Location: Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas
- Fellowship of Freethought Dallas
- Camp Quest Texas
- Dallas/Fort Worth Coalition of Reason
- Foundation Beyond Belief
Former Religious Affiliation(s): Reformed Baptist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic
I was raised in a loving, supportive Christian family. My mother and father raised me and my two younger brothers to know and love God, attend church regularly, and read the Bible. Although religion wasn’t the most important thing in our family, I knew that it was an important thing, something to take seriously. As a child, I loved to read and was a good student, so it was a pleasure to read and learn about the many stories in my illustrated children’s Bible, and later in my very own leather-bound NIV translation. I also aptly soaked up the superficial theology of Sunday School, and began to explore the writings of a few theologians in my adolescence.
What really fascinated me, however, was exploring comparative religion. Of course, I believed that my own understanding of Christianity was the right one, but learning about other variations of the Christian religion and other religious traditions altogether was an absolute delight to my young mind. I also cultivated a growing interest in world mythology, which was complemented by initial forays into fairy-stories and other fantastical literature. In particular, the works of J.R.R. Tolkien captivated my young imagination and informed my own personal mythology, as it does to this day.
Throughout my formative years, though I had explored my faith and my sacred scriptures as comprehensively as possible, I neglected to do the one thing which I now consider to be of paramount importance, but which no religious person I had encountered ever suggested. That is, to examine my faith critically. I entered college with the smug assurance of a high school graduate who, quite conveniently, has got it all figured out. I was no fundamentalist, nor had I been raised to be one. And neither was I particularly evangelical, since I knew all too well how often my Christian brothers and sisters twisted the Bible to support their personal or political enterprises. But I was a cocky enough young Christian to write letters to the editor of my campus newspaper advising women of their divinely-appointed “roles,” and condescendingly informing my homosexual fellow students that their orientation wasn’t a “natural” part of the divine plan. I also tried my best to participate with fellow Christian students in Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as “Cru”) and The Navigators, though my distaste for evangelism limited those endeavors.
On my way to graduate school, I was in need of a few elective credits, and the English Department offered three classes on “The Bible as Literature” that piqued my interest, especially inasmuch as I was sure that I could easily pass each one given my own close familiarity with the Bible. Always before, I had regarded the Bible as a vehicle for divine communication first and foremost, and a work of literature second. No longer. These classes were the catalyst for my apostasy; although I can look back fondly and see previous influences (reading Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World,” watching Bill Moyers interview Joseph Campbell, etc.), this was the event that caused me to turn my critical eye inward for the first time. Within a few months, the foundations of my Christian theology were cracked; in a year’s time, they had crumbled to dust.
It was both a very strange and exhilarating experience. I discovered that, to my great surprise, I had never regarded belief in the Christian religion to be the most important thing in my life; I had always held the pursuit of Truth in highest esteem, and it was only inasmuch as I believed Christianity to provide that Truth that I could be a intellectually fulfilled Christian. And yet this experience brought no small amount of existential crisis. All my family and friends were, to the best of my knowledge, believing Christians. I knew of nobody who had ever lost their faith in the way that I had just experienced. It was a process of quiet solitude, punctuated by occasional visits to the Internet for additional information.
I fought hard to defend my beliefs against my new-found critical faculties. Though orthodox Christianity couldn’t be supported, I reasoned that it might be possible to reconstruct some other theological variant from the scriptures. When this attempt failed, I supposed that if I were to discover the original words of the historical Jesus, I could find some religious profundity by which to live. After that search came back empty, I hoped at last that there might be some way to formulate a god-belief which was consistent with the existence of the natural world and with my own moral instincts. Those deities I could construct either shrank to insignificance or withered under the assault of theodicy. Finally weary of my attempts to rehabilitate the Bible, I sought refuge in a place where it did not rule theology: the Catholic Church, where I was baptized and confirmed, and left again just as soon as I realized that authority and tradition are no superior substitute for a scarred and sacred scripture. For the first time, I began to walk life’s tightrope without a net.
After receiving my doctoral degree, my wife and I moved to Texas where I felt free to explore life as a freethinker. Though surrounded by the highest concentration of religious believers in the country, I also found a proto-community of atheists, freethinkers, and humanists scattered throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. After attending a unique event in which atheists and Christians came together to learn about each other, I resolved to seek out friendly freethinkers and believers wherever possible. As I got to know the diverse individuals and organizations that make up local secular organizations, I volunteered my resources to help them grow and make a larger impact on their surrounding communities. Eventually, I found myself serving in various leadership roles, and when I look behind me now I see dozens, if not hundreds of intelligent and capable leaders seeking to create welcoming and dynamic homes for freethinkers, atheists, and humanists in my community.
Right now, it really is one of the greatest times in history to be a freethinking atheist, especially here in Texas. The grassroots secular communities represented by the Dallas/Fort Worth Coalition of Reason (and other Coalitions) provide social cohesion, opportunities for charitable outreach, and important educational events. We hold ceremonies to mark the beginnings of new relationships, welcome children into our midst, and memorialize those who are taken from us. Simply put, we laugh together, we love together, and we mourn together. This is precisely the type of community I want to raise my children in; one in which critical thinking is a virtue, and any opinion is valid as long as it’s supported by sufficient evidence and reason. As freethinkers, we’re making incredible strides, and the next generation will help to create a society that we can only dream about today.Tagged with: 1979 • Camp Quest Texas • Dallas/Fort Worth • Dallas/Fort Worth Coalition of Reason • Fellowship of Freethought Dallas • Foundation Beyond Belief • Presbyterian • Reformed Baptist • Roman Catholic • Texas • Zachary Moore