#0040 RRS Newsletter for August 6, 2007
A fairly short post today. I worked on the format a little, to improve the clarity and such. You may not even notice, but if you do, lemme know what you think.
Table of Contents
Rational Response Update
THE MURDER OF LARRY HOOPER
I actually never heard of this case, even though I live in Michigan, and a mere 15 minutes driving time from the city of Taylor in which the murder took place. It is disconserting to say the least, especially since I frequently wear my RRS shirt in public, as well as other shirts with anti-religious themes (one in particular could be construde as quite incendiary, featuring on the back in big bold print "END OF GOD, THE WAY IT MUST BE") . Despite all this, I've never been the victim of any sort of taunting or discrimination. I guess I've been lulled into a false sense of complacency on the matter. There are, after all, 9 churches within a mile of my house, so I suppose I shouldn't be all THAT surprised, but reading this article was , none-the-less, a very sobering experience.
THE MURDER OF LARRY HOOPER
December 20, 2005
(Edited for punctuation and clarity.)
On October 18, 2004, Arthur Shelton, a self described Christian and Eagle Scout, murdered his friend and roommate, Larry Hooper, because Hooper didn't believe in God.
On December 18, 2005, after many months of postponements, Arthur Shelton, with his defense attorney, Seymour Swartz, appeared at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit, Michigan, before Judge Gregory D. Bill to face charges of murder in the first degree brought by Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Christina Guiruis.
The trial began with the taped phone call Arthur Shelton placed to the Taylor police department in Taylor, Michigan, October 18, 2004, at precisely 12:44 AM. Shelton sounded calm and pridefull when he told the dispatcher he had just shot "the devil himself" with a revolver and a shotgun because "he (Hooper) didn't believe in God." Shelton told the dispatcher he was "still armed and ready to shoot again in case he moves. I want to make sure he's gone." When the dispatcher asked how many times he shot the victim Shelton replied, "hopefully enough."
Throughout the 15 minute phone call Shelton often repeated, "I'm a Christian and an Eagle Scout and I wouldn't lie," and "don't worry about me, I'm fine, but he's the devil." The dispatcher struggled to persuade Shelton to lay down his weapon and go outdoors with his arms raised. Shelton resisted, as he feared Hooper might not be "dead enough", but eventually complied.
Dead enough was an understatement. When the police arrived they were confronted with the grizzly scene of Hooper sitting upright on the couch with his head blown away and his brain laying on his hand. The autopsy report presented by the prosecutor was gruesome to be sure, but, for the record, Larry Hooper tested negative for all narcotics and alcohol.
Testimony by the arresting officer and the officers transporting Shelton to the police station revealed that while the officers were interested in gathering details about the incident, Shelton was obsessed with talking about God, the Eagle Scouts and stating he "would not talk to anyone who didn't believe in God but that he would talk to the police because he felt they believed in God."
On the second day of the trial the court played the videotape of the late night interrogation with Arthur Shelton. He appeared calm, cooperative and enjoyed the cookies and milk he was served. Once again Arthur was obsessed about talking about God and the Eagle Scouts. He stated he "was not sorry for a second that he killed Hooper." He stated, "In the eyes of the law I was wrong and will probably spend the rest of my life in prison, but in the eyes of God I have killed an evil person -- the devil himself." And when Arthur took the witness stand in his own defense he reiterated much of the same ideas.
Day three of the trial we heard summary arguments. The defense had little problem proving that Arthur is obsessed with religion, God and Eagle Scouts and pleaded for a verdict of not guilty due to insanity. The prosecution had little problem proving that Arthur was competent, knew the difference between right and wrong and called for a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. As this was a wavered trial Judge Bill rendered his verdict quickly -- guilty of second-degree murder with mental illness.
On December 19, 2005, we returned to Judge Bill's court to witness sentencing of Arthur Shelton. The prosecution asked for the 'high end' of punishment - 25 to 45 years, while the defense was still pleading for not guilty due to insanity or, at the very most, a soft sentence at the 'low end' of punishment 15 to 22 years. Judge Bill invited Shelton to make a statement and after fumbling for words Shelton stated he was sorry that Larry was dead but he did a job that had to be done. He stated that he actually, "saw fire and smoke coming from Larry's eyes and knew he was the devil himself."
Judge Bill proceeded to tenderly read letters written to him from Shelton's family members pleading for leniency. Shelton sat facing the audience and blew kisses to his tearful and sometimes sobbing family. In the end, the now stern-faced Judge Bill pronounced sentencing -- 25 to 45 years. Shelton was stunned and tried to negotiate the sentence stating, "I'm 50 years old and that is as good as a life sentence." Judge Bill responded, "Mr. Shelton you gave Larry Hooper a life sentence by committing one of the most heinous murders to come before my court." (In a private conversation, the prosecutor, Ms Guirguis, explained that Michigan law requires that Shelton must serve 25 years before being eligible for parole.)
I add now a disgusting chain of events that took place in the courtroom, the hallways, the lobby of the court building, the staircase outside of the courthouse and even the ladies bathroom. George Shiffer and myself attended day one of the trial. Upon arrival we were asked who we were and I gave the court my American Atheist business card. Word that we were Atheists traveled fast in this court room that offered very limited seating and the only others in attendance were 11 members of Shelton's family who immediately began taunting George and me with "the people from hell, evil, and devils." At breaks they waited for us in the hall and continued with more of the same while adding "God loves you" and blowing us kisses and shoving their crosses (worn on chains around their necks) in our faces. Several of the women even followed me into the bathroom and did their best to intimidate me with their crosses. Through it all George and I never flinched, but at the conclusion of the day I reported this taunting to the Officer of the Court who admitted that they were aware of the problem and escorted us to the elevator, past and to the disappointment of the waiting group of 'good Christians'.
On Day two when George and I, together with Joe Milon, entered the court room the taunting began immediately. Within an hour the Judge announced that those making gestures and faces had better cease or they would be removed. For the balance of the day the Christians wore their neck crosses on their backs, as we were seated in the back row, while constantly flopping them about with their hand. When we returned from lunch (without court escort) the Christians were waiting for us on the seventh floor and lunged at us with small signs they had painted -- 'Jesus lives', 'God loves you' -- and, again, thrusted their crosses within 2 or 3 inches from our noses. Tempers flared and a brief shouting match began. Brief because the court officers were there in a flash.
Day three found Atheist Lee Helms in the same taunted position of the previous days though he was not known to the court or the Christians. At the conclusion of the day an officer of the court detained him stating they have been having trouble with 'those people' (Christians) and escorted him to the elevators.
Even with all that behind us, December 19th, the day of sentencing, was still a horrific experience for myself, George Shiffer, Joe Milon, Lee Helms and Marty Maier. When leaving the courtroom the 'Christian' Shelton family lay in wait for us in the hallway. Their tears dried, they surrounded us shouting these comments: "The one good thing of all of this is that another Atheist is dead and the world is better off for it" and "The only good Atheist is a dead Atheist."
Stone Age Site Surfaces After 8000 Years
Science Daily — Excavations of an underwater Stone Age archaeological settlement dating back 8000 years took place at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton between 30 July – 3 August 2007.
Maritime archaeologists from the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology (HWTMA) have been working at the site just off the Isle of Wight coast. Divers working at depths of 11 metres have raised sections of the seabed, which have been brought to the NOCS laboratories for excavation.
Garry Momber, Director of HWTMA said: ‘This is a site of international importance as it reveals a time before the English Channel existed when Europe and Britain were linked. Earlier excavations have produced flint tools, pristine 8,000-year-old organic material such as acorns, charcoal and worked pieces of wood showing evidence of extensive human activity. This is the only site of its kind in Britain and is extremely important to our understanding of our Stone Age ancestors from the lesser-known Mesolithic period.
‘At first we had no idea of the size of this site, but now we are finding evidence of hearths and ovens so it appears to be an extensive settlement. We are hoping that this excavation will reveal more artefacts and clues to life in the Stone Age.’
The team of archaeologists will take the sections to the NOCS laboratories where they will painstakingly excavate through the layers of sediment revealing materials that have lain unseen beneath the seabed for over 8000 years. Garry Momber has recruited University of Southampton students to help with the work.
Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University of Southampton.
