Guest Writer Judy L. Parsons
I can recall the precise moment I began my journey of critical thinking, the moment I began to question my superiority to other animals on this planet.
I was left in a child care facility while my mother participated in an upholstery class offered at a local college. I remember my age must have been very young, as my head did not even reach the caregiver’s waistband. I was in a room with over twenty children from ages 4-14, yet in all those children, I noticed one young man across the room. He was about 13-years-old and he was watching my every move very intently, as though he were a predator stalking his prey. I notified my caregiver several times of the situation, only to be told to “Go play” and “Stop being silly.” After a while, I began to settle into play, yet every few seconds I would look up to verify the location of my stalker. Finally, I looked up and he was gone. My eyes began bolting about the room trying to find his location. Abruptly, a force tackled me from the left side. He pinned me to the ground and wildly began pounding my chest. After the ordeal was over, all that kept running through my mind was “I told you so, I told you.” At that moment in my life I began an obsession with behaviors, not as a fearful victim, but as a passionate spectator of these intriguing primates called humans. How did I know he was stalking me? What inside me let me know I was in danger? Why did I need this ability when I was sure I was not an animal? My name is Judy L. Parsons and this is my journey to awakening as the fifth ape.
Growing up in East Texas, it was incumbent on everyone to attend church and if you could not attend one, you must at least believe in God. These were not options: at an early age I was unaware there were people who did not believe in God. The church my family chose to attend was First Assembly of God in Tyler, TX, a full gospel Pentecostal church. As a woman, you were discouraged from cutting your hair. Woman were to dress in modest attire (long dresses) and no makeup. Pentecostals were known for becoming what is called “filled with the Holy Spirit.” When this happened they would shout, run, speak in tongues and many times it ended with a seizure like fit on the floor of the sanctuary. In my logical mind, I did not understand these behaviors. What was the purpose? Why did God need this behavior from his people? Could this just happen at any time, like in the grocery store, or was it restricted only to the church sanctuary? In most of these services I occupied the last pew of the sanctuary. I took this position for two reasons: (1) it was a bit frightening and (2) it was like watching a movie, which I must admit entertained me a bit. However, there was a part of me that believed this was what I was supposed to do. These were God’s people and they were happy, wealthy, and obviously “blessed” in every aspect of life. Me, I was poor, socially awkward, and skeptical to the core.
My curious mind needed me to ask questions about the Bible. Many stories did not make sense to my young mind, yet questions were often frowned upon. Many times, my answers were a stern “How dare you question God!” or “You need to pray for faith” or “God will give answers to his chosen people.” Even when they were hateful, and I could fill a book with their cruelties, I excused them, because surely, I was the one who was wrong. I simply wanted this God to like me and I could not figure out what I was doing wrong. It did not matter how much I prayed, I was unable to fit in or gain acceptance from this God. For a good portion of my youth this greatly disturbed me. I remember on one occasion when the youth group was required to watch a film on drug addiction. As a young person, I was prone to nosebleeds. When it came to a section in the film where they covered the symptoms of cocaine addiction, one of first symptoms was frequent nosebleeds. Wouldn’t you know it, right then my nose started bleeding. I remember walking past all these incriminating eyes with blood running down my face. I remember looking up and thinking “Do you freaking hate me?!” Soon after that my desire to mesh with those people diminished. I quit trying to fit in and just stayed to myself.
I was the youngest of three children in our family. When I was 14-years-old, my mother had an unexpected pregnancy and as a result my sister Dee Ann Parsons was born. This was a game changer. I went from an awkward young person riding the waves of difficult circumstances, to an emboldened protector of someone who needed me. I was enamored just watching her, how she moved, how she learned and how she problem-solved even at a very young age. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching her new things and watching her mind become amazed at her world. I also did not want her life and mind restricted with the negative demeanor of this congregation. When I became old enough, I cut my hair, left the Pentecostal church, and became a Southern Baptist. My mother was sure I had joined a cult and would often slide gospel tracks under my bedroom door at night. I did not care and I continued to attend the church of my choice. Since my mother’s health was declining, I took Dee with me.
The Baptist church was no different. It was more sedate and the rules were more relaxed, but they still did not like my questions. I did not like unanswered questions. Just before Dee turned five years old, our mother passed away due to complications from diabetes. When your job is to tell a 5-year-old child her mother is dead, you have a great need for answers to your questions, yet they never came. I took a job at a Christian book store to submerge myself in the ambiance of godliness. I engaged in conversations with hundreds of different Christians from all backgrounds. I then realized, none of them had answers except to say, “Just have faith,” “Pray about it,” “Trust God, “and “God has a plan.” This just was not good enough for me and it was not a bullshit answer I was willing to convey to Dee. After a little over a year I left my job at the bookstore. Though we still attended church, Dee and I began to venture out of the faith on our quest for knowledge and truth.
