Just an ordinary guy who doesn’t believe in God

My name is Phil Deckebach and I'm just an ordinary 72-year-old guy who doesn't believe in God.

I have no particular credentials. I graduated high school and married soon after at 19 years old. Born and lived in Michigan for the better part of my life and have one 52-year-old son and two grandchildren.  

My wife and I recently celebrated our 53rd wedding anniversary. I ran a hospital print shop in Rochester, Mich., for many years. We moved to Toledo because this is where our son settled following college and soon afterward graciously produced two beautiful grandchildren for us. We both plan to spend our remaining years in this fine city.

As far as atheism goes, both my wife and I have been inclined in that direction since childhood. 

All human beings are born atheists, as Madalyn Murray O'Hair used to say.

Everybody comes into this world a blank slate, contrary to what some ardent religionists may claim. Many, I know, would argue with O'Hair's point of view, but that's not an issue here. 

Growing up in the very patriotic, post-World War II forties and fifties, it was hard openly admitting to being a nonbeliever. Being different than the rest is a condition few children aspire to. Tends to considerably limit one's circle of friends. And I'm sure can infuriate no end many parents.

My wife and I both opted to stay closeted atheists, and most people who were non-religious seemed to go that route back in those times.

When I was about 8 or 10, I asked my mother what she thought about the whole religious question. What she answered sealed the deal for this little kid. Mom as much as told me flat out that gods don't exist and that once a person is dead he or she is dead. Gone forever. Just gonna be eternal blackness. Nothingness. No pain, no angels, no heaven. Nothing.

And then, pondering (as much as a little kid can) what she told me in bed that night, I found myself agreeing completely. Why should a person spend this short life on earth worrying about whether he was gonna end up in heaven or hell, whether he or she would qualify for eternal bliss, or forever after be tormented in hell by a sadistic demon. Made no sense to my young mind. 

There was so much to do in this life instead of worrying about what's gonna become of you afterward. In any case, heaven seemed a more scary place to me than the other … just eternal boredom in Glory, I figured. Mark Twain commented on that choice when he said: “Go to heaven for the climate, hell for the company.”

In the last couple years of living here my wife and I have been lucky enough to meet a number of folks who openly identify as either atheists, agnostics or freethinkers. And have been welcomed into two groups in this city who actively promote the non-theist lifestyle, Great Lakes Atheists and Recovering from Religion. Barb and Peggy are the mainstays and capable leaders of the atheist associations we've joined thus far in Toledo and it's been a great deal of fun hanging with folks of similar worldviews. 

Of course, atheists come in many different varieties, just as regular religious folks do. Some can come across as arrogant and all-knowing and others nasty, irascible and disputative. I'm kind of a quiet type and keep to myself, and personally have no desire to argue with anyone. 

“I don't know much, but I'm not lost.” Somebody said that once and it just seemed to fit here. But, bottom line, a person doesn't need to have all the knowledge in the world to take the road of non-theism; it's definitely much easier than being religious and you can always sleep in on Sunday mornings if so inclined. 

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12 Responses to “Just an ordinary guy who doesn’t believe in God”

  1. Ray Greenbank

    Very good and interesting. I too tend to keep my atheism to myself unless questions or comments bring out admitting it, such as “What church do you attend,” etc.

  2. Barbara

    It’s wonderful to have a spokesperson for atheists on this website. We’ll be looking forward to your next post, Phil.

  3. PastorLuke

    Welcome! I don’t know about the born atheist quote, I have always seemed to have a sense of wonder about this whole enterprise and this sense has been articulated through both faith traditions and science. I’m not saying atheists don’t have the sense of wonder either, just saying that I’m allergic to statements with the words “all,” “every,” and “total” in them.

    Looking forward to reading your posts. Thanks for sharing your story! Happy that there’s a group out there where atheists and gather and talk to one another, community is very important.

  4. Jason

    I will never understand a “belief” system of which no “mechanism” exists for said belief. Atheism is a belief system. It is simply a belief in the lack of a creator. Atheism is NOT, nor can it ever be, just an UNbelief. And it is a belief system with far less in “evidence” or “proof” or “tangible” history or documented writings than those of us that believe. I respect fully a choice to believe in unbelief, I just don’t understand how intellectually honest people can ignore that which has been well established for over 4,000 years of human history!

  5. Phil Deckebach

    I find Pastor Luke’s comments especially interesting and imagine we have some things in common. We could even be friends. I’m also awed by this whole enterprise in which we find ourselves living. I’m not the most articulate guy around, but often wonder why ( if gods truly exist ) they don’t communicate with us us more often. Or at all. Give us direction when we’re confused and lonely and lost, and generally chime in when prayers are offered up. Only silence. And then when folks claim to have talked with a god they’re usually ridiculed and generally referred to as being somewhat deranged. If not totally nuts.

