With this article, I publicly declare my atheism. For 40 years, I’ve had a series of negative emotional experiences while interacting with Christians of various denominations. The accumulation of those experiences ultimately drove me to question the intellectual underpinnings of religion and finally become an atheist.
My parents enrolled me in the mid1960s in St. Bernard’s Catholic School in Levittown, N.Y., when I was 6 or 7. One day, our teacher, a nun, told us to put our books down, but I was engrossed in the material and didn’t hear her. Slap! With lightning quickness for such an antediluvian individual, she gave me a karate chop to my Adam’s apple. I still remember feeling pain, shame, fear and anger at the nun and the school. I complained and my parents quickly removed me from the school.
When I became a teen, my parents placed me in Temple Heights Christian School, a Baptist school in Tampa, Fla. One elderly female teacher told us that Catholics, which I still was, worshiped idols and were all hellbound. I challenged her and told her that she was a Baptist because she and her parents grew up in the southern United States and adopted the religion common to that area. Would it not be silly and unfair, I asked, for God to condemn an entire group of people because they grew up where the wrong religion was dominant? I did not convince her.
In my mid-teens, I attended New Orleans Baptist School in Tampa, where I actually had a good time. No nuns, and the students — mostly Cubans — accepted me, a white kid, into their group. They taught me another lesson about religion.
The group’s short-tempered leader got into a fight one day. After injuring another student, he made the sign of the Christian cross and acted as if nothing had happened. I realized this was an example of “cheap grace.” You can beat someone up, but if you ask, God will forgive you for your sins. Where is the incentive to stop negative behavior when your God keeps forgiving you?
As I left my teen years, went to college and started working, I did not reject religion outright, but I stopped going to church and religion became unimportant. If asked to declare my religion, I still said “Catholic,” but the word had become just a label.
Fast-forward to 2001. I was still nonreligious but had not made the mental jump to atheism. Then the administration of George W. Bush came along.
The Religious Right heavily supported Bush during his two runs for president and provided the base of support for most of his policies. Right away I could see the huge gulf between Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” and his policies. He oversaw cuts to programs needed by the poor or otherwise disadvantaged, while increasing funding for the U.S. military, already the mightiest assemblage of armed personnel the world had ever seen.
How could this be? How could an overtly religious man support policies that seemed to be the antithesis of major tenets of his religion, such as promoting peace and helping those in need?
I started reading atheist-oriented books. When Freethought Radio debuted in 2007, I started listening to the podcasts on my iPod every week. In 2009, I realized I had become an atheist and attended the FFRF convention in Seattle.
Have I come out as an atheist? Yes and no. I wear hoodies imprinted with pictures and slogans that poke fun at religion. On one hoodie, “Teach the Controversy” appears below a farmer guiding a plow pulled by a triceratops. Another “Teach the Controversy” hoodie depicts the Ptolemaic model of the solar system. A clock in my basement displays the phrase “God Bless Atheism!” The license plate on my car says NODOGMA.
I wear a Richard Dawkins’ “scarlet A” necklace, but I keep the “A” covered with a T-shirt in public. I neither speak about, nor display evidence of, my atheism at my workplace, except with one or two co-workers who are also atheists.
This is for two reasons: First, I do not believe in sharing religious or nonreligious beliefs with a captive audience, namely my co-workers. Second, my company and many of my co-workers are conservative.
Though I do not believe my job would be placed in jeopardy by coming out as an atheist, it certainly would not build much rapport at work, to say nothing of advancing my career.
FFRF member Gene Osegovic loves the mountains and natural beauty of his adopted state of Colorado, where he’s a project manager. His interests include reading, computing technology, ’70s and ’80s music, bowling, chess, tennis, skiing, photography and drinking red wine. He visited Australia earlier this year and plans to take a panoramic tour of Western Europe this fall.
His favorite atheist quote (by Anne Nicol Gaylor): “Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”