Tag Archives: atheism

What grief means to me as an atheist

When discussing the different paths which lead to non-belief it’s interesting to see how much variation there can be, and what so many of us have in common. One thing I have in common with many atheists is that I used to be a christian. Another thing I share with a number of people is that I’ve lost loved ones. My story is not unique in several ways, but my own journey has been strongly tied to death and loss–because they are immutable aspects of life–and I assert that my search to find realistic and reasonable ways to cope with loss led me to my current worldview, and that I am a better person for it.

I could write an entire book (and someday will) about the things that brought me to this point, but my first experience with loss was in the third grade. My friend Nicole died after her father fell asleep while smoking a cigarette and burned the house down. She was afraid and hid under the bed. I remember asking my dad why it happened and he responded, “Daniel, everything happens for a reason.” I don’t recall the rest of the conversation, but I do remember wondering what reason there could be for her death. Even at such a young age I knew there was something fundamentally wrong with that answer.

My dad and I lived in the country, and I’d ride my bike to the baptist church a mile or so away each Sunday to sing in the choir. If one can imagine how warmly I was greeted, coming sometimes without my father and happily singing with abandon, then one might be able to understand how appealing aspects of christianity were to me due to positive feedback and association. They also talked about “God’s Plan” as if that were the answer to any and all questions.

September of 1990 was a bad month for me. At almost ten years old, I came home from school to find my dad with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. To this day I can tell you exactly what I said: “Oh God, please don’t let my father die. Jesus, save my dad.” I said this before even calling anyone. Needless to say, that prayer went unanswered.

That loss is what led me to become stronger in my faith as a christian. My earthly father was gone, and I replaced him with the heavenly father promised by christianity, one who was all-powerful and would never leave. This persisted through my late teens, during which time I studied the bible and helped lead youth groups. I was in the worship band at church and was the president of the christian club at my high school. I wrote christian rock songs. Eventually, I started attending an apostolic church. Though it is embarrassing to admit, I have spoken in tongues and at one point in my life unquestioningly believed it was possible to heal someone by laying hands on them and praying.

Shortly after the end of my junior year, a good friend and fellow church-goer hung himself, but he didn’t die. His mom found him and performed CPR until the paramedics arrived. He ended up in a coma in the ICU. This really got the holy rolling among the faithful. I remember prayer sessions in the church, people standing up to say that god had spoken to them and said he would heal this young man. I remember sitting at my friend’s bedside in the hospital, singing hymns and reading the bible to him. I was convinced god would save him.

Isaac Asimov said, “Properly read, [the bible] is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” After my friend died a handful of weeks into June of 1998, I spent the rest of that summer reading the bible. I started at the beginning and read straight through to the end. By the time I finished I no longer believed in god, though many months passed before I was able to admit it to myself or others. Christianity, the very thing that had given me solace in my younger years, became hollow and unfulfilling even as I had yet to emerge from adolescence into adulthood.

One of the most difficult things with which to come to terms was relinquishing the idea that I (my soul, anyway) would live forever. By extension, I had to let go of the hope of seeing those I’d lost and spending eternity with them in paradise. I struggled with this for some time. These and other thoughts brought me to despair. It was a difficult period because there was still a part of me that desired the ability to believe these things, but there was no part of me able to implement those beliefs in any meaningful way. I no longer believed, and no amount of prayer or soul-seeking could change that. It forced me to come to terms with my thoughts on death and loss, and what it really meant to grieve for a time and then move on without the benefit of consoling myself with the promise of a reunion in an afterlife.

Recently a good friend of mine passed away. He had spent the last decade here in Portland, but was originally from South Carolina. His family held a memorial there, which left many of us with no way to mourn the loss of this wonderful person. The night he died I spoke on the phone with people all over the world–Qatar, England, Australia, and other countries–who counted Greg as a friend. As I spoke with those who loved him, I realized they, too, would need to mourn and grieve for their loss.

For me, grieving has always been a social process. I seek out others with whom to share stories and hugs. When my fiancée passed away in 2011, my way of coping was to spend the next day calling her friends and loved ones to let them know what had happened. There were so many who cared for her, and a Facebook message or email just seemed so impersonal, even cruel. It was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done, but I will never forget the kind words and memories shared that day. I remember wishing at the time that I could do it in person, that I could wrap my arms around them and sob with them, that I could look them in the eyes and tell them that eventually things would be all right.

I did something similar when Greg died last week. I was on the phone with people I had never met or even seen, laughing and crying as we shared stories of our mutual friend. We were brought together by our shared affection and loss. Many of the friends Greg had were from the internet. He was a member of an organization that finds people who post animal torture videos online and turns them over to the authorities, and many of the people who knew and loved him were met through that group. As I talked to these people, I found myself wishing I could speak to them face to face or that we could all get together in a room and share stories of our friend.

We live in an age of unprecedented connectedness. The virtual world of the internet allows us to meet in real-time with people all over the globe, so we decided to do just that. The organization Free Geek was kind enough to allow the use of its facilities, and we had a virtual memorial there on Saturday, July 27. With a combination of a chat room and live-streaming video (special thanks to Steven Olsen for helping me figure out how to live-stream a Google Hangout), people from all over the world gathered and shared stories of our friend, read dirty limericks (he requested this before he died), listened to Greg’s favorite songs, and generally had a great time.

We did not need a church and a minister or even a funeral home and an officiant, all we needed was technology and the shared love of a dearly missed friend. I’ve been to a number of funerals and wakes. As far as memorials go, this one was the most fun I’ve ever had. I want something similar when I die, an event that brings people together regardless of their location and is as geeky as possible. While there’s a part of me that wishes I could believe I’ll see my friend again someday, I am moved by how many people thought him an integral part of their lives and honored to be able to put together a memorial that paid tribute to his memory, personality, and life.

