My name is John. this blog will NOT be just about atheism, or being a hillbilly, though there will be articles on these subjects. This blog will do everything from sharing funny stories in my life, talking about political issues, reviewing movies and songs I like, share things I’ve learned (like tips on playing banjo), and just about every other topic under the sun. I figure for my first post, being that it should be an introduction, shall be an essay about my life and how I came to be an atheist. This is after all the name of my blog. the musings of the Hillbilly Atheist.
I am a poor rural white guy raised in Oklahoma. I was raised dirt poor in a leaky trailer.. Well actually it was two trailers that we put together with an old farm tractor and made into a doublewide. (No I am not making this up.) We ate beans and taters because on many occasions, that was all we could afford. There was even a Christmas when we got our presents from the charity donations of our church, because we didn’t have any money. Dad got ran over by a farm tractor that year and was out of work. (No I ain’t making this up) a couple times the church even had to buy me clothes.
I am pretty much a good ol’ country boy. I suppose for you city people you are already conjuring your stereotypes. No we don’t screw our relatives, and pick banjos all day drinking moonshine. (Though I must confess that I do pick banjo and drink the occasional jack daniels LOL) Country people aren’t anything like the weird people you saw on deliverance. That show was way off. Sure there are weirdos in the country, but there are weirdos everywhere. You might find few snake handlers out here, but in California folks formed a cult called Heavens Gates and they castrated themselves over a damned comet. Yes we have a lot of creationists out here, but you guys have folks into that new age garbage. So my point is don’t judge country people. We aren’t any different than you. Anyway back to what I was saying., I am just a good ol’ country boy. I am not a scientist or philosopher or some “intellectual pinhead” I am just a regular guy like most of you reading this. However I am also an atheist. (That is to say I don’t believe in any deities or accept any religious dogma.) But I don’t bite. I don’t howl at the moon, and sacrifice cats or any other weird stereotype you have about atheists. If you didn’t know any better you couldn’t tell me apart from anybody else. The only difference is that I don’t believe in gods. This is true for most atheists. We aren’t the bad guys folks make us out to be. How did my atheism come about? Here is my story.
I was raised in the Christian faith. As a young lad from about 0 to six, I was not raised in church, but my mother prayed with me at night before I went to bed. Somewhere between five and six my dad and mom got divorced, and dad married my stepmother about six months after that. My ex-step grandmother “nan” was a Baptist who took us to a small church down the road. Well around that time I guess dad was feeling guilty so he decided to take us to church, and so we started going to the Pentecostal church of god in town, and “nan” joined us. She to this day refers to herself as a “bapti-costal!” well I really liked the children’s church. We got to watch movies about bible stories and what not. Around the time I was eight years old, a member from that church felt the “calling” and started his own church. The church started out with 10 people, a few others and us. That church has grown to about 80 people since then. This church was almost cultish. It was insane. They had literal exorcisms, faith healing, also people that ran around the church screaming, and talking in “Tongues” and all kinds of crazy shit. They had strict rules, even dancing and listening to secular music would send you to hell. They taught blind obedience as a virtue, and well this church was just plain crazy. It is here that I became very religious. By the time I was 11 I could quote the bible left and right, carried it around at school and preached to people. Even here in the Bible belt I annoyed folks.
In my teens I think around 13-15, well in the 8th grade, I was sent to the school for the blind. (back then I was very near sighted, and I still am though not nearly as bad) Here I continued my preaching, but was met by people that had arguments that made sense to me. Most of it was seeds of doubt that didn’t spring forth right away. I had a couple teachers that would argue with me about religion. I would preach to them, and they would argue with me, and often win, though at the time I just dismissed them as tools of Satan. Folks countered my stories of miracles and other attempts to justify my beliefs. I dismissed them at the time. Other incidents include the times I argued with a psychologist that visits with us, and a big hullabaloo, in a support group I was placed in, I argued with them, told them all they were going to hell unless they repented. One guy was talking about his uncle and I told him his uncle was in hell for drinking. I am serious I was a wack-job. I refused to dance, I didn’t go on dates, I didn’t listen to country music (I only listened to gospel), I read my bible every day, I was very afraid. That is why I despise religious zealotry even to this today. It almost ruined my life; it pretty much did ruin my childhood. It made me into a delusional, judgmental jerk, with no friends.
Of course at the time I thought that was a good thing, after all the bible says you will be hated and persecuted for Jesus names sake, and it has stories of the saints being hated of men, so I thought their hatred of me, was proof I was pleasing Jesus. While attending the blind school I went home, on the weekend, and would attend our church. No matter how fanatical I was I always felt like I wasn’t good enough. I felt like I was a terrible sinner that god would smite at any time. My stepmother was abusive and I could never please her no matter how hard I tried, She beat me and taught me to fear her and that blind obedience was good. Dad was good to me, but he didn’t do much to stop the abuse because he didn’t want to take sides and end up with one of us mad at him. (Plus my step mom did most of the stuff while he was at work) dad does regret that to this very day.
