My Development As a Non-believer
My Development As a Non-believer
Polls have shown that approximately 79% of Americans profess a belief in a deity or creator. Most Americans were brought up in homes where such beliefs were held by the parents and taught to the children, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, and I was no exception. In my family, my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were churchgoers. I never had the opportunity to hear any of my grandparents or great-grandparents say what they actually believed. My parents did make it clear that they were believers and devoted to the Presbyterian Church. They took me to Sunday School
where I was encouraged to learn and recite the catechisms, first the Children's and then the Shorter Catechism: "Who made you?" "God." "What else did God make?" "God made all things." "Why did God make you and all things?" "For His own glory." "What is God?" "God is a spirit and has not a body like men." "What is sin?" "Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God." I still remember that much.
"Having faith" was the ideal. "Doubting" was a sign of weakness, a straying from the fold. I was a good boy. I trusted my parents' judgment and I wanted to be what they thought I should be. I "joined the church" at about age 11 by making a "profession of faith" as I had been taught. This meant repeating an oath that I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and that I believed in His father, God, and in the Holy Ghost. I learned the Presbyterian explanation of free will and predestination. I was so well-versed and conforming that I was elected as a Deacon at about age 26 and later elected to the office of Ruling Elder at about age 30. These elections were done by the members of the particular church congregation, so I must have impressed them with my knowledge and sincerity to be so honored.
Up to this time, I had never had any occasion to doubt or to think analytically about the precepts of the Presbyterian Church or the Christian faith. I did begin to view some of the dogma a bit differently. I never accepted the idea that the Bible was the "infallible word of God." It never made sense to me that the Bible was to be taken literally. I always saw it as allegory, or myth, even though some of it may have been historically accurate. I think my parents saw it this way, too.
It was not until about age 40 that I had occasion to read a book which, for the first time in my life, raised the thought that maybe there is no such thing as God. This was a new experience for me, and I dealt with it cautiously. Over the next several years, I came to realize how little real evidence there was to substantiate the doctrines and dogma I had been taught. How do we know that (1) Jesus was born of a virgin? (2) that He was the Son of God? (3) that man is a "sinner, in need of salvation"? (4) that Jesus' death provides that salvation? (5) that Jesus rose from the dead? (6) that there is a life after this one? All we have is the speculation of a few men. From whence did Matthew, Mark, Luke, John or Paul get their information? To say that they were "inspired by God" is not a satisfactory answer to the mind which requires reason and evidence; for me to not demand reason and evidence is to feel gullible.