Our remembrance and celebration of one another is the closest we will ever get to immortality. The chat transcript and video from Greg Traylor’s memorial were saved and are available at http://greg.overtgeek.com.

“If this is a dark era, then let us enlighten it.”

I consider myself very lucky to live in a country where there are no legal restrictions against speech that criticizes religion or religious people. Some are not so lucky, like Fazil Say, a composer who’s now in a Turkish prison and being charged with breaking laws against inciting hate and insulting the values of muslims.

His crime? Statements and tweets that are critical of islam and muslims. Some of his tweets are extremely disparaging toward muslims and islamic doctrine:

I am not sure if you have also realised it, but if there’s a louse, a non-entity, a lowlife, a thief or a fool, it’s always an Islamist.

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The gospel according to Dan, part 3: The actual gospel

Scumbag Jesus

Guys, it’s OK, he works in mysterious ways.

I figured that Sunday would be an appropriate day to finish up the gospel according to Dan. Today, we’ll look at the gospel story, specifically the gospels canonized in the new testament of the christian bible. Feel free to catch up on part 1 and part 2, if you haven’t already read them. What follows is the gospel story, in plain language. I mean no offense by any of the terms, but like I said in part 1, I want to offer an outside perspective of the story to those who believe that the bible is meant to be taken 100% literally, in the hopes that it offers insight in to why skeptical people have a difficult time accepting that any of this could have actually happened. For a more detailed analysis, see below for a list of links.

So, we have four books that supposedly tell the same story. Two of them offer genealogy, because one of the prophecies that Jesus was meant to fulfill is that he is a descendant of King David. Strangely, these genealogies differ greatly. Many apologetic arguments perform mental gymnastics to attempt to explain this away, but there is nothing in Luke to suggest that the lineage is Mary’s.

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The gospel according to Dan, part 2


Sidenote: Goats.com is a great webcomic.

So, yesterday we went through a brief history of my involvement with christianity. Today, we’re going to go through a plain English retelling of the first two chapters of the first book of the bible. I’ll try and keep it simple and easy to understand, since others have already conducted more detailed inquiries into the scientific accuracy of Genesis. If you haven’t read the first two chapters of Genesis, ever or recently, here’s a link that will allow you to do so. If you believe that the bible is the inerrant word of god and should be taken literally, you should pay attention. If you take the Genesis account to be 100% true, it is impossible to reconcile this version of events with our current scientific understanding of the universe.

If there really were an all-powerful god who had hand-crafted the universe, the very first page of his very own book would have been a damn good place to grab your attention. Starting out with something universal, something unknowable to those who actually wrote the bible, supposedly through divine influence, would have been a great start. A few things that come to mind: Continue reading

My coming out day

I have been living a lie. Despite being quite vocal about my atheism, I have lied to my family about it for years through omission. I freely admit that this is mainly out of expediency, coupled with my desire to maintain stress-free relationships with family members. There are several people in my family that are devoutly religious. One of them recently graduated from a baptist seminary. I have no doubt that some of them will probably not take the news well, but I felt it necessary to tell them about my views because I can no longer deal with hiding it from them. It’s not fair to them to be told lies, and it’s certainly not fair to me to feel obligated to hide my deeply held views in the interest of not making waves.

Here’s the letter I sent them: Continue reading

The gospel according to Dan, part 1

Many people seem to have difficulty thinking about their beliefs from an outside perspective. It’s helpful to try though, if only to understand how other people view you. For instance, opinions of me probably range from those who think I am demon-possessed or horribly lost from a spiritual perspective, to others who may agree with me but find my manner of argument boorish or my approach too offensive. As an anti-theist, I’m used to being told that I’m being too forceful, too insistent in my scathing posts and comments about religion. I’d like to offer some insight regarding what motivates me, and why I view religion as so damaging. Continue reading

Oh, Ohio

Groups urge Ohio Supreme Court to uphold firing of Creationist science teacher | The Raw Story.

It’s always nice to see my home state in the news. Mt Vernon is about an hour north of Columbus. I have family about a dozen miles away, so I’ve been in the area many times. It’s a mostly rural, very religious area, so this story doesn’t surprise me at all.

John Freshwater has no business being a science teacher. Reading through his Wikipedia page makes it clear that his agenda is not to educate youth, but rather to indoctrinate them with religious claptrap and falsehoods intended to push them toward the christian religion.

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Open the eyes of my heart, lord

In the interest of continuing yesterday’s theme of posting embarrassing snippets from my past, the audio file below was recorded at a church youth group sometime around 1997-98. I’m playing guitar and singing along with a friend of mine as we lead the youth group in a worship song. The song, “Open The Eyes Of My Heart,” has been performed by christian rock heavyweights, including Michael W Smith and Sonicflood, and is a staple of the modern evangelical christian hymnal. If you have the time, I suggest listening to the song, paying special attention to the lyrics. I’ll share my thoughts on the song below.

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I am the road leading to no return

I was in a musical, Once On This Island, during my senior year of high school. I played Papa Ge, sly demon of death. It was fun, because all of the villagers acted as though they were terrified by my presence, and cowered in fear when I pointed my ‘death stick’ in their general direction. At the time, I had just recently come out of several years of being a devout evangelical christian but hadn’t publicized the fact that I was no longer a believer, so it was interesting to watch the reactions to my character because it reminded me of the fear that I saw many exhibit when faced with the prospect of eternal damnation and separation from god. Continue reading