Scientologists Descend on Minneapolis Collapse Site
Church Says It's There to Help, but Critics See Ulterior Motives
By MARCUS BARAM
MINNEAPOLIS, Aug. 3, 2007
They're ubiquitous at almost every disaster zone, assisting the wounded and consoling grieving families, from Ground Zero to Indonesia to New Orleans and now Minneapolis.
The Church of Scientology and its globetrotting team of volunteer ministers have been active over the last several years, arousing the ire of critics who read unholy motives into the group's charitable works.
Soon after Wednesday's bridge collapse, at least 20 Scientology volunteers in Minneapolis and surrounding areas headed to the disaster zone, according to a spokeswoman for the church.
"They're helping the Red Cross, helping with logistical organization -- food, directing traffic and one-on-one counseling," the church's Karin Pouw told ABCNews.com.
The call to action was typical for the controversial church, which sent 20 ministers to console survivors of the Virginia Tech shooting, at least 800 volunteers including celebrity adherents John Travolta and Kirstie Alley to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina, and teams of therapists to assist Ground Zero rescue workers at the World Trade Center site.
The church says that its yellow-shirted 95,000 ministers around the world perform good deeds out of a sense of charity.
Sometimes they hand out "The Way to Happiness," a pamphlet written by the church's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, and offer a forms of therapy called "touch assists" and "nerve assists."
But critics accuse the church of using these disasters to convert people at their most vulenrable moments to their religion.
Longtime critic Rick Ross, who runs a watchdog Web site, cultnews.net, maintains that the church milks human tragedy to promote itself.
After the church's volunteers headed down to Blacksburg, Va., to assist survivors of the shooting massacre, Ross told the New York Daily News that he was skeptical of their motives.
"They did this at Ground Zero [after 9/11]," Ross told the paper. "They did this in New Orleans [after Hurricane Katrina]. They look for very high-profile disasters that can be milked for photo ops" to promote the Church.
After 9/11, the church received a commendation from the New York Fire Department for its relief efforts, but critics accused it of applying therapies such as rhythmic massages that some mental health professionals considered medically dubious.
"The public needs to understand that the Scientologists are using this tragedy to recruit new members," Michael M. Faenza, the president of the National Mental Health Association said in 2001. "They are not providing mental health assistance."
In Minneapolis, the group said it's working with the Red Cross. Yet members of the Red Cross working at the disaster zone questioned by ABC News weren't aware of the Church's assistance.
"We will stay in Minneapolis as long as help is needed," said church spokeswoman Pouw.
God fearing logic
World's Largest Carpet Woven for Worshippers
August 1, 2007—By any measure, it's a marvel—as a work of art, as an article of devotion, as a testament to the richness of hand-made craftwork. But who's going to take it outside and beat it?
Authorities in Iran unveiled what they described as the world's largest hand-woven rug yesterday at Tehran's open-air prayer grounds.
At 60,546 square feet (5,625 square meters), the carpet is the size of a soccer field and was woven by 1,200 weavers in three villages over the course of a year and a half.
The mammoth floor covering is destined for a monumental new mosque under construction in the United Arab Emirates. Emirati officials commissioned Iran's state-owned rug manufacturer to create the piece for the central prayer hall of the giant Sheikh Zayed mosque, slated to open this fall in the capital city of Abu Zaby (Abu Dhabi).
Weavers in Iran's northwestern Khorasan Province used 38 tons of wool and cotton from Iran and New Zealand to fashion the colorful covering, tying a staggering 2.2 billion knots in the process.
Half of the commission, estimated at 5.8 million U.S. dollars, will go to the villagers. But authorities hope that in addition to the income, the huge rug will bring renewed publicity to Iran's flagging carpet-weaving industry.
Long known for its delicate and ornate Persian rugs, Iran has recently been losing market share to cheaper Asian manufacturers, according to industry reports.
—Blake de Pastino
"Devil Possessions" Swept England After Invasion, Study Suggests
for National Geographic News
July 27, 2007
The Norman Invasion of A.D. 1066 may have brought more to England than just a new dynasty of kings.
The watershed year in English history was followed by ever increasing reports of people being possessed by the devil, according to one U.S. expert.
The two developments were closely linked, says Peter Dendle, an English professor at Pennsylvania State University.
