Reflections on My Personal Evolution

Last month marks the three-year anniversary of my blog, but this week marks the end of not only a year, but a decade. I want to end this year with a little bit of introspection on who I am as an atheist.

I’ve made a few posts before on what type of atheist I am, my own personal evolution, and how my blog is changing. But I want to go into more detail about why I’m not your stereotypical atheist, even though perhaps I used to be.

Before I go on, I want to point out that the reflections I’m about to share have been in the back of my mind for a while, and they’ve shown in a couple of recent posts. In July, I wrote 9 Annoying Things Atheists Do, which was inspired by “Internet atheism” and specifically atheist memes that I had found really distasteful. While I like that post, I decided to go even further last month and just dedicate an entire post to atheist memes that I found slightly offensive but maximally cringey. To my surprise, that may have been my most disliked post of all time. This doesn’t bother me that much, because I stand by everything I said there. I still do not like atheist memes, and hopefully this post will help explain why.

I’ve been on the Atheist Internet for a long time now, or at least a long time to me. Quotes that may have once been one-liners are now stale; I’ve heard them all hundreds of times. For example, take the quote: “You’re basically killing each other to see who’s got the better imaginary friend.” Yeah, sure. It’s not wrong. But I’ve heard it far too often to get any humor or terror from it. To me, the simile that God is like an imaginary friend in the sky has just gone stale. I know that many atheists like to say so, but if you’re going to say this to try to persuade a theist out of their beliefs, then why even bother? What’s worse, upon Googling this quote, you can’t even tell if it was spoken originally by Richard Jeni or by Blaise Pascal (although I don’t think Pascal used such modern language).

The fact of the matter is that although atheists, at the end of the day, share only their disbelief in God in common, there is somewhat of a mold that you’re supposed to fit if you’re an atheist. You should be mad. You should be offensive. You should be able to drop a one-liner to a theist as if you’re Christopher Hitchens and you think you just shattered their entire worldview with your brilliance.

But I’m not like that. Maybe I used to be, and maybe I am deep down. I was raised Lutheran (like… really Lutheran), as you probably know, and I attended a sickeningly Christian college, Grove City College. So when I first identified as an atheist and started writing, I was more angry than I am now, because I was surrounded by Christians in all 360 degrees. But that anger has faded over time, especially in the last year when I got married, moved out of my mom’s house, and got a job. I don’t have that much to be mad about. The anger I felt was mostly reactionary because of what I was dealing with.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an event put on by my local freethought community. I had a great time, even though in some ways it felt like I was being launched into the past. I met some really awesome, nice people my age, and we shared stories about our religious upbringings, deconversion, and coming out. It was good to connect with like-minded people, but I had to think about things that I haven’t focused on in a long time.

I also overheard someone say, “Thank God I’m an atheist!” and for some reason I can’t stop thinking about it. Of course, I have heard people say this before, but I just stopped and wondered, Why? What does that even mean? Is it supposed to be funny? I’ve been hearing things like this for so long, and after moving past mere atheism, it feels odd that people are still relishing the sheer fact that they don’t believe in God, even years after their belief has disappeared.

Perhaps a lot of my atheistic pessimism stems from my recent reading of Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? You hopefully know that I don’t take anything at face value, and that I could change my mind with better evidence, but so far I’ve found his arguments convincing. If you don’t know, Ehrman made a pretty solid case that there was a historical Jesus, based only on facts and evidence, as Ehrman himself is an agnostic and has nothing to gain in saying that Jesus existed. He made a lot of fascinating points in passing, noting that you’ll have to read his other books to learn them in detail, which of course I can’t wait to do.

More than just swaying me within the Jesus debate, Ehrman’s book has changed my worldview in a way. I’m less drawn to just claiming that the bible is a big pile of hot garbage like most atheists would, but I’d rather really study it and understand it. No, I don’t believe that the events in the bible are literally true, and obviously I don’t believe that God exists, but I don’t think you have to throw the whole thing away. The bible is so interesting: where did it come from? Who wrote it? Who changed it? Who actually was Jesus, and why did he end up how he did? If you are wondering why the bible has so many contradictions, you might actually enjoy studying why it came to be.

