Atheism saved my friend's life.

Christina here…

I want to tell you a story about how we can change the minds of those around us by being ourselves.

My friend Sarah (here’s her blog!), who does the camera work for all of my Youtube videos, came to me a few months ago and told me she’d been thinking about death frequently, concluding that no life after death exists.

I responded with, “Oh really?!” since Sarah has been a theist her entire life. She and I have been friends since high school, and she’s changed her religion so frequently that her waffling became sort of a joke in my circle of friends. She’s been Protestant, Jewish, Wiccan, Catholic, Lutheran, etc. I never really thought about it much, though I’ve come to realize now that she based her religious affiliation entirely on what would make the people most important in her life happy: boyfriends, family, etc.

Sarah and I have at times had a mother-daughter sort of relationship. She looks to me for advice. A lot of our friends have accused her of parroting me. This time though, she decided she didn’t want to look only to me. She didn’t want to be accused of simply doing whatever I happened to do – so after telling me her conclusions about death, she reached out to Christopher, my husband.

She told him that not only did she not see any evidence of life after death, but she was pretty sure she didn’t believe in god anymore, either.

Guess who he sent her off to read: Greta Christina, of course! He sent her to this post on the top ten reasons not to believe in god, and this post on making atheism welcome for the deconverting, this post on atheism and hope, this post on atheism and meaning, this post on atheism and mystery, this post on atheism and death and… oh science, just go read every word she’s ever written.  Sarah dove in.

Of Greta, Sarah says:

I was realizing that what she was saying was true. She was talking about living in the moment, but not referencing some guy or some fictitious being to force happiness. She was just being happy.

Before this, I had avoided long-winded chats about atheism with Sarah, or devoting any significant time to talking about atheism with her. Even when she became hyper-Christian along with her husband, I just let her do her own thing. I didn’t think becoming Christian for the sake of someone else was a good idea, but she was a newlywed and when people are in a new relationship, they tend to get defensive when you tell them that something they do in the relationship might not be a great idea.

Sarah had a lot of questions. One day, she asked me if I feared death, and the “nothingness” that comes with it.

Christina helped me understand why I was afraid of nothing. The nothing that was after death would be same nothing that would happen before birth.  No hurting, burning or being tortured for eternity; there would be no hanging out with Buddha or Jesus, and certainly not coming back in a new body to “try again”. I realized that it must be true, the brain stops functioning within 20-40 seconds after the heart stops functioning. Even when people come back from the dead they only speak about the moment that they went towards a light, then there is nothing else they can remember. So with this information I have gathered that after the light happens there is nothing.

Weeks later, she started using the “A” word, coming out as an atheist on her blog.

Metaphorical wasn’t going to do it for me anymore. I was growing out of my magical phase. The phase where unicorns, spells, and dancing naked for a moon goddess was fading. How can I prove that god exists, that GOD exists? I can’t. Miracles are explainable, if not now, then with research and that isn’t proof of a singular being of pure awesome.

“Look to the Bible” was a response I got from a lot of Christian friends, the bible only made me think that god was a figment of a lot of people’s imaginations. He was angry, wrathful, all-knowing, peaceful, loving, caring, and well he kept killing his people constantly. Why would a being tell us that we shouldn’t kill, then go off and do it himself? I think that is the definition of hypocrisy. Beyond that, he was just mean.

I can’t be gullible anymore, I have to look to reason and logic. There isn’t logic in religion, there is a word called faith. “Have faith” means to me give up reason, logic, and all science.

What do I believe in then? Well, I believe in myself, my pursuit of science, my happiness, and “finding the joy in being wrong”. Games are fun to play, but now I have to be an adult. I have to grow up and know what is true to me. Does this make me less of a nerd? Oh, hell no. I still love games, but I have a responsibility to my happiness and to my life to know that I am looking for proof in things, that I am researching before I take in anything as “gospel”. I also feel logic, science, and math have always been a reasonable guiding light, something I should have known or considered all along, but I am only Homo sapien.

I was happy. I love when people come to rationality. However, I didn’t quite realize how much an impact we had.

Later, Sarah explained to me in deeper detail how she came to think so intensely about death. Her thoughts went beyond depression: Sarah wanted to kill herself. She was suicidal. She’s tried to kill herself three times earlier in her life, and was poised to make a fourth attempt. She thought of suicide as a way to get to the afterlife quicker.

I’ve been suicidal before and probably will be several times again, but in this case I was close to death again. That is what I wanted to know more about. So if I killed myself where would I go? Where is my aunt? Where will my dad go? I was baffled. I wanted to end my life but I didn’t know what would happen to me afterwards. I wanted to know before it happened. I started to look at the afterlife and I wanted proof that it was there. But neither my aunt nor any of the people I knew, such as my grandmother who loved me more than her own children, came back to talk with me. I hallucinated when I was younger that I was seeing dead people all the time, but not once was it a loved one. I looked at what Heaven was, or what Summerland was, or any of the afterlife hang outs were.  I couldn’t find any definitive proof that they existed, just stories of people wanting to explain it or see it for themselves.

