A Mistake or Not

I’m an atheist, but there aren’t many websites or blogs on atheism that I follow and read because there’s not a lot of “breaking news” to deal with and, frankly, each person’s atheism is an individual thing, so one person’s experience may not really match up with mine.

One I do read on occasion is Neil Carter’s Godless in Dixie. Carter is a school teacher (math, I think) in Mississippi who came from an evangelical background in recent years, and his writing (which is good) tends to cover the things that he struggled with as he came to his acceptance of the nonexistence of gods and his rejection of Christianity in particular.

His most recent post, on his top posts of 2017, linked back to a post from April, “Our Biggest Mistake,” which he described as, “Most people who still inhabit the Christian tradition assume we left because we just didn’t do it right, or didn’t understand what it was all really about. But the reality is that most of us ‘got it’ a little too well, and that’s precisely why we eventually found ourselves on the outside of it.”

I don’t recall reading “Our Biggest Mistake” back in April. I had a lot of things going on then at work, such as powering through deadlines and working ahead because of a business trip to Chicago, and, as I said, I only read Godless in Dixie on occasion, when the mood takes me, really.

I read the article over New Year’s weekend. Carter said that the post “lists 7 things [atheists] did a little too well.” I thought, when I clicked through to read it, that I’d see a few things that I’d relate to, that described my experience. Among those “7 things,” I didn’t see anything I related to. That’s not to say that Carter’s list is bad, because it’s not. There’s value in it, but it’s a value for people who walked away from religion in general and Christianity in the specific in adulthood, past thirty-five or forty.

I knew what I thought about the Christian god early, by the time I reached Confirmation in the Methodist Church (which I remember as a difficult and traumatic process for me), though I didn’t have a label for those thoughts were until I reached college. When I was eight I had a map of the world on my bedroom wall. I was aware of the world’s many cultures. I struggled with the idea that the world was filled with people with different religious beliefs and different conceptions of god, and the idea that their beliefs were automatically wrong I found profoundly disturbing.

Because I hadn’t internalized Christianity as part of my identity, despite being nominally a Methodist, the seven things that Carter listed in his article were never part of my experience. I had the David C. Cook Picture Bible, which I wore out, and the Old Testament histories had some appeal for me, so of the seven the one I most align with is the first, taking the Bible seriously. But the others? Even prayer itself, as I wrote about two years ago, wasn’t part of my religious experience. I tell people now when they ask, because I happen to think it’s fundamentally true about me, that I never had any beliefs. They never took root. There was never a “god-shaped hole,” as Blaise Pascal put it, to fill. Others may think my atheism is a “mistake.” Others my pray for my soul (which I don’t think is a real thing). I’m okay with that. I know myself, and I know what I think about the universe and my role in it. The universe is big and vast and complicated. It was here long before I was born. It will be here long after I’m gone, forgotten, turned to dust. But while I’m here, I can make the world at least a little better place, and that’s no mistake.

Even if Carter’s article didn’t speak to my experience, it was still an interesting read. My reading frequency on Godless in Dixie will probably remain at “on occasion,” though. And that’s fine; atheism doesn’t have a lot in the way of breaking news. :)

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