An Unrepentant Sinner’s Path To Atheism

By Donald A. Collins | 6 November 2016
Church and State


I got to thinking recently about how I came to become an atheist. It happened so long ago that the origins of setting up my certain descent into Hell can’t be precisely dated or actually codified in precise words. Probably I was half convinced by the time of my first marriage on September 10, 1954 at age 23, but certainly by the time of my second marriage on August 31, 1976 I was quite hard core. Still, my wife and I went to considerable trouble, she being Jewish and I a nominal protestant, to find a liberal clergyman to officiate! Why? Not sure.

As a widower on the occasion of my 3rd marriage, November 26, 1994 both my wife, Sally, and I had officiators from each of our families, her brother, Bob, an Anglican priest, and my cousin, Ted, an Anglican bishop, the former reading passages from Corinthians, and my cousin giving a memorable homily that kept carefully to a sectarian script at our request.

Hey, let’s hear those verses Bob read. I find them wonderful. And since my faith consists of faith in humanity not any god, I guess I qualify to try to live up to these magnificent goals.

1 Corinthians 13 New International Version (NIV)

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Children brought up in homes even nominally religious get all kinds of worrisome advice which are connected to the fantasies of religious beliefs. The horrors of religious behavior have been too well recorded to bear repetition here. And they continue unabated worldwide. In fact the continuing existence of humans as a species suffers ever more urgently from this threat as human numbers burgeon out of control from 2 billion around 1900 to perhaps 12 billion by 2100.

However, the wisdom contained in Corinthians is offered to Christians as the exclusively personal property of Christianity when indeed such beauty can be absorbed by me, a hard core atheist.

Of course lying to children is a common and revered practice in America. Who would deny the joy young children get from knowing about Santa. But also they better watch out, better not cry, lest they get stockings filled with coal. Sowing fear is the basis of authoritarian adherence.

Let me ask you a question. What do you think is the main buy-in route to religious adoption? For young children, is it parental lying about its truth and importance? Likely.

Tradition has long beamed the lore of many religions and the promise of eternal life cannot be proved or disproved, although the simple observance of the harsh facts of life seems destined to un-church a majority of Americans, if not now, certainly soon.

Perhaps the most subtle glue of inducement is the Christian promotion of a belief in original sin. Realize that once one buys this concept, that tell us we are all sinners and that the only way to heaven is to believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins on the Calgary Cross, one is then forever judged guilty of sin and must bow down to the Christian program.

This then allows some of the leaders of that religion the license to infer that their pronouncements are beyond debate, an authoritarian power that no person should delegate to any human institution without proper secular agreement by a democratically elected government. Guess we can all agree that shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater is a sin, but obtaining medical care for an abortion is a matter of choice only the woman should have to make.

The decades long fight since the January 1973 Supreme Court decision with religious zealots over a woman’s right to choose a safe, legal abortion seems never to end. The fact that over 40 million abortions occur yearly worldwide while it is estimated that only half are done safely never seems to bother those anti choice advocates, who perhaps have never seen that Monty Python Classic, “Every Sperm Is Sacred”.

If you haven’t seen it or perhaps haven’t had the pleasure recently, treat yourself to a wonderful program:

Recently my wife and I went to hear Diane Rehm, the veteran NPR syndicated broadcaster, talk about the difficult death of her husband, who had to starve himself because the law did not allow him to get prescription drugs and take them himself. She spoke eloquently from the main altar of the National Cathedral here in Washington, DC to a large audience, whose religious affiliations if any were not monitored. Her message strongly implied the need for a secular law that would allow a doctor panel to prescribe life ending drugs to terminally ill people who were able to self administer the drugs at the time and place of their own choosing.

One should applaud the Dean of the National Cathedral for allowing this eloquent messenger to present her views there, since strong opposition from the Catholic Church was very much in evidence on November 1, 2016 when my wife and I went to hear the DC City Council deliberate then pass 11 to 2 a dying with dignity bill which allows such drugs to be provided, once cleared by an MD panel. 5 states now permit such end of life care: Oregon, Washington State, California, Vermont and Montana. There are 45 other states where this law needs enacted.

So let me be clear. My own path to atheism was very personal. I came from a rather observant protestant family who were living in a small conservative city whose churches were filled weekly with believers who at the very least knew if they didn’t join a place of worship in such a culture their commercial activities would surely suffer.

My paternal grandmother was a believer in the literal word of the bible and raised my father and his brother to participate in my home town’s religious practicing culture. From the outset, I could not feel that I had committed sins only pardonable by genuflecting to Jesus, but of course once you are instructed that you are—we all are—sinners, one might as well not oppose as a child such a statement even if not believing it. In short, I never suffered what could be deemed a heavy guilt trip because my parents didn’t deliver one!

If those Corinthian verses had been read to me as secular objectives, I perhaps would have been smart enough to be freed early on from any alleged guilt. However, as a small boy in a loving family with many friends, having the pleasure of pursuing many interesting activities I really didn’t feel an urgent need to rebel against such ethereal strictures.

So it was not until I became a married man, the father of 3 children that the secular and religious worlds collided. When our 3rd was born at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in NYC, my wife requested birth control services from her OB-GYN, a Catholic who declined to provide such for religious reasons. Her subsequent visit to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Yonkers started us on a birth control program that worked perfectly.

When in 1965 my business career led me to join the staff of a charitable foundation interested in birth control programming, I got an intense, rapid, serious and personal education in just how abominably women were treated both here in the US and all over the world, basically as the victims of male dominated monotheistic religions such as the Catholic Church and/or feckless governments that bowed down to religions in matters which should be totally secular.

And now to an even more frightening extent as human numbers have grown to unsustainable levels, the affairs of nations are littered with such religious intrusions into what should be secular matters here in the US and worldwide.

Thus I guess the path for me for the past 50 years has been one of practicing atheism!! At every opportunity I have been working against those who would restrict access to proper reproductive care in my efforts to see that women were offered full care, including access to safe abortion. Failure to offer all methods including the choice of safe abortions is akin to being a hypocrite because the 40 plus million annual worldwide abortions are not the result of women getting pregnant without male participation. Human rights are secular rights, which should never be subject to religious fantasy.

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013

By Donald A. Collins
Publisher: Church and State Press (July 30, 2014)
Kindle Store

Back in 1991, the NGO Don Collins founded in 1976, International Services Assistance Fund (ISAF), co-produced a TV quality 22-minute film called “Whose Choice?” which Ted Turner arranged to broadcast on September 21, 1992 in prime time on his then independent Turner Broadcast System (TBS). Other outlets such as PBS and several of its affiliates Collins and his colleagues contacted then refused to run it because of its forthright treatment of the abortion issue, arguing for all women’s right to choose not to have a baby. ISAF has made a new edition of that DVD. The purpose for reissuing this 3rd version of “Whose Choice?” was simply to show the historical urgency that attended those times, still blocked and attacked over 40 years after the Roe v Wade decision in 1973. This video is available for public viewing for the first time.

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