You might also actually gain some information to use against believers. When confronted with why the four gospels contradict each other so thoroughly, Christians often say, “Well, four eyewitnesses to an event will all remember it differently and tell the story in their own unique way.” I think that what really happened is even more interesting. None of the authors were eyewitnesses, but the gospel of Mark was the first to be written, and large amounts of Matthew and Luke were taken from Mark, although their authors tried their best to correct what they saw as errors in Mark. Furthermore, in that time, Jesus and God were believed to be two separate entities, with Jesus being only the Son of God. By the time that the Gospel of John was written, people were believing that Jesus was God, which is why John has such different theology than the other three.

At least in my case, this really does give the bible a bit of nuance. Of course it’s not divinely inspired, but it came from somewhere. Someone wrote it. But who? When? Why? Which parts are true, which are exaggerated, and which are entirely false? Most importantly, why did this old, old collection of 66 books end up controlling our country from 1776 to 2019 and beyond? Do atheists really think these questions are not worth asking? Is it really wise to just say that the bible is equally as fictional as Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings, and to dismiss it entirely?

Rather than causing me to linger on the arguments for and against God’s existence, I believe that my atheism has awakened in me a greater skepticism. I covered it at length in this post, but the overall point was this:

“Now that I’m out of the closet, and out of college, I feel like I can take a deep breath, step away from the polar opposites like God is Not Great and The Case for a Creator, and revel in the fact that I get to just learn things that I never would have had the opportunity, or even the idea, of learning if I had never gone through a period of deconversion. . . .

They may not be synonymous, but I believe that atheism and inquiry go hand-in-hand. I think that I have always had a curious mind . . . I am following a new urge to take each question much further than these surface-level “atheism” questions and get to the science behind it all.”

I find it telling that I wrote that almost a year before ever changing my blog name to The Curious Atheist. That was written at the beginning of my breaking away from just being your stereotypical “friendly neighborhood atheist” to being “that girl that talks about fossils all the time,” which I’m now proud to be. My fascination with human evolution stems from the absolute joy I got from taking in every word of Donald Johanson’s Lucy, which of course, I only ever read after at first being an atheist, wondering why the bible got creation all wrong, and wanting to know where Homo sapiens actually came from. But like I’ve said before, what makes Lucy a great refutation of religion is that it never even mentions creationism.

So while I will probably always be an atheist, I will never be “just an atheist” ever again. I’m an atheist that actually wants to know what brings our world and our fascination to life outside of the myth of God. Recently, I can’t get enough of science and of history, and to the shock of my past self, none of it even has to go back to disproving religion. Tell me about the discovery of fire or about the dinosaurs. Tell me why that first australopithecine started walking upright. Tell me about physics, neurology, and ancient medicine. Tell me about the beliefs of the founders of the United States, and about giant telescopes, about tall buildings and tragic plagues.

I’m a curious atheist, and I don’t just want to disbelieve. I want to know.

16 thoughts on “Reflections on My Personal Evolution

  • Well I started blogging back in 2005 – around Christmas time when my paternal grandmother died on Christmas Day. Back then I was on blogger.com, but shortly thereafter I moved to wp and much better. New anno felix to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Well said. Looking at the world without a religious lens to blur our curiosities is very liberating indeed. Many people are glad when they become atheist, hence the ‘thank God’ meme that you mentioned. But what are we really celebrating? Becoming an atheist is merely a byproduct of someone using their reasoning or rational thought, that is cause for more celebration than ‘not believing in a God’. I was angry too when I first started blogging, but without the constant pressure from Christian’s things have subsided a bit. I still enjoy blogging though.

    Liked by 1 person

  • I’m desperately trying to finish Ehrman’s ” Jesus – Interrupted.’ In it, he claims to be a Christian. He lists dozens – hundreds – of New Testament contradictions, misinterpretations, forgeries, books written by one person, but credited to another for believability, additions, deletions, how each of the books was written in a skewed style for propaganda purposes…. and then insists that he’s still a Christian believer – because of the ‘underlying message.’ 🙄

    Liked by 3 people

  • Strong post! Love it.

