I had not intended to put up another post for a while, but after listening to an interview with Joshua Oppenheimer on Sam Harris’s podcast Waking Up, I decided to watch Oppenheimer’s documentary The Act of Killing. What I found compelled me to write a review here immediately. I am not an avid viewer of documentaries, but the concept behind this film stood out. We not only follow the life of an aged murderer, but we see a moral journey wherein a murderer realizes, in his twilight years, the devastation and cruelty he committed when young.
This trailer does not do the documentary justice, so I highly encourage you to find The Act of Killing on Netflix and just start streaming it from start to finish.
“I am thus one of the very few examples, in this country, of one who has, not thrown off religious belief, but never had it: I grew up in a negative state with regard to it, I looked upon the modern exactly as I did upon the ancient religion, as something that in no way concerned me. It did not seem to me more strange that English people should believe what I did not, than that the men whom I read of in Herodotus should have done so. History had made a variety of opinions among mankind a fact familiar to me, and this was but a prolongation of the fact. This point in my early education had however incidentally one bad consequence deserving notice. In giving me an opinion contrary to that of the world, my father thought it necessary to give it as one which could not prudently be avowed to the world. This lesson of keeping my thoughts to myself, at that early age, was attended with some moral disadvantages; though my limited intercourse with strangers, especially such as were likely to speak to me on religion, prevented me from being placed in the alternative of avowal or hypocrisy. I remember two occasions in my boyhood, on which I felt myself in this alternative, and in both cases I avowed my disbelief and defended it.”
“Atheism in its negations of gods is at the same time the strongest affirmation of man, and through man, the eternal yea to life, purpose, and beauty.”
As part of this blog experiment, I want to do a few posts about why I am who I am and disclose some of my intimate beliefs. This particular post is about why I am an atheist. Religion is a sensitive topic to cover, and in the text that follows, I do not intentionally mean to offend or write inflammatory statements without a purpose. The experiences below are mine, and should not be taken as personal attacks on the reader’s beliefs, religious or otherwise, but rather as an exploration of my own journey with spirituality, the God hypothesis, and my aversion to religion. As I prefaced in an earlier post, we are breaching a taboo subject, and so I will likely have some opinions on the subject that are divisive.
Spiritual Freedom and Prayer
My childhood was largely non-religious. My parents believed in and still believe in God, but that belief was never something which was actively passed on to either myself or my siblings. We did not pray at the dinner table, except occasionally on Thanksgiving. Christmas was primarily a secular holiday, and we certainly never attended church as a family. In fact, the only time I can remember my family attending a church is for funerals. Aside from the occasional reminder of why Christmas exists or about why we should thank God during Thanksgiving, my parents raised us without any notable religious influence. They focused much more on the ability to excel in school, treat others with respect, and be kind.
This level of spiritual freedom is, in my opinion, among one of the most valuable gifts bestowed to me by my parents. I appreciate that they were able to let me make my own decisions about what I believe, make my own mistakes, and let me learn from those mistakes. I can only hope I will be able to allow my own children the same kind of freedom of choice, should I have any.
Even with this freedom, for a long time I had a vague belief in some kind of higher power. He (I certainly imagined God as a He) was not the Christian God, but rather a flawed observer of the universe akin to the pantheon of Greek gods. He was powerless to do anything, but could listen. Why did I believe there was someone listening to me? I do not have a rational answer to that question, other than I likely picked it up from the general culture. Up through elementary school and into middle school, I would occasionally pray, usually to confide my own depressed thoughts in someone, anyone, or anything. From about 3rd to 7th grade, I was not typically a joyful, happy child, and so I sought solace through confiding in non-parental figures. I eventually discovered that I could achieve the same effect by journaling, and gave up any kind of prayer.
These non-denominational prayers continued for some time, though despite their therapeutic benefit, never felt honest. These prayers were never delivered to the ground with folded hands or by the bedside. Instead, I addressed my thoughts and hopes directly to the stars, usually while laying down or biking or walking late at night. I’ve always been awe-inspired by a beautiful night sky, and the stars were the only suitable conduits through which my imagined version of God could be transmitted. I talked directly to the stars, as if they could hear me, up through high school. Even now, if I am alone during a late night with a clear and beautiful sky, I will soliloquize to the stars. I stopped believing there was anything that could hear me by around 11th grade, though. During the early years of my life, I needed to verbalize my internal states in order to escape the feeling of being an isolated, lonely kid.
When I attended a church camp in the summer after 7th grade, though, I began to question my own conception of God and to what extent any such entity actually existed. I often romanticize—and possibly over exaggerate—this moment as the one which put me on the path away from possibly becoming religious.
There is a custom in American society that you shouldn’t discuss certain subjects at the dinner table, especially with family. These tend to fall into controversial domains, such as religious attitudes, political ideology, and several other verboten topics. Let’s end that little taboo right here on this small piece of internet real estate. Let this serve as a warning; be prepared for posts on some controversial topics soon. I hope these pieces are engaging, if not interesting, and allow you to start some discussion and debate with your family and friends (and me). As part of this little dive, feel free to leave comments with any suggestions for controversial topics about which you want to read. No holds barred, if there is enough information and interest to justify writing about it, I will attempt to do so.
I also feel I should apologize for the lack of activity. I haven’t posted in a while, mainly because life has kept me preoccupied recently. Hopefully I can get back to posting on a semi-regular schedule, but I promise nothing.
To future rambles,
Himeji Castle, Himeji, Japan
Current Reading List
"How lucky I am. If I make a mistake, someone is sure to recognize it."
I signed the Pro-Truth Pledge:If you find something that is clearly false or needs review, please let me know. This blog strives for factual accuracy, and will make corrections upon review.
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies