Your Stories of Atheism are heartbreaking, triumphant, angering and inspiring. They are written by you, for you in this ongoing series about how you came to identify as an atheist. If you want to send me your story, you can email me here. Please note that by doing so, you give me permission to publish it here as part of the series. If you wish to remain anonymous, please say so in your email otherwise, I will use just your first name. To read other stories, click here.
Our first story this week comes from Gustavo. He said:
I live in Mexico, a very religious country, where a great majority is Catholic or Evangelical Christian. I was raised as a Catholic and went to Catholic schools my whole childhood and adolescence. Every single person I knew since I was born until I was 18 was Christian. I was always told there were people who didn’t believe in God, because they had rejected his love. They told me these people were called ‘atheists’ and they denied God’s existence because they liked to live in sin.
I never questioned the Church’s teachings while I was a kid, but as I grew up I discovered I was gay. For me this was a contradiction, since I was always taught homosexuality is a terrible sin against nature. However, I knew I never chose being gay, so I didn’t understand why God made me like this. I looked for answers in the Bible and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I found that the Church admits that gay people don’t choose their orientation, but ask them to remain in a state of celibacy, which I thought was unfair, but I had to submit to God’s will, so I thought I had stay single for the rest of my life.
Everything started changing when I went to university and I decided to study physics. First I was surprised that most of my professors were agnostic or atheists. Even more strikingly, many of them turn out to be good people willing to help whoever needed help. This contradicted what I was told, but I started to understand that there are people with many different beliefs and ways of thinking, and that being a good person has nothing to do with being a religious person. I also learned that many mysteries in the Universe had an explanation that had nothing to do with divine forces. Nevertheless, I was not ready to abandon my creed.
One day, everything suddenly cracked. The priest in charge of the church my family and I used to attend every Sunday was arrested and accused of having raped a boy. I was told by my parents that priests were reliable men in close contact to God. So, how come this “holy” man could have committed such a horrible crime? The very same man that had taught me homosexuality is a sin not only had sex with someone of his same sex, but also that person was a minor and he had raped him! Almost at the same time, the Legionaries of Christ—a congregation my mother had worked for—admitted their founder had committed sexual abuse of minors. I was shocked.
I decided then to do a little research on this topic and found there were thousands of similar cases all around the world. Rapes, sexual abuse, and similar stuff from Catholic priests occurred in the United States, Australia, Ireland, Belgium, Chile, Zimbabwe… Perhaps—I thought—what Protestants said about the Catholic Church, that it had twisted Jesus’ teachings, was true after all. So I decided that, if I wanted to follow Christ, I had to search for a community outside the Catholic Church. Then, I started to attend an Evangelical church on the outskirts of the city and I stayed there for only one month.
My experience there was by far unpleasant and disappointing. First, these people turned out to be more closed-minded than Catholics about homosexuality. There was no salvation for me and I was damned by the mere fact that I was gay. Also, it bothered me the fact that, although many people in this area lived in evident poverty, they were required to wear fancy suits or dresses to attend the Sunday services, and this represented to them a huge sacrifice. On the other hand they were asked to give a significant amount of the money they earned to the church; most of them gave more than 500 pesos, which for some of them it meant a whole week of work. The pastor preaching in this church always took that collected money and got in his shiny Mercedes Benz, a real insult to me. And finally, a déjà-vu: the pastor was found raping a woman from the congregation.I said to myself I had enough. Christianity was a lie. I could no longer believe in all that hypocrisy. Thus, I decided I didn’t have to follow the Christian rules, so I started to search for other gay people. I discovered a whole new world I had avoided for many years. I eventually fell in love with another guy. I had never experienced that before. I couldn’t understand why a loving God forbids loving other person just because that person turns out to be your same gender.
Then I thought, “I am studying to be a scientist; I have to think like one”. What if all religions are an invention of the human being and there is no god at all? Then everything made sense to me. I could have known it before, but I was blinded by my beliefs. I suddenly felt free, and all the depression I had felt for so many years disappeared within a blink.
I now know I am gay and an atheist and I am proud of being both. I understood that there was nothing wrong with me. It was an oppressing religion that made me think I was a sinner for how I was born. Now I am free.
Gustavo, this was one of the best stories I’ve gotten so far. I am so happy that you have freed yourself, been able to fall in love and live happily as a good and decent godless atheist. Proud to have you among us.
Our next story is from Avi:
I’m an Atheist through the diversity of community. I was born a Hindu Buddhist like my ancestral people. But my mother migrated to the UK, so to integrate we became Christians. I grew up in Middlesex with a huge Somali Sunni Muslim community. There were lots of questions regarding whose God is the right one. In Hinduism and Buddhism, all Gods in different religions are within Hinduism, therefore Hinduism is alive in all of Theism, Deities etc.
But Islam and Christianity say there are no Gods expect for the true Abrahamic God. Allah, God whatever his name is.
I found myself not fully understanding why people had different Gods. I didn’t even really give it a strong thought. I started to feel that religion is irrational as I observed the intolerant attitude of Sunni Muslims in the community. You couldn’t question them. With Christians, in church, they raise an eyebrow to questions but that would be it. Being Christian had it’s benefits. You could go to a better school for it. You could probably have your nose held high in London. Wearing your Shalwar Kameez would be a tense thing outside of their communities.
I think ultimately what made me stop being a Christian was listening to Richard Dawkins. And the catalyst was the whole, “you’re going to hell” from Abrahamic followers. “I’m not”, was my instinct. I couldn’t understand what I could possibly do as a 12-year-old to invoke the wrath of God. If I didn’t sin, did Jesus really die for my empty sins?
Or maybe the reason why I’m an Atheist is because I never liked being told what was best for me when I knew it already.
Avi, had I been religious growing up, I am sure stumbling across the works of Richard Dawkins would have fixed that, too. Thank you for your story!
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