I used to be religious. Yes, seriously. I was a religious nationalist; so much so that I even volunteered to serve in the IDF. I used my belief system to excuse hate crimes against Muslims and jokes about Christians. After all, they weren't following the real god, or at the very least their prophets weren't the same. I was more than willing to say that Jesus didn't exist, but would staunchly defend Moses and all of the others. Just like every other extremist, I used my belief system to judge others.
Separation is a fundamental part of every major religious system. The enemy of every cult is outside influence, for every apostate person is a symbol that one can leave the faith without the heavens dividing. Non-believers in a particular faith are often scorned in literature and adherents are required to keep themselves separate from those of other faiths. Dhimmitude, slavery, differences in the sabbaths, and laws on miscegenation are all worked into the scriptures followed by billions of people worldwide. And even all of the laws are interpreted differently by almost everyone- I mean there are hundreds of variations on Islam and over 30, 000 different kinds of Protestantism. Jews, Sikhs, and Hindus all have divisions that seem minute on the surface but can begin wars. The fact that I called my god Elohim and you called him Christ or Allah made me feel either greater to or less than others, depending on the circumstance.
Atheists and agnostics used to especially irritate me; along with Pagans and Wiccans, skeptics were the worst thing for someone who desperately tried to adhere to those 613 commandments. While I was raised around people of varying faiths, the concept of not believing in a supernatural creator was absolutely foreign to me. I understood why one could believe in Mother Earth and Father Sky, for they were part of the same energy, but not believing in an afterlife and angels and someone watching over seemed so wrong, but I couldn't understand why. It just was.
As most of you know, I am and have always been intelligent. I understood that the world was not created in a week, that dinosaurs did exist, that evolution must be part of it. As a Judeoapologist, I could state that some of the bible may have been metaphorical, with exception of all of the rules. The rules were real because humans needed to be moral, ad infinitum. I really tried to be a good religious person- I kept a kosher kitchen (before becoming vegan, because it is inherently Bible approved.) , I held Seders and fasted and did all of those other kooky superstitious things. The problem is that when you become more religious, you either spew talking points or become well versed in your faith. And this nerd read, which began the process of killing my belief in that particular god as well as a whole lot of others.
It really doesn't take long to find violence in the books we call holy. Moses' men were authorized to take all of the virgins for themselves in several passages. Same with Mohammed. Jesus was more concerned with blind obedience and killing your family members for not believing. All of these chosen men had condoned atrocities in order to spread their interpretation of the same god. And it's a really bad god. It is one that says to kill your disobedient children and murder pregnant enemies. It's a god who purposely manipulates events in order to confuse people into accidentally sinning and going to a roasting firepit for all eternity. This god is not a dude you want to have a beer with.
Once you start learning about gods, you start eliminating them as potential candidates. And I eliminated several gods in one shot. And you look around and realize that they're all based in violence either to begin with or have to respond to it, as in the case of Buddhists and Hindus. Sikhs wear kirpans as a symbol of restrained violence. But what if you don't find subservience to someone not yourself and dying to protect it all that appealing? What if you get sick of hating people for their nationality or religion and simply tolerating them, and decide that you don't agree with the division and want to just dig people for who they are?
These were just a few arguments for getting rid of religion, but I still believed in some sort of higher power that controlled some things and mainly left science to do what it does. I became very shaky about whether or not there was a Skydude or anything else to pray to. And when you start believing science greater than intelligent design, you become a heathen. And I'm just fine with being an atheist to all gods, goddesses, and bronze dogs presented for me because I have a lifetime of people to love and random acts of geekery to enjoy in place of praying. I'm also fine with no longer condoning wars, rape, genital mutilation, and bigotry. I'm fine without hating myself as a mistake of god and I'm fine with treating others in a way that would make them happy without interference of a man-made god that was created in the image of the most evil qualities of men.
I am a far more rational and compassionate person than I ever was when I had a god. I do nice things because I enjoy it and not because I'm afraid of some supernatural barbecue. I figure that even if I'm wrong and there is indeed some afterlife that the ruler of it would be cool with me being a flawed, but generally nice person, and reincarnate me as a giraffe instead of a barn fly. I mean I know we haven't invented that god yet, but it sounds rad doesn't it? A god that actually values you for how much you do to fix the world instead of how much time you devote to praying for someone else to fix it. But then my intellectual mind kicks in and reminds me of the scientific reasons for there being no reason why the so-called spirits of humans should be everlasting, but dogs just die. Every time I've thought of a god in the last couple of years, science would kick in, and trying to justify god versus the evidence became ridiculous.
I am most certainly atheist. There are Conservative atheists and hippie atheists, our only commonalities being that we realize that there is likely no god and that fact doesn't make us too sad. We run the gamut from people who still practice some rituals to those who abhor the mention. The commonality of humanists, skeptics, atheists, and any other name that you call us is the fact that those who don't believe in a god are still the least trusted people in every part of North America. And this is why we need to talk.
All of our voices and experiences are distinct, but for every time someone has the spine to voluntarily question creationism on-air or in print, the scientific method will be spread to some of those who really need to get the message.