Furthermore, understanding how medieval England came to be "bedeviled" after the Anglo-Saxons were conquered may help explain a resurging belief in demon possession in modern Western countries, the researcher suggests.
Basing his theory on medieval texts and records, Dendle says that the concept of people being demonically possessed only really caught on in England after new religious beliefs and customs were imported from overseas.
Researchers had previously assumed that different parts of Christian Western Europe believed equally in demon possession in medieval times.
But while demon possession involving ritual display carried out by a priest or exorcist was well documented in mainland Europe, the phenomenon was either rare or absent in Anglo-Saxon England, the researcher found.
This changed after William of Normandy invaded from France, defeating the Anglo-Saxons at the Battle of Hastings and replacing King Harold as England's monarch. (Related: "Ancient Britain Had Apartheid-Like Society, Study Suggests" [July 21, 2006].)
"As an imported and learned series of behaviors, demon possession did not seem to 'take' in England, for the most part, prior to the Norman Conquest," Dendle said.
Only one area bucked this trend.
"The major exception is late seventh to early eighth century Northumbria [in northeast England], in which there does seem to be a window of active and dynamic possession behavior," Dendle said.
Dendle links this to the fact that while Christianity was already established in most of England, the northeastern region had only recently been converted (England map).
Lasting no more than 50 years, the outbreak may reflect the tension between Christianity and lingering pagan beliefs, Dendle pointed out. Or the spate could have resulted from differences in the way converts understood their new religion.
Afterward, though, "there is no reference to a contemporary Anglo-Saxon case of possession for 300 years," Dendle said.
Anglo-Saxon sources indicate that the English were both puzzled and surprised by cases of possession mentioned both in the Scriptures and European texts from regions such as modern-day France and Germany.
But after the Norman Conquest, possession stories and exorcisms quickly appear in England, Dendle found.
These reports coincided with growing use of healing shrines and pilgrimage routes by people in search of miracle cures, the researcher suggests.
Christina Lee of the University of Nottingham in England says saintly relics that supposedly had healing properties were increasingly advertised by monasteries and churches as cures for the possessed or the mad.
"There were churches vying to have the most powerful saint, while monasteries had hospitals attached to them," Lee said. "They saw themselves as doctors of the soul."
One argument is that demon possession as a religious concept was good for business.
If cures appeared to work, "people would be very grateful and leave donations—which the churches and monasteries were dependent on," Lee pointed out.
In a forthcoming book, Demon Possession in Anglo-Saxon England, English professor Dendle draws parallels between the phenomenon in medieval England and its resurgence in the West in recent decades.
The author notes, for instance, that a widespread increase in possessions and exorcisms in America were sparked in part by the 1973 horror movie The Exorcist.
This shows how culture can affect such practices and how "attitudes toward the demonic can radically shift in a very short period of time," he said.
"Demon possession as a living social phenomenon has made a 'miraculous' comeback over the last 30 years," Dendle added. "It's currently a growth industry in America and England as well as throughout the developing world."
Such a trend is seen today mainly among Evangelical Christians, such as those belonging to the Pentecostal movement.
Rather than an abstract idea, evil is seen by believers as an actual force that can be manifest when the devil "possesses" someone.
"There is little out there more spectacular than demon possession, and it brings with it an intoxicating aura of mystery and primordial danger—of cosmic forces locked in epic combat," Dendle said.
"I believe this trend will continue to gain momentum for some time."
Russia Plants Underwater Flag, Claims Arctic Seafloor
Richard A. Lovett
for National Geographic News
August 3, 2007
Russia has laid claim to the seafloor at the North Pole, planting its national flag underwater in the hopes of securing the Arctic's potential motherlode of natural resources.
In an unprecedented dive beneath the ice, two three-person submersibles descended 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) to the bottom, where one symbolically dropped a titanium capsule containing a Russian flag.
Nobody knows for sure what resources lie beneath the Arctic Ocean, but oil and gas are among the greatest possible interests.
And with global warming causing the icepack to shrink, offshore drilling in the Arctic might prove to be the last great oil frontier (related: "As Arctic Ice Melts, Rush Is on for Shipping Lanes, More" [February 25, 2005]).
