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. At this point, many Christians want to point out that their religion is different from all the others because there’s historical evidence for Jesus. But no, there is not.

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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