Thursday, March 22, 2012

One man's journey down the path of atheism

James Salmonsen at the Bellagio
Today, I am having a guest post written by my best friend, James Salmonsen. I have known James almost twenty years, and he is a very intelligent, articulate man. He wants to talk about his atheism. But I do want to tell you that James has many facets. Another of them is his cooking which is as good or better than Rachael Ray.

James does not mean to offend with this post (he can be snarky). Merely he seeks to explain his beliefs and the events that occurred in his life that made him believe that there is no God. If you are interested in one man's journey down the path of atheism, please read on and comment below:

* * *
Greetings readers.  My name is James and I am proud to say that I am the source of some inspiration for Mike.  For those of you who have read Mike's blog for some time, you will have undoubtedly read something posted by Mike that we have talked about and it subsequently became a blog post.  Mike is one of the three roots in my life, and he has asked me to guest blog occasionally.  “Go off on an atheist rant” I think were his exact words.  I may guest-blog about other things in the future, but for now.....I shall rant.

To start, I would like to tell the story of my path to anti-theist.
All people on earth are born not knowing and therefore not believing in Gods.  The random chance of what family one is born into usually determines which religion one believes in – if any.  My random chance placed me into an LDS family living in Montana.  I was made to go to church on Sundays, I went to seminary before school and attended different LDS functions up into high school.  
As a Mormon, I grew up knowing that other religions in the US viewed my religion as a cult.  I knew from my study of the Bible and the BoM, that Mormons believed everything that most Christians in America believed in, plus a little bit more.  I remember often wondering why these sweaty evangelical preachers on Sunday TV were so full of hatred towards us when we were so similar.  This thought in retrospect was the first yellow brick down the road to anti-theism.

I do clearly remember when I started to lose faith in my religion.  It was because of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart.  Younger readers will not know those names - but fortunate you! - there is Wikipedia.  Go ahead.  Look them up.  Also – here is a picture of that toxic, crypt keeper look-alike Tammy Faye Bakker (wife of Jim) for your viewing pleasure while we wait.

I believe it is quite possible she contracted cancer from all the make-up she wore.

Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart are the #1 and #2 reasons why I left the LDS church.  It certainly wasn't because they had any relevant arguments against the LDS faith.  It wasn't due to fear of their version of the all-mighty sky-father sending me to eternal torment.  It's because both of these religious leaders at the time were caught in sex scandals and Bakker was caught embezzling MILLIONS as well! 

At first, my mind said, “HA!  Take that you hypocritical twats!  You are on TV ranting about the immorality of MY religion, and you are out committing adultery, stealing and lying?  You are the leaders of your churches and you're just a couple of con men!  Mormons believe in the same things you do, and you're supposed to tell us how God wants us to behave?  How dare you try and instruct anyone on how to live right!  Hey.  Wait.  We believe in the same things you do......Hold on just a minute...rewind.”
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Before that time, I was too young to realize something.  We are all just people.  All of us.  Preachers and Bishops and Elders aren't special.  They have no special knowledge.  I saw these two con men fall, and that made me look at my own church's leaders.  They were just people too!  Once I realized this fundamental (pun intended) truth, I stopped taking their word as authority and started looking at the ideas they were teaching me instead.  The more I looked, the less I believed, because it simply didn't make sense.  It looked more and more like fairy tales, mythology and fantasy writing.  I started THINKING CRITICALLY – and knowledge is the death of faith.

From this time into my early college years, I had officially in my mind left the LDS church.  I identified myself as “spiritual” and not “religious”. 

The next breakthrough concept I had, cured me of that “spiritual” phase.... and will be the subject of my next guest-blog.

Thanks for reading.


  1. Very interesting story, James, and thanks for sharing it :) I gave up on religion a few years back when I realised that Church Law was to the benefit of no-one but the lawmakers. I decided that following one commandment would set me on the straight and narrow: "Don't be an ass". Stick to that and you'll live a good life, no deity necessary :)

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  3. Having Started out as Catholic , then later becoming LDS and now confirmed Atheist I think you said it very well. I am looking forward to the next installment of this discussion.

  4. I think it is great that you are guest hosting and talking about what you believe about religion. I'm a Christian but I'm always interested to hear about everyone's beliefs or non-beliefs.

