Saturday, March 19, 2011

How and why I became an atheist, part 1

The denouement came near the end of my graduate divinity degree studies, as I realized I just could not follow in the footsteps of my conservative Lutheran father.

First, a touch of family background. My dad'ss mom's mother had been a minster, and he wouldn't hear of my grandma becoming a missionary, so wish fulfillment surely passed down to my dad, her only son. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, then as now, has an all-male ministry, but, my dad's sister became a Lutheran parochial school teacher.

And, it went on from there.

My oldest brother? A minister? My second brother has a day job at LCMS headquarters and is a part-time paid music director at a fair-sized church. My third brother is a fairly active layperson. My sister, after saying when she was younger she'd never marry one, married a minister.

And, there's me.

For those unfamiliar with the conservative wing of Lutheranism, I say, picture a near-Catholic, or Episcopalian, worship style mixed with conservative Southern Baptist beliefs. This denomination still believes in a literally inerrant bible, while making allowance for poetic passages in some places. (That said, how the four corners of the earth can be poetic, but Genesis 1, or Genesis 2, can't be, and must be understood literally, is ... one of those things within conservative Christianity in general.) Some allowance is made for "gaps" in genealogies, so the LCMS doesn't believe in Bishop Ussher's 4,004 BCE. But, it is some sort of young-earth creationist, i.e, 100,000 BCE or so.

My dad pushed me through confirmation class in one year rather than two, to show off his skills at educating his children. And, at the same time, or before, I willingly sat apart from the rest of the family, in the front pew, staring up at the pulpit every Sunday and taking sermon notes. Many family dynamics were involved.

However, I had the first "slippage" in belief at the same time.

At about the same time, when I was about 11 or so, at the end of Ash Wednesday church services, a stranger came in our sanctuary.

After church, he asked my dad to exorcise a demon or demons from him. Yes, really.

Well, among our church members was a man who was a psychiatrist at the local Indian Health Service hospital. After a brief, brief of listening to the stranger, my dad told the psychiatrist to start calling.

That said, I was disappointed. I knew Jesus' "O ye of little faith" admonition to his disciples when they once failed at an exorcism.

But, I was more than disappointed.

I was also, silently, laughing on the inside. Laughing at my dad's lack of faith and lack of faith-based power.

So, how much, at all, was my eventual move away from religious belief due to some sort of rebellion? Setting that aside, how much of it was matters of the heart and how much of it was matters of logic and/or empirical evidence (or lack thereof, on both evidence and logic)?

More on that in following sections, starting with Part 2. It is followed by parts 3, 4, 5 and 6.

No comments: