On Being An Atheist or Why I Wanted My Mother Dead
Stephen D McCloud
August 10, 2019
This is stream-of-thought. It’s not meant to be read. Read at your own risk.
This is not a pleasant post to write or read and it may never see the light. It’s being written late at night over weeks. At the age of 71, I feel like I have to explain myself to myself. Expect things to not be in chronological order. Errors are to be expected, I can write this but it’s hard to read.
I’m an only child. The son of two only children. I have no relatives. I have one vague memory of being told I briefly had a brother.
As you might have guessed from the title, I’m an atheist, not a Unitarian Universalist Atheist or a Converted Atheist but a Real Atheist. I’ve been in the trenches. What that means requires some explaining. That’s what this post is about. You will probably disagree with some of what follows. I’m 71 years old and I don’t care what you think. If you’re a bigot or easily offended you should probably stop reading and go back to your unexamined pathetic little life. I’m not writing this for you, I’m writing it for me.
Everyone is born an atheist, emotion or indoctrination converts most people into part of the religious masses that are the sheep of the world. I’m not most people. Just a statement of fact … that has made my life unlike most. I wouldn’t trade. Although at times very unpleasant, my life has probably been far more interesting than yours. I suspect you think otherwise.
Even at 71 no one has killed me or forced me to take poison. I did try twice to…
My parents were fundamentalist Christians who attended Bible Center church on Wabash Ave in Terre Haute, Indiana. My mother’s parents lived next door and never mentioned religion or owned a Bible. My parents went to church EVERY Sunday morning and evening leaving me next door in the evening. I watched out a window every Sunday evening hoping to see their car, down at the corner, coming home. I wanted back to my bedroom. I know almost nothing of my father’s parents. My father hated his mother. We had that in common.
One Sunday morning, probably at the age of five, I was taken to a room in the church where I was left with about six other children and an adult. Sunday school. The adult said, and this is one of my earliest memories that I have not been able to forget, “Who believes in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?”. The other children raised their hands and I was told to leave and not come back until I believed in Jesus. I was kicked out of Sunday School. Fundamentalists are serious religious bigots. I never returned and there were no consequences at home. Close call by any standard. I did have to sit in on some Sunday morning services and there was one year where I was sent to summer church camp, summer Bible School. I was forced studying piano at the time and the church organist introduced me to the organ. I still was not buying this church nonsense. I was different and I knew it. Piano lessons ended.
My parents switched to Baptist and again tried to place me in a Sunday School indoctrination concentration camp. Bible assignments were handed out and when my assignment came due I was again kicked out of Sunday school. I never returned.
In a futile attempt to dump religion on me my parents became the youth directors at the Baptist church. Youth groups met at our house and I locked myself in my room. The door lock came to my door when I discovered how to switch my door handle with the one on the bathroom. At that point, my parents gave up and I never returned to any church. Miraculously, the lock stayed on my door and I locked it every Saturday night. After my parents left for morning services I ran next door where my grandmother allowed me to help fix the Sunday meal for everyone. I mashed potatoes and rolled and cut the noodles. I still have my grandmother’s handwritten recipe for the noodles.
My parents had made one fatal error – they taught me at a very early age that I shouldn’t believe in anything that I couldn’t see or touch myself. That included Santa, the tooth fairy, Easter bunny and anything else. I took that to include religion, I was a small child, how was I to know religion was different? I spread the word about Santa to the neighbor children, not popular with parents of those children. I was acquiring a reputation. My grandfather also contributed, every Sunday morning, letting me know that all politicians were liars and most people were no good.
All this chaos had undesirable consequences. I was alone and scared. No one had my lack of belief in Jesus. One of my parent’s relatives was in a mental institution somewhere in Indiana. Was I next? I even believed, at an early age, that somehow I, or my parents, was some kind of alien. There were nights when I slept under rather than on my bed. What kept me sane was most likely school. I thrived on learning something new each day. One day I was so excited that I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my mother what I had learned. She had no interest, everything she wanted to know was in the Bible.
I was frightened of my mother. She explained, quite frequently, that I was going to burn in hell and that was that. End of story. I ate most of my meals in my room. There was almost no communication with my parents. For most purposes, by the age of ten, I was living alone. My father was slightly helpful, telling me after some of her outbursts “leave her alone, she’ll get over it”. I wanted her dead. I called my father Jack, my mother Carolyn. I didn’t like having them as parents.
When I was old enough for high school I was also old enough to walk to the public library. It was better than home, life got better. Two blocks away were Campbell’s book store with a wide variety of books. I stopped eating lunch and saved the money for books. There I discovered Bertrand Russell and Why I Am Not A Christian. My life changed instantly – I was no longer alone. I discovered the university library. I discovered Madalyn Murray O’hair. American Atheists. Bertrand Russell books and articles everywhere. Life had a purpose and meaning. My hatred for my mother had come a long way. She gave me no option. It was mutual.
In high school I was still causing trouble, refusing to attend the Christmas thing in the gym instead forced to spend the time in the library with the librarian. She had nothing to say to me. It would have been easier to skip school but … I had a purpose.
The story of American Atheists is not simple and at times quite unpleasant. Madalyn and family finally came to southern Indiana and I made the trip. It was a small gathering with county police and angry farmers. I came back with her autograph and more AA knowledge than I could possibly have guessed. Madalyn and family had an attitude toward life that caused problems. A conversation with her left a few of us with a secret that we persuaded her should never be told. It have would have damaged AA and probably destroyed it. She finally agreed to never repeat the story. The rest of us tried to forget it. It’s never come to light, everyone determined to take it to their graves. Her reputation is bad enough. And AA has survived and I’m still a member. I went to my first AA national convention in 2019. Madalyn is rarely discussed. It took a long time before I felt comfortable to be around AA again.
It was a long trip from 5 to 71. I’m near death and I still hate my mother. She may be still alive in a nursing home. The nursing home finally stopped calling me about what she was up to. But I like to think she’s dead.
I haven’t written everything. The world is worse than when I was born. It’s all hopeless.