How Atheism, Skepticism, and Humanism Changed My Life – and how it can Change Yours

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I was once taught to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. I was once taught to believe that God is the one true god. I was once taught to believe that all things are possible only through him. I was once taught that non-Christians weren’t good people. I was once taught that only Christianity could answer the questions that I had. I once believed in aliens, ghosts, and cryptids without hesitation. I once believed I was better than others.


At one time I believed these things to be true. But eventually, I woke up.

 

As a child, I rarely applied any skepticism to the things I observed. I, like most children, relied on the respected adults around me to help validate the things I read, heard, and saw. I had no reason to believe they were wrong; why would anyone willing, and even unknowingly, lie to children without hesitation? I looked up to them for guidance and guidance is what I received.

 

It wasn’t until I was much older had I begin questioning my beliefs. I began to understand the world much better, in ways that were much more fascinating than anything suggested to me from the pulpit, television, or literature. The beauty of living organisms, the complexity of our universe, and the incredible abilities of the human brain; all of which often taken credit for by those who believe they’ve been given a religious mandate to do so. Soon, it became incredibly hard for me to rely on faith.

 

History intrigued me the most. As I began to investigate the many cultures world-wide, from past to present, I began to realize something. From the stories of Genesis and Exodus to the resurrection of Jesus, they began to resemble the ancient writings of other early civilizations. Nothing extraordinary separated these stories from the rest. At this point, the belief in God had faded from me. I no longer felt compelled to worship a deity that I wasn’t sure existed. I then asked myself a very important question:

 

“What else could I be wrong about?”

 

I looked back at my life in an investigative way.

 

I was a “jock” in high school. As a result, I ran with a crowd that often found enjoyment in making fun of others. I transferred schools as a child, so once high school began, assimilation was my only hope. I will admit, popularity clouded my judgment. I felt untouchable in way that I never thought was possible. Unfortunately, others suffered from my foolish actions. Was it right of me to do so? Of course not. People are people, regardless if they differ from you in any way. Besides inducing laughter among my friends, there was no good reason to do what I once did. Everyone has the right to live their life without fear, meaningless judgment, and intimidation. To force others to endure these things is immoral, a belief that I hold dear today.

 

I love a good mystery. I cannot explain why, but since I was young the stories of ghosts, aliens, and cryptids entertained me. These often conflicted with my religious beliefs; but if God could truly exist, why couldn’t these. That kind of foolish thinking allowed my imagination to run wild. Nowadays, my skepticism keeps me from taking these sorts of claims seriously. I often ask myself these questions like, “How much does the claim require the suspension of natural laws?” or “What sort of evidence is being used to evaluate these claims?” Often you’ll find there to be little to no support reinforcing those beliefs; and if there is, it’s often examined through the lenses of confirmation bias. Thinking critically is very much important to me today, a trait that I hope will help keep me from trouble in the future.

 

If we want to live a knowledgeable and clear life, we must humble ourselves in way that may not sound easy to you now. I’ve done so by applying these simple principles:

 

  • I cannot be afraid to doubt unsubstantiated claims.
  • I cannot be afraid to ask questions about everything.
  • I need to be apprehensive before believing what other people say to be fact-based.
  • I need to treat others kindly in a respectable and adult way.
  • I need to live our lives day by day as if it is our last, because it’s highly probable this is the only life I get.
  • I need to recognize when I’ve been wrong and make an honest effort to correct those mistakes.

 

I ask you to do the same.

 

Finding atheism wasn’t frightening; it was enlightening. Finding skepticism didn’t make me feel as though I knew all the answers; it forced my beliefs to conform to reality. Finding humanism didn’t make me feel less important; it helped me understand why we’re all important. Finding reason was my exodus, and I want you to find yours.

 

We’re in this together, folks. So let’s make a better future for ourselves.

 

J. D. Brucker is an atheist author, a secular humanist, and an outspoken anti-theist. His first book Improbable: Is There Any Reason To Believe In God? was published by Dangerous Little Books in December of 2013. He blogs at Atheist Republic and his personal website. You can find him on Twitter. He resides in Chicago, Illinois.

Written By: J.D. Brucker

19 COMMENTS

  1. Your path to “enlightenment” was much like my own. I was raised by religious parents and accepted their beliefs without question. Ironically, it was they themselves that put the first seed of doubt in my mind. Instead of answering a question with reality, they applied the old “God” formula. When I learned the truth, I was very embarrassed, not because I hadn’t known the answer, but because I felt so stupid. It would eventually take many years to finally rid myself of that early indoctrination, and once I did it was like a huge weight was lifted. What I find so disheartening now is trying to tell others of my journey. Unfortunately, non-belief in a world of believers is anathema. They don’t even want to listen. It’s like they’re in a trance and don’t want to wake up. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. According to the New Testament, the pious Christians who taught him that only non-Christians are the bad people were lousy theologians. Even Jesus regarded himself as a bad man (Mark 10:18).

    • In reply to #3 by Bob Springsteen:

      Even Jesus regarded himself as a bad man (Mark 10:18).

      “And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)

      elsewhere it says “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) and in various other places the deity of Christ is clearly brought out of scripture. see http://vintage.aomin.org/EGO.html

      In Mark10:18, Jesus does not positively state that he is “bad”, he only asks why he calls him “good”. Emphatically, it means more as “why do YOU call me good”, instead of “why do you call ME good”. The difference is that some call Christ good, and others bad, and that the distinction is between them, not him.

      • And in the Troll fantasy of Rabulbabul the powerful overlord wearing a thigh leather g-string commanded the people to say “La Mancha” each time they burped instead of just feeling queasy.

        Please stop it! Stop negotiating what is in the fairytale bible.

        What does it matter what Jesus said or did?

        What does it matter what the imaginary just invented for this purpose Troll did?

        Come off it and return to sanity – and true Atheism

        Do you really think they spend a lot of time in the Church discussing Evolution?

        In reply to #5 by Kaubell:

        In reply to #3 by Bob Springsteen:

        Even Jesus regarded himself as a bad man (Mark 10:18).

        “And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)

        elsewhere it says “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30) and in various other places the deity of Christ is…

  3. In reply to NUMBER 5 by Kaubell : Hi Kaubell, The doctrine of the trinity has always been a contentious issue in Christiany. Michael Servetus was burnt at the stake in 1553 by John Calvin for denying the doctrine of the trinity and the divinity of Christ. The idea that the creator of the universe has written a book is absurd. The koran declares that it is the perfect word of God and Muhammad assured his followers that Jesus was not divine (Koran 5:71-75) and that anyone who believes in the deity of Jesus will end up in hell. Why don’t Christians worry about the possibility that Muhammad was the greatest prophet?

  4. I was also born into a Christian family. I remember ‘learning’ at my church’s youth group that Noah’s ark had been found and that some atheist scientist (there were only a few apparently, and the rest were Christian) had tired to prove Christianity wrong for 2000 years and hadn’t been able to do so. As a kid I trusted the adults who told me this kind of stuff but as I got older I began to question. Lucky I had an amazing history teacher who taught an intro to anthropology, sociology and psychology class in my high school. There I heard about evolution coherently for the first time and my doubts were more or less confirmed.

    Later I found authors like Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, and Bill Bryson (among others) all of which don’t just write about science but fill me with wonder over the vastness of the universe (multi-verse?) that surpasses anything religion ever did for me. I like to think of the religious and pseudoscience adherents as the real non believers or least all well versed in double think…

    • In reply to #7 by Adam_West:

      What other authors have you found? Are you a seeker of the truth? If you really are, you would include in your library the likes of Francis Collins’ The Language of God (he’s a physicist/geneticist and Dir. Of The Human Genome Project), john D. Lennox book Gunning for God (Prof. Of Mathematics, philosopher of Science – Oxford University) and C.S. Lewis (writer of the Chronickes of Narnia, former atheist, Christian apologetic) to just name a few. Enjoy!

  5. If you adhere to RD’s philosophy, why is it you feel the need to be nice to people? Why be humane? I know why I should be, but why do you? Where do you think this “instinct” of right and wrong came to be? How do you explain “true” altruism – read doing something for others w/o payback, and when no one else is watching? Another Dawkins perversion perhaps. Your being humane and nice would be a Darwinian perversion. Please read Francis Collins book The Language of God and accompanying Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. Enlightening.

    • In reply to #10 by MariaIsabella:

      If you adhere to RD’s philosophy, why is it you feel the need to be nice to people? Why be humane ?

      When you’re nice to people in your everyday exchanges and they reciprocate, you simply have a better day. Why make life disagreeable for yourself and everyone around you? It’s completely beside the point anyway. Perhaps it’s a fact that Christians or Muslims or whatever group or sect you nominate are in fact nicer. That still doesn’t make whatever nonsense they care to believe, true! Having an agreeable personality has nothing to do with the validity of the scriptures.

      Of course, that’s not the point you’re making, is it? I think you’re suggesting that you’re nice because your particular god is watching you and keeping score.