    There are so many ‘look at those stupid theist’ internet memes and blogs posts out there.

    What made me begin to question in the first place was having someone respect the person behind the belief, which in the end helped that person realise they held beliefs that they couldn’t rationally accept, and now this person is here waves.

    But this person is still on a journey and will become some future person one day. It is all about the journey and not the destination. We can learn facts, we can learn truth and we can sit in awe of the massive gaps in our knowledge, wondering if our children’s children will know the answers to the questions that stump us each and every day.

    I want to learn about things like: renewable energy, how to cure depression, why is music so powerful, and how to build carbon neutral homes. Oddly I didn’t care about such things when I believed, but now I realise that I have a responsibility to learn and grow, to teach my children and to pass the baton on as lovingly as I can when my time is done.

    Our time is finite, but that doesn’t mean we live as such. Our purpose is self made, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t map our destiny.

    -Sam

    Liked by 1 person

  • Rebecca, this sentence, “I’m an atheist that actually wants to know what brings our world and our fascination to life outside of the myth of God. s sentence: ” I ponder your meaning and this is my paraphrase: ” I’m an atheist who wants to discover the joys of life without religion.” Thanks. GROG

    Liked by 2 people

  • Personally, I see memes of the theist/atheist category as mere metaphoric sarcasm or an attempt at sarcasm. I smile if they tickle my fancy and frown otherwise. I try to use metaphors and similies myself. On the other subject of this post, i.e. Jesus, was he or wasn’t he a real person to be a meaningless question or subject to ponder. Really, why bother with it?

    Liked by 1 person

  • I think the bible was constructed by many writers over the years, not to be taken literally. (Especially the Old Testament), and can be used as a handbook for living in this world. One day I’ll read it!!! What I have read, to me, reads like James Joyce, Ulysses…hard to read.
    Anyway, stay curious with an open mind. There’s so much to know and so little time to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Interesting post. I’m an always been atheist, as I wasn’t raised in religion nor had any close religious friends or family.
    But I will admit to getting angry about it, as I truly see it as a dangerous controlling mindset for the controlled and the controller.

    But having said that, I too have a large curiosity about many things, philosophical ideas, cosmology, neurology and currently the repetition of history and man’s proneness to extremism and evil.

    I liken memes to the statement that often a lot can be stated in a few words. But yes, many are inflammatory.

    I don’t know that the divide between the religious and the agnostic/atheist can ever be bridged, as I believe the two minds work differently in some neurological way.

    Liked by 2 people

  • You could have titled this, ‘reflections on me.’
    I think you are very influenced by your past religious life experiences. It’s okay, so am I. Just ask Ark.
    You claim not to be stereotypical. Is anyone?
    Do you think your sense of humor is that of a literalist? Does your sense of irony and sarcastic humor need to mature?
    As a follower, reader, and fan of yours, I would call you an evidence-based, scientifically-led, serious atheist who is more influenced by her past religious life than by her atheistic philosophies.
    Much of what you write is critical of atheists and supportive of religious folk (me too, but … ). You certainly do want to know. So do I. Good luck! I enjoyed this. As usual, you made me think on a Sunday morning. Such irony.

    Liked by 2 people

  • I have been trying to figure out exactly what it is about memes I dislike so much. The first and most obvious thing that has occurred to me is that I regard them as lazy. They are a substitute for making a thoughtful contribution. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that something else was going on. The image-based memes and the one-liners remind me of something. They remind me of the sort of mindless drivel evangelical fundamentalist Christians are taught to recite without thinking too deeply about what they are saying. You know, the stuff they find so profound but is almost always laughably shallow. That’s what the atheist memes remind me of.

    Liked by 1 person

  • “But I’m not like that.”

    Yes, the same here. I’ve never actually been angry at religion or at my time spent in religion.

    As for curiosity — that has been the driving force of my life for as long as I can remember. There’s always something new to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

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