By Brother Jeff
The following is a glorious update to my original 2002 "extimony."
I grew up in a nominally religious home. I was raised United Methodist, but at home religion was limited to occasionally reading some bible stories, and that's about it. I quit going to church when I was about ten years old, and didn't get involved in religion again until I was 19-years old. At that time, through the influence of my good friend Mike, I became a "sold out to Jesus" fanatic fundie. That was a huge change for me, going from a party animal alcoholic and drug user to Jesus Freak. It was a huge adjustment for my family too. I was still living at home at the time, and I remember when Mike and I came home one day and we were climbing the stairs on the way to my bedroom, my younger sister laughed when she heard us going on about how wonderful Jesus was. She thought it was hysterically funny, but of course I knew that she just wasn't saved - yet. I had religion, and I had it bad! I'm sure she laughed even harder when I cranked up Keith Green and Sandi Patti Christian music instead of the awesome 80's Rock that was usually blasting from my stereo. She wasn't laughing though, and neither was my mother, when I threw away hundreds of dollars worth of records and tapes (hey, this was before the days of the CD!) because "that music is satanic". Fortunately, they found out in time before the trash ran, and my mother forced me to retrieve the bags from the garbage dumpster. But anyway... I spent the next 15 years of my life as a fanatic fundie Christian. Due to my then undiagnosed bipolar illness, I had for that entire time swings from periods of devout religious belief to times of serious substance abuse. Every time I "backslid" though, I would always eventually (usually within a matter of months) be back in church serving Jesus again and wondering how I could have ever left Him. In hindsight now, I know that when I got "saved" I just added religion as a way to cope with the symptoms of my illness. Sometimes religion worked great, and sometimes substance abuse worked great. Either way, I was just self-medicating, whether I was high on Jesus or high on drugs and alcohol.
I deconverted in early 2000 at the age of 34, and since then - with the exception of a few bipolar-induced and unfortunately very public short-lived "reconversions" - I have remained an ex-Christian, and I see no good reason to ever return to the faith again. I'm alternately extremely pissed off about the years I devoted to a demonstrably false belief system, and sometimes I wonder if I should be grateful for my Christian experience because it may have saved my life by giving me something positive to hold on to when I was so ill. But the reality is that if I had never become a Christian (and in many ways I wish I never had), then I would have found some other way to cope besides extreme religious belief.
What religion gave me was a strong belief in a loving God who cared about me and cared about what happened to me. It also gave me a sense of importance because I believed that Jesus loved me personally enough to die for me. I also had a strong belief in a Heaven wonderful beyond our ability to describe that I was going to go to after I died and spend eternity there with the God and Savior that I loved. I really needed those beliefs at the time because I had assurance that the miseries of this life that were caused by my illness were nothing compared to the eternal joy and love and happiness that I was going to experience once this life was over. I spent years really, really looking forward to Heaven and desperately wanting Jesus to return so I could be delivered from the struggles of this life. I remember how excited I was in 1988 when Jesus was supposed to return on Rosh Hashanah of that year. I read the book "88 Reasons Why the Rapture Could Be in 1988" by Edgar Whisenant with great excitement. On the night that the Rapture was supposed to occur, I told my unsaved family goodnight for what I thought would be the last time, and went to bed fully expecting to be gloriously raptured into the presence of Jesus sometime during the night. Imagine my disappointment when I woke up the next morning! My family just smiled at my religious foolishness and gave me a bit of a hard time about it, but then life went on as usual.
What Atheism gave me back was the use of my brain and common sense. I value reason and rational thought a great deal because I lost the use of them for so long in the area of religious belief. Because I don't believe in God, my destiny is my own. What I do with my life is up to me, and I don't have to spend it trying to please God or constantly apologize for sins either real or imagined. I don't have to constantly apologize for being human. I can just be me - a good and good-natured but fallible and imperfect human being - instead of what I think and hope that God wants me to be. It's very difficult to know if you are really pleasing a God who never gives you any sort of feedback! What Atheism also gave me was relief from the fear of Hell. Hell is an obvious myth, and a sick and demented and evil myth at that. But I spent years worrying that my unsaved family and friends were going to go there and at times when I doubted my salvation, I was very afraid that I would end up going there too.
What Atheism robbed me of was my strong belief in a loving God. No longer can I lay my problems and struggles down at the foot of the cross or in God's hands for Him to carry instead of me. No longer can I pray and believe that I am being lovingly heard by God in times of spiritual, emotional, or physical need. No longer can I engage in the praise and worship that I used to enjoy so much. No longer can I stand in awe of the holiness and purity of God as I pray. That belief is gone, and it is no longer possible for me to honestly believe that the loving God that I once believed in so strongly actually exists. God is pure mythology, and though the emotions I felt were wonderful, they were a product of the incredible power of belief, and that belief no longer exists.
