When I was a very young child, 8 years old, I remember going to services at our local Reform temple one evening. It was a very cold day, and I was running ahead of my family when my mother called out for me to be careful. I told her, secure and confident in the way that only a child can be, that I had nothing to fear since a temple is “God’s house” and of course I couldn’t get hurt there. She reiterated that I had to be careful, and that I could break a bone if I slipped and fell on the ice. That was the first time I truly began to realize that theism didn’t quite add up.
I don’t remember all of the specific steps of my journey, but I do recall that by the time I was 12, I was attending a social function for my temple youth group. Part of the discussion that night was to group ourselves into four categories dealing with theism, ranging from “totally believe”, to “kinda believe but you’re not sure”, to “kinda disbelieve but you’re not sure”, to “totally disbelieve.” I was the only one sitting in the “totally disbelieve” corner. Luckily enough, Judaism is one of the few religious communities which readily accepts atheists, and I never faced any discrimination from my peer group. But I never really was comfortable with the mention of god in the liturgy, despite how much I was moved by the concept of Tikun O’lam.
Sagan helped crystallize the tacit conclusions and vague stirrings or philosophical comprehension that had been roiling in my mind for close to half of my young life. My feet were already on the path, but Carl Sagan‘s work helped me to see where I was walking to.