The Russian claim to the region, made Thursday, is based on international law that sets a 200-mile (322-kilometer) territorial limit stretching from the coast into open waters. This limit can be expanded if a country's continental shelf extends further out to sea.
Since 2001 Russian officials have been arguing that an undersea formation called the Lomonosov Ridge is part of Siberia's shelf, and that the country is therefore entitled to sole rights to the ridge and the nearby seabed.
Still, the Russians acknowledge that planting the flag was a purely symbolic act.
"It means nothing" from a legal standpoint, Viktor Posyolov, deputy director of Russia's Institute of World Ocean Geology and Mineral Resources, told the Associated Press several days before the dive.
And Ted McDorman, a law professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, told National Geographic News that "what the Russians have done is good politics, but it doesn't affect the legal situation one way or the other."
The 1,200-mile-long (2,000-kilometer-long) Lomonosov Ridge rises more than 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) above the seabed and runs all the way from Siberia to North America (download a printable map of the Arctic Ocean).
Because the ridge links Canada to Russia, the Canadians have disputed Russia's claim to the underwater turf.
So has Denmark, which claims that the ridge is actually part of Greenland.
Normally the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf makes the final decision on continental margins.
But the commission isn't designed to settle conflicting claims, the University of Victoria's McDorman said.
"It is unlikely that the commission would have jurisdiction to deal with this," he said, "which would mean that it would fall to negotiation between the Russians, the Canadians, and the Danes."
Ownership of the seabed ultimately depends on its geology—"in simplistic terms, whether it is continental in nature," McDorman said.
Also, he noted, "there are ridges throughout the Arctic Ocean, and there have always been questions whether you can ride the ridge into the ocean as far as it goes."
International quibbles aside, ocean explorers are excited about the science the Russian mini-subs may have accomplished on the deep-ocean floor.
Diving beneath the ice poses unusual difficulties, said Christina Reed, a Seattle-based marine scientist and journalist who dived in one of the subs in the Atlantic in 2003.
When the mini-subs usually complete a dive, they simply ascend to the surface and let the mother ship come to them, Reed said.
Beneath the Arctic ice, however, the subs must come up through the same hole through which they descended.
"GPS [global position system] doesn't work underwater," Reed said. "So they have to use transponders [radios] to locate themselves."
And since the subs were diving for hours under the Arctic ice, Reed said, the Russian teams likely would have been exploring the remote deep-water world.
At that depth the seabed isn't exactly teeming with life, but neither is it totally barren. Reed compares it to a terrestrial desert, where life is sparse but interesting.
"This is very exciting," she said. "Regardless of what they find, it's making history."
Surge of Suicide Bombers
The Iraq war has turned into a veritable 'martyr' factory, unlike any seen in previous conflicts.
By Rod Nordland and Babak DehghanpishehNewsweek
Aug. 13, 2007 issue - In the video that serves as his last will and testament, the youthful, well-dressed Saudi, known only as "Fatima's Fiancé," is laughing and joking with the cameraman who will record his death a few minutes later. "Pray for Allah to make my mission easy," he says, and waves as he climbs into a maroon sedan, grinning broadly. "May Allah make it easy for you," the cameraman says obligingly, and laughs. The scene cuts away to an earlier interview, where the Saudi announces that when he gets to heaven he plans to marry a woman named Fatima, who was allegedly abused in Abu Ghraib Prison. Then the scene shifts to a highway in Iraq, with a line of 18-wheelers roaring along and a red circle superimposed over the bomber's approaching car. As the music swells and the screen fills with an orange-and-black fireball, the cameraman cries, "Thanks to Allah!"
Such scenes are all too easily found on YouTube—and hundreds more like them are never caught on tape. While new figures show that the U.S. death toll dipped to its lowest total all year in the month of July, the number of Iraqis being killed continues to rise: some 1,652 civilians died in July alone. Many if not most of those deaths are the result of what has become an epidemic of suicide bombings. In the first three years of the war, there were fewer than 300 such attacks; in the year ending June 30 there were at least 540, according to a U.S. Department of Defense intelligence analyst in Iraq who specializes in the subject but is not authorized to speak on the record. Since January, the U.S. military says, more than 4,000 Iraqis have been killed or injured by suicide bombers. Last Wednesday, 50 more died in a truck bombing in Baghdad. "Iraq has superseded all the other suicide-bomb campaigns [in modern history] combined," says Mohammed Hafez, author of "Suicide Bombers in Iraq" and a U.S. government consultant. "It's really amazing."
