People become anti-theist for a reason. Through observation and experience, atheists sometimes cease being merely non-believers and take it upon themselves to criticize and condemn religion, particularly religious practices. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, I’ve been atheist all my life, but it wasn’t until I was 15 that I started to understand precisely how dangerous religion can be. It took — what I call — a fringe sect of Christianity to bring out the anti-theism in me.
When I was 15 I dated a non-believing girl (I’m not sure if she’s atheist). Her mother was fairly strict. She belonged to the local Kingdom Hall — the Jehovah’s Witnesses church. In order to spend Sundays together, the mother demanded that I dress up, pull my long hair back, go to “church,” and sit for an hour bored out of my fucking mind. It was a small sacrifice to be able to see my girlfriend. But I observed several instances of personal and social harm at the hands of an oppressive religion.
The first occurred weeks after our first date. An unmarried couple was disfellowed (ex-communicated) for having sex out of wedlock. This was a couple deeply devoted to the Jehovah’s Witness religion. They had dedicated their lives to it. They owned up to their “mistake”* and wanted the church to forgive them and help them move forward. Instead, the church — without a second thought — cast them out as social pariahs. Instead of providing for this couple’s spiritual needs, the church made a lesson out of them: Don’t break our rules!
*Sex out of wedlock is not a mistake. It’s a social necessity.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses church also has a strict ban on smoking. Since 1973 the church has either refused to baptize smokers, or they will actively disfellow smokers. This in itself is not a terrible thing. I think it’s a stupid rule to have, but it’s not as harmful as the above example of harm. What really got to me was on Good Friday — the most important holiday to the JWs, and the biggest day of the year for church attendance — the JWs installed ash trays outside the door of the Kingdom Hall. In other words, smoking is a major sin in their religion, large enough to remove you from god’s good grace. But they don’t mind smokers coming to the church on Good Friday because that’s their biggest payday! And trust me; it’s a small religion. They can use all the money they can get. Hypocrisy.
The church actively tried to remove me by continuing to make it more difficult to attend. The first time I came wearing a polo t-shirt and slacks. I was relatively underdressed, but these were my nicest clothes. They told me I needed to wear a shirt and tie. So I went shopping and next time I came wearing a shirt and tie. Then they told me I needed to wear a full suit. I told them I would not do that. They told me to cut my hair. I told them no. My girlfriend’s mother was starting to feel social pressure, so she hid us from the church. We were finally able to spend our Sundays together without first spending an hour learning about how Jesus wasn’t really god.
These experiences were not only sufficient to make me criticize the Kingdom Hall, they were also more than sufficient to turn me from an atheist into an anti-theist. This compelled me to begin criticizing all aspects of any religion that I felt were unjust, idiotic, or cruel. And from my experience, no religion is immune from being unjust, idiotic, and cruel.**
**The religions associated with Wiccan beliefs might not necessarily be unjust or cruel, but they can be idiotic.