This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post. Below is a link to the full original article.
The first thing I tell people about Chris Stedman’s “Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious” is that it made me cry, and books don’t make me cry. But there I was — in public no less — teary-eyed and puffy-cheeked as I read someone else’s encounter with conservative evangelical Christianity and subsequent deconversion. It sounded strikingly similar to my own.
Like Chris, I grew up evangelical despite my family’s relaxed attitude about religion. Like Chris, I found friends and community in my church. And, like Chris, I was devastated when I lost them. Chris and I were both driven to God because of our dedication to justice and, when we lost our faith, those convictions remained in us both. After an awkward intellectual adolescence spent hating the religious, we both gravitated toward an atheism that prioritized ending suffering and injustice over feeling cognitively superior to our religious neighbors.
These similarities — though they made me quite emotional — didn’t make me cry. What did was the vignette of a young Christian boy shaking on the floor of his shower contemplating suicide with a knife in hand, while feeling that he’d failed himself, his faith and even suicide when he couldn’t go through with it. This scene captured the darkness, loneliness and desperation that characterized my own religious doubts.
The existing literature on atheism is overwhelmingly rose-tinted: science is wonderful, the world is wonderful and being liberated from religious baggage is wonderful. Unfortunately, it isn’t that easy. When you have cognitive ties to religious belief but new circumstances challenge them, the experience can be petrifying and altogether consuming.
At a young age, Chris knew two things for certain: He liked boys and he believed in Christ. When these two facts seemed to be at odds with each other, there was turmoil, not liberation. Though Chris’ crisis reflected the struggle that occurs at the intersection of being queer and being Christian, it generalizes well for those who have struggled at all with their faith. For me, the scene evoked memories of the cold sweat contemplating Hell would leave me in as I wondered how I could possibly save all of my non-Christian friends in middle school. It also evoked the terror of reconciling the absolute, universal suffering of humanity with an ostensibly omnipotent God. Feeling like you can’t measure up to the standards your religion demands is not liberating. Doubting your faith is not fun. It is often emotionally and cognitively taxing in the extreme, and “Faitheist” is the first account I’ve read that doesn’t paint over this fact. This is not to say that to doubt is to be without hope. After accepting his doubts and developing his atheism, Chris, like me, found his irreligion to be a source of optimism — a base that encouraged him to live happily and help others to do the same.