    I remember Tammy Faye and the rest of them. But I wasn't all that surprised. My own father used to say he was a Christian and did terrible things. Many people in my church (I don't go any more, I couldn't take it) were rude, judgmental and unkind. Many were loving, good and generous. The mean ones were louder though.

    It was the church leaders who hated and killed Jesus; prostitutes and poor people loved him. Hypocrites aren't new. This has been going on since the beginning of time. I can't wait to see your next post!

  5. Thanks for sharing, James!

    My eureka moment came in my early teens when it occurred to me that religion wasn't about "truth", it was about geography. If I'd been born anywhere else, I would have been learning some other "truth". It's completely arbitrary.

    And I agree with Jamie in Comment 1. "Don't be an ass" is the only rule we need.

  6. There are wise people out there with solid, well earned advice. There's also a place for priests, ministers, rabbis and clergy....when we can't turn to a mom or dad.

  7. Nicely written. I enjoy imagining the evolutionary process of religion, going way back to the earliest times when we began developing higher intelligence (everything around you is a complete mystery, natural curiosity, no entertainment except the telling of stories, etc). It seems to me that the process of gaining higher intelligence will always lead to evolving religion, but it should at some point also evolve back away from it. Sadly, the human race is having trouble with that last part.

  8. Hi, Mike & James,
    I think part of what makes being religious so hard is the larger-than-life expectations we have of people who profess to be Christians.

    The way I look at things is that my pastor is just as fallible as I am. As you pointed out, he's but a man, however, the wonderful thing about the world for me is the fact that we (along with our beliefs) are all so different.

  9. Great story, James. I too used to be Mormon. When I started studying psychology at uni I became tormented, wondering how God could exist. When I finally realised there is no God, I was like, oh, that's cool. I spent a lot more time feeling guilty for having unfaithful thoughts. It was such a relief to finally be free from religious beliefs.

  10. Interesting post. There's no simple answer to anything.

  11. Good stuff. I was at a bar last night and got talked into having this chocolate cinammon beer they had on tap. I slapped down my $5 and had a revelation: Ben Franklin was full of shit.

    He once said beer was proof God loves us and wants us to be happy - but no god could have signed off on that beer. It destroyed his whole argument in one moment of hellish black liquid.

    I still can't get that taste out of my mouth.

  12. Arr that picture of Tammy Fay Baker will replace the whale in me nightmares.

  13. Growing up Catholic, we had basically the same convictions, BUT, having an alcoholic Monsignor curved me away from these beliefs at an early age.

    However, I am spiritual and I am looking forward to your next post, James.

    I also believe in Karma. Life is tough, if more people treated others with kindness, this world wouldn't be in the major mess that it is in right now.

    Thanks Michael for another interesting post.

  14. Hi James, It's nice to meet you. Although I'm a Christian, I can respect the beliefs of others.

  15. It's always interesting to read how people's spiritual growth develops. I tend to separate spirituality from religion. I think it would be difficult to live a life without spirituality, the belief in something greater than yourself, but religions are all con games, opium for the masses. Dig deep enough into any religion and you can always find a manipulator making money.

    1. Wouldn't that be digging deep into history and not digging deep into religion? I believe you will find an extremely higher percentage of people manipulating others to make money in general society than you will in "religion".......

  16. I was raised Catholic, so I understand your sentiments.

  17. Critical thinking may be the death of faith, but it is also the key to faith.

  18. Andrew: False. If you used critical thinking, you would not have faith. You would have facts.

  19. For clarification: James - Mastervodo. Samey Samey.

  20. Wow, that picture is quite scary!
    Thanks for the post. It's always interesting to see what other people believe (or don't believe). I certainly don't agree that knowledge is the death of faith, but we're all allowed our opinions, hey :)

  21. I grew up Catholic and consider myself spiritual--as Michael stated of his beliefs. I can completely appreciate steering away from organized religion. It is filled with hypocritcal people who don't ever see their hypocricy. That said, there is more evidence in my life of a spiritual connectedness to everything and everyone than there is not.
    Nice, thought-provoking post.

  22. I was not inclined to read this post, but in the interest of not ghettoizing my informational input, I did.

    I'm not going to criticize you for being atheist, but I wish you weren't. I don't talk about it an awful lot, but I am an extremely religious person.

    Although raised Catholic, and married Catholic, I don't go to Catholic church (or any church) anymore -- too many differences with the church I grew up in, and not enough desire to find a new one when my own view of God (and I agree, our views of God and religion have to be subjective and opinion-based, mostly) doesn't really need a formal church.