Atheist Blood Drive
In an attempt to show the world that atheists are every bit as charitable as the religious of society, and that we need no "divine warrent" to be so, the RRS has set up a daughter organization called Atheist Volunteers. We hope you will all chip in. The most prominent of it's projects is the Atheist Blood drive.
Atheists for Autism Research Charity!
Check these guys out, and donate if you can!
Joseph Ain't the Father!
Stop those pesky Alien mind control waves!
Atheists: god, Rapture 'em already!
Satiric gospel music video asking the Lord to rapture up his fundamentalists so we can have our secular society back.
A Perfect Circle - Imagine
Be sure to read the "crawl" at the bottom, funny and poigniant!
I CAME TO ATHEISM BY ACCIDENT, AND I DECIDED TO STAY
By Rook Hawkins
Looking back from where I am at now, my life has always been one of luck. I am one of only three brothers to survive past one year of age, I have the most caring and understanding—if not down right supportive—family a guy could ever hope for, and I’ve really never been denied anything I’ve sought after save perhaps a full career serving my country which is something I think I’ll never get over. My parents did divorce when I was four years old, and even among the normal bickering that parents do when they think they know what is best for their child, I never really felt like I was in a bad place, even if my childhood was something other then what would be considered ‘normal.’
I ended up living with my mom until I was a teenager, and since she was working three jobs to support us at the time, I ended up being alone after school until late at night. Even still, those were some of the most educational times of my life. For example, I learned when I was seven that baby-powder was fun to turn upside down and shake all over the house; it made white smoke and was great for when I wanted to play war with my action figures. This was the way of things until the time I stood at the top of the stairs, looking over a half-wall section in which you could seed the first floor, and dumping an entire container of baby-powder onto the carpet just to see the effects of the powder as it fell through the air. I also learned that cleaning up the mess before my mom got home from work was not something I enjoyed doing and that effectively ended my baby-powder escapades.
I want to say that I was brought up in a religious household, but really I wasn’t. Perhaps I would best qualify my mom as spiritual, even a little New Age. She never vocally expressed her beliefs about religion until I was much older, but I recall going to church practically every Sunday growing up. My dad, who I’ve affectionately called ‘Pop’ for as long as I can remember, was a deist for quite some time, and always lived his life very practically and I witnessed a lot of this when I moved in with him when I turned thirteen. He always told me that the world was full of limitless possibilities, and I’ll never forget the lectures when I was in my early teens, “You know, son, you have the world by the horns. Decisions you make now will affect the rest of your life.” Perhaps it was precarious youth, because I hardly ever took what he said seriously. Or perhaps I thought I did, but misunderstood what he meant to the extent that I made a lot of pretty bad decisions.
One good decision I made was attending Valley Forge Military Academy when I turned fourteen. The first week I was there I didn’t think it was such a good idea, and kicked myself for what I thought would be the worst few years of my life. In the end, I’ll never be able to repay that school for what it taught me about myself, and I’ll never forget the many friends—brothers—that stuck by me through some tough challenges. But another thing VFMA did for me was establish the groundwork for my faith that I carried with me the whole time I was there. It also helped that the best way to get out of afternoon drill and Physical Training was to attend church classes on your particular faith twice a week, and it was great. In fact, it seemed that theology was the only course I really excelled at there, as I was routinely ignoring my other classes with perhaps the exception of science and history—two of my favorite courses. Because of my poor grades in other classes, I was generally ‘grounded’ on campus, which meant my parents didn’t really make the trip up every weekend, leaving me time to continue my studies. Even still I never really felt my questions concerning the Bible were answered effectively enough by the chaplain’s at school. Instead, I found more answers in the library, which was quite extensive at VFMA.
