Recently I've been catching up with an old friend from work. He had only been here in Iowa for a year, but we got along pretty well during that time. In a recent email exchange, he expressed shock that I am an atheist. The truth is that when we were both in Iowa (which was from June '07 - June '08), I was and wasn't. Yes, I know that's contradictory. Allow me to explain...
By saying that I was an atheist, I mean that I did not believe in a deity. What I mean by saying that I wasn't an atheist is that I neither fully realized that I was an atheist nor was I very informed on religion. As I discussed in the introduction to this blog site, it wasn't until July of 2008 that I really began reading about religion after I bought a copy of Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion." Before that, I knew next to nothing about religion! In that introduction, I mentioned that that I had learned a lot since then, but what I didn't really discuss is how little I knew! I mentioned not knowing who Yahweh was, but I'm not sure how many Christians would actually know that, seeing how (1) Yahweh is typical name for the Old Testament god, which seems to basically be what Christians refer to as "the Father," and (2) Christianity focuses primarily around the mythology of Jesus. But even Jesus was a character I knew little about. My main exposure to Jesus was through the Christmas holiday as a baby in a manger and through churches as a man in his underwear (loin cloth, whatever) pinned to a cross with his head drooping. I had most likely heard of Jesus referred to as "the Son of God" (no idea then that "son" should be capitalized), but knew of none of the trinity stuff about him also being part of the Christian god concept. It probably should have dawned upon me that, as being the son of a god, that he would end up being at least immortal, but it did not.
Other things of which I was unaware was that Christianity was based off of Judaism. Nor did I know that Islam was also based off of Judaism, as well as incorporating Christian elements, such as Jesus being a prophet. (Though, once again, I'm sometimes unsure of how much actual Christians know of this, especially that about Islam.) I also knew little about why there were different denominations of Christianity. I knew a little bit about Martin Luther, but I don't know if I had realized the whole Protestant movement was tied to him or if I thought it was just the Lutheran church. I knew of the roots of the Anglican church, though.
I knew of the Noah's Ark story. Or at least a story that resembled that in the Bible, though I think some of the details (including some significant ones) were different. I had heard of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, and I suppose I realized that there was a story of them being the first humans. While I thought that last part was ridiculous, I had an impression that the Garden of Eden may have been referred to in other places as I knew people (including a project engineer this friend and I once worked for) who thought it may have been a real place. My thinking was likely why would they think this was a real place if it was only talked about in their Bible? (And that if multiple cultures referred to such a place, that would slightly increase the likelihood that some place of significant vegetation had at one time actual existed in the Middle East as opposed to just being made up.) Silly me! It never occurred to me that people would take mythology so seriously. I held what PZ Myers has dubbed the "common atheist delusion." I thought "most practitioners of religion are followers of practice, not belief — they go to church for ritual and community, and all the dogma is dispensable." I should have known better because I also knew of people searching for Noah's Ark, though I had likely written those people off as a fringe group of lunatics.
Hopefully all of that gives you an idea of just how ignorant I was as little as four years ago. How things have changed! And I'm glad they changed. I am a person who likes to understand reality and the world around me—even if that reality provides a depressing outlook for the future of mankind. I'd much rather know and understand that reality, as then I know what I have to work with. To put this into engineering language, one cannot fix a problem until one knows what the problem is. Heck, one cannot fix a problem until they know there is a problem to begin with! And now I see religion as a problem, which I did not four years ago. Now I do, and now I can work on figuring out how I can do my part to fix it.