Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Thirty eight years and going...

On the afternoon of February 13, 1981, I was visiting the campus of Boise State University to visit some friends. I'd dropped out because I thought I had no money (not realizing that I still had thousands of dollars in unclaimed financial aid). I'd given blood and it was cold and snowy. I had just missed a bus and it would be half an hour before another would come along so I decided to duck into the nearest public building to stay warm. 

It was the science building, not a building I'd visited before. 

I'd completely read the campus newspaper that I had with me and hoped to find something else to read. 

There was a piece of paper on a bench. Both sides were covered with handwriting. 

These weren't lecture notes and there was no name. 

Someone intended for this paper to be found. 

The page's creator had written numerous quotes from famous people, most of whom were familiar to me.
Religion is all bunk! (Thomas Edison)
I don't believe in God because I don't believe in Mother Goose. (Clarence Darrow)
But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. (Thomas Jefferson)
Both sides of the page were covered with similar quotations from Thomas Paine, Mark Twain and others. In the top, right-hand corner of one side, there was a word I'd never seen before.


I knew enough of Greek from my Bible studies to know that the root word of this was theos meaning "god." A theist was a person who believe in a god or gods. 

I also knew enough to know that the prefix "a" in this word meant "no" or "not" so atheist must mean a person who didn't believe in gods. 

A few years earlier, I'd given up on the idea of the god of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (the same god... just differences in doctrine). But I didn't know there was a word for what I was. 

Suddenly, the bus didn't seem that important. I rushed across Capital Boulevard to the Boise Public Library to see if I could find out more. 

Remember that this was 1981. Christopher Hitchens hadn't published any books yet. Richard Dawkins had only one published book that was about biology (a topic that was of no interest to me at the time). David Silverman was 14. 

Pickings were slim. 

However, one of the quotes on the paper (which I kept for years) was from Mark Twain's "Letters from the Earth." The library had a copy of that which I checked out and kept until it was so much overdue that I got a call. It pained me to return it but I did. 

Fortunately, a friend who owned a small bookstore found a copy later in the spring and I still have that copy.

That silly little piece of paper might have been found by anyone. Maybe it would have just been thrown away. But I found it and it planted a seed that has grown and still lives in me today.

Today, I no longer prevaricate when someone asks me which church I go to. 

I just smile and say, "Me? I don't go to any church. I'm an atheist."

And, thanks to folks like the aforementioned Hitchens, Dawkins and Silverman, I've got the tools to explain that position.