    Which path in life is the correct one ? Pastor Luke seems question my ” Everyone is born an atheist” statement. But why then don’t we all come with an inborn curiosity or at least a drive to learn in regard to what gods are and why the religious folks claim they exist at all. No one has ever seen one. I firmly believe we all come into this world as blank slates and with only the very most basic urges. And they have little to do with our minds. What we become in regard to religiosity later in life depends wholly on what we’re taught to believe by either our parents or those in charge of our early education. I’d like to hear Pastor Luke’s comment on this. And believe me I’m not being a smart aleck about my query; it’s too late for that at my age. I just wonder. And yes, Pastor Luke, I agree that friends and community are very important. We’re all in this together.

  6. PastorLuke

    Hey Phil, you can talk directly to me, I don’t bite…hard. Or enough to break the skin anyway.

    I do believe we have things in common. Esp. when you state “I just wonder.” Yeah dude, that’s my full time job. Wonder.

    Now I come out of a science celebrating tradition. I also come out of one that holds the apaphatic tradition in high regard. The apaphatic tradition, also known as iconoclast/ negative theology states that “Our words and concepts can’t contain God, and maybe all that’s best is a reverent silence.” We get too attached to our images and we religious folk get in trouble when metaphor becomes literal. So if my image of God contradicts yours OR keeps us from being in relationship, well then that image needs to be questioned and/or disbelieved.

    Or as Rumi stated, “Silence is the language of God, all else is poor translation.” So maybe the statement ”Everyone is born an atheist” is onto something. We’re born without an image, yet we do have an innate sense of wonder. And there are certain images or concepts of God to which I’m an atheist. And wonder and compassion are two of my central theological stances.

  7. Phil Deckebach

    Do you mind if I call you Luke ? As you may know, I’m not particularly educated, but when discussing the god theories I try to use terms I completely understand. I had to ask an atheist friend what “apophatic” meant and who “Rumi” was. And luckily he was able to fill me in on both. He told me Rumi was a poet way back in ancient times and that apophatic referred to the fact that the existence of gods is impossible to prove and also equally impossible to disprove. I don’t argue with that statement at all; it makes sense and I can remember reading something to that effect before. But being only armed with my own common sense, as I am, I’ve concluded that gods are really a long shot and that we shouldn’t worry about that all. As I said in my opening statement, heaven must be a boring place to spend eternity. I actually hope it’s a figment of some ancient writer’s imagination and not actually real. Same goes for hell, however I believe I’d much rather spend my term in eternity there than the other place. Much more interesting, being able to cohabit with all the notables who live there ( many of the great names in world history, I’ve read, were atheists ) than the likes of all the clergy people this world has yet to produce and those who will, no doubt, come along in the future. No insult intended, Luke, and none should be taken. Let’s remain friends. Tolerance is a pretty good thing.

    And in the meantime I’ve picked up a whole new word for my omniumgatherum, which is the name I’ve chosen to call my little book of miscellaneous facts and general stuff I learn from day to day, “apophatic” being today’s word. Thanks.

    My best,Phil

  8. PastorLuke

    Luke is just fine. No insult taken, I am grateful for the conversation. Looking forward to hearing more of what you have to say amigo.

    Your comments reminded me of a joke. A man died and came to a place with pearly gates and clouds and harps and St. Peter was there. He checked his list and said, “Go right on in.”

    Well, things were pretty nice, peaceful, calm. But after a few weeks the guy was pretty bored and tired of harp music. So he goes up to St Peter and states, “Hey Pete, it’s been nice and all, but it’s sort of boring. I was wondering if I could try the other place out for a little bit.”

    Peter looks at him funny and says, “What are you talking about? This IS the other place!”

  9. Phil Deckebach

    Well, Luke, it appears we have an accord. Reached the point of telling jokes, anyway. I enjoyed yours, by the way.

    You know I’ve read studies that people, firmly entrenched people, who believe such and so cannot be swayed one way or another when it comes to religion and faith Or for that matter, irreligion. I don’t take that as a hard and fast rule but think it’s generally pretty true. It does no good to argue matters such as this. Both sides are wont to dig in and become ready to wage an all out war. And war, as we all know, is an unhealthy thing.

    Now, would you like to hear one of my jokes ?

    My best, Phil

  10. PastorLuke

    I’m not about conversion as I am conversation. Thus far the god you describe or pick at is one I don’t believe in either. So we have common ground. We have our humanity, and that SHOULD be enough, but it’s not often for some. That being said, let’s hear the joke!

  11. Phil Deckebach

    Stop me if you’ve heard this one, Luke.

    An Eskimo and a priest are having a conversation …

    Eskimo: “If I did not know about god and sin, would I go to hell and eternal torment ? ”

    Priest: ” No, not if you did not know. ”

    Eskimo ( incredulously ) : “Then why did you tell me?”

    It’s probably an old one, but I thought it was cute.

    Phil

  12. PastorLuke

    Nice! Paulo Freire had a similar story when a missionary came to visit him. He did the quick math in his head as the missionary told him of all the conversions he’d done and Paulo raised his hand and said, “You state that you’ve converted around 25% of the people in your mission times. By your own theology, you’ve then damned 75%. Maybe you should have stayed home.”

    Always liked that.

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