We went to church every week and I always choose to be active in the church. I was even an Alter Boy. Go ahead and make your jokes, but I always liked doing it. Our priest, Father Ralph, was actually pretty cool. (As a side note, he eventually left the priesthood and got married.) Also, being an Alter Boy gave me something to do during mass. It helped ease the mind numbing boredom that was church.
I received a double dose of indoctrination in the form of religious eduction. Also once a week. It was basically bible stories and workbooks. Its other purpose was to prepare us for important events. One of those events being first communion. For the uninitiated, first communion is sort of the first affirmation that you want to be Catholic. For me it was not really a question and I never really felt like I had a choice. I just did it. I mean, everyone else was doing it.
I became part of our church's youth group. It was a pretty good time. It was mostly just a community volunteer group with a slight religious undertone. Unfortunately, I was again surrounded by like-minded people who unquestioningly believed in God.
My first seed of doubt came when I started high school. It didn't come from my science classes. I had already learned about evolution and it had already been professed to be compatible with religion. It actually came from my social studies class, when we learned about the various world religions. There were so many current religious and so many that had come before. All dramatically different in their claims and beliefs. Which one was right? How cocky of me to have believed all these years that I had the answers. And I went further, how did any of them know that they were right? Certainly all of them thought they were the one true religion. Meaning most of them were wrong.
I was wrong.
I kept these thoughts to myself and continued with my religious studies. I was preparing for my confirmation into the Roman Catholic religion and had no intention of rocking the boat just yet. In my religious education classes, we began to question our religious instructors. Clearly, I was not the only one had had begun to doubt. The answers did not satisfy me. Questions were merely dodged. We were told that we just had to have faith. That did not sit well with me. Why should I just take them at their word? Why doesn't God come down here and show his damn face. Surely, that would be enough to make a believer of me. Of course that never happened and the word of the believers was no longer good enough. I was steadily loosing my faith.
It happened slowly. I still went to church, but I began to look at it with a more critical eye. I now understood the rituals and chants. The blind following and affirmation. It always amused me that the church-goers were referred to as the flock. They didn't even try to hide that fact that we were a bunch of sheep. I stopped praying and I stopped saying the creeds.
I went through with my confirmation. It was a joke to me, but I had no intention of disappointing my mother or anyone else for that matter. Plus I wasn't a hundred percent sure of my position and I had already gone through with everything else up until that point. Immediately following my confirmation, I stopped going to church. I began thinking of myself as agnostic. I knew that the Roman Catholics were wrong, but I wasn't quite ready to call myself an atheist yet.
Around the time I went to college was when I shed faith in God entirely. I was happy to find other open minded people. And when I say open minded, I don't necessarily mean they were atheist. I mean they were willing to consider my position, even if they disagreed with me. It just felt good to speak freely, and it strengthened my position.
However, in the spirit of open mindedness, I too would be questioned. I realized I didn't have all the answers. I was unable to refute logical claims made by the religious. Nor did I know the sciences well enough to explain evolution or astronomy, should the need arise.
I started to read. I just Google searched atheism one day. Just looking for some help. I wanted to be able to argue my position. This lead me to Richard Dawkin's site and in turn P.Z. Myers' site. I picked up some books about atheism. First, Richard Dawkin's The God Delusion and then Carl Sagan's A Demon-Haunted World. Reading Sagan's book introduced me to more than just atheism. It introduced me to skepticism. I understood the need to demand evidence for any claim. My reading then moved to more specific topics like biology and astronomy. I finally had the knowledge to argue the atheist position and back it up with evidence.
The promotion of atheism and skepticism has since become an important aspect of my life. There is real harm that can come from making decisions that are not based in reality and I intend to stand against it. My primary method of promotion is simply to speak plainly about what I am and what I believe. And I encourage others to do the same.