      • In reply to #11 by Nitya:

        Nitya, You’re off the mark in what I’m suggesting. I’m referencing RD’s “blind pitiless indifference” that he argues is conferred on all of nature, including himself and all the rest of humankind. Your selfish motivations for being nice to people seem to fit nicely with Dawkins, however, the above writer seems to have a much stronger urge to be nice to people, to be fair, to correct wrongs, etc. (which most of humanity feels too) which completely flies in the face of “DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”

        I’m suggesting that you, the writer, and all human beings have the instinct to “appeal to some kind of standard of behavior.” If you were to examine every dispute or quarrel, among nations or spouses, “it looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behavior or morality…..about which they really agreed.” c.s. lewis in quotes. The question is why? Where does it come from? Taking niceness further to the concept of selfless altruism (agape); this presents to F. Collins a “major challenge for the evolutionist”.

    • In reply to #10 by MariaIsabella:

      If you adhere to RD’s philosophy, why is it you feel the need to be nice to people?

      I don’t “need to be nice to people”. I won’t go to hell if I’m not and I’m not worried that someone is looking over my shoulder judging me. But most of the time I choose to be nice to people. Or at least I try. The main reason is that in my experience being nice is ultimately a lot better not just for the other person but for me as well. If I’m nice to people they are usually nice back. Of course I can fake it, pretend to be nice but really try to screw them every chance I get. But doing that conflicts with my own sense of morality. Also, it sets up a lot of cognitive dissonance which can cause all sorts of problems. I start lying to other people and I inevitably end up lying to myself as well.

      Where do you think this “instinct” of right and wrong came to be? How do you explain “true” altruism – read doing something for others w/o payback, and when no one else is watching?

      The short answer is I don’t know the complete answer to that question. IMO it’s a very interesting open scientific question. But we do know a lot already. There are two biological models for why organisms are altruistic: kin selection and reciprocal altruism. Kin selection says that from a biological sense it is rational for me to sometimes favor my kin over myself to maximize my reproductive success. Reciprocal altruism says that it is often in my long term interest to make short term sacrifices for another organism because that organism will do the same for me and we will eventually both be better off than if we each were selfish.

      I think a lot of our instincts, e.g., the way we get angry when someone cheats or goes back on a promise, can be explained via reciprocal altruism.

      Now I can anticipate your response. “Yes but that’s not REAL altruism because you are still ultimately being selfish” And my reply is that this is what happens when you stop discussing things with imprecise and pseudoscience terminology such as religion and start using the precise language of science. We have to rethink some of our concepts and realize that the terminology we use in every day life is inevitably inconsistent and will have to be modified if we really want to increase our knowledge.

      My other reply to the “it’s not really altruism” is that I agree these two biological models don’t explain everything about our moral sense. That’s why I said it’s still an interesting open question.

    • In reply to #10 by MariaIsabella:

      Your being humane and nice would be a Darwinian perversion.

      False for the reasons described previously. You can even see this in many other animals. There are fish that clean the parasites off of other fish. The cleaner fish are also edible for the fish to be cleaned. But the fish being cleaned will not eat the cleaning fish. Even after the cleaned fish have been cleaned they still won’t eat them and even when they are hungry. They will even go out of their way to warn or help the cleaner fish when they are in danger of being eaten by other fish. This is an example from Robert Trivers’ paper that defined Reciprocal Altruism.

      Again, I’m not saying Darwinian theory can completely explain morality, in fact my intuition is that it can’t, but it’s wrong to say that altruism is always a “Darwinian perversion”.

    • In reply to #10 by MariaIsabella:

      If you adhere to RD’s philosophy, why is it you feel the need to be nice to people? Why be humane? I know why I should be, but why do you? Where do you think this “instinct” of right and wrong came to be? How do you explain “true” altruism – read doing something for others w/o payback, and…

      So if you saw an old lady who had fallen over and there was no god watching you to give you a reward would you probably walk past and leave her to die? Or perhaps you would rob her first eh? Do you really need to be ‘paid’ in order to help someone out? What is wrong with you? Do you have no conscience or sense of empathy?

  6. I am not sure where all this is leading…better or worse? You seemingly progressed from a believer to a now informed atheist. What is the difference if you still cling on to notions that can only really be categorized in the religious world. You want to “feel” good.You want to feel “right”. There is no such thing! Pure being does not distinguish. One bacteria does not say to the other “your are wrong”! (does that in fact make my comment a ??). There are no such things. Keep living in the fairy world if you want to – but if you want to step into the real world – make it a point to remove all religious sentiments first.

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