Part of the 10 Questions with an Atheist series.
Robert Madewell is an atheist living in Northern Arkansas in the United States.
He was raised as an evangelical Christian and even had an interest in the ministry.
However, in the process of asking questions and reading the Bible, he found Christianity to be false and rejected the belief in God as superstition. During his deconversion process, he’s even tried many different denominations. His blog is called Superstition Free.
Everyone, welcome Robert Madewell.
1. How would you describe yourself: atheist, agnostic or skeptic? Explain.
All three. Atheism is believing there’s no God. Agnosticism is having no evidence that God exists. Skepticism is examining the evidence before you believe it. I have identified as either an atheist or an agnostic (among other things) at different times in my life. I now identify as an atheist. Those terms are not mutually exclusive. Most atheists that I know personally would identify as all three as well.
2. When did you know you were an atheist, agnostic, skeptic? Did it scare you or was it a non-issue?
It’s hard for me to pin down an exact date when I realized that I was an unbeliever. It was a gradual process. However, I’ve been identifying as an atheist for a little over 2 years. I have swung over the belief and unbelief fence several times. I have identified as evangelical free, baptist, pentecostal, seventh day Adventist, transcendentalist, agnostic, and atheist during different periods of my life.
Yes, I was scared at first. When your world view comes crashing down, it’s not comfortable. I really prayed hard that God would make his presence known to me. When that didn’t happen, I realized that there’s really nothing to be afraid of.
3. Ever suffer persecution as an atheist?
No, not by my definition. Which is surprising considering where I live. I live in the middle of the “bible belt” in the United States. I am not hiding my unbelief. I often confront ministers in my area. It’s no secret how I believe.
So far, I’ve had lots of fun being the local skeptic. I’ve learned much more about Christianity by being the skeptic than I did by being a christian.
4. What do you want to accomplish with your life?
I want to promote critical thinking and science in Northern Arkansas. I’m a man of limited means, so I’m not sure what to do. But, activism for critical thinking is sorely needed in Arkansas. Promoting atheism is not my goal, however, promoting the tools I use to examining belief systems is.
5. Who are your heroes? Why?
I have lots of heroes. My Dad’s my biggest hero, because he’s my Dad. My Grandfather was a great critical thinker (except when it came to religion). I guess my biggest hero outside of my family would be James Randi. Randi has done more than most to promote critical thinking and skepticism.
6. What would you like to accomplish with your blog?
The original purpose of my blog was to investigate the superstitious aspects of religion. I’m not sure that I have stuck to that purpose. I’d like to get back to that goal.
7. What’s your favorite part about being an atheist?
That’s a hard question. I’m not sure that life as an atheist has turned out to be all that different than life as a theist, in the long run. I guess that if I have to answer the question, my answer would be my new outlook on life. Also, I no longer have to worry about the “thought crimes” as much as I did as a christian. I no longer worry if my thoughts will send me to Hell. Thoughts are totally harmless as long as they remain just thoughts. Besides, who can control their thoughts completely anyways?
8. Are there any Christian concepts that you respect?
Sure! Loving your neighbor as much as yourself (Leviticus 19:18) is the best verse in the entire bible. Jesus quotes it in the new testament several times. If everyone practiced that verse, the world would be a much better place.
9. Does it irritate you when Christians try to share their faith with you?
It depends. If the christian is just looking to proselytize and won’t consider any arguments, then I am not interested. But, if he/she wants an honest discussion, then I’m all for it. I do not respect the dismissive attitude that I get from many Christians in my area.
10. Were you ever a Christian? Would you go back?
Yes, I was a fundamentalist. My father is an evangelical minister. I was indoctrinated. I think that I have always been a critical thinker. I would ask my Sunday school teachers some very hard questions. I think the hardest question I ever asked was, “What is God?” I actually got in trouble and was punished for asking that, because, I wouldn’t accept the stock answers. That’s when I realized that if the belief system couldn’t hold up to simple inquiry, then that belief system is likely false.
It’s possible. I won’t deny it. I have jumped that fence many times. It could happen again. However, I don’t think it’s as likely that I would now as it had been in the past. After all, I am human and as a human we all have a tendency toward believing superstition. I am no different. I think that my study into critical thinking in the past two years makes that possibility slimmer, though.
Bonus question:What’s your take on Peter Singer?
Singer is not well known in the United States. I don’t know enough about him to say one way or the other.
Robert, thank you for the time and thought you put into answering these questions. I especially appreciate your openness.