I was born in 1944 in the Midwest region of the United States. My parents were Catholic. I attended and graduated from a Catholic high school where the majority of teachers were members of a religious congregation of sisters. As a small child, I expressed a desire to become a priest, and I received so much positive feedback that I persisted throughout high school and college — I just assumed that my life would be spent in a religious institution. After a year of college I joined a religious order and was a postulant, then a novice in the order. One afternoon, while sitting in the chapel during a period of time called meditation, my mind wondered to a childhood incident where my parents hired someone to come to our home dressed as Santa Clause. While sitting on the actor’s lap, I couldn’t help notice that his mustache was held in place by, what appeared to me to be, a band aid. In that instant, I realized that Santa Clause was not a real person, but only something which made the Christmas season more fun. Rather than blurt out the truth, I decided to go along with the gag, and not spoil the fun for me and the rest of the family. In the monastic chapel, while remembering that moment, I realized that my belief in the God and the rest of the Catholic pantheon (for lack of a better word), was no different than my prior belief in Santa Clause. It was like someone had turned on a light — a light that has never gone out. Shortly there after, I left the Order.
The year was 1965 and I was 21 years old. Within a few months, I was drafted into the Army. It was suggested that because of my background, that I serve my time as a Chaplin’s Assistant, which I did. I worked for several Catholic priests, both in the United States and in Vietnam. I did not make a secret of the fact that I did not believe in God. By the way, if anyone tells you there are no atheists in fox holes, don’t believe them — One night, during the Tet Offensive, my platoon was awaiting instructions in a bunker while mortars and rockets fell all around us. I asked if I was the only atheist in the bunker, and learned that nearly a third of the men there indicated that they were atheist too. Not exactly a scientific survey, but it demonstrates the point.
After I completed my Army service, I traveled around the world, making my way overland to India and Nepal. This was in the late 1960s and early 1970. Although I was exposed to numerous religions — Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist – including Tibetan, and others, but I never gave a serious thought to the idea that one of them could be “the one true religion.” The religions were interesting to me, but none were persuasive.
After my travels were complete, I returned to my home and began a career as a factory work and became involved in the labor movement. When that career came to an end, I returned to school and became a paraprofessional, and have work as such ever since.
Although I have never made a secret of the fact that I am an atheist all these many years, until very recently, the only reason that I could use for my position was simply that religion simply made no sense to me. I also knew that I was not the first to come to that conclusion. I knew that many of the founding fathers of the United states were probably atheist, and I knew of famous people like Clarence Darrow and others from his time. I was always a big fan of Madalyn Murray O’Hair as well. However, I began to find my real heroes in people like Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krause, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and other scientists, who have explained in terms that lay people like myself can understand, that the cosmos can be explained in completely natural terms from now all the way to the big bang, and probably even before, all without any reference to supernatural powers. We know that the gaps in our current knowledge will someday be explained in natural terms without reference to superstition. And we also have biblical scholars like Richard Carrier, Bart D. Ehrman, Daniel Dennett, and others who explain the real historical significance of the bible. What a wonderful time in which to be living.
I often wonder how my life would have been different if my early childhood years had not been filled with the fantasy of the priesthood. Be that as it may, I am grateful to Prof. Dawkins and the others mentioned above, who provide hours and hours of intellectually stimulating lectures and debates. Although I may never live to see it, I look forward to a world in which the practice of religion is remembered only in historical terms — in the same way we study Greek, Roman, Egyptian and other ancient mythology.