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8/21/08                                                                                       View Comments

I had always been a defeatist, pessimistic, cynical doubter

Sent in by Michael

I write this mostly as catharsis, not as a call to action or as a convincing case against Christianity. As I think more and more about it, I have come to realize that my life is far more valuable than I let it on to be, and that my deconversion a year and a half ago only opened me up to far more than I had ever experienced.

I was raised Catholic, in a family where religion was far less about belief and far more about heritage. Talk of God or Jesus was rare in my household, though my family attended Sunday masses as frequently as possible and my father taught catechism, leading untold numbers of children into the "fold" which most did not seem to care about anyway. I remember Mass as something very boring and monotonous, so I attempted to make the best of it, letting my imagination run wild by thinking up little stories about all the different things I saw around me, trying to visualize the events occurring in the stained glass windows and the meaning of the strange, arcane symbols that abounded. It was a time when I got to exercise my mind, with everything about God and Christianity taking a backseat. I never saw it as important. Good was good and bad was bad. Why suffer through an hour of hymns and speeches for that?

I would occasionally think of my religion outside of church, though mostly in the context of odd questions which I had dreamed up. My first one was pretty standard: Why the hell was God turning people into pillars of salt and torching cities in the Old Testament, then playing the nice guy in the New Testament? Nothing would go answered, since to me it was all idle musing. Catechism was no different. I'd learn of church doctrine and the sacraments, but most of the time I'd simply misbehave out of boredom and rebellion (and a rather serious case of ADHD which I have been struggling with for a long time). All in all, my faith was something that was never something to be taken seriously.

That all changed when, during one class, I saw a video depicting the physical nature of the crucifixion, describing in detail all of the horrible pain that Jesus endured. I still remember the description of the brutal lashings with barbel-shaped flogs, which would tear out hunks of skin, and the nails going through the bones of the hands and piercing nerves. There were no visuals of violence, but the general mood it set was enough to unnerve me, deeply affecting me and turning a once misbehaved boy into something of a believer, though this was really only for my own benefit, fueled by my own fears. I attended church regularly and dragged my parents to the front row, went to confession frequently, and tried to be good. Of course, by the average conservative Christian's standards, I was little more than a poser, but I sincerely believed that I was in with God, and at this point, I tried feeling his presence a bit more than I was. This was all when I was eleven.

Of course, I knew I was not perfect, but I figured that nobody was, and that fundamentalists were simply overzealous, angry people who hated themselves just as much as they hated sin. Still, religion did not tend to cross my mind a lot, just every once in a while when it came up. It was never a big deal until I began having doubts in high school. I was practically a social outcast due to my eccentricities and overall inability to fit in, and had very few friends. As I continued through school, I became more and more associated with a few close circles of people, and met my best friend during finals in my freshman year. He was, at the time, a die hard atheist and political junkie. I remember telling him that I was a "Da Vinci Code Catholic," somebody who accepts more liberal teachings and was inclusive, but pious nonetheless. Of course, we had our little philosophical discussions, and by the time I was a junior, I was sliding into deism, though I still did not have much knowledge compared to now, and was only slightly less ignorant than most of my peers.

As a senior, my social life suddenly bloomed, and I was with a great deal of people of various religious persuasions. I was also an agnostic, of sorts, shifting back and forth between that and deism, considering that the fear of Hell was still fresh in my mind and unconsciously driving my actions. I also felt that I needed prayer as an outlet to relieve my tension, a purpose it had always served. It was stress relief. Toward the middle of the year, I was beginning to read material by Sam Harris, and my favorite book, "Letter to a Christian Nation," finally put me over the edge. I was an atheist by then, after finally deciding that I was simply splitting hairs in calling myself an agnostic purely out of a philosophical need for consistency (my 1% chance that I was wrong). Around this time, I was a lot more vocal and outspoken (though I already was as a political anarchist), and began educating myself a lot more in religion and theology. Though it was not a complete understanding, I considered it sufficient for the average layperson to justify and defend his lack of belief. It was very refreshing to be free of Christianity and to have a new worldview.

