In addition to Red McCall, president of Oklahoma Atheists, and Michelle Ellis, 32, the group's outreach coordinator, The Oklahoman also met recently with three other members.
Sean Braddy, 41, of Norman, said he grew up in church but decided when his son was born in 1982 that he was completely done with religion.
“I wanted him to be able to think for himself and not be controlled,” Braddy said.
Braddy, who is black, said he grew up in the 1970s and saw the Ku Klux Klan and other white opponents of desegregation do many un-Christian-like things — all in the name of religion. He said he considered himself a Christian at that time, but the disturbing behavior of people who also called themselves people of faith was confusing.
“When I was in college I would ask friends, ‘You can be as wicked as you want to — throw rocks at people, spit on them and you still go to heaven?' My conclusion was they believed in God just as much as I do,” he said.
He said two years ago, he did a Google search of the words “atheists” and “Oklahoma” and found information about Oklahoma Atheists. He said he has been with the group ever since.
Melissa Walkup, 33, said she was not raised in church, and her parents never spoke about religion. The Del City librarian said she started researching different religions including Buddhism and “all the different flavors of Christianity” and also explored secular humanism and paganism.
Shelley Rees, 44, an Edmond woman who is a professor at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, said she grew up attending a youth group at her church in a small Texas town. She said she felt she belonged to a nonbelievers group she found in college much more than she did the church youth group.
“I don't believe in the supernatural — that's where it (Christianity) all falls apart for me, so I always thought I was a bad Christian. I thought I was doing it wrong,” Rees said.
“I was trying really hard to fit in, to pray and do what everybody else was doing. They would say you have to talk to Christ — invite Him in. I did that.”
Walkup said she listened to the Bible via audiobook and came away impressed with the voice of James Earl Jones — but not the words he conveyed.
“After listening to it, I don't understand how people could read that and take it on faith that it actually happened, so it only strengthened my nonbelief,” she said.
Meanwhile, McCall said, like Ellis, he considers himself an atheist agnostic because he continues to be open to the existence of God. He just wants proof of that existence.
“I can't blindly believe one religion over another. They all pull with the same amount of force, and I'm not going to be pulled to one persuasion or another without proof,” McCall said. “I'm still searching.”