May 4, 2008

High School Made Me Agnostic; It Paved My Way To Atheism

It is hard to think way back to high school (I'm 47 now, so details really escape me).
I do know that it was discussing literature that started making me really doubt the existence of God.
I acknowledge that even though I grew up in an ultra-secular Jewish home, I was brought up to assume God existed. Questions about the afterlife were not dealt with, but again, it was assumed that I had a lot of dead relatives I hardly knew waiting for me in heaven.
I've mentioned this before, we have evolved the susceptibility to believe in the supernatural to help us explain the unexplainable and to help us from going nuts (at least it worked well on our ancestors who couldn't explain lightning).
I had a crash course Bar Mitvah. I was in junior high school (in Canada, grades 7-9, while high school consisted of grades 10 through 13). I remember listening to two songs that made me "think" about the grand scheme of things. They seemed to be played every hour on the car radio: Imagine and We're Here For A Good Time (Not A Long Time).
The songs actually upset me, when I was thinking about the words...the tunes were good though. I started to come to grips that there doesn't have to be a heaven, that this might be our only shot at living.
I'd like to think that every thinking teenager goes through a time, when late at night, insomnia sets in as one thinks about mortality, the universe, even the beginning of time.
My father took me to Bar Mitvah lessons. The person giving me the lessons was probably in his early 20's. I remember after a lesson, my father started talking to my teacher and brought up heaven. My dad asked him about "Jewish heaven." I don't remember the specifics, but I do remember the answer that was given was definitely not cut and clear. I didn't know it at the time, but now I think the teacher was either agnostic or atheist.
The idea of the Bar Mitvah just seemed so irrational to me. Becoming a man? I didn't feel like a man. And besides, now what?
So that brings me to high school and the North York English curriculum. Again, the details escape me and so does the exact year, but grade 11 and a teacher named Mr. Perlmutter seems to stick in my head. Mr. Perlmutter was an ethnic Jew, and it was rumoured that he was from such a rich family that he didn't have to work but did because he enjoyed it so much. He used to call his students "goos." That aside, he had a really good sense of humour. I hated reading, but I looked forward to his class.
Again, I don't know if the books that officially turned me agnostic were taught in his class, but I will rattle off a few of them right now (without reasons why):

1. Waiting For Godot
2. The Stone Angel
3. Who Has Seen The Wind

Again, I can't remember exactly why, but these books got me questioning the existence of God, and coupled with grade 12 physics, a godless universe started making lots of sense.

Fundies, when your kids bring home any of those three books from school, be afraid, be very afraid!

An afterthought. In high school, I walked to school almost every day. It was an 18 minute walk each way. I wonder if there is a correlation having to do with us who are now atheists, and the distance we walked to school. A lot more thinking and reflection occurs during a long walk (assuming you are walking by yourself) than a bus ride, at least in my experience.

Thanks to Simply Jews for linking my blog post questioning theists in his Haveil Havalim # 164 post. Apparently, I'm some sort of opponent:)


  1. Thanks for the link, BEAJ, and all the best.

  2. Damn thinking! Why couldn't you just stay ignorant?

    I'll make sure I live an 18 minute walking distance from the local schools to make sure my kids have time to become atheist on the way.

    Nice post.


    BEAJ, love your site. I got the above link from a very interesting Deism site and immediately thought of you. The linked page is long but very informative and well worth reading when you have some time.

    The home page of this site has many interesting links to Deism and Atheism is mentioned quite frequently and I know you will spend some quality time exploring this site as I did today {5 hours +} on a day off for me from work.

    Be well.

    Billl Gates

  4. BEAJ, the following is the home page I was referring to previously.

    Be well.


  5. Billl, I think that if Albert Einstein were alive today, he would probably be a an atheist.
    The Big Bang wasn't confirmed until the early 60's.
    The newest theories on how the universe was created would have given a lot less room for even a Spinoza God to exist for Einstein.

  6. Yeah, I was also brought up in a secular Jewish "find the things you want to believe in" home that was still pretty agnostic. I did, however, have the wonderful experience of spending my +-14 years of schooling in a Catholic school. That about did it for me. After literally thousands of church services and knowing the Bible inside-out I quite comfortably came to the conclusion that religions are fairy tales gone bonkers.

    Anyways, books I'd say inspired my critical thinking at an adolescent age are The Catcher in the Rye, The Lord of the Flies, Catch-22, All Quiet on the Western Front, A Farewell to Arms, Of Mice and Men and King Rat.

    Great site.