My father was a Lutheran preacher. The same people who told me that bees can sting you told me about Jesus, God, and all that...slowly, repeatedly, adding a bit more here and there...raised that way, you don't think to question it...like you don't question the fact that bees can sting you. There were no alternative explanations of the universe given, in fact, nothing even to suggest that there might be alternate arrangements of the universe.
I was pretty serious about religion as a kid. I thought church was a wierd, boring pain in the ass but at the same time I really believed all the jazz about confessing your sins to god so as to get to heaven. God was essentially a giant invisible super CIA agent monitoring all your thoughts and actions but if you confessed once a week, then when you died you went to the Holiday Inn instead of Gitmo. You could sin just by wanting or fantasizing about the wrong thing, so you were always either in a state of guilt or penitence.
I remember around age 10 being depressed and going to sleep for several months wishing to die in my sleep. Death sounded like a good deal, easier than living. Eventually the passive suicidal ideation passed.
I definitely recall the fact that church was deeply associated with death, in my mind anyway. The spooky robes, the big torture instrument, all the talk about death and ressurection, sppoky candles, the awful hymms, the spooky reverent atmosphere of church...if it had ever occurred to me that all this spooky shit was the result of people making choices, I would have asked why they thought god liked all the spooky shit. But it didn't occur to me and I just god had wierd tastes.
My faith began to erode in my early 20's due to a series of events. One was the discovery that my dad the preacher was shagging one of the parishoners. Another was when a year later, at only age 54, he had a devastating stroke while shagging this lady. Another was when he was in the hospital after the stroke telling me how repeating in his mind the 'Jesus prayer' helped him stay alive.
It was pathetic how this poor, twisted, bastard's guilty conscience had whistled up an angry god to stike him down, and how this poor, pain-racked bastard was begging this angry god to play nice with him.
Summer 1987, I read the Gospels. They were interesting, but there was a lot of stuff there that didn't jibe with church.
Later I read a Kurt Vonnegut book, I think it was 'Palm Sunday,' which was the first time I read an actual atheist talk about being an atheist, and I was surprised to learn that atheism did not equate with sadism and evil.
Nov. 1988 I had a dream in which I was a young seminarian and I was supposed to preach a sermon at my father's church, but then it occurred to me as I was preparing the sermon that I was an agnostic, and that I couldn't in good faith preach the sermon.
Then I woke up from the dream with the realization that I was in fact, agnostic about the existence of god.
Over time, I have tended to move toward the word atheist because I feel it sends the message to Xians that it's a waste of time to try to convert me. I think agnostic gives them false hope. But truly, I do think that it is entirely possible that there is some kind of supreme being somewhere...and perhaps other beings superior to human....the human brain and nervous system percieves just a minute portion of the things around us.
But I am pretty certain that any higher beings that might be out there are nothing like the gods postulated by any of the Abrahamic faiths, and that religion is just shit people make up.
As a Christian, I was mostly in a state of disequilibrium, always either about to do something sinful, doing something sinful, or in a state of guilt seeking penitence. God was not a pleasant man, always tapping my mental phone conversations, never making church any real fun.
As a non-religionist, I am much more content. I try to avoid hurting people and sometimes do things to help others. I could give more to the poor I suppose. I am definitely not perfect, but I don't steal and I don't abuse others and I don't cheat on my wife.
Sometimes I think about what types of beings might be out there in the universe...maybe beings composed of quarks or cosmic strings or beings composed of who-knows-what 'living' in the center of a black hole. Why not? We are primitive creatures after all.
But I know one thing. I sure as heck will never make up some imaginary invisible monster and let him loose in the minds of children.