Who do you believe is crazier? The pastors who handle venomous snakes in church houses, or the guy they get to catch those snakes in the woods? Imagine if you will, being five years old, holding the lid open to the cooler your dad puts those snakes in, and he is depending on you to quickly slam the door shut as soon as he drops the Rattler or Copperhead down in there out of his hands. That was my childhood, and introduction to religion.
Now, my parents didn’t attend a snake-handling church in the hills. My dad only caught them out in the wild for these churches. Both sides of my family have been born and raised hillbillies from Clay County, Kentucky for many generations, so we know our way around the mountains. If you’re not familiar, Clay County is the fourth poorest county in the entire United States based on Median Household Income, as of 2020. It is nestled in the Appalachian Mountain Range.
My mother was raised Church of God/Pentecostal denomination, and my dad rarely attended church with the family (maybe Easter and Christmas). When most kids got books like See Spot Run or Dick and Jane to teach them how to read, I got those books coupled with The Beginner’s Bible. So, I learned how to read by reading a Children’s Bible.
The special thing about this book was that for every biblical story in it, the scripture from which the story was taken from was printed at the bottom of the page. By the age of eight or nine I had read it multiple times, and started reading the New International Version (NIV) Bible along with it. I gained more and more knowledge and won multiple Bible Trivia awards at church. To this day, I can confidently clear out any Bible category on Jeopardy.
To take a quote from a hero of mine, Magician and Entertainer Penn Jillette, “Reading the Bible is the fast track to Atheism.” Boy was he right.
At 12 years old, I started asking church leaders question after question that flooded my mind, only to be met with “Only God truly knows…” or “That’s just God’s way.” Pair that with the laying of hands on people, running around the church house, shouting in tongues, all because of the “Holy Spirit”…but really it was all just for show and spectacle for themselves.
(Hand to the god I don’t even believe in anymore, I heard a girl holler out in tongues, “C..O…C…A C-O-L-A”. She spelled out Coca Cola, people!) My skepticism did nothing but grow more and more.
After my dad passed when I was nine, my mom married the man who raised me since I was 12, and who I call “Dad” today. Both he and my mother are Pastors at a Church of God church. Before that however, we attended his family’s Missionary Baptist Church and moved a county over to Knox County, Kentucky (19th poorest, Movin’ On Up!) I led Bible Studies some Thursday evenings from the age of 15 to 18, but still had so many questions lingering in my mind.
At 18, I decided to go out searching for the answers to those questions. I discovered exactly how the Protestant Churches were formed, Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, the Great Split of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, and King Henry VIII creating his own church just to get divorced. I learned about Mormonism, talked with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and looked into so many other building blocks of Christianity as the entire foundation was just crumbling away in my mind with every new aspect I learned.
Then, I looked into other religions like Judaism and Islam, moved past the Abrahamic Religions into other World Religions…then was introduced to the Four Horsemen known as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett.
Finally, at 22 years old, I declared myself an Atheist, and though I’ve entertained many thoughts and opinions over the past 15 years, I’ve never turned back.
It’s not that I know, for certain, there is no god. Like I’ve told everyone who has ever asked, given all of the facts and evidence presented to me, I believe it’s more likely a god doesn’t exist rather than one does. Atheism is not knowing for certain, no matter what others say. It is only a lack of belief.
So, if you find yourself struggling and questioning your faith, don’t worry, you’re not alone. There are atheists from all walks of life to reach out to.
Now, you’re probably saying to yourself, “I get all of that, but if you’re claiming to be a Man of Science, Logic and Reason…how on Earth do you describe yourself as a Libertarian today?” Well, that’s another story for another day. Until next time…
“The Hillbilly Heathen”
Bryon D. Gray
1. Wikipedia – 50 Counties/Parishes With Lowest Median Household Income