After a year there I decided that it was time for me to leave, and although I had my doubts as to my decision, it turned out for the best as I attended a Catholic High School the next school year. Finally, I thought I might be able to gain more answers, more perspectives. In fact, I asked Pop if we could start attending mass regularly on Sundays which of course he supported even though he never agreed, a fact I would find out much later. I even attended morning masses at my Catholic School, and it helped that my mom lived right across the street from it. So getting up at the crack of dawn and walking to school in the morning was pretty simple for me, and I especially loved helping the nuns and priests set up the alter and the liturgical books that they would read the verses from. One thing most people don’t know is that the Catholic Church doesn’t read from the Bible at the pulpit, instead they have a book with all 365 days of the year, and each day has three verses; one from the Old Testament, one from the epistles and one from the Gospels. So each day had specific verses picked out already, in advance, which meant that you never actually got the Bible in sequence, and only the good parts or the parts that went with a specific theme. Even still that never bothered me.
It was also around this time I felt what I saw at the time to be a calling of God. I can recall the event easily. I generally stayed after school because I was a snare drummer in the Marching Band and so I hung out with all of my friends and my girlfriend at the time, there was never a rush to get home for me and it was easy to wait and wander the halls for the four hours after until practice started. I was walking past my locker, which stood right outside my homeroom, next to a bulletin board which had never been changed as long as I had been there. I had probably walked by the thing over 500 times since the beginning of the school year, but never really stopped to look at it, but that day I did. It was odd because a ray of sunlight from a window at the end of the hall, a mere 10 feet away, illuminated a specific area of the bulletin board, and as if God were pointing his finger at it, and as I saw what the light shined upon my jaw dropped. There it was, clear as day; a recruiting poster for the diocese. The poster was simple yet very direct, as it was just an image of a clerical collared shirt with the notorious white collar of the priesthood, and in white letters it asked, “Do You Have What it Takes?”
Of course, it wasn’t my thing at the time to pass up a call from God. At this point in my studies I was reading the book of 1 Samuel, so my response in my mind was that this was indeed something I needed to follow. Here I am, Lord! Your servant is listening! I remember it very clearly, and the feeling of calm that came over me when I felt I had found my purpose. Ironically enough the very next thought that crept into my mind was, “What the hell am I going to tell my girlfriend?” So, I decided to keep the ‘calling’ to myself for a while until I found a way to approach my family about it, which I did eventually do, and I told Michelle and all my friends my intentions. Michelle understood, if for any other reason than because I think deep down, if the Catholic Church had let women into the priesthood, she would have signed up for Seminary too. My other friends thought I was crazy, and I shrugged off the comments. In my mind I was doing the work of the Lord, and I was more then comforted in that fact.
For the next year I was the librarian’s worst nightmare. Every day I was after school before band practice in the library reading whatever early church father I could get my hand on. I definitely had more overdue book fees then anybody else in the whole school, which I think out of respect for my thirst for knowledge the librarians ignored and generally let me take the books out knowing full well I’d return them, even if they were late. Additionally, and this is something I’ve come to notice, most Catholics at my school had no interest in reading anything outside of their required curriculum. That included the Bible, something I never understood. (It’s your faith and eternal salvation; you should want to understand it, right?) So there was never a high demand for Augustine’s confessions, even if I returned them a week later nobody seemed to care.
Of course my studying didn’t stop there. One of the diocese priests who always happened to act like a former hippie saw me a few times in the library and used to sit down with me and we had some great discussions. I truly believe the guy got his calling when he was in a euphoric state of some kind, tripping on some kind of drug. His name: Father Lamb. I kid you not. (I also had a theology teacher whose last name was Christ—pronounced differently—who sometimes grew out his beard and mustache.) Father Lamb was a very down-to-earth sort of priest and we had a similar background growing up, so we had tons of things to talk about. He even lent me his five volume edition of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, which I devoured in a week, something I have always been very proud of. So amongst my visits to the library, private studying, and theology and philosophy classes I never came up short on questions for Father Lamb. But again, to my dismay, as much as I respected him—and I can only say that about two clerical figures and mean it—he still left me without real answers.
