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Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Essays | 5 comments

 

 

Name: Max West

Born: 1981

Location: Franklin, NC

Label: Atheist

Former Religious Affiliation: None! I was born this way!

My Story:

I don’t believe in god. I am an Atheist. This isn’t really news. I was raised as an Atheist. My parents are Atheists, my sister is an Atheist, my wife is an Atheist (formerly fundamentalist pentecostal), and our daughter is an Atheist.

 

As such, I don’t have one of the tales of struggling within my family that so many here have shared. To those of you who have shared such stories, I want you to know that I commend you and I am proud of you. It takes a lot of courage and fortitude to not only question and change your own beliefs, but in doing so to go against the beliefs and norms of your family and community. I also want to say thank you. Thank you for helping me realise how truly lucky I am to have grown up in a home where questioning my own and other’s beliefs was not only simply allowed or tolerated, but rather encouraged and respected.

I grew up in Houston, Texas. I grew up next door to a church and about a block away from a Buddhist monastery and never attended either. I had friends who were Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, Atheist and probably others that I wasn’t aware of. Amazingly, religion was never really an issue; most people around me just knew that I didn’t believe in god and it didn’t seem to matter. I’ve only been inside a church a few times in my life. I had been once when I was rather young while visiting with my grandmother and even at that young age found it to be total nonsense. Another time I went because of a girl. Driven by hormones and free food I found myself in the middle of a youth group watching some movie about the rapture. I was amazed at how scared some of the other kids were, some were crying, while I sat there eating pizza and thinking how silly it all was. At one point in the evening the other girl who had brought us asked me if “I was saved?” I had no idea what she was talking about. When she explained it I laughed at her and said “no.”

When I was a teenager my family moved to the rural mountains of North Carolina, where we continue to live. There is quite literally a church on every corner. When I first got here and met new people they asked two questions, “What is your name?” and “What church do you go to?” When I would tell someone that I didn’t go to church, people here would get this confused look on their face and ask “Oh, but you believe in god, right?” After hearing that I didn’t believe in god either, some started preaching at me, some would look at me earnestly and tell me that they would pray for me, and some just backed away slowly. My father worked in construction and found the job sites so hostile that he started telling people he was Jewish. I guess people thought that if he wasn’t a Christian that being a Jewish carpenter was the next best thing. He really kept the charade up, one time chastising my mother’s boss at a barbecue “What do you mean that was pork? I can’t eat pork, I’m Jewish!” My mother teaches elementary school. Once while teaching a science lesson on lifespans a student proudly declared that he knew someone who lived over 900 years.When my mother quizzed him as to who, he said it was Abraham. She dryly replied “You shouldn’t believe everything you read.”

In the area where I live, it is pervasive. In the few miles between my house and town they are a couple of religious billboards and a particularly garish electronic church sign always spewing on about god and Jesus. Far too many local businesses have bible verses, pictures of Jesus or the ten commandments posted. When I was a teenager I went to traffic court once and the ten commandments were posted in the courtroom near the judge, though thankfully they have since been removed. Voting for my precinct is held in a church, I usually vote at the courthouse because of it but when I have voted at the church there have been bible verses posted above the voting booths. My state constitution lists two things that disqualify a person from office, the first is if you would “deny the being of Almighty God” and the second is being a convicted felon or have been impeached.

When my daughter was born I knew for certain (not that there had really been any question before) that god, particularly the christian god, did not exist. When I held my daughter I experienced the complete, unconditional love that a parent has for their child. I understood what my father meant when he told me that there was nothing I could do that would make him not love me, that I could stab him in the back and he would love me as I pushed the knife in. I knew that if god was the father of all humanity, and if he loved everyone as his children, and if he was omnipotent, that he wouldn’t allow any of his children to suffer in hell for eternity or even for a single second. I understood how great a lie it all was, and how harmful and insidious.

My tale isn’t one with an obvious message of “it gets better.” Going from, what at the time was, a fairly progressive city to deep into the Bible Belt, from my completely Atheist family to the community I lived in was somewhat of a struggle, but one that is well worth it. It demands that I stand up for my right to not have religion imposed on me at every turn. And though it is a struggle, and sometimes an outright fight, I do it because I can, and so hopefully others, like my daughter, won’t have to fight quite as hard.

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