My Religious Background

“Dan” asked about my January 16 post, “How about a summary of your own religious background and how you came to your current thinking on religion?” Fair enough.

I would (briefly) describe my life in three main stages. Of course, it took me several years to transition from one stage to the next.

1. Deeply religious childhood. I was raised in an independent Christian Church, and I attended Bible studies and camps growing up. In addition to the Bible, I read various, more modern Christian works, including parts of Evidence that Demands a Verdict and a couple of books by C.S. Lewis. I remember distinctly in high school that one of my Christian friends invited me over to another one of his friend’s house to talk about religion. The other friend was not religious. We talked for quite a while, and I argued that Christianity is demonstrated by God’s works in nature and his impact on human lives.

2. Struggling atheist. I also started to read Ayn Rand in high school, and she posed serious challenges to my religious beliefs. My first lengthy paper, and my best paper of high school, attempted to reconcile the doctrines of Christianity with the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Unfortunately, I did not integrate the moral virtues as described by Rand (most of which are widely regarded as legitimate, though Rand puts her unique spin on them) into my personal behavior very well. (It can be difficult to transition from a morality of “God says so” to one based on the requirements of human life as discovered by reason.) I remained deeply rationalistic in my understanding of philosophy, and I grew deeply pragmatic in my personal life. I did some really stupid things during these years that I really regret.

3. Maturing thinker and actor. Slowly, I have learned a lot more about life, prudence, character, and philosophy. I’m still working to improve myself in various ways, but basically I consider myself to be “on track.” I’ve been part of a stable (and fun and developing) marriage for nearly a decade. I’m older (36 now) and a bit wiser. I’m an atheist but not fundamentally an atheist — atheism merely rules out certain beliefs; it does not define a positive philosophy. Especially over the last couple of years, I’ve grown to appreciate the contributions of Leonard Peikoff a lot more. In Peikoff’s terms, I went from “Misintegration” to mild “Disintegration” to “Integration,” which I continue to work toward.

My interest in religion, then, arises from two main sources. First, it dramatically impacted my youth and thus the rest of my life. Second, obviously religion has an enormous cultural and political influence. I think my comments, then, may be of interest to Christians as they contemplate their own beliefs, to atheists as they figure out a positive alternative to religion, and to those interested in the impact of religion on the world in which we live.