Atheism saved my friend from suicide. Reading Greta Christina, talking to us, made her realize that killing herself will rob her of the only life she has – no afterlife exists to come home to when you end this one.

Let that sink in.

Because of our community, a life continues.

I’m going to continue to support her in her search for help for depression – becoming an atheist didn’t cure her, but at least she has a supportive community where we don’t shun people with mental illness.

Of course, the non-atheist community has not been so supportive. Her husband, a very devout Christian (who is in prison for 5 years, which complicates matters) is angry. He vowed to spend the rest of his life trying to convince her to believe in his god again. If only she and I could make him understand.

Her co-workers found out, resulting in a conversation that went something like this:

Co-worker: You’re an atheist? Does that mean you worship Satan or something?

Sarah: Um, no. That’s Satanism.

Co-worker: So, you’re the anti-Christ then?

Sarah: Still no. Do you know what the word “atheist” even means?

Her co-workers proceeded to say, “Satanist!” to her in passing while she worked.

Her sister-in-law blamed her for her co-worker’s behavior, saying, “well, what do you expect?”

However, she is hopeful. She’ll learn to take her minority religious status in stride, and wear it as a badge of honor. She’s ready to make her life better without religion:

If I was told that there was only one life earlier on and I realized that I needed to work harder at this life, I would have been more successful. Not that I want to reminisce on just my past but atheism has really saved my life. The idea of an afterlife and possibly the rebirth allowed the thoughts of suicide to cloud my mind. The chance to relive this life or to hang out in the afterlife with people that are related to me or love me; it was a way to get out of this life: the life of being fat, ugly, hated, abused, and looked down on.

Since there is’t an afterlife or rebirth to happen, then I have to make this life count. I plan on turning it around the best I can. One thing that I want to do for sure is let my children know that there is only one life to live. I need them to step up and learn better and try harder than I did and I want them to be better people than I am. I can only let them know of my ways and how long it took me to get there, in hopes that they take this knowledge and become something brilliant.

We make a difference.

Learn more about Christina and follow her @ziztur.

Follow Sarah @TheNerdChef

About christinastephens
  • otocump

    Thank you for sharing this Christina. Stories like these are really important to read from time to time. I’m so happy for your friend and wish her all the luck and support our whacked-out, strange little community can provide!

  • RhubarbTheBear

    One small note here…

    The husband in prison is even more of a complication than you might think. The pressure for an inmate to follow faith traditions in correctional facilities is more pervasive than most realize. I’ve yet to meet any skeptics who think this is a significant problem; they dismiss it by saying that since the inmate is removed from society, they simply don’t matter. Apparently they feel there are enough Christians to debate in free society.

    19 out of 20 prisoners WILL be released someday. If the rational community truly has better answers and solutions than the faith community, then they need to reach out to the incarcerated. So far I’ve never found any group or even any individual doing this.

    • benjdm

      There was a poster at IIDB (when IIDB existed) who was trying to provide freethought books to prisons…looks like they are still doing it:

      I do agree that there needs to be outreach there.

      • RhubarbTheBear

        Whoa – exactly what I was looking for! Thank you!

    • Peter N

      Prison inmates are desperately bored and hungry for any contact with the outside world, and they are naturally vulnerable to the predations of religious proselytizers. Personally, I want to to do something about it.

      The Freethought Books Project that benjdm linked to above is an excellent program that sends atheist books and articles to interested prison inmates. They also have a pen-pal service, which links volunteers to atheist inmates in American prisons. I signed up just under a year ago, and I have exchanged dozens of letters with a most interesting individual — it has been extremely rewarding for both of us!

      I have also taken the volunteer training at a nearby state prison, and I am making a proposal to facilitate an atheist study group there, in competition with all the prayer groups and Bible study circles.

  • Raging Bee

    Well, so much for “atheism robs life of all meaning,” eh?

    And what is her husband in jail for, anyway? I’m not one to give personal-life advice to someone I’ve never even met, but…she really needs to divorce this guy, if the hasn’t done so already. Can we say “irreconcilable differences?”

    Seriously, if she says “being an athsist means I don’t want to kill myself anymore,” and his response is “I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to get you to stop being an atheist,” this is not a guy who has her best interests anywhere near his heart.

    • RhubarbTheBear

      I’m curious to know if you have any thoughts regarding my previous reply. “No”, like any other answers, is acceptable…

    • Christina

      If Sarah wants to discuss why he is in prison (and I don’t think she does) then she might, but It’s absolutely not my place to even hint at why.