    But with that said, I can tell you that I believe in God, and for me, believing is easy.

    Not just because I want to believe -- I'd like to think my life has purpose and that there is more to come after this -- but also because I see evidence around me.

    Do you know about leaf-cutter ants? They cut leaves into tiny bits, but they can't eat the leaves; they're poisonous. Instead, they use the leaves to make mulch which they then use to fertilize their underground caverns of fungus, which they live off of.

    When I think about the improbability of such a creature, and the beauty of that creature, it almost takes my breath away. To me, evolution is the mechanism God uses to continue working on the world.

    That's just one example. Let me give you another, personal example: when Sweetie and I were trying to have a baby five years ago, we had a hard time of it. Too hard to talk about in a blog comment at length. But I remembered something my mom had told me. She had a difficult pregnancy with my brother and had prayed to St. Jude, promising him that if the child lived, she would name him after that Saint. My brother's middle name is Jude. He lived. Maybe he would have lived anyway, but maybe not.

    When I remembered that, and Sweetie became pregnant, I prayed, to St. Anthony and St. Jude, that they would live. And they did, and my sons each have Anthony and Jude in their name.

    Maybe they would have lived anyway, but maybe not.

    I have other examples I could give, personal and not. And you simply have to take my stories on faith. But I will tell you, and I say this honestly: When I prayed to St. Anthony, and St. Jude, and when I pray now as I do every day, I not only feel happier, and a better person, but I feel comforted. It's almost as if I feel God patting me on the shoulder.

    Maybe He is, or maybe you're right and He doesn't exist. That's for each of us to make up our minds. But I believe in God, and Jesus, and the saints, and the power of prayer when used for good, and my life is a better one for it.

  23. Religion is a great topic for controversy. I fully understand how organized religion can turn a person off from believing in God. I guess I could get into a huge comment about why I believe, but I don't want to do that. Who would read it? I consider myself to be spiritual rather than religious for many reason..but in general church bores me and I don't believe in everything Christians do. I'm kind of a blend. Higher knowledge always makes me more of a believer..especially when it comes to anatomy and the universe. There is just too much precision and complexity involved to think it happened by chance.

    One thing that made me a believer is one day I realized that man ( or religions) push their emotions and judgmental attitudes onto God. They make the mistake of thinking that God thinks like a man...when he is not a man and he doesn't think like them. He is no where near that judgmental. Also I believe most Atheists are going to heaven it just might take them longer to figure out where they are.

  24. I tried the whole "divine clockmaker" thing, but eventually I had to concede that our concept of God makes no sense whatsoever. When something goes wrong we pray for the deity who's causing our problem in the first place! The concept of true omnipotence is like the afterlife in that it's really hard for us humans to grasp it so we try to explain it in oftentimes childish ways. Under close scrutiny though these fantasies begin to fall apart.

    I mean if you go by the "divine clockmaker" thing and say God creates the world but lets us have free will then basically you're saying God sits back and does nothing while all sorts of bad shit happens. In that case why bother with prayer anyway?

    When I really couldn't come up with any answers about "God's Plan" was when I heard a plane carrying organs to transplant into a sick person went down in Lake Michigan about five years ago. It just struck me that there's no moral lesson from that. There's no higher purpose in keeping someone's life from being saved. If that's God's Plan then you can cram it with walnuts. I mean do you really want to believe in an entity that sits around watching cities being leveled by tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, etc. or even worse CAUSES those things to happen as some kind of divine retribution? No thank you.

  25. All people have flaws and when you accept people who are full of sins, hypocrisy and human mistakes that's when you'll realize you're not better just because you free yourself from religion. God knows how weak we are, because he knows everything.

  26. I was raised by an atheist parent but converted to Christianity when I was a young adult. I respect everyone's opinion.

  27. I'm actually sometimes envious of people who have faith. In their darkest moments they have someone to turn to. I looked for that as a child, I was the only one in my household who went to church, and I was baptised at the age of 11. It was while I was attending confirmation classes that I went through the whole 'if God loves me, why is he letting this stuff happen?' phase. That's when I realised that I was only going to church because religion was 'mine'. Something I didn't have to share with the others.

    Sorry for the long-winded comment!

  28. I was raised Catholic, too. We all certainly need to learn to respect each other more. Some of the things bandied about in the name of religion are dang scary.

  29. "knowledge is the death of faith."