Anyway my ex-step mom often would tell me I was a rotten kid, and I believed her. That is why I kept feeling like I needed to repent over and over. one Sunday when the pastor took me aside and asked me if I was “saved” I said no, and repented yet again, seemed I did that a lot. I would pray the guilt away, and it never would go away. Christianity teaches us that we are all worthless sinners that deserve to die, but because Jesus died for you, (another gilt trip) you can go to heaven even though you don’t deserve to. Anyway that Sunday he asked me and I said no, we prayed together, and I felt great! That night I was as sure as god’s existence as I ever was in my life. I remember that Sunday night when I got back to the school, I was cleaning the recreational center as a part of my work-study, and was relieved I wasn’t going to burn in hell. This time I prayed with my pastor, and he said I was born again, so I knew I was saved!
Well the next day was the most harrowing day of my life. That Monday afternoon, my wrestling coach mentioned the bible having contradictions in it and that the bible was put together by a vote, and other such things I never knew. I demanded he show me “just one, just one little contradiction” he didn’t either because he couldn’t think of any or felt he had gone to far. Of course I dismissed him, but felt worried. Later that afternoon, I was out in the lobby by my dorm, listening to my radio, when the librarian walked by me. I don’t remember how it came up, but she also told me the same thing. I asked her why so many people believed the bible then, and she said because you are ignorant. She left and I got to thinking. If she was right then maybe my beliefs were wrong.
I believed in god because of the bible, which now was in question. I thought right then that if the bible was false, then there was no god, since I already didn’t believe in other gods like Thor and Allah (At that time I never really heard of liberal Christianity, but still to this day, I think either the bible is a holy book, or just a book written by men, it can’t be both, so liberal Christians are being intellectually dishonest) anyway I got up and went to my room and got my Bible. I was going to read the passages in Luke and Mathew where they talk about Jesus’ genealogy, and see if they matched. Well they didn’t. According to Mathew josephs dad was Jacob, and according to Luke it was Heli. I was floored. I almost fainted. Obviously the bible wasn’t inerrant after all. I got up and rushed to the phone and called my parents, who were also stunned. They promised to get with the pastor and find out an answer for me, and would tell me that Sunday, and they asked me to be strong and don’t lose my faith.
That Sunday the pastor told me that Luke really meant Mary when it said Joseph. Yes you heard me. Even though it says, Joseph son of Heli, it really meant to say, Mary daughter of Heli! Of course I didn’t believe this whopper, and I pretty much became an agnostic. I was already an atheist to all the other gods and mine hinged on the “infallible bible”, which now was obviously fallible. That was about the 10th grade and they pulled me from the blind school and back too the public schools to try and stop my impending rejection of Christianity. It was too late as, I began to question everything, and those seeds of doubt went into full bloom. I noticed other problems as well with religion. I had lots of questions that didn’t have any good answers. It caused lots of strife both between me and the church, and my parents, not only that but I had started standing up to my stepmother and her abuse. It all came to a head one day when the church forced me to endure a public exorcism where the preacher attempted to “cast demons out of me” that pretty much was the last straw. I was an agnostic who now hated Christianity and Christians.
When I told my mother about this (she lives in Tulsa) she took me to live with her. She tried to expose me to her more moderate Christianity but I didn’t want anything to do with it. I did go to church with her grudgingly and actually made friends. One thing I learned here was not all Christians are judgmental jerks. It is here that I learned to stop hating Christians even as I grew closer to atheism. So now I was a tolerant agnostic, not longer hating anybody. Of course mom also tried to force me to diet, and I hated that so much that I went back to dads and finished my senior year. By then the pastor had sent me a letter apologizing for the exorcism and admitting that he was wrong and he even took my side on the abuse and such. I have forgiven him but still didn’t buy his mythology. After my senior year, I moved out and spent about three years working blue-collar jobs, still an agnostic, and pretty much in limbo. I didn’t really think much one way or the other about religion.
During my first year at college, I got to thinking about religion, I went out and bought some books to read on the matter. People like Carl Sagan, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, George H. Smith, Dan Barker, and Thomas Paine, My First two books were Dan Barker’s book called, Loosing Faith in Faith, and George H. Smith’s book called Atheism the Case Against God, and they had some of the very problems with theism I had been asking all along! I realized my doubts and suspicions were valid, and I wasn’t a bad person. Where as I was once ashamed, now I am proud of who I am. I have realized much of the problem was not me but my stepmother (or should I say ex-step mom since she and dad are no longer married) and my fundamentalist Christian upbringing. I also now realize I am not a worthless sinner; I am valid human being. I was not bad to question what I was taught; asking questions and thinking are good things, not things to be ashamed of! After the books, and thinking things over, I finally admitted to myself that I was an atheist. I felt free. I felt free from fear and religious chains. Free from guilt and shame. I no longer felt like something was wrong with me for not buying all the crap I was force fed as a youngster.
I am the Hillbilly Atheist.