Religion and Me, or How I Became an Agnostic Atheist

I was raised in a fun­da­men­tal­ist South­ern Bap­tist fam­i­ly in the Bible Belt, and while I start­ed ques­tion­ing at an ear­ly age, I also tried to do as all good South­ern girls do and toe the line. I stud­ied and prayed my heart out. I went to Bible stud­ies, retreats, and so on (not going was not an option in my fam­i­ly of ori­gin). I read every­thing I could get my hands on. I ques­tioned preach­ers (not that it did much good because South­ern Bap­tists don’t require any sem­i­nary train­ing in order to be ordained). When I asked about church his­to­ry, I got answers like, “Our church was found­ed by John the Bap­tist,” which smelled of manure even to a 7‑year-old.

I’d read a bunch of mythol­o­gy and his­to­ry and sci­ence on my way through the chil­dren’s sec­tion of the library, and it had point­ed out a lot of incon­sis­ten­cies in the Bible. For one thing, all those cre­ation and flood myths could­n’t be true. And what was so spe­cial about the ones in the Bible, if every­body else had them, too? What about the fact that his­to­ry and sci­ence con­tra­dict­ed the Bible? If I was sup­posed to know the one for school, why was I sup­posed to believe the oth­er the rest of the time? I do not han­dle cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance well at all. I won’t even start on how poor­ly I han­dled my grow­ing aware­ness of the misog­y­ny and anti-intel­lec­tu­al­ism in the church.

There’s a joke that says good South­ern Bap­tists only die of exhaus­tion from being at church every time the doors are open, and that’s pret­ty much the truth. There’s Sun­day School, then Sun­day morn­ing wor­ship, then Sun­day evening prayer ser­vice, and some­times a choir prac­tice or two. Mon­day evening is vis­i­ta­tion and Tues­day evening brings Bible study. Wednes­day night is full of sup­per, var­i­ous mis­sion groups, choir prac­tice, and prayer ser­vice. Thurs­day often had youth group activ­i­ties, and if it did­n’t, there was going to be some­thing going on Fri­day and/or Sat­ur­day. Is it any won­der that my first hus­band was a youth minister?

That first hus­band end­ed up ques­tion­ing the Bap­tist way, too, so we start­ed try­ing out dif­fer­ent denom­i­na­tions of Christianity—Lutheran, Angli­can, Pres­by­ter­ian, Methodist. And we stud­ied more togeth­er. I hap­pened to get a job with the denom­i­na­tion­al offices of the Pres­by­ter­ian Church of Amer­i­ca about that time, so I was heav­i­ly exposed to even more strict­ly Calvin­ist theology.

Despite my attempts to make it all make sense, I could­n’t rec­on­cile the facts, so I became an agnos­tic athe­ist by my ear­ly 20’s. I lat­er found the Uni­tar­i­an Uni­ver­sal­ist Asso­ci­a­tion, and I still con­sid­er myself to be UU. I exper­i­ment­ed with pagan­ism, which was attrac­tive in many ways (I love the rit­u­als and com­mu­ni­ty), but it did­n’t sat­is­fy me intel­lec­tu­al­ly, either, so I came back to agnos­tic atheism.

What is an agnos­tic athe­ist? “Agnos­tic” means that I do not know whether there are or are not any deities. I don’t believe it is absolute­ly pos­si­ble for any­one to know that. How­ev­er, “athe­ist” means that I do not believe that there are any deities.

That said, I still enjoy study­ing the Bible and Chris­t­ian his­to­ry both as an intel­lec­tu­al pur­suit, and because I wor­ry about the effects of fun­da­men­tal­ism on pol­i­tics in my coun­try. Because of that, I’ve gath­ered some mate­r­i­al in my stud­ies that I’m begin­ning to share here. I hope you find it useful.

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