My intro to a series where I read the bible and write my thoughts chapter by chapter.
Introduction to An Atheist Reads the Bible: The New Testament
I suppose for a paper like this to have any meaning, some context as to the writer is necessary. For sixteen years I held an unwavering belief in a god. Not just any god though, but the fundamentalist Christian idea of god taken more or less from the bible and the theological teaching of western religion. For fourteen of those I was a young earnest student, doing all I could to tell anyone and everyone who would listen who God was and what he wanted. I denied evolution, looked down on the homosexual lifestyle, thought Muslims would go to hell, and I believed that Christianity was the tolerant of all religions. Then by sixteen a conversation slowly begun. I moved from fundamentalist Christian, to more liberal Christian who accepts evolution and "hates the sin but loves the sinner" in regard to other people's sexualities. I stayed here in secret for months, not sure how to interact with my fellow Christian's any longer who insisted on pushing an agenda that I now saw as fundamentally ignorant and hateful. But being the adopted kid forever scared of being kicked out of his house, I played along. I told no one of my growing distaste for religion and control. Instead I took to my own studies and began researching philosophy and science, the former being my eventual downfall from faith.
Like a flash I fell in love with philosophy and its teachings. I absorbed everything I could find, from Plato to Emerson (Emerson eventually becoming my philosophical idol). I began to look at morality and justice, and how it applied to our everyday life. I began reading about what the Bible really said to an objective audience, not one who had already made up its mind about the content. I listened to debates and lectures by great minds like the late Christopher Hitchens, a man who I sometimes disagreed with but always respected for his intellectual honesty and his unmatchable flare for speaking. But most of all I began speaking to a classmate who had been a vocal atheist since I had known him. For years I kept my distance from him, not sure how someone could make such an audacious claim like not believing in God, when all the evidence was there before them. But as I began to doubt in God myself, I knew that I could no longer afford to only let in ideas I was comfortable with. So instead of avoiding my classmate like the plague, I did everything in my power to be around him. We were, coincidentally, given the opportunity to be on a small team together which required that we spend large amounts of time near one another for about 5 months of the year, often spending at least an hour a day together. It was in this time that I was able to pick his brain, seeing how he saw the world and how he lived his life. This is eventually what got me -- he was just like me. He was not immoral, he did not hate life, and he seemed to actually be open to hard discussions. He was my first real life example of the fact that one could live a good life without god. How profound of a breakthrough this way for me.
For years I was scared to admit even to myself that I doubted the existence of God. And how could I not be? I had been told all my life that God oversaw the entirety of creation. That this Big Brother God was watching my thoughts, ready to send me to an eternal damnation should I think the wrong thought or commit the wrong action. I was told by every one of my elders that a life without God would be shallow and empty, that it was God who provided happiness and meaning into our lives, that our purpose in life was to serve this god and make sure we stay on his good side, lest he smite us down, something many believers feared would happen regardless. I was hidden and sheltered from the true face of atheism, which allows for the free exchange of ideas and encourages everyone to seek for themselves what happiness is and what would bring purpose and meaning to their life, so long as it does not interfere with the happiness of those around you.
This is what that classmate gave me. He showed me that one could not believe in god and still be a good, happy person. That we do not need a god figure in our life to be happy and that it was ok to break the shackles of religion and be who you truly are. That I no longer needed to lie to myself to save my soul from a never-ending punishment worse than anything I could ever imagine at the hands of an all-loving and just god.
So that's exactly what I did. I didn't tell anyone right away for fear of their reactions, but by Christmas of my junior year of high school I self-identified as an atheist, even if no one knew. And how beautiful the world looked from my new eyes. The profoundness of meaning that life took now knowing that it was my only one. The desire to pursue every inch of experience and knowledge of this world and the human-experience overwhelmed me then and still does today. I began to for the first time truly appreciate the beauty of nature. I began to cherish every experience I could. I tried to capture the feeling of looking not just at the stars but beyond them. I tried to bottle up the feeling of electricity that passes between you just before your lips meet with someone you love. I tried to seize the simple-happiness that comes to seeing a thirteen year old dog almost tear a door down to get to you just because it hasn't seen you in seven hours. But of course I could never truly capture these feelings, or even properly transcribe them here for you the reader. So instead I set out to experience as many of them as I could.
And that's where I am today. Just your average eighteen year old high school student, maybe a little more read than most my classmates and maybe my thought process doesn't work quite the same way, but all and all I'm basically the same as most the kids my age. I would not call myself a 'new atheist' in that I do not necessarily think that religion is detrimental to society and must be eradicated. Nor do I think less of those who follow religion simply on the basis of them following it. But I will fight tooth and nail 'til my death bed to show a that unbelief and true morality can go hand in hand. To make sure that any religious preference does not become law in my home country, creating all those of different beliefs as second and third class citizens. To keep any religion from harming anyone emotionally or physically for believing differently from them. To silence those who wish to shove their views on god into the classroom and into the bedroom.
And that is what more or less what this project is about. I was ordered by my father to read the new testament before April, a very easy to accomplish task. But never satisfied with the easy way out I have decided to create a running-book of sorts with my thoughts on each and every chapter in the bible, to be posted by the book and eventually compiled into one book. I hope my readers can draw from my thoughts whatever they can and I hope to share some laughs and some anger with all of you along the way.