Image via WikipediaI like to tell people that I was birthed in the church, and it’s pretty much the truth. My mother’s water broke when she stood for the final benediction. I’m sure if the Bible held a clause about the importance of birthing a child within the walls of a church, she would have made sure it happened. I say this to impress upon you the fact that I was indoctrinated with Christianity since I was a small child. I was raised in Church and in private Christian schools. The path I took from what I was taught growing up to where I am now has been the biggest struggle of my life.
When I tell people I don’t believe in God, they tend to believe it’s just a phase. That it’s a period of doubt that “everyone” goes through. To me, this was initially offensive. They were saying that I didn’t have the logic and integrity to reason through something and be true to myself. They thought it was just something that I wanted to do because I didn’t want to be a good person. “I wanted to be liberal.” I didn’t want to listen to the rules that the Bible demands we live by. This, in fact, was the exact opposite of the situation. I wanted there to be a God. I wanted it all to be true…badly. And, I didn’t have too many issues with the principles of Christianity. In fact, I think Christianity helps some people be a better person. But, the reality is it’s not necessary to embrace any religion to be a good person. This, though, is not the point I am trying to make.
As I searched through the Bible, through what the religion claimed to be the infallible word of God, I started to become confused, and later on, appalled. I’m embarrassed to admit, but this whole journey started with the book, “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown. It is, of course, a work of fiction, but the boldness with which it questioned and contradicted the Bible was something that I’d ever been exposed to prior to reading this novel. I began to think about the pieces of the Bible that never really sat well with me, and the more reading I did (as an adult), the more I became shocked and disgusted.
The stories I was taught to admire began to swarm in my head. Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son, God drowning almost everyone on the planet with a flood, God raining down sulfur on cities, God killing firstborn children. These were just a few of the terrifying, murderous stories housed within the book.
I was taught at church that Abraham was almost a saint. That he had so much faith in God, he was willing to kill his own child, because God had asked him to do so. I used to be in awe of that story. He had immeasurable faith. How awesome.
How awesome? I couldn't believe I had actually thought this! What type of God tests the loyalty of a follower by asking for the sacrifice of his own child? How sadistic! And, in my humble opinion, I don’t care who asks you to kill your child, the correct answer is no! Added to that is the fact that this is only one of the many child sacrifice stories found within this "holy" book, and most all of these executions were carried out! God didn't put the brakes on the rest of them like he did with Abraham.
The flood is a whole other story. Now, I’m not sure exactly how many people were on the earth at this time, but apparently that was immaterial to God, who effectively murdered all of them, sparing only a drunk and his immediate family. This is another story that was twisted all sideways in Sunday school. We colored fun pictures of an ark, and giggled about all the animals that Noah would house on his biblical Titanic. We marveled at the rainbow, a symbol of the promise God had made to Noah, which was to remind us that he would never again cause a worldwide flood.
Reading as an adult, I realized that God annihilated his entire creation! What happened to the loving, compassionate, kind, forgiving God that I had been taught existed? The people on earth were honestly so evil that God decided he made a mistake creating them, and the only way to fix the situation was to murder them all and start over? And wait, God could make mistakes? And on top of all that, there really was no alternative except mass murder? He was the Lord! Surely he could have conjured up slightly more compassionate idea than genocide!
How about these rainbows I was taught to admire? After reading this story through un-biased eyes, rainbows had become a reminder to me that the God I had believed existed had purportedly killed 99.9% of his creation! I’m not even going to go into the fact that that would mean we are all inbred, since the only people that were left to procreate after this were Noah and his immediate family! Although, I supposed they were inbred too, I mean who did Adam and Eve’s children have to marry but each other??
By the time I got to the story of the firstborn children being killed, I wanted to vomit. How many excuses could I make for God before I just couldn’t take it anymore? The Bible had become the most offensive book that I’d ever read, and I was more than ashamed that there was a point in my life that I had loved it. But, sadly, I had.
There is something wonderful about Christianity in the sense that it gives you a purpose. The church is a tight knit community. For the most part, it was a good experience for me. There is a feeling of love and security around other believers. You feel like you belong, like you have a reason for being on this earth. No matter what you do, there is someone that always loves you unconditionally, that will never leave you. Someone who will forgive you time and time again, every time you mess up. When you falter and fail, he will always help you back to your feet. Unconditional love is a powerful idea, one that is extremely hard to let go.
When I finally realized I didn’t believe in God, that I couldn't believe in God, it was a heartbreaking experience. The sense of love and comfort that I had harbored was gone. But I simply couldn’t continue to believe in God, because I realized that the God of the Bible and the God I had been taught about in Church were polar opposites. As Julia Sweeney says in her monologue Letting Go of God, "It’s only because I took God so seriously that I couldn’t believe in him anymore."
I walked outside one night, and I looked up at the sky. I stared for a minute, and finally said, “You’re not the person I thought you were, and I don’t think I am either. I just can’t do this anymore. I just don’t believe you’re real.” I’ll never forget that defining moment in my life. To my complete surprise, I felt a huge burden being lifted from my shoulders. All the guilt and fear that I had been unwittingly harboring had been lifted. I felt free. I felt empowered. I felt...happy.
As time went on, I started to look at the world in a different light. I realized how lucky I was to be here. How lucky we all are to be here. And as this happened, I started to gain a new perspective on life. If we are all we have, I realized it was infinitely important that we take care of each other. I understood that there was no God keeping track of everything I did wrong, there was no threat of hell. I felt unburdened, but more than that, I realized the true importance of being a good person.
There is an innate danger in religion, which I hadn’t realized until this revelation. It teaches us that we aren’t enough. It teaches that there has to be a higher power for there to be a good enough reason to exist. It teaches us that we cannot trust in ourselves, that we are sinful and terrible people and it is only through the grace of God that we can try to better ourselves and be the people we should be. This simply is not true. In fact, only since my new found atheism have I realized the strength that I truly possess. It was only then that I could truly trust and love myself. I was capable of being all that I needed. I didn’t need some ethereal being to give me reason and purpose. It was one of those crystallizing moments, and I realized that I’d never been happier, and never been more motivated to contribute to society.
My family is deeply religious, and they struggle with my decision. My mother still cries because she believes if I were to die, I would go to hell. I’ve never wanted to make my mother upset, or anyone else in my family, for that matter. But, I couldn’t respect myself if I didn’t start standing up for what I believed in. They did it every day, and I should be afforded that same right.
I still sometimes cringe at the word “atheist,” although it is how I now identify myself. I sometimes find myself falling back into the ass-backward thinking of Christianity because it was habit for so long. But, I am slowly learning. I’m educating myself about science, which was never taught to me in the school system growing up. I'm finally employing logic and reason in my daily life without feeling ashamed, or like I’m committing some type of unforgivable sin.
I’ve continued my research on the Bible, and have found so many historical flaws, inconsistencies, contradictions, and just plain offensive language, that I’m really embarrassed to say that I ever believed it in the first place. I have nothing against Christians, but am thankful every day that I no longer call myself a sheep. Only sheep need a shepherd.
I will leave you with a quote from Bertrand Russell, who wrote,
“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth -- more than ruin -- more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man.”