I've been writing in various forums (fora? Hmm) for a couple of years now, ranting about many subjects but primarily - and always returning to - the conflict between religious belief and the rise of the "New Atheist". I've finally decided to put everything in one place, not least because I recently discovered that someone's been passing off great chunks of my writing as his own and it will be useful, in the future, to have proof of my authorship.
In this, my first post, I'm going to reproduce an abridged - and minimally edited for aesthetic reasons - account of my own history with religion, first penned (or, less poetically, typed) back in 2010.
"I went to a Church of England primary school until I was ten, and I think the experience was probably quite damaging. My parents didn't hammer home the drivel I was taught at school but they didn't contradict it either, and at four years old we're programmed by millennia of evolution to believe what adults tell us without question. Hence, until the age of nine or so, I accepted completely that God was some big scary guy in the clouds, I believed in heaven and hell, in the virgin birth, the nativity and all the rest of that rubbish. I lived in genuine fear of going to hell over the tiniest things, and when you're that young your imagination is both vivid and literal.
In year five (that's nine to ten years old) we studied a module on the Hindu faith. It was presented as something we should respect, but also with an air of incredible superiority; there was a definite feeling that "of course we know better, but we have to accept that these backward people believe these silly things - isn't it funny?". Fortunately, because I'm at least something less than entirely stupid, this was a turning point for me; as any halfway reasonable person would, I began to question why "my" religion made any more sense. Over a few weeks or months - my sense of time scale looking back is a bit hazy, so I'm not sure how long it took - I came to the unexpectedly simple conclusion that it didn't.
From then until I guess my late teens I was an atheist while remaining respectful of other people's religious beliefs; if pressed, I would have said I was agnostic to avoid the argument - I'm rather embarrassed to admit that now. But more recently I've been thinking about the damage done by religion and have come to be actively anti-religion; to quote Steven Weinberg (I think), "for good people to do evil things, that takes religion". What infuriates me is that religious people cannot be reasoned with; if someone manages to categorically prove the existence of a god I will gladly rethink my position, but no matter how many times science disproves god, the credulous idiots refuse to listen to logic. And it's so brainless - they can get around anything with "because God has a plan" or "because God can do anything" or "because God likes to try our faith". What kind of argument is that?! You might as well put it down to magic, it makes just as much sense!
The religious argument is always "you can't prove god doesn't exist". That's true, but it's completely contrary to the scientific method applied to EVERYTHING else in modern life. By the same token, no one can prove that there isn't a tiny, immaterial invisible unicorn living in my ear canal and telling me what to do, but no one would credit that.
I've come to the conclusion that anyone who can consciously ignore their human inquisitiveness and intelligence to base their life on this kind of faulty logic deserves little respect for the opinions that result from that. For that reason I will not hesitate to argue with people about their religion in the same way I would argue with them about their politics or anything else. In doing this I encounter a real mixture of reactions; some people can be influenced by rational, reasoned debate, while others flatly refuse to give up the "God did it" argument - what I think of as the "sticking your fingers in your ears and going lalala" school of logic. I appreciate that for many people being made to question their faith is an uncomfortable experience, but I sincerely think it is for the best; even if we can't convert people completely to atheism, if we can at least prevent them from being totally certain that's something. How many suicide bombers do we think have blown themselves up because they thought there probably was a god but they weren't quite sure and thought that as long as they tried to live a good life they should be covered anyway?
Too many people use their faith to justify awful beliefs and actions - just look at the Westboro Baptists. How many of those complete arseholes do you think ACTUALLY believe there's a big guy sat in the clouds who'll send gay people to burn in eternal fire? My bet is that most of them are simply nasty small-minded homophobes who have found in that particular church an acceptable outlet for their bigoted beliefs - and allowed them to act on them in a way that people seem to think must be tolerated because it's part of their "faith".
Anyway, I could go on in this vein for pages but I'll leave it there - I think I've laid out the bare bones of why I don't put up and shut up about religion any more. Genuinely, anything that can be done to stop the spread of these malignant, anti-progressive, hateful belief systems should be done, or more and more people will be murdered, tortured and enslaved in the name of "God". Rant over."
Aw, I find that quite endearing now that I come to reread it; this was the start of my serious debates about religion, and probably my first in-depth expression of an antitheistic sentiment that has become only stronger as I've developed my understanding of the subject.