honesty I was really an atheist.
Long ago I gave up a belief in the god of my childhood. Yet, I'd never had anything to replace that belief and no real way of explaining why I didn't believe to others. So, I kept looking for some form of religion that would somehow bridge my disbelief or allow me to believe. It's amazing what we do to fit in. I'm also one of those people who despite a strong will and short temper does try to please everyone around me whenever possible. I am a natural peacemaker because I want everyone to like me.
I was raised in both the Southern Baptist and Methodist denominations. My earliest experiences were with the Baptists and their reliance on punishment and hell. It was a terrifying thing for a child and I could never reconcile Jesus meek and mild with Hell and damnation. There was a logical disconnect that even as a child I recognized. Later, as a Methodist in my other grandmother's church the disconnect was not as great but still, the logic failed.
I can remember asking a Sunday school teacher about Genesis and how if there was only Adam and Eve's children how they managed to populate the Earth without incest. My teacher was not as slick as modern theologians who square that circle by postulating "other" people. (Where did they come from?) Later, I questioned another teacher about the origin of God. If God created everything then where did God come from? The answer I got was "God always existed." But, how is that possible? After all Genesis said God created the Heaven and the Earth and if God lived in Heaven then where was he before that? The answer I got was that God was spirit and not dependent on a "place." But then, I asked what is spirit made of that it can exist before existence? It made no sense. It was another logical disconnect.
Throughout my life I tried to square all those circles. I looked for churches who had the answer. I looked for churches that when they talked about Jesus and love actually practiced those things. I never found any. Not a single one.
So, my belief waned. I began looking at pseudosciences to explain all of it. Surely that could square the circle! After all, multiple worlds, multiple universes. Surely there was a way that something existed beyond our ability to understand it. Even if "God" was a fallacy and fantasy surely the soul existed and our personality continued. I looked to ghosts and spiritualism with its attendant metaphysical misinterpretations of science and quantum theory. Yet, those also fell apart under close scrutiny. There just didn't seem to be anything there.
Finally, I picked up Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion and read it. Finally, there were all the disparate thoughts I'd had since childhood laid out for me and backed up by hard science. Yes, Virginia, there is no god.
Strangely, this is comforting. After all, as a gay man I have had scorn and abuse heaped upon me and my brothers and sisters in the LGBT community by religious people. I have always thought they were deluded and using "god" as a front for their own hatred, ignorance, and insanity. Here was proof positive of that fact. I feel free. I feel empowered to at last say: "There is no god and you cannot hurt me with your voodoo magic man."
I am an atheist.
As I read the closing of Dawkins' book where he details the infinitely strange and wonderful world that science has opened to us, I felt for the first time in my life the awe and inspiration that religious people claim to have. The universe is a marvelous place full of great wonder, beauty, and mystery. There is no need to invent an magic imaginary friend to explain it all because we can explore it ourselves!
Perhaps that liberation is what religious people fear. Because without god how do you justify your own xenophobia and fear? It is much easier to say "I hate gays because God says to do it!" than it is to say "I hate gays because I am ignorant and fearful!" It is much easier to say that you reject Darwin and evolution because god tells you it is wrong than to admit that you simply lack the intellectual capacity to understand it fully. It is amazing the lengths that people will go to in order to preserve religious insanity instilled in them as children.
At the Richard Dawkins site there is a forum. I joined to read the posts and to learn from others their journey and thoughts. In one topic they covered "gay marriage." I read a few of the replies and contributed my own thoughts and how brushes with Christians on that subject had been the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back for my belief. I also pointed them to the 1138 rights denied gay couples in the USA.
Then, I saw a post by what appears to be the resident theist (read Christian) troll. He tried to make the case that atheists should hate gays as much as Christians because we serve no evolutionary purpose. Yes, he sincerely resorted to Darwin (and a poor understanding of his work - well a Jr. High level) to make his case.
The highly intellectual people there took him to task and pointed out his logical fallacies. They are much better at that type of thing than I am normally. But one thing struck me about his ideas. His entire argument was founded on the idea that homosexuals serve no evolutionary purpose. In his mind unless there is a reproductive use then the person is worthless. In short he reduces humanity and indeed all nature to simple sex. Not surprising since religious people are obsessed with sex to the point of insanity.
But, here's the thing. We exist. Homosexuals and homosexuality exist in over 1000 species. Therefore, there is something there or else we wouldn't keep popping up. The fact that the reason is unknown does not negate the fact that we exist and it is an established fact that homosexuality is not "learned" (except in rare cases). We exist, but God does not. Now that's a thought isn't it? God is simply a creation of humans (mostly men) who seems to serve as a cosmic transference object for our own foibles. But homosexuals exist in the real world. There is obviously more evidence of homosexuals existing naturally than there is for the god who is used to condemn us.
One day, perhaps, some evolutionary biologist will figure out the role of homosexuality in nature. But the fact is, we exist and homosexual behavior exists in over 1000 species so is a part of the natural world. I for one know that my sexual orientation is entirely normal. I have never had the first fantasy about a female sexually - never a single dream, not a teenage crush, nothing. My very first sexual stirrings were toward boys. Even those pre-pubescent semi-romantic leanings were toward boys. It is as natural to me as anything. That is why I am incensed when I am told that I could "change" or that being me is "unnatural." No, it is quite natural. To be heterosexual for me would be unnatural because I am homosexual.
How strange is it that people we know exist, people who love, people who hurt, people who live and breathe are subjected to such treatment by people who are afraid of offending a being who most certainly does not exist. What a weird and strange thing.
So, I am an atheist. The Christian, Jewish or Muslim "god" can hurt me no more than can Thor, Athena, Zeus, Wotan, Shiva, or Apollo. It is only the deluded we have to look out for in this universe.