Atheism robbed me of a belief in a Savior who was my best friend. I knew that Jesus loved me more than I could possibly comprehend, and that He would never let me down. He was with me always! I was sure that I let Him down a lot, but I believed in His love and forgiveness, and I knew that He would always take me back when I repented after I fell into indulging in sinful thoughts or behaviors. When I became an atheist, I lost my best friend.
Atheism robbed me of a belief in a Heaven wonderful beyond description that was waiting for me after I died. As an atheist now, I know that instead of going to a wonderful Heaven when I die, I'm simply going to cease to exist at the moment of my death. There is no good evidence that any part of us survives death, and I no longer expect or believe in any sort of afterlife. But, it was a tremendous hurt and disappointment to discover that my belief in Heaven - a place that I wanted to believe was real so badly - was based on nothing but ancient mythology.
Atheism robbed me of the belief that the bible was the "Word of God". I spent many years viewing it as a Divine Book - an inerrant, infallible, Divinely inspired guide for living straight from the throne of God. Now I recognize the fact that the bible is anything but the "word" of a god. It is, in reality, a collection of ancient religious mythology that clearly reflects the time in which it was written. The mostly anonymous authors of the bible clearly knew nothing of modern science, and God didn't reveal any modern scientific knowledge to them. The bible, in reality, is far from being inerrant or infallible. It is riddled with contradictions, absurdities, obvious myths, and a great deal of non-historical "history".
Atheism robbed me of my sense of divine specialness. I believed for years that God created mankind generally, and that he created me specifically with a loving and great plan for my life in mind if I would just obey Him and give myself completely to Jesus. Now I know that I am nothing but an accident. If a particular sperm from my father and a particular egg from my mother had not met and formed me one night in early 1965, I wouldn't exist. Perhaps I am still special in the sense that I am unique - the only me there ever has been or ever will be - but there is no divine plan behind my existence.
Atheism robbed me of my hope that maybe there was some greater purpose behind my bipolar illness. I hoped for years that God would heal me and use my life to glorify Him. Now I know that I simply drew the short end of the genetic stick (or whatever), and that no supernatural or divine reason for my illness exists. I had the misfortune of being born with genes that would cause mental illness starting in my teenage years, but the only reason for it is just simply genetics. There's nobody to blame and no particular reason that it happened to me. It just did, and I have to live with it and the consequences of it every single day.
Atheism robbed me of the belief that there is a higher purpose behind our existence. I know now that we exist because we evolved over a period of millions of years, not because God created us for companionship with Him. I know now that we have to find our own purpose for being. We have to create our own reasons for living because there is no greater divine purpose behind our lives. I still honestly wish that there was some sort of divine plan behind our existence, but there isn't, so I accept that reality even if I do so still somewhat grudgingly.
Atheism robbed me of my belief that I would be reunited with family and friends after death in Heaven. All of my grandparents are now dead. Granddaddy Reid died first in 1993 at the age of 85. Granddaddy Shelley died in 1994 at the age of 76 after years of struggling with heart problems caused by the rheumatic fever he had as a child. Grandmother Shelley died in 2002 at the age of 84 from a ruptured aortic aneurysm caused by high blood pressure. Grandmother Reid was the last to go in 2003 at the age of 87, but her mind was gone long before then, I believe from Alzheimer's Disease. I loved them all deeply and I still miss them terribly. I no longer expect to be reunited with them in Heaven. I remember when Granddaddy Shelley was in the hospital near death, he said to my Baptist minister uncle, "Danny, I hope I make it!" My grandfather wasn't a religious man, but he believed in God and he wanted to go to heaven. He made it one of his goals to read as much of the bible as he could before he died. My uncle didn't share the gospel with him at that time, and I remember feeling terribly guilty for a long time because I didn't either. I worried for a long time that my grandfather might have died unsaved and gone to hell. I'm relieved of that fear now, but I know now that I will never, ever see my grandparents again. They are dead and irretrievably gone. My parents are in their mid-60's now, and they too will die, and I will never, ever see them or know their love and support again. I lost my good friend Donny to suicide in 1985. I know now that I will never, ever see him again. When people die, they really die. They cease to exist and are gone forever. This is a sad, brutal reality that atheists accept without trying to shelter themselves from it with religious mythology. The reality and finality of death makes me sad, but at the same time it makes me value my family and friends more because I know that life is short, unpredictable, and temporary. It's very important to me to spend as much time as I possibly can with those I love and care about and to tell them frequently that I do.
I spent 15 years of my life believing strongly in a demonstrably false religion. Religion gave me a lot that was good, but it also filled my mind with many false promises and false beliefs. Walking away from religion and my belief in God and consequently embracing Atheism is the hardest but the best thing I have ever done for myself. Although I still sometimes miss the religious feelings I enjoyed and the beliefs that I had, I don't regret my decision to reject religious belief in favor of demonstrable reality at all. I am a stronger, better person because I am an atheist. I face reality as it is - even the most unpleasant parts of it - and I am good and moral because that's a part of who I am as a person, not because I am trying to please God or because I am living in fear of him. I have discovered how wonderful it is to face life on its own terms, free of religious myths and lies! Glory!
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