    Well, at least that was the death of my religious faith. But I am a spiritual person, and believe in the overall goodness of people, even with so much evidence to the contrary in the news. Call it Karma, devine intervention, or coincidence, its at least something to believe in.

    I have to agree with your comment about Tammy Faye though :)

    Thanks Mike and James for the interesting post topic.


  30. While I do not consider myself a religious or spiritual person, I wouldn't completely agree that knowledge is absolutely the death of faith. But we all have different opinions--and very interesting post.

  31. A week ago, I was covering an English class, and they were working on essays. Something about an important event in their lives. One student asked me to proofread his essay for him.

    That essay sounded very similar to this post. (Although he was raised by a preacher father and the specific religion was different.)

    Interesting that now I've heard the same story twice. I wonder what that means.

  32. Great post. Glad you shared your story and happy that Michael posted it. I had a longer road but the path dead ended on the same ideas. It's funny how the christians react (funny in a sad kind of way) but cheers to you both.

    And I LOVE(d) Christopher Hitchens -in spite of some of his whacky ideas about Iraq!

  33. Christopher Hitchens was a cool guy.
    I myself am neither religious nor atheistic, I can't decide, but Hitchens also made me go all atheist :)

  34. Enjoyed that and it was an enouraging and amusing read. Mind you, I've been an atheist for 30 years now, to the degree that I don't really even use the term "atheist" to describe myself any more (I know I just did.) All those other people are theists and I don't see the need to define myself in their terms.

    Some of my best friends are Christians and Muslims though. Each to their own ...

  35. Thanks Michael for having the courage to post an interesting topic. Thanks James for being honest and sharing your experience.

    A couple of decades back I read a book called Path of the Masters, which compared all the different religions and beliefs around the world to show that basically they all have the same message. A person recommended it to interest me in one of those religions. It did the opposite. It gave me knowledge so I could better judge what suited me.

    I heartily agree with Jamie and Donna Hole. (don't be an ass and use your knowledge)

    I think of myself as more spiritual in the native sense of the word. Knowledge seems to thunk a hole in a lot of strictures by which some of us abide.

    Tammy Faye gave makeup a bad name.

  36. I'm always interesting in reading about other people's religious views. It's amazing how our childhood experiences shape so much of our adult belief system. Thanks for sharing a little about your journey! Looking forward to the next part.

  37. I'm always interesting in reading about other people's religious views. It's amazing how our childhood experiences shape so much of our adult belief system. Thanks for sharing a little about your journey! Looking forward to the next part.

  38. I think that religion has become the past time of the rich. Poor people are actually close to God ( as we need him) but we do not use religion to entertain us.

  39. right on... for the most part

    [hey, if i believed/did everything like you do, one of us would be redundant... and, logically, have no reason to keep living, wasting space, on this planet]

    as for dis-believing the 'religious' quackery most of us are subjected to, from an early age: it began with that broad in the supposed 'garden of eden' munching on the fruit from the 'tree of knowledge'... at least that's how the fairytale goes... and about the only thing i can believe in... ie. knowledge opens up the mind to all kinds of possibilities... starting with the writer's question: what if...?

    so yeah, it leads to the truism: 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing', at least from many religious leaders' pov... it bloody well makes you THINK... then QUESTION, everything!

    keep in mind: organized religion is all about POWER/CONTROL!...something that trickled down to kings/autocrats... all wannabes... - what many politicians are....

  40. Wow. Telling and unfortunate story. Just because you don't believe doesn't make it true. I believe in the inherent word of God. The Bible is my authority and it tells us that there are many hypocrites. You must be careful to guard your heart and not follow everyone that you see. The biggest lie of Satan is to make you believe he doesn't exist. And when we cross to the other side it'll be too late. I didn't always know God either, but he has done too much for me in my life for me not to recognize in law. I have a pescr in my heart and I have spiritual guidance from the Lord that I can't intellectually explain. It just is, just as we have day, and night, and the moon, and stars, God is real.

    Thank you for sharing your story

  41. Basically with this post, all references to faith can only be defined by firm belief in something for which there is no proof, or what the author may call "critical" thinking. I'm curious then as to what the author believes where we all came from, since he needs the proof, being a critical thinker and all. Was it a big bang? Are we all related to pollywogs? Or apes. Now their MIGHT be some proof there......where exactly did we come from if you don't believe in God and what exactly is your proof?