Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My Journey Into Atheism

First I'll give a little background

I was raised as a fundamentalist Christian my whole life. Both of my parents were believers and we attended church weekly. I genuinely believed in Christianity from a very young age and strove to be the best Christian I could be. The first time I remember actually accepting Christ into my heart was when I was about 7 years old. I was alone in my bedroom one night and decided that I wanted to make sure that I was saved. I was always very active in church, youth group, youth ministries, Christian music, etc. I was passionate as a teenager and wanted to reach out to as many people as I could cause I wanted other people to know Jesus too and go to Heaven.

I continued to be a strong believer into adulthood and when I met the man I married we agreed to base our relationship and our life on our faith. Our wedding was more of a worship service than anything and our first dance was to the song "Center" by Chris Tomlin. The chorus of which is, "Oh Christ, be the center of our lives. Be the place we fix our eyes." We strove, in every way, to glorify God with our lives even though we failed all the time. Everyone who knew us also knew that we were Christians and we were the real deal. I say all this to express that my faith wasn't just an after thought of my life. I took it quite seriously and I was definitely a "true" Christian. I want to make that clear because often people will argue that those who turn from the faith were never true believers to begin with. I certainly was.

The journey begins

I've been married for almost 5 years now and a couple years ago I started struggling with some doubts and hard questions about Christianity. I felt awful for not having enough faith and figured that I was doubting and not feeling the Holy Spirit because I didn't spend enough time reading the Bible, the living and active word of God. Every time I tried to be a better Christian I failed and heaped more shame on myself. I didn't realize, at the time, that I was doing that. I couldn't shake the doubts and questions and there were several things that just hadn't been sitting well with me such as, homosexuality, original sin, the power (or seeming lack thereof) of the Holy Spirit, the hypocrisy of most Christians, the evil and suffering in the world, the concept of hell, etc. I was deeply troubled by things I would read in the Old Testament so I tried to avoid it. I studied apologetics looking for answers to my many questions and trying to strengthen my faith. I confided in my husband and shared with him the questions I had and he agreed that they were hard things to understand and he didn't know what to tell me. We decided that we needed to go meet with our pastor to discuss some of these things and get his perspective, encouragement and advice. He was very encouraging and understanding and gave us a couple books to read and some things to think about. I didn't feel like my questions were answered, but I felt better after talking to him. I respect the man very much and feel that he is a very intelligent person and, therefore, he must know what he's talking about. It didn't take more than a few months for the good feelings of that meeting to wear off and the doubts and questions to creep back in. All the while I had still been attending church weekly, was involved in a community group through the church and had confided in several people about my doubts and asked for prayer. I thought maybe I was just going through a "dry season." I prayed endlessly that the dry season would end and that God would reveal himself to me and help me to make sense of these things. After a while I just kind of stopped praying. I never felt that it made a difference and I, honestly, felt that I was speaking to the air. I never heard a response back or even felt his presence. I felt abandoned, but life went on as if nothing had changed. My life wasn't affected by the apparent absence of God except in the grief that it caused me.

After a couple years of doubting the pivotal moment came when I decided that it was time to dive into research about Christianity and the arguments against it. In December of 2014 my dad shared with me that he was no longer a Christian. He shared with me that he had been doing extensive research and just couldn't justify his beliefs any longer. Wow! That hit me like a ton of bricks! My dad had been one of the main reasons I was a Christian to begin with and he had been my spiritual leader my whole life and the one I would always go to for advice and support. What could have changed his mind? Would this forever alter our relationship? How could he turn his back on the faith he has held his entire life? What about his marriage to my mom? Would they survive this? Their marriage has always been centered around their faith. I kept thinking back to moments throughout my life and the impact he has had on me throughout the years and realized that what we had would inevitably be affected by this. I was also very scared for him because I was worried that his soul was in danger. I kind of wished that he would just keep believing to be safe. It was just a lot to process. A few weeks later I couldn't take it anymore and I needed to know what he had read and learned. I needed to seek out answers to my many questions. I needed to strengthen my faith in light of this devastating blow. I joined 2 Bible studies so that I would be immersed in scripture during this process in order to protect myself from "satan's deception."

