How did I become an atheist? Well, I was actually born an atheist (aren’t we all?) in Georgetown, Guyana –a small country in South America on the northern border of Brazil. I was born into a Catholic family so I was baptized (without consent obviously :-)), attended Sunday school, and was expected to go through Confirmation and First Communion by my family. I remember enjoying Sunday school, particularly reading those pop-up books that told different biblical tales. However, at around the age of 7, I had had enough and refused to undergo First Communion or to be Confirmed. I guess this constituted my “coming out” as an atheist, as I stated clearly to my family that I did not believe in god. Other than our priest suggesting that I undergo First Communion/Confirmation, I really don’t recall any specific precipitating event that led me to ‘come out’ as an atheist.
When I refused to go further in the Catholic Church, there wasn’t a lot of push-back from my family, as my biological dad was not around, and my mother had immigrated to the United States. A couple of years later when my mom moved to Canada, she sponsored me to join her and my dad (step-father). In Canada, my parents hardly ever went to church but they were (are) believers, as are most of my family. I guess I am the black sheep of the family with respect to religion, but my family loves me anyway, and my atheism has never been a point of contention. It is just considered another one of my (many) quirks.
I have always been a curious person, interested in how things work and needing evidence to support beliefs; this character trait may be the source of my atheism. In fact, when I was a kid back in Guyana I was always telling everyone that when I grew up I was going to be a scientist. (My other career path involved being a cowboy star in the movies — westerns were big in Guyana at the time, and I loved the movies).
As I grew older, I realized that I was in the minority with regard to the lack of belief in god. Despite this, I have always felt comfortable expressing my views and have never shied away from stating my position on the topic. As a young adult, I dated both believers and non-believers. As I got older and entered graduate school (I received a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto – I did become a scientist after all!), I was meeting many more like-minded people. I met my wife in grad school, but funny enough she was a believer at that time, albeit a ‘mild’ one (she actually just came out as an atheist a few years ago). When we got married, I wanted a completely non-religious ceremony (you can read more about this here), and my wife graciously agreed to it. We have been happily married for almost 20 years and have two beautiful girls.
When our two girls were young, my wife was still a believer and so shared her beliefs, as did I (or rather, my lack of belief). As parents, we had decided that we would expose our children to both points of view and let them make up their own minds. In fact, our younger daughter asked to go to church when she was around 6 or 7, and my wife took her. She went for a year and then stopped suddenly one day. Since then, she has indicated that she is an atheist; my eldest daughter has always considered herself an atheist (at least from the time we started discussing the topic). You can read about our parenting experiences here, and I encourage you to share your parenting experiences as an atheist.
As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, my younger daughter has actually suffered bullying at school due to her atheism. In fact, she’s even been told by a classmate that she is going to go to hell! As a result of this bullying, my wife and I found ourselves counseling her not to be so forthright about her lack of belief. Having to do this goes counter to everything that my wife and I hold dear — we believe that all citizens of free societies have the right to freedom of thought and expression. However, my daughter is rather sensitive and doesn’t hold up well to the bullying.
My experiences with my youngest daughter, my observations regarding the privileged position religion is given in our society, and the fact that the Christian right has mobilized politically have led to the next phase in my journey as an atheist. Specifically, I have become more active and outspoken. I have started this blog, and utilize social media to voice my opinions. I have also started an online clothing store (attached to this blog) to broadcast my ideas and thoughts in a fun, positive and creative manner that will hopefully resonate with other atheists.
In the end, my thinking boils down to this: it is okay to be an atheist because no belief, idea or philosophy is sacrosanct, particularly those that purport to explain this or that without a shred of evidence. We should be able to voice our dissenting ideas, opinions, and philosophies without fear. We need to speak up now to counter the din of the religious, as they have held a privileged position for far too long.The belief that there is a god is not a sacred cow. So I encourage you the reader to share your stories and to have a voice in the marketplace of ideas and philosophies. There is strength in numbers, and we are rapidly growing in numbers, so have no fear!
To sum it up, you could say I was born and died in a Catholic family, only to be resurrected at the age of 7 an atheist. My journey as an atheist continues.
As an aside, it is odd to me that Guyana is known by most people for only one thing – Jonestown. The ‘Reverend’ Jim Jones established his People’s Temple Agricultural Project in the jungle of Guyana and led his congregation to mass suicide using cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. Symbolic of the poison that is religion?