Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How and why I became an atheist, Part 5

In part 1 of this series, I look at my conservative Lutheran childhood, above all my conservative Lutheran minister father's influences.

Part 2 gets into my high school and college years.

And Part 3 gets to my trying to follow in dad's footsteps at a Lutheran seminary, or divinity school.

In Part 4, I look at my "conversion" or transition period of my last year of school there, my first year of mixed part-time work after graduation, my moving to somewhere between Uniterianism and agnosticism, and an invitation from my dad to move back in with him.

So, it's up to Flint, Michigan.

Dad suggested that I might be able to get an adjunct teaching position at Baker College, which had an entire division called "Corporate Services," largely devoted to helping UAW workers using education benefits to get their degrees before the next automaker layoff.

He also said that that wouldn't pay a lot of money and might not offer a lot of hours. He said one of his members was the manager of a 7-Eleven and I could probably pick up a few hours there.

Well, between feeling depressed at "failing dad," feeling depressed at "having" to move back home, feeling depressed at having "fallen" to the level of 7-Eleven work, etc., I was depressed indeed. Add in the fact of feeling hypocritical by going to dad's church every Sunday and going through the motions, and that's serious depression.

So, I tried to kill myself. And nearly succeeded. I took half a bottle of over-the-counter sleeping pills while getting drunk, maybe more. And, was going to put a bag over my head to try to suffocate myself while sleeping, in the process.

Well, I didn't get the bag on tight enough. And the self-preservation powers of human physiology kicked in a few hours later, and I violently threw up the undigested portion of the sleeping pills.

As it was, I had double vision or worse 24 hours later, with very rubbery legs.

But, I'm here today.


I taught for a year, before the college said that, due to North Central Association accreditation changes, I could only teach religion classes, of which they had none open at the time. They also said that someone had filed a sexual harassment claim (unfounded) against me. And, three months after that, a 20-year-old, or so, held me up at the 7-Eleven with a 9mm automatic.

Dad was ready to get out of Michigan, so I moved with him to small-town Texas, fortunately not too far from Dallas. Meanwhile, I was becoming an ever-more-serious drinker, out of life-frustration, boredom, and PTSD (and trigger of past PTSD symptoms) over having a 9mm waved a foot in front of my nose.

All of the emotional reasons for questioning not just the existence of god, but the support value (other than purely human group support) of any metaphysically-based organization, were increasing ever more.

On the intellectual side, I had done further critical study of biblical texts plus more and more reading in comparative religion.

And, on the personal development side, probably more unconsciously than consciously, some growth was happening there.

I don't want to stereotype agnosticism, but, for many, I think it's more a halfway house than a permanent stop; a seminary acquaintance actually pushed me back then to "declare myself" as an atheist and stop hiding out in agnosticism world. For those for whom "positive agnosticism" is a valid stance, though, my hat is indeed off to you. That said, I was also reading my first books on philosophical atheism before leaving Michigan. I knew I was at least at the farther edge of agnosticism.

And, as this part and part 4 of my journey have shown, atheists (usually the P.Z. Myers type of "Gnu Atheists" who talk about religion as a psychological crutch don't get the time of day from me. I understand the desire for its comforts, still today.

Two years of living with my dad in Texas got me a start in newspaper journalism, with a boss who was (himself) an alcoholic drinker, I believe. But, I got out of there, got a job as editor of a weekly newspaper and ...

I'll tackle more in Part 6.

No comments: