I’ve always been an atheist. Since my earliest memories I rejected the theistic stance. Fortunately for me I never had to go through the emotional trauma of de-conversion. For years, however, I didn’t know what an atheist was. It wasn’t until a Sunday school teacher told me I was atheist that I realized it. … which brings up a funny story.
My childhood was relatively church-free. On Sundays when all of my friends were decking themselves out in cheap suits and penny loafers, I was free to explore the massive wooded area behind my house. I used to bring home buckets of wild blackberries, but I never told anyone about them. I sprinkled sugar on them and ate myself sick every night. But there were times when we had to go to church. My parents’ Christian guilt kicked in every Easter, and we — the children — were forced into this yearly ritual at a soulless baptist church (they didn’t even have a band). It was here when I first learned the story of Easter. I was about six or seven.
The kids — myself included — were in the Sunday school classroom. The teacher had just told us about Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. But, I thought to myself, I’ve seen dead things before. They don’t come back to life. They just rot and smell really bad! I remember the boy next to me gasped “Holy cow!” when the tomb was revealed as empty. “What does holy cow mean?” I asked. The teacher heard me.
“It doesn’t mean anything. It’s like ‘wow’ or ‘amazing.'”
(This conversation occurred to the best of my memory.)
“Oh I thought he meant there was a magical cow, kind of like Jesus. I don’t believe in magic. My dad once showed me how David Copperfield did his tricks.”
“Jesus doesn’t use magic. He uses the power of god.”
“I don’t think Jesus was dead. I think he was faking it.” (Remember, I was six or seven. My thoughts on this have shifted considerably.)
“Jesus couldn’t fake it. Lying is a sin. And because Jesus was the son of god, he couldn’t sin.”
“How do you know?”
“Because it’s what the bible teaches us.”
“I don’t believe in the bible.”
“Do you believe in god?”
“No. I think it’s all make believe, like David Copperfield.”
“If you don’t believe in god then you’re an atheist. And if you’re an atheist then that means you’re free to lie, cheat, and steal.”
I took her last statement as a statement of fact. Later on she asked the class if anyone had brought a friend with them to church. If you brought a friend, you got candy. Well, my sister was next to me, so I said yes and pointed to my sister. The teacher chided me. “That’s your sister, not your friend. Why did you just lie to me, right in front of everyone?”
“You said if I don’t believe in god I was allowed to lie.”
You gotta admit, although my logic was flawed, it was still quite remarkable for a six or seven year old. I knew lying was wrong. I’d learned it from my parents, and I’d learned it in kindergarten. But this woman opened a door, and I decided to walk through it.
What’s really interesting about this story is that we can see how the objective morality issue is constructed. Before that day I knew certain forms of lying were socially damaging. She deconstructed objective morality long enough for me to pounce on the loophole in order to get some candy. Of course, even though I am still quite aware that lying can be socially destructive, I’m sure certain apologetic Christians will use my story to say, “See! Without god this boy thought it was ok to lie!” Well, no. I was a little boy. Lying is pretty much all that little boys do.
That is an adorable story, and the Sunday school teacher should have known better than to tell a little boy lying was ok and he was bad for being an atheist. That sounds like it could have been a traumatic experience, being told you were bad for not believing in god in front of the class.