We had a great passion for learning. History and science were our mental candy. Everyday we would find a topic to study and with every new topic came rabbit trails to more new topics. I never told Dee what to believe I simply wanted her to think and problem solve for herself. We concocted a big pipe dream of one day going to London to see some of the history we read about in so many books. We studied the great scientist who gave us legitimate answers about our world. I had a fascination with Charles Darwin and Dee was drawn to Albert Einstein. I began directing my questions to teachers and professors, as opposed to preachers and pastors. To my amazement, they welcomed my questions and gave me answers based on facts. My career path leads me to take a small course in ethology. Soon this topic became my passion and the more I studied animal behavior the more I realized, I was an animal. Still, on Sunday morning we sat in those pews.
With our love of history, we tried tirelessly, to connect factual documented history with biblical history. This was unsuccessful. I remember sitting in church one Sunday with my bible in my lap. I looked down and the question popped into my head, “Who the hell was King James and where did he get this information?” We began to study about King James. This led to Constantine, then the Council of Nicaea and so forth, the trial was endless. I remember at the age of 39 looking up from our stack of books and open computers, at our dining table, and saying “Dee, we’ve been fucking lied to.” I opened my bible and began reading it from an unfamiliar perspective. This was not the inerrant word of a God this was utter nonsense made up by controlling bigots. This book, that I was raised to believe was the actual words of an all-powerful God, had no more credibility than Dr. Seuss. Dee and I also began a study on the roots of the other major religions and found them to have no validity as well. All their prayers, rituals, and costumes, had no more power than a shaman shaking a chicken foot.
I try not to criticize those who hold religious beliefs, but I do see the potential for harm. I am deeply saddened when I see children praying to a God to prevent their parent from dying only to watch them put on their best little suit to attend their parent’s funeral. I am disturbed when I see parents begging God to cure their child’s terminal cancer only to later see them picking out a tiny casket. I am sick of people praying for starving children in third world countries, yet they continually die of starvation every day. I am also exasperated at people feeling they must apologize to this God because they had questions about their tragedies. I’m not angry with a God because I do not believe in one. I am angry that an educated society would lead people to fictitious deities that require blind faith. This blind faith has the potential to destroy people. They will believe these circumstances were their fault because they did not pray correctly or they lacked faith or goodness forbid they asked a question. If there was a God with such a grossly inept amount of empathy for his children, then I have no need to seek him or serve him.
Likewise, I cannot fathom how any human can question my moral compass, when there are endless documentations of packs, prides, herds, flocks, etc. caring for one another, protecting one another, supporting one another, and, yes, even mourning. While we, a self proclaimed superior species (who created these deities), have committed such atrocities upon each other that we can scarcely proclaim to be evolved. Yes, I do find books of religious doctrine harmful to humanity. All one must say is “God said” and it becomes an irrefutable “Fact” which no human is allowed to question.
Taking my first steps into atheism I became even more intrigued by Charles Darwin and his book Origin of the Species, as well as his book Expressions of Man. I must confess my education is minimal at best and, some books were not easy for me to process, but ignorance is not an excuse I afford myself. If I did not understand a word, I looked it up. Many times, I had to stop and just digest a thought or phrase. I do believe that because of my work with animals, this line of thinking was easier for my mind to understand. My world became logical and more beautiful. I no longer believed there was an unseen deity who was cruel. I am in truth a highly evolved ape discovering my world. No other knowledge has ever given me such peace. I picked up a book by Richard Dawkins entitled The God Delusion. This book, so eloquently put into words, what my mind understood to be the truth and he confirmed it with scientific facts. This book also helped me to understand that I am not alone and there are others just like me, although they are very quiet in East Texas, they are here.
I will soon be 48 years old and because I do not believe in an afterlife, I cherish this life even more. I no longer close my eyes praying for answers. I spend my time with my eyes wide open, searching, learning, and discovering the world. Dee and I have made many trips to London. We soak in the endless history, we always visit the Museum of Natural History, the British Museum and that just scratches the surface. Our pipe dream came true along with many other journeys we never dreamt possible. We live our lives searching for the next adventure and new truths for our minds to absorb.
People have asked. “If you are an Atheist, what is the purpose in anything?” “Where is the joy?” My answer is simple. It is in every day I am privileged to walk this earth. My eyes are open for such a brief moment in time, how dare I not embrace this life. I am a living breathing primate on a journey to discover my world. I walk in the steps of billions of primates before me. Each one taking us one step closer to knowledge and truth than the last. I live in a universe of countless possibilities each one waiting to be discovered. In my lifetime, I want to unfold as many truths as I can, thereby helping future generations of all species. No, I have no time for doctrines and deities. I often reflect on a quote by Douglas Adams, “Isn’t it enough to see that the garden is beautiful without having to believe there are fairies at the bottom of it too?” How lucky I am to have awakened as the Fifth Ape in this beautiful universe, even if it is for such a brief moment in time.
Guest writer Judy L. Parsons
December 16, 2017