This is only half the story, though, because my life never really took many dramatic turns for the better or worse until after I was an atheist, and after I fully understood most of the things that I was saying. I struggled with a fear of my own mortality for a little while, until this was finally reconciled by my own
realization that death was not something to fear, just as I should not look upon the time before my birth as being full of terror and pain. It was ludicrous to even consider death to be something to fear. Things were fine for a bit, and I thought that I had reached the sum total of my quest for religious understanding. Then I lost it. I met a girl, and though she was not my first or most significant relationship to date, the sudden breakup was enough to set me down a bad path. I suddenly realized that I was not a good person, the kind I claimed to be, and that I generally did not want to see the world in a positive light. I never did. I had always been a defeatist, pessimistic, cynical doubter, and I began to seek out a good outlet. For a period of time I had flirted with the possibility of joining the Church of Satan, and I was probably one of the few people I knew who took their beliefs seriously. I soon discarded this in favor of other concepts, original ones that the church drew inspiration from, cynical, angry, iconoclastic voices such as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. All through my first year of college, I was slowly losing my mind and composure. Being thrown into a new situation gave me a serious kick, and I began having doubts about atheism, studying Christian apologetics and trying in vain every once in a while to be "saved" in a dramatic fashion.

I never fell to the ground weeping and wailing, and so I assumed that my sincere experiments were for naught. I assumed that I simply had to endure what I was beginning to see as an absurd cycle of sporadic ups and frequent downs, with mediocrity filling the spaces in between.

During this time, I developed a very strong hatred for Christianity as well, seeing it mostly as a group of smug individuals who wanted nothing but to boast of their own happiness. It made me angry that I could not reach their level of bliss. I fell for another girl that a friend of mine had introduced me to earlier that year, and spent a week in perpetual happiness, more vibrant and positive than anything I had ever experienced. A week after we met, I lost my virginity to her in what was quite possibly the greatest hour and fifteen minutes of my life, and she broke up with me the same day, leaving me broken, angry, and more depressed than ever. Soon, I turned to moral nihilism, which I saw as an accurate reflection of my views on the world. Life was meaningless and pointless, engineered as a placebo to dupe the weak-minded into thinking otherwise. I became more conservative and at one point was ready to call myself a Social Darwinist. I just wanted to burn the world clean of everyone and everything, and with that emotiveness, my humanism embraced as a high school senior mutated into a twisted misanthropy, fueled by the writings of the most misanthropic, bleak people I could find (Google "Pentti Linkola" and "Boyd Rice" to know what I mean). I also dabbled in Hermetics and considered ritual magick, though I quickly dropped this as soon as I realized that it was ridiculous, and that it would no more aid in expanding my locus of control than getting on my knees and praying for Jesus to "save" me.

I had friends, family, and very good grades, as I have always had, but I lacked meaning and direction, and I felt incapable of creating it without some guiding force. I suddenly realized that without theism, I was a fish out of water.

That was fairly recent, and at the moment I am still somewhat rattled by my own emotional distress, my loneliness, and my sense of alienation and self-doubt. It never arose from religion, but my beliefs have changed to reflect my own life and it's struggles. Now, I'm drifting from my previous, deep-seated anger with the world
and attempting to embrace a more positive outlook. I have always seen the concept of the ubermensch to be rather silly, but still metaphorically powerful, and I remain very much inspired by Nietzsche's overarching philosophy. I have also become close to nature in the intervening time between then and now, which I can attribute just as much to my desire for solitude to clear my mind as I can to my passion for black metal and folk music, two genres which I see as very misunderstood, but very powerful and meaningful to the open listener. I can still remember my time in the nature preserve of my university, listening to Drudkh and Burzum on my MP3 player as I and looked out at the expansive forests in awe. I have decided since then to pursue my interest in ancient European folklore and culture, and to major in anthropology. As of now, though, I am still changing, and I still feel as though I have a lot of growing up to do, so as of now, most everything I believe is tentative.

Religion never ruled me, it never broke me. It never made me do things that affected me so deeply that I had to scorn it for its damage to my mind. I was never exploited due to an outdated, fanatical belief system, but I have found that I have for a long time had tacit control over what I had believed, mimicking my internalized feelings externally in expressing my fear, desperation, isolation, anger, and self-hatred. At no point was I truly a "free thinker," unshackled from dogma, as I had promptly fettered myself in my own chains. If anything, my beliefs
had been an outlet for my own frustrations with myself and others. Still, I see a valid lesson in my journey, which happened almost exclusively within my own mind, defined better with feeling than experiences with others.

Humans are mentally powerful, passionate creatures, who have the capability to create and destroy with their ideas alone. If properly channeled by a sufficiently disturbed person, an extremist idea can turn deadly. This is a question of understanding the religious mindset, of knowing what makes people tick, of crawling into the heads of believers and nonbelievers alike and attempting to understand why people take positions. It is, in a way, a roundabout message stressing empathy, of understanding that behind an ardent fundamentalist might be a confused, angry, emotionally drained person, struggling to understand life just as much as some of us do.