I want to say thank you to many people. Here’s the shortlist:
But really, my thanks go out to all the skeptical, freethinking, humanist communities that have been so informative. I still have a lot to learn about the world we’re in, but I have come so far in the past eighteen months.
This morning, my landscaping company came. Awhile after they started working, the doorbell rang. I figured it was them, telling me they’re done. I thought it took a little bit longer than usual, but I went to the door and opened it without looking. There stood an older couple, the man with a bible and some Watchtower magazines in hand.
I’m just not rude enough to shut the door in someone’s face. I mean, I will if they prove themselves particularly obnoxious, but I at least give them the warning that they’re about to be face-to-door. So this guy starts by asking my name, and telling me it’s very pretty. It feels a little condescending, but hey, icebreakers aren’t everyone’s forte.
Then he tells me that he and his wife are going around the neighbohood with this magazine issue that discusses life beyond the grave. “Do you believe there is life after death?”
And this is the point where I have to say thank you to everyone already named. Because no matter my beliefs, in the past, I would have humored the guy, taken his literature, then put it in the trash after he left. And admittedly, I considered it. But by the time he asked me this question, I had eliminated the option. I didn’t want to be held hostage at my own door. So I said, “No, I don’t.”
Honestly, he seemed to hold back some surprise. Do that many people tell him yes? Do so few say no? Anyway, he says, “But you believe in the creation, right?”
“No. I believe in evolution.” (Okay, so I don’t really “believe” in evolution; I accept the evidence as fact. But I didn’t feel like getting into an etymological debate, and figured I’d speak his language.)
“So you believe this all happened by chance?” And this is where I particularly have to thank PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins. What little I can say I understand about evolutionary biology, I attribute to them. They’ve made the ideas so accessible, that even my mind – which struggles mightily with most sciences – can understand it.
“No, not by chance. Evolution is not a matter of chance.”
“So you think that out of some soup of sludge, we all came into being?”
“Yes – ” He didn’t let me finish.
“You know, the greatest scientific minds say the brain is the most complex piece of machinery, and there’s so much about it we don’t understand. It must have a designer. Do you really think that just happened?”
So I told him that we don’t have all the answers, that science still has a lot to learn. I told him that we shouldn’t assign a god to it, and accept that – we wouldn’t have modern medicine or understanding of the stars if all men had just accepted a god or gods. And no, just for the record, evolution doesn’t just “happen.” It is a series of events where the creatures that survive are the creatures whose evolutionary path puts them in the right place at the right time, in simplest terms.
It felt pretty good to turn the sermon around. The difference, though, is I wasn’t trying to convert him. He said, “So I guess you wouldn’t be interested in reading the articles here?”
“No, sir.” Then I added, because I wanted him to know that not all atheists are heathens who just don’t know any better, “I want you to know that I was raised Christian. I was very close to God at one point. What I’ve told you today is the result of more than a year of intense investigation, both internal and external. This decision was not taken lightly. There’s nothing in your magazine I haven’t already explored.”
There was nothing militant in what I said or how I said it. The man and his wife were still pleasant when they left; they just recognized that they wouldn’t change my mind.
I research and I learn for my own edification. I want to understand the world and universe I live in, and the evidence I’ve found points to a naturalist view. I have not had the opportunity offline to use what I’ve learned in a true conversation about religion. I don’t seek out such opportunitites.
But I am so very grateful that when the opportunity came knockin’, I was ready to stand up to the challenge, and not be ashamed or unprepared to declare that I am an atheist, and it is an informed choice. So thank you to everyone who has contributed to my education and confidence.