I was raised by an atheist, and no, I haven’t been completely scarred for life because of it. My dad was raised Methodist, my mom was raised Catholic (squirrel: that’s an interesting story… her parents didn’t actually go to church with her because they couldn’t afford to get married in the church, so as far as the Catholic Church was concerned they were living in sin and weren’t allowed to take the sacraments). When they got married my mom became Methodist, then my dad promptly decided he was an atheist (at least that’s how I remember the story).
My father wasn’t exactly a quiet atheist, either. I distinctly remember him inviting the roving Jehovah’s Witnesses into the house to argue with them about the existence of God. But, he assured me that if I ever wanted to go to church or learn more about Jesus, I was perfectly welcome to do so. Yea, right.
Having this history, and having broken out of the mold (so to speak), one would think I’d have a better clue about what to say to atheists. I don’t. I was never much good at debate (ask my high school friends), and in some ways I completely sympathize with their viewpoint. If it’s an Old Testament God full of vengeance, wrath, jealousy and judgment that they don’t believe in, well, neither do I. If it’s a doctrinal God, who is only concerned that we follow the rules of the church in order to get to heaven, that they don’t believe in, well, I don’t believe in that God either. Perhaps no one ever explained to them that there were different ways to understand God, even a Christian God.
My dad does take credit for the fact that I doubt and question everything, and that includes the Bible. I used to think that was heresy, but then I discovered that the Bible was written by men (duh), has tons of contradictions, used myth and metaphor as standard storytelling methods, and was a people’s experience and understanding of God in that time and culture. Wow. That freed me up to critically read scripture, study it and judge it on its own merits and on the basis of love. In the midst of doing that I found an unconditionally loving God, and guidance in the stories of Jesus, which inform the way I live.
There is also a deeper part of my belief in God that I was never able to put into words when I was growing up, and I still struggle to articulate it. You see, I didn’t follow my dad’s atheist example because I knew inside of myself that there was something more. That something more is not tied to any doctrine or belief structure… it is the pure energy of love that I call God (sometimes Goddess). How do I know this? That’s the part I can’t explain. I just do. Perhaps I allow myself to experience it. I don’t know, but I sure wish I could give the experience to others.
P.S. Ironically enough, my dad did a complete 180° and is now a very spiritual person, though he doesn’t do the “organized religion” thing… perhaps I’m coming closer and closer to him all the time.