Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How Native American Beliefs Turned Me to Atheism

There wasn't really one pivotal eureka moment that deconverted me from Christianity and made me an atheist. Mine was a slow deconvertion; it was a countless number of little hints that I received and subconscious logic being worked out in my brain. Then one day I realized that at some point I'd become an atheist without really thinking about it.

So, there was no KABLAMO! moment, but there certainly were a lot of little things along the way that chipped away at my outer Christian candy shell to the yummy chocolate atheism inside. One of those shell-chippers was when I learned about Native American beliefs early on in high school.

We were learning the origin stories of a bunch of Native American tribes in my English class. We were reading them as if they were fairy tales, of course. In the back of my mind -- and surely everyone else's minds in the room -- I was supremely amused that people actually used to believe this shit. A spider woman? Talking animals? Turtles that carry islands on their backs? I mean, everything about the stories was just ridiculous. They truly were indistinguishable from children's stories.

After a few weeks of reading and analyzing these myths, I finally had the sense to look at them in light of my own beliefs. I'd never really read the stories in the Bible with a critical eye. I didn't read them and think that they certainly were true, but nor did I ever question them -- they just were. So, there I was internally mocking a primitive culture's beliefs, and yet when I put my own beliefs beside them -- complete with an omnipotent being that needed a rest (for some reason) after creating the world, talking snakes, worldwide floods, a man who lived in a giant fish, a man who walked on water, and so on -- I couldn't justify my ridicule.

I further realized that these all were just stories, both the Native American origin myths and the Christian Bible. All were written by men, all were written in a time when there was much uncertainty and a tremendous need for some answers, and all were just over-the-top ridiculous.

All of that was going through my head for a week, but guess what? A month later I still was a Christian. (Or as much of a Christian as I ever had been. No church or anything like that, but nightly selfish prayers and an unquestioning belief in God.) Why would I still be a Christian after that kind of thought process? Well, I'm not really sure, to be honest. I think I simply didn't even consider atheism, and I certainly didn't consider other religions. It wasn't that my family and/or friends would disown me -- neither group would, by any means; I'm super lucky in that respect -- it was just that it didn't occur to me that I could not be a Christian, as odd as that sounds. I simply always had been.

So, I was having some fairly damning, anti-Christian thoughts and I wasn't a particularly devout Christian, and yet still I remained Christian. Imagine what it must be like for devoted Christians who hear -- and even fully understand -- killer arguments, logical fallacies, and other intellectual takedowns of their religious beliefs. Imagine a lifelong pastor who has been working day after day to reassure his fellow Christians when they come to him with doubts or burning questions. It's very hard for him to deconvert, regardless of whether those burning questions eat away at him, too. Imagine a young girl growing up in Salt Lake City in a fundamentalist Mormon family and going to a Mormon school with all Mormon friends, most of whom plan to go to Brigham Young University. If she takes a comparative religion class and comes to the same conclusion I came to above, how likely do you think she is to run with it and become an atheist?

The truth is, I sympathize with these people. It's incredibly hard to break away from such lifelong traditions and ideologies, especially when they're so thoroughly intertwined with your family, friends, and community. It's extraordinarily brave when someone in such a position breaks away from everything they know and risks severing loving relationships simply because they can't continue living a lie. I can't imagine, because I've never been in that sort of situation.

One of the reasons I write this blog is that I hope to help some people be brave, but I certainly can't hold it against those who simply can't build up the courage to cut loose.

-- The Atheist Apologist --


  1. natives DID not think like this before colonialists arrived, yes they worshipped animals and elements of nature, but without the "spiritual" and mumbo jumbo. Most of what natives believe/storytell today is a mulch of their old ways and modern religions brought to them via... us.
    So I tend to give them a break, given the shit we've put them through... but I don't pander to their prayers and stories either. Eastern N.American natives had very good lives before we arrived and ruined their paradise.

  2. Jesus is great! Also the Indian spirits!

    Fuck science and reasoning! Let' s teach teach crap to children,

    make their iq low and happy =]

    we must copy the faith of our grandmothers!

    Remember, the brain was NOT made for thinking,

    it is only a piece of meat, a balance maintaining counterweight!

    Keep farting!

    Also I love Indians who love low iq spirits because other white low iq nazi
    Christians killed them!

    Very clever! Remain silly, because someone has a stupidity of a different flavor!

    Well that flavor smells like shit, and clever native americans have nothing to seperate
    with clever caucasians. We all are people. Let the old-believers "play war" as we travel to the stars!


  3. The funny thing is, I don't know too many natives who take these stories *literally* either.

    I am not from the tribes who had these specific "origin stories" but I'm familiar with many of them and their *symbolism*.

    For example, spider woman is about human nature, how we fear and punish those who are gifted and "different". She represents how those who are more intelligent or talented than the average infury and scare those who envy their gifts. And how we can turn talented souls against us with our jealousy.

    In my culture, one of our "origin stories" is about how all life came from the sea. The way "humans" came to be was from the "dance between a chiton and a geoduck". It was a magical dance that made humans, and being the scared, needy, timid creatures that we are, we hid inside the chiton until "the creator" said it was time for us to get to know the world. At first all the humans cried for the safety of their shell, but eventually the "girls" found the world to be a better place to live and tried to soothe the men by making them more comfortable, by taking the worlds gifts and turning them into things that are beautiful and "safe". The men in the story spent the rest of their time trying to find their way back to the chiton and always felt agitated in their persuit thereof ;)

    Sounds crazy stupid, yes?

    But if you're familiar with our symbolism, you'd know this is actually a story about a penis and vagina and the "magical dance" is sex ;) and humans hiding in the chiton is pregnancy. And the rest observations of human nature.

    "The creator" is neither male nor female; it is a state of being. It's an action, not a "person".

    Natives in my area are natural atheists, because we didn't conceive of gods the way Christians did until the Christian influence.

    Other tribes did, but not here.

    And not in the same way.

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