Name: Bill Reitter
Location: Glassboro, NJ
I Am No Angel
It will be left to others to judge if my life has been all that good. As a 71 year old atheist, I don’t feel that I am morally better than my neighbors. My friends are decent, hardworking, sober, god-fearing, patriotic people: Mostly nice folks, despite their mistaken, superstitious, supernatural worldviews.
But even without God, even with all my troubles and faults, I might be just as kind, compassionate and considerate as my believing neighbors. I was not always this pleasant. Self-centered, close-minded, righteous, and religious: only caring about salvation and eternal happiness with my Christian God. One of the “chosen ones”, I wanted to become a priest and entered Roman Catholic seminary in 1959.
After studying the Bible, theology, philosophy and church history for seven years I realized that most of the teachings of the church are hollow. The Bible is riddled with horrible, genocidal advice from a vengeful, belligerent and jealous, man-made god. The clergy are mostly cloistered, intolerant and narrow-minded. I had been mislead by parents, elders and authority figures. Ironically, I became a Secular Humanist while meditating in a chapel in 1965.
When I left the seminary as a freethinker, I was adrift in a confusing new world. With no support group or atheist friends, I sought meaning and solace in action. I became a pacifist and conscientious objector to the war in Vietnam. I volunteered to help a drug rehab program in Newark, NJ, studied psychology at Rutgers University and read books on science, poetry, travel, nature and secular history. But I was still lonely, not very social, and uncertain about future plans.
Luckily, I met and fell in love with a wonderful woman, Brenda, who changed my life and opened a new world of possibilities. She was friendly, fun-loving and everybody liked her. And she was secular…a fellow freethinker. She helped me come out of my shell and be more spontaneous. Her love gave me a confidence and feeling of self-esteem that I had never known. I loved taking her roller skating and to the beach. We were both poor and we came from very different backgrounds but we shared our secular, freethinking, compassionate philosophy of life.
We married in 1971, worked hard, made many mistakes and eventually started our own educational tour and travel business. We had a lovely daughter (now a Social Worker Therapist for disadvantaged and troubled youth) and later two fantastic grandchildren. After retirement I taught free Adult-Ed courses in poetry, travel, and history at local High Schools. I occasionally do gratis handyman work for elderly friends and neighbors.
We don’t waste our time on wishful prayers or church. We are vegetarians and do not smoke, drink or use drugs. We participate in peace vigils, donate to charity and vote Green. Does this make us better than our neighbors? No, but we feel, along with millions of other American freethinkers, that we can be good without God.