From what I can remember, my childhood was normal. My little sister and I shared a bedroom, my mother and father slept downstairs. We ate dinner together during the evening, watched The Simpsons and The X-Files every Sunday night, and traveled on vacation together. We went to a local Lutheran church occasionally; and I was a frequent attendee of Sunday school. Life was good. Eventually, something happened.
I cannot be sure about what it was exactly, but the marriage between my mother and father began to crumble. As you may expect, their volatile relationship had a ripple effect. I was sure the fighting and arguing was something I could stop, perhaps because I felt that it was my fault in the first place. This brought me to praying – the first time I remember muttering to God. I asked for my pain to go away, to bring peace to my family, and restore the happiness I was sure we once knew.
I was sure that God would answer my prayers. After all, Jesus loved me and I believed with all of my heart. I was 8 years old, doing what I only thought was the best thing to do. But alas, my prayers were not answered. My mother and father separated, leaving my sister and I in a place where no children should find themselves in.
It was a dark, dismal, unhappy, and strenuous place. People joke, “You get two birthday parties!” That is all well and dandy, but no amount of gift-giving would replace the emptiness I felt. I abandoned prayer long ago, realizing then that it had no real-time effect. I carried on, kept my head low, focused on ways to make myself happy, and continued living.
Soon, we found ourselves in a favorable groove. Visitations were established; my sister and I visited my mother every Wednesday and every other weekend while my father retained full custody. My mother soon found a husband, which I found to be difficult to deal with. I will spare you the details since it doesn’t necessarily pertain to the story at hand. My father’s future wife, however, would affect my life for years to come.
At first, she was a pleasant woman. She had a son who I grew quite fond of; the brother I never thought I’d have. My father loved her dearly and so did I. I rarely saw my mother, so it was pleasantly comforting having a constant mother figure in my life. She was a religious person, but I was indifferent to it. She eventually convinced my father that religious instruction was best for me and my sister.
I had minimal religious exposure at this point. I believed in God and Jesus, but really knew nothing about it. So once my father enrolled my sister and I in a tiny Lutheran school, it was a tremendous shock. I had really never read the Bible or studied a doctrine of any kind. I honestly didn’t know there was as much involved with the faith as I once believed.
Aside from the state-mandated curriculum, we read bible passages, took quizzes on the subject, spoke in church on Sundays, took notes on sermons, prayed before every meal, and so on and so forth. I felt, finally, this was what I needed to find the God I’d been told about. I was doing all that I could to answer the questions I had. I once thought, a silly thought in retro-spec, the reason lizards and snakes exist was because, while in the Garden, God dashed away the legs of the serpent; thus creating lizards and snakes. Laugh, I know you want to. I was living in a world that pandered to the emotional comfort promised by religion.
But eventually I woke up.
Now, two separate events would took place. One: My stepmother became physically violent toward my sister. Bipolar disorder was often to blame, but she claimed divine warrant to do so, crudely stating, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” She felt she was righteously ordered to beat my sister. A loving God would never instruct his people to beat children, would he? Well, I was wrong.
The next: I began to find the things in the Bible I was instructed to read eventually became too silly for me to believe. The stories, the passages, the contradictions, the foolishness of the Gospels, the creation story – all of it sounded nothing like the word of God, but the word of artificial fiction. It was then that I realized that the Bible probably wasn’t God’s word and that man extrapolated a primitive idea to meet personal goals. Religion became bullshit.
After I completed middle school, I moved on to high school. I ended up living with my mother after my father divorced his wife. I had friends, played football, drank and chased girls as teenage boys do. I settled down with a girl that I loved, attended college; life was good, finally.
Sadly, I eventually faced a devastating drinking problem, stemming from an unexpected break-up with the girl i mentioned previously. Looking back, I’m awfully ashamed of how I reacted, knowing now it wasn’t the end of the world like I once felt. It caused me to act immaturely, foolishly ruining relationships with those around me. When my health rapidly declined, I knew I needed to do something. My mother put me in contact with a supporter of Alcoholics Anonymous; at this point, I wanted to do anything that would fix my situation. The man warned me of their faith-based nature, but I paid little attention. Once my first meeting commenced, I realized how right he actually was.
The meeting started with several readings from their “Big Book”, the alcoholic’s self-professed bible. It was quite clear that the organization was heavily seeded in a belief in God, proclaiming that “only through him would anyone find the strength to stay clean.” My will to stay sober far exceeded the need to support a distance from religion, so I carried on with the program for a few months. I obtained a sponsor who clearly practiced a belief in Jesus. He openly expressed his views to me while also stressing that I need not conform if I chose not to. I knew his motives were true because he wholeheartedly believed that his deliverance from alcoholism was gifted to him by a divine presence.
I grew tired of the religious pandering. I saw people come and go, continuously disappointed that their faith in God let them down time after time. These people had serious issues. I soon realized that AA didn’t cure anyone at all. It only taught them how to bury their pain one day at a time. A god never fixed them, it became quite clear. This was when my attitude towards faith began to slip. It harmed more than it helped these poor people. I left the program, having had enough of watching the countless number of people sheepishly following a flawed ideology. I’m still sober today, not because of a divine presence but because of my own strength and determination to succeed in life.
It wasn’t until a few years ago did I investigate atheism. It was the death of Hitchens that brought it to my attention. News channels spoke of this man and his life, so I became interested. I immediately picked his book up, along with Dawkins’ The God Delusion. It was then that I began to think critically of the God claim, finding there to be little reason at all in believing that a god had anything to do with the world.
It would take a vast number of posts to explain all the reasons why I feel the atheism is correct and that God, gods, and goddesses are improbable. Some are complex, some aren’t. They’re possibly similar yours, maybe not. (I am completely willing to discuss the matter with anyone, so just message me!) But as long as we reach the same destination, perhaps that’s all that matters. As long as you have the ability to evaluate evidence and question the unfounded, it’s achievable. Some care; believing you need to think one way before you can be a “true” atheist. This is the same judgment handed down by the religious.
The religious will say I didn’t evaluate my situation well enough. The religious will say my faith was weak, that I should have remained dedicated to his will. The religious will say I need to trust in God and hope for the best.
Well, the religious will always have something to say.
And I don’t give a damn.
Find yourself. Find the strength to stand up for how you feel. Embrace your atheism and skepticism. As Hitchens said, “Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.”