Mary Jo Sharp grew up in a secular home. Her parents didn’t go to church, and her community in Portland, Oregon was post-Christian. She didn’t know people who claimed to be Christian.
She was aware of Christianity in culture, but her father was a “huge Carl Sagan fan”, and she was influenced by his love for science, outer space and nature. She was influenced by a materialist worldview from a young age. It was the theme that ran through the TV shows her father would watch.
Her parents didn’t go to church. She was raised on nature and science shows that were steeped in a materialist view of the world. “This was the background that formed my view of reality,” says Sharp, “I really didn’t have a view of God, and I wouldn’t have thought to gain one or why a person should want to gain one. It just wasn’t on the radar”
She says she didn’t know that the materialist view – that all that exists is in the material realm – is only one view and philosophy on the nature of reality. She says, “It’s just what I was exposed to.” She didn’t know any other way to view the world and reality.
The Christians she knew seemed “nice and innocuous”, but things she saw on television turned her off. She also was influenced by a cult at a compound in her area that attempted a bio-terrorist attack on nearby cities, using salmonella to poison people. Therefore, she says,
“I had a lot of misgivings about what religion was, who God is or was. I didn’t understand what religion was for. it seemed like the kind of things people did because they were raised that way, and I wasn’t.”
Mary Jo Sharp was an atheist from as young as she can remember, and theism to her was the normative. She had a good life. Her parents loved her. She loved science. She loved music. She had no needs that might drive her to religion for comfort.
Her primary exposure to religion was in the myths of ancient religions. She says, now, that she had a kind of “chronological snobbery”, believing that she was more “progressed” than other people who still had vestiges of a religious faith. She felt her family was better than others who still clung to religious myths.
There was no crisis in her life. “I had it together,” she says, and she saw herself as a good person, but she was becoming aware of the wonder of the world that caused a subtle tension in her materialist view assumptions. She felt a wonder at sunsets and mountain ranges and music that she couldn’t explain on the basis of her view of the world as a product of random and meaningless matter and energy.
Things were about to change for her when a person she respected in her life gave her a Bible. She “didn’t receive it well”, but the timing was fortuitous because of the subtle questions that were occurring to her.
She didn’t have a source for answering these questions. She didn’t have philosophy in her background. Public schools were not teaching critical thinking or how to tackle the big questions of life.
Though she didn’t react well to the gift of a Bible, she read it, and she says, “I was really caught off guard because it wasn’t what I expected.” She was experienced in reading mythology from the Samarians, Greeks, Egyptians and Native Americans, but “As I was digging into the Bible, it was nothing like that…. It sounded more report-like.”
She realized, of course, that some portions of the Bible are poetic, but other portions of the Bible, like Luke, read like reports of factual things. Those portions of the Bible include many details of places, times, people, happenings, etc. On reading Luke, in particular, she recalls, “It sounds like he was just trying to report what was going on.”
That “shook” her because the Bible seemed to be written by people who were just trying to convey what happened. It didn’t read like myth with the primary purpose of conveying moral lessons.Continue reading “From Atheism to Faith: The Story of Mary Jo Sharp”