I started by reading Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman and the dominoes of my beliefs started falling and didn't stop falling. I searched for answers in apologetics and Christian sources just to be frustrated again and again by the inadequacy of the arguments. I was often furious after listening to the same circular reasoning bullshit over and over. I wanted to punch my computer screen and throw my books across the room. I went through phases of denial, anger, grief, betrayal, sadness, and disgust. I was obsessed though and I just kept searching and learning. Finally one day I sat down to journal and I started making bullet points of things I had found to be true about the Bible and at the end of my list of bullet points I wrote,
"If the Bible is not the word of God, but a completely human book, then I cannot place my faith in and devote my entire life to its teaching. If I cannot place my faith in its teaching then I cannot believe, with certainty, that Jesus was and is God. If I cannot believe that Jesus is God, then I cannot call myself a Christian. This means that I cannot know if there is a God and, if so, what he is like and what he has said. This makes me agnostic." 
Writing it down in this way helped me to draw conclusions from what I was learning and I was able to realize that I was no longer a Christian at that point. It was a shocking realization. I knew my research wasn't done though and I wasn't just going to make up my mind and not dig any deeper. I was obsessed. Every moment that I could be absorbing information, I was! The more I learned the more I realized that I already kind of knew some of this stuff and just hadn't let myself admit it.

I started looking into the morality of the Bible and that's when things started really unraveling. I'm not going to go into the details of that research in this blog post because that could be a whole post of its own, but it wasn't good and I was horrified that I ever considered that book to be the holy word of God. I looked into apologetic explanations of some of these "hard verses/passages," as they call them, and none of the explanations seemed adequate or really made sense in my opinion. It became increasingly clear that the Bible had been written by men, not God, and that these men displayed the moral understanding of their time, not any higher morality given by an omniscient being. It was some time around this point that I started realizing that I not only didn't believe in Christianity, but I also didn't believe there was a God at all. The first time I admitted out loud that I was an atheist was to a Jehovah's Witness who came to my door. It felt so strange hearing those words come out of my mouth, but I knew I truly believed it and couldn't deny it anymore.

My reaction to my atheism

I went through phases after realizing that I no longer believed in what I had grown up believing. It was definitely a grieving process. Before I fully admitted it to myself I went through some denial. I didn't fully accept the facts even though I subconsciously knew there was no coming back from what I had already learned. Once I fully admitted it to myself I realized that this could and would impact every area of my life. I grieved for my losses. I had lost my belief in an eternity of bliss, my Christian community, potentially relationships with people I care about, potentially my marriage (thankfully not the case), my entire outlook on life, years of my life dedicated to something I no longer believe in, the belief in an omniscient being who loves me unconditionally, etc. I became extremely anxious about sharing my new perspective with my family, especially my in-laws. I was terrified that they would hate me after this or at least harbor resentment towards me. I was concerned about my husband and how he would react. He was right there beside me all along the way and would listen to my frustrations and things I was learning, but how would he take the news that I was a full-blown atheist? Also, what if after he did all of his own research he decided that he was still a Christian and we, for the first time in our relationship, were not on the same page about a MAJOR thing? Will this negatively affect our marriage? I didn't take any of this lightly. In fact, I couldn't. It occupied almost my every thought. I kept researching. I started listening to a podcast called "the Thinking Atheist" by Seth Andrews and I learned so much just from that one source! He touched on the exact subjects I was wondering about. Marriage, parenting, coming out as an atheist to friends and family, living without religion, etc. At the same time that I was learning about what life without religion truly is, I was also discovering the overwhelming sense of freedom I felt. I didn't have to try to fit all of my values and beliefs into the narrow confines of my Christian worldview anymore. I was free of the guilt and shame that had been plaguing me my whole life. I finally felt "good enough." I could finally accept what I already knew. That some people are just born homosexual and that is OK. The universe is billions of years old and I can accept that. We are naturally sexual beings and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Women have as much to offer the world as men and that is completely acceptable. My freedom and joy came as an absolute shock! I thought that surely I would feel despair and depression if I ever lost my faith, but what I actually experienced was amazing. I feel a desire to live for this moment and enjoy everything good this life has to give me. The party doesn't start at death. THIS IS THE PARTY! This is the only life we are guaranteed so we need to make the best of it for ourselves and for the people around us.

Thank you for reading about my journey! Please share this if you think it would encourage someone in your life!

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing that with the world. That was so inspiring. -Donovan from Dogma Debate with Davis Smalley

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Donovan! I started listening to Dogma Debate in early June and that has made a huge impact on me in many ways. You guys have inspired me!

      Delete
  2. Thanks for sharing this! It truly is inspiring. "[T]he truth shall make you free." John 8:32 (KJV translation) That's one passage of The Bible I can wholeheartedly agree with! :-)

    ReplyDelete