      I’m hoping they can work things out. I don’t think she’s told him yet that atheism saved her life, though she surely should.

    • Sarah D

      My husband went to jail for what everybody goes to jail for, being stupid to the point of trouble. Other than that, I don’t want to discuss it. He’s loved me and supported me through all the things that I have done in my life.

      He is just like most Christians and believe that Christ is the only way that a person can live, that the teachings of Christianity is of worth. Despite the fact that Atheism saved my life, which he doesn’t know about, he just wants me to share something deep and meaningful with him.

      And as long he knows I will spend the rest of my life, proving again and again that Christianity has no substance and that there is no god, then he is allowed to try to bring me to his faith. The day that he gets tired of the science is the day I get tired of being preached at.

      Also you might not want to jump to divorce for silly things like faith. Our differences are always reconcilable, we love each other and in his terms were are soul mates, in mine we are life mates. I plan on going through the turmoil that his prison time is going to bring me so that I can be with him.

  • Lucienne

    I’m glad to hear that your friend is doing well. Unfortunately, the social stigma of atheism can also go a long way in causing one stress. Perhaps her husband doesn’t recall, or was never aware of, 1 Corinthians 7:14.

    For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

    If I understand the context correctly, this might help alleviate marital issues with regards to religious differences.

    • Sarah D

      We agreed before we got married that our children will believe what they want to believe. We will not push or pull them in any particular direction.

      I will just maintain to them to make the moments count and to spend this life as if it is their only one. For I believe it is, but they may not and my husband does not.

  • Tynk

    I went through many years of undiagnosed depression with common thoughts of suicide. Most common was while driving, trying to find the best way that would cause the least trouble for any one. I was never able to think of one. I had always had a lot of trouble reconciling religion with life, but everyone I knew seemed to believe it. I thought there was something wrong with me. Add into that the harassment for being a lesbian, and being generally unnaccepted (from my viewpoint) by most people.

    I stumbled across Zomgitscris and the immersion into the online athiest world happened very quickly. Almost as quickly, all suicidal thoughts disappeared. I was no longer alone, no longer a pariah.

    Even people who do not know why. The change happened have mentioned that I smile and laugh a lot more now.

    I do not know if I would have ever done it, but now I am happy. And that is awesome.

    So… Welcome Sarah! **hugs**

  • Beth

    I’m not sure I could say that atheism saved my life, but it definitely gave it a lot more value and made keeping it a lot easier (and higher priority) for me.

    As a very hurt discreetly abused teen, a pastor ever-so-helpfully showed me in the bible that I was worthless and evil (and so I should shut up and stop taking up everyone else’s time.) And there were so many lines about obliteration of self being good and holy. And so many calls about hurting meaning you’ve done something wrong. And threats that, if you didn’t forgive everything and everyone, you’d burn eternally in hell. (I never believed the last one, but it still meant I got told I was doing evil a lot.) If God isn’t so and the bible isn’t so, then I don’t have to give any of that a single bit of credence; I can throw all of that harmful shit altogether. Not even any more nagging of “I don’t really believe that exactly, but maybe I’m wrong and I really am somehow essentially evil.”

    Lack of afterlife means this life is all I have. It went from being nothing when compared to eternity (why would I suffer so if anything good now was nothing compared to what it would be? why need I provide so many tears to be later wiped away? what good is there in that?) to being everything, quite literally everything I’ll ever have. NOW is so much more important than I once thought it was because now I know that now is everything. My life is so much more valuable to me than it ever was before.

    I can’t say atheism saved my life. My frequency of suicide attempts and ideation were already going down significantly before atheism happened to me*, but I do think atheism made it a lot easier for me to hang on to my life and made the bad times much less bad than before. Certainly Christianity had done me no good there and, indeed, had done me a fair bit of harm. Atheism went a fair way to repairing that harm and made life much more precious to me.

    *Yes, “happened to me”. AFAIK, I came to atheism by way of brain damage, literally overnight. One morning, all the religious teaching I’d ever encountered suddenly failed to make any sense to me. This was accompanied by more standard (for me) neurological symptoms appearing just as abruptly. (Yes, I was and am under a neurologist’s care.) Atheism happened to me, but I did make sure it makes sense to me where none of the religious stuff does. I don’t think my atheism is in any way illegitimate because of how I came by it.

  • Joe789

    Many atheists believe they are “saved” by avoiding Christianity. This life is short. And those who cannot see past it trample over others to take as much as they can while they are here. They are the ones that will live in eternal regret later. I can think of people who betrayed God to avoid death. Way wrong move.

  • JEKinTX

    Beautiful story. It is true that the crutch oif a promised afterlife has caused many depressed people to commit suicide thinking they would go to Heaven and find a better existence.