This is a repost of my earlier "extimony" at exchristian.net with a few minor edits and some additions. At the time (february 2006) I considered myself an atheistic agnost (i.e., I have no idea if there is a God but I consider it unlikely). Nowadays I consider myself an atheist. I don't believe in any supernatural entity because I lack evidence for them. Of course I can't prove the non-existence of a supernatural entity, so I am still pretty much agnostic to the subject as is any atheist who really considers the question. Regarding the Christian God I go a step further: I believe in the non-existence of the deity, descibed as Yahweh from the Christian Bible. I think Yahweh, given the attributes assigned to him, can be proven not to exist by means of contradiction, just as a square circle can be proven not to exist.
This is my extimony from last fabruary.
I was born and raised in Suriname (South America). My father was an inactive Catholic who experimented with different kinds of spirituality (or so he told me) and my mother was Lutheran. I have one brother who I grew up with (I have 2 more half sisters and a half brother, but I wasn't raised with them). We grew up as Catholics, went to church every Sunday but at home we weren't very active w.r.t. religion. We also went to Catholic primary and secondary schools. While in primary school (up to the age of 11) I accepted the gospel like hook, line and sinker. Still, it was during this time that the first act which would drive me away from Christianity occurred. At age 10 (1972) I got myself a kids book about astronomy and space travel. The sheer beauty of the Universe got a hold on me then and never again left me to this day. I remember most fondly that that book described Halley's comet and that it would return in 1986. I promised myself I would see it and I did :)
While growing up as a teenager I stopped believing in the creation myth, but I considered it a means to an end. In my opinion back then, if Moses would have told the ancient Jews of evolution and the size of the Universe, he would be stoned to death. I still considered myself a Christian without actually considering what that meant. I was as dead a Catholic as my father was. My mother still went to the Lutheran church but religion wasn't really a topic of discussion at home. Aside from her Christianty she was (is) also a firm believer in astrology and loads of cultural based superstitions. I never really bought those, but as a young teen I did believe in astrology. If my mom said it's true it should be, shouldn't it? After I studied more astronomy as an older teen I disregarded astrology as anything viable. By the end of my teen years my parents went into a very ugly divorce and they are still not on speaking terms after appr. 25 years. I kinda flunked school in this period but I still managed to get into a bachelor-level study (4 years) to become a police lieutenant. This is the second event to drive my current opinion about Chritianity. The study included large amounts of penal law, and two of the most basic principles of penal law happen to be the principles of proportionality (punishments should match the crime) and "subsidiarity" (is that the correct English word? I.e. you cannot punish someone for someone else's crimes). In my opinion both are violated by Christianity.
During my police study I met my wife to be. She was (still is) a reformed Christian who came from a pretty conservative Christian family. After knowing her for four years we married. We married in a reformed Christian church but we agreed to have our (then future) children to be baptised Catholic. The reason for that was that in those days there was IMO a pretty big quality gap between Catholic and non-Catholic schools and I didn't mind which Christian believe system they would be thought as long as they would get one. Still religion didn't play a big role in our lives, apart from the occasional church visits on Christmas or for baptism of my first son. One aspect of religion that I had very strong feelings about back then was that I refused every culture-based superstitious act to be used on me or my family. For example, there was this blue stuff that was used in laundry for giving white clothes a "whiter" appeal. In (negro) culture-believes one should apply this stuff visibly on the forehead of babies to keep envy away. When my mother (ethnic mixed but mostly negro) wanted to apply this to my son I freaked out and I think she got the message regarding where I stood on the subject.
In 1990 I had to flee my home country for political reasons, leaving my pregnant wife and 1.5 year old child behind. I wouldn't see them again for 14 months. After short stays in French Guyana, the U.S. and Canada, I received a visa for the Netherlands and that's where I still am today. Many years passed and my considerations regrding Christianity didn't change. I was still the dead Catholic calling himself a Christian etc. What did change is that in the meantime my brother became a born-again Christian. At first he didn't know where he fitted in, but by now he's found his homebase at the Baptist church. I don't really know what drove him, but it wasnt some life-changing event that might bring some people to hold on to Christianity. He slowly grew into it. By now he is a full blown reborn Baptist creationist. Though I personally think he deludes himself, I respect his opinions and I think he respects mine. He would like to talk about his religious convictions. This would make me start to think about the subject a little. I didn't really know the bible back then (I still don't actually) but it seemed clear to me that the creation myth was persented in the bible as a historical fact. Since this was in direct contradiction with what I knew of astronomy, I considered the bible wrong on that account and I started to wonder what else the bible was wrong about. I slowly started drifting away from what I used to believe regarding Christianity and I became something between a deist and an agnostic. I still considered it more likely than not that there should be some "driving force" that kept Nature and the universe from going haywire.