That really left me in a position to just read even more, and hope that somewhere amidst all the research I was doing I would find the answers. But it wasn’t until one day during my final year at that Catholic School that I realized I would never find the answers I was seeking as a Christian. This event came rather abruptly for me, and it involved the man I have always respected most in my life, my Pop. You should know first that I have always tried to the best of my ability to live my life as honestly as possible; mostly I try to remain honest with myself, which means I’m harder on myself then on others. So when somebody accuses me of something, the first thing I tend to do is look ‘inside’ to see if there is any inkling of truth. The old parable of plucking the thorn from your own eye, before you pluck it from your brothers, seems to me appropriate.
This is really what happened that day or really that evening, as Pop drove me back to moms. I had another mass the next morning, and I wanted to get to bed early. Somehow the topic of me looking to check out the Seminary sparked a conversation, and it lasted for a few hours. I recall sitting outside my moms’ house in my dad’s car debating him on religion for a very long time. He was hard on me, but not in a verbal way—his arguments pinned me down, and I didn’t have the ability to come back with anything substantial. Worse yet, he knew it and continued to press me with questions. I think that was the worst of it; that he wasn’t really presenting any positions but rather he just kept asking me questions. With all my reading and studying, I had tons of comebacks, but none satisfied me as effective answers, and what sucked yet is I heard my own hollowness reverberating inside of me as I spoke them. Some of the same questions he asked me, I had asked others and not received any sort of effective answers, but I heard myself saying those same poor answers, and I knew they were just as empty as I was starting to feel. My whole world collapsed about me and I don’t remember a time that I hated my father other than that night. I hated him for exposing me, showing that my faith was really void.
That night I turned the pages of the Bible for a different reason then I had previously. I was searching for something, anything that would help me rebuild what my dad had just knocked down. My rage drove me and I didn’t sleep at all, I was like a machine just reading page after page. Praying, hoping. I was up when my alarm went off, just in time to start a full day of classes. I had just read the Gospels, parts of Romans, and Hebrews, but even in Paul I could not find my salvation. I think it was at that moment, between the annoying sound of the alarm going off and the weight of my bible in my hands that I had decided to leave theism. And I recall something very odd following that initial feeling of despair. It was freedom.
To explain it would take too long, and the message of this journey would really be lost. But to keep it short and simple, I had been reborn. No, not as a Christian, and I certainly hadn’t found any other spiritual revelation. Instead I saw the world differently. I saw life anew, natural, physical. And when I sat through mass that morning, I’m still not sure why I still attended; I couldn’t even focus on the traditions because my mind was still in a daze, still wondering about all of the possibilities out there for me. I think the fact that I was remaining seating during the mass caught the attention of Michelle, who generally attended too, and when I told her about my decision to leave theism, she thought I was joking at first. In fact, everyone thought it was some very bad joke. Here I had just come in the previous day with a cross on my collar with the hope of becoming a diocese priest, and the very next day I was without it, professing that I had deconverted to atheism.
I think at some point I decided that my questions could be answered, or they couldn’t and I would have to live with that, but I felt as if I could find the answers now because I wasn’t bogged down with the fear I had previously had. Before I had left theism, I felt that thinking outside of dogma and doctrine was sinful, and even dangerous. Atheists were those druggie public school kids that nobody liked; delinquents and drop outs. That was the atheist to me when I was a Catholic. But when I realized that I had in fact deconverted to atheism, my opinion of course changed. And wouldn’t you know it…I wanted to read more because of it.
That evening I told my dad, who thought at first I had gone from one extreme to another. (He has since been deconverted to atheism, as well, praise nothing!) My mom said that she would disown me, at first. However, after a while I think she realized that I was her only son, and that if she wanted to keep that relationship she’d have to accept it, even if she never really cared to understand it. In a way I have learned to love her for that, because I think she still feels that atheists are what I used to view them as. The rest of my family hasn’t ever really understood my decision, but nobody really complains or tries to pull me back in, which in a way I regret because I want to share with them my experiences more then anybody else. My friends have also been supportive, which I can’t be happier about. Some even watched The God Who Wasn’t There with me, a feat in and of itself!
A lot of people ask me about how I came to atheism, and how I learned so much about history and Christianity. Well, I never really had a venue at telling my story like this, but I would say, bluntly, that my story is true for a lot of apostates: I came to atheism by accident, and I liked it there, so I stayed.
The darkness of godlessness lets wisdom shine.