OPINION | ART HOBSON: Everyone could use some serious talk about religion; here’s how I became an atheist

Here is one person’s story

I hope you read Gwen Faulkenberry's May 1 column (nwaonline.com/51refugee/) relating her religious story. We too often keep religious views to ourselves. World religious culture is changing, making honest communication essential. So, I'd like to follow up on Faulkenberry's article.

I was perhaps 4 when I rode my tricycle down suburban West Philadelphia's Blythe Avenue and up to the basement door of the neighborhood church, which happened to be Episcopal. The door was open. I peered inside.

A Sunday School class of a dozen kids was enthralled by a lady who related Bible tales while affixing cloth figures to a felt board. I loved stories. At the lady's invitation, I walked right in.

Thus began six years of voluntary and quite regular Sunday School attendance. At 11 on those mornings, following Sunday School, most of our group went upstairs to sing hymns with the children's choir in the adult church. I loved the pageantry of marching two-by-two down the aisle and ascending the front choir stalls.

My parents were irregular Presbyterians. They supported my childhood religious preferences, including my decision not to become baptized -- a ritual that seemed embarrassing and pointless.

We moved to Manhattan, Kansas, in 1945 right after World War II. I was 11. I chose to continue attending church every Sunday. I enjoyed Sunday school at a nearby Methodist church and frequently also attended adult services. My main interest was the sermons, perhaps reflecting a search for truth.

By 14 I was religiously eclectic, going to whichever church had a pastor who could tell good stories and make believable sense of them. I liked philosophical preachers, not theatrical Bible-thumpers.

I went away to college in Denton, Texas, where I found a Presbyterian Church with a bright, liberal pastor who preached against the racism that was and still is prevalent in America. Some of my best high school friends had been black, and segregation was obvious everywhere, especially in Texas. I decided to get baptized.

I obtained a music degree in Texas in 1955, was drafted and shipped to Germany where I spent two years playing in Army bands. I read many books on many topics, fiction (Hemingway and Dostoyevsky were favorites) and non-fiction (philosophy, history, science), and paid little attention to formal religion. After serving my two years, I tried my luck as a jazz trombonist in New York City, didn't make the grade and returned to "the little apple," Manhattan, Kansas.

My reading had opened me to many new ideas. I opted to attend Kansas State University and study physics, which turned out to fit my talents better than music. I chose to join the Unitarian Fellowship, a thoughtful and rational group, definitely not Bible-thumpers. After six wonderful years of studying physics, I got my Ph.D. in 1964. I was 29.

Upon joining the physics faculty in Fayetteville, I continued attending the Unitarian Fellowship. I had fun leading a junior high Sunday School class for a couple of those years.

By that time, Christianity was in my rearview mirror. I felt vaguely "spiritual" about the universe, perhaps believing in Einstein's god (small "g"), in other words, nature. By age 40 I was quite alienated from most religions, including Christianity, primarily because they believe in impossible things like virgin births. Religion didn't seem serious.

I married the love of my life, Marie Riley. She was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools, where she witnessed hypocrisies that alienated her. This led to a journey of introspection and the study of logic, Eastern and Western religions, and atheism. She became a lifelong atheist at 19. Her atheism caused me to reconsider my own conclusions. About this time, I read an excellent book by biologist Richard Dawkins titled "The God Delusion," and found I agreed with his argument leading to the conclusion that there almost certainly is no God.

I hasten to add that churches sponsor many worthy endeavors such as family counseling, growing up, socializing, and helping the poor. But the Bible-thumping and the miracles corrupt our rational thought processes.

I'm now 88, and quite comfortable with atheism. I'm happier than ever. I love life, but one must move over and make room for others to live. I've been retired since 1999, with time to follow my passions. My time goes to reading, writing, family, friends, bicycling, trying to help the world find happiness and walking a Schnauzer called Oskar.

Life is a wonderful gift from the universe. Hopefully, I will have another decade or so to continue enjoying it.

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