About a year ago I was apporached by a few "strongly reformed" Christians (in dutch "gereformeerden" which is a lot more fundie than the reformed Christians which is in dutch "hervormd"). These guys were passing out flyers and I started discussing Christianity with them. I laid out my argument why I considered myself an agnostic and stressed that I knew a bit (hobby-wise) about astronomy but little about evolution. Their arguments were of very mediocre quality and only capable of strengthening the belief of someone who was already convinced of Christianity, not for someone who isn't conviced at all. Still the word of one of the Christians present struck a nerve. He said quite literally: "You claim to know little to nothing of the evolution theory, still you defend it". The guy was right! I had to know more. It was the trigger to start digging on the internet. I discovered sites like TalkOrigins and the Secular Web. I also read much from the Skeptics Annotated Bible and a few articles from the Institute for Creation Research who IMO sometimes at least try to be a bit honest (see e.g. Danny Faulker's "The current state of creation astronomy"). Well, in high school I wasn't very interrested in Biology. During the Computer Science study that I once started I was confronted with elements of evolution in a seminar of Bioinformatics and in classes on Genetic Programming. But it wasn't until reading Chris Colby's "Introduction to Evolutionary Biology" and something as simple as the april 2005 "post of the month" at talk.origins that I was really swept away with the beauty of evolution. A simple conclusion I came to is: if a chimp is a type of an ape, as is a gorilla and an orangutan, then so is man. The chimp has more genetic similarities with humans than it has with the orangutan. For me, this placed the position of humanity in a completely different scope. We are not special.
Like I said, I also stumbled upon the Skeptics Annotated Bible (http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/) and I learned things about the bible that I really didn't know, e.g. Numbers 31, 2 Kings 2:23-24 and Psalm 137:9 (why didn't Boney M finish the psalm in their song?). I must say I was and still am quite horrified by reading this. Take note that as I child I received quite an anti-islamic upbringing. I read personally the following verse from the Quran: "As for the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands. It is the reward of their own deeds, an exemplary punishment from Allah. Allah is Mighty, Wise." (Sura 5:38). I thought to myself, what terribly cruel religion will want to put something like this in their holy scripture? At least Christianity states: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her" (John 8:7). I was unpleasantly surprised to read of the terrible cruelties in the holy scripture of the religion that I considered just and loving (sort of) for most of my life.
So currently I came to the conclusion that I have a few major hurdles with Christianity, hurdles that I doubt I will ever overcome. First and foremost are the violations of proportionality in the teaching of eternal damnation. Granted, a few Christians believe in annihilation of the damned and if this would be the case I would have a lot less of an issue with it, but a punishment that would last eternal, however light the punishment, is disproportional to whatever temporal sin someone would have commited. Secondly I have issues with the "omnimax" features that are attributed to the Christian God. An omniscient being who creates object of which it foreknows that those beings will act against some rule and punishes those beings for it, is not omnibenevolent. I read a nice discussion between two Philosophers (Dr. Bradley and Dr. Craigh) regarding the compatibility of human free will and devine foreknowledge, and I side with Dr. Bradley that they are not. Thirdly, the more I read about scientific explanations of natural processes that were formerly only explicable by devine intervention, the more I see the unlikeliness of the existence of a God. It seems humans are very eager to want to explain everything and where they fail to do so the invent this unprovable entity to fit the gaps. I find the world around me to make a lot more sense without a God than with one. Lastly there are these specific issues I have with Christianity, some of which I didn't know to exist previously. I already explained the cruelties in the bible, but there's also the many inconsitencies in the bible and the monotheistic nature of the devine trinity. This just doesn't make sense. I read a response on this in "Answering the Atheist" where they compared Father, Jesus and Holy Spirit to be distinct entities but all God to person A, B and C to be differen persons but all being human. This still makes no sense because we don't claim that persons A, B and C are "one human".
Where do I stand now? I would still consider myself an agnost but an atheistic one. I don't think that the existence of a God can be proven or disproven but I see no need for any God. My wife knows that I have lost my faith but still has many difficulties accepting it. She still hangs on to her faith and the fact that her father passed away last year seems to have a lot to do with that. Personally I don't mind that even if she would become a strong believer, as long as we respect each others position. She did request that I "do not influence" our children and I made that promise. If they once decide that the Christian doctrine is not where they are happy they will come to the same conclusion as I did. I think this road should be a personal one. My parents and brother know how I feel and especially my father, the former dead Catholic who is now very involved in the Catholic church, has great difficulties accepting my views. For my in-laws I am still in the closet. They are a lot more conservative so coming out, especially to my mother-in-law might do more harm than good. They always knew that I did not hold conservative views and that is sufficient for the mean time.
OK, that was last february. What changed in the mean time? I no longer have a difficulty assigning the term "atheist" to my worldview. I now also lack belief to anything supernatural, especially the common concept of the soul. The reason for this is primarily this wonderful article at Ebon Musings, which systematically shows evidence for mind/brain dependencies for anything that we would regard "self awareness", anything that is commonly attibuted to a soul. I recommend this article (and most other articles at Ebon Musings) very much to anyone who wants to investigate their worldview. I am still in the phase of wanting to start discussing religion with anyone willing to listen and/or argue. I suppose that will iron out with time. But, even though I still hold the opinion that anyone should be entitled to their own religious views or lack thereof and not be hindered in the practice thereof (unless it does harm to others of course), I now side with Sam Harris that we should stop treating religious views with such careful approach and fear of hurting someone's feelings. We wouldn't treat an adult this carefully if she still believed in the tooth fairy, would we?