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 today is from Katrin:
My parents were never particularly religious, my mum is a disillusioned Catholic who went to a strict Catholic school that taught the girls that attended that you only got your period if you kissed a boy. For some strange reason, she decided after that she did not want her child to grow up Catholic. My dad is technically Protestant but not a believer. He and his mother both left the church but as my mum wanted me to have ‘options’, he re-joined after I was born so I could be baptised as that was the done thing.
While they were not particularly religious, they did quite a good job at not letting that on for a good while, I remember growing up with the vague notion that there was a god and he created the world but I didn’t give it much thought. I’m not sure if they deliberately pretended to have some sort of belief or whether I picked that up from my environment. For a while I went to church activities for kids, the priest was nice and the club was fun. I had a multitude of storybooks, among them one or two Bible storybooks as well. I always got a choice of what I wanted to read and definitely wanted to give everything a try but the Bible stories were not particularly appealing to me and they soon lost out to the other stories. I remember one specific event when my mum and I read the story of Abraham and how God tested him by asking him to kill his son- goodness knows why that was in a kid’s picture book- and thinking and saying: Well that’s not very nice. And my mum just looked and me and said: No, it’s not, is it?
I think I was about 4 at the time but while it all seemed a bit dubious and strange, I wouldn’t say I gave up then and there. In fact, at some point, I drew a picture of god for my parents. Big long beard and hair, wearing a blue cloak and a blue hat with golden stars on it. I think he might also have had a staff. And I had never even heard the words magic sky wizard at that point!
I tried for quite a while, probably until I was just about 10, to make sense of the idea of an all loving god that was, by all the evidence presented to me, anything but. My parents encouraged me to go to religious studies in school so I would learn more about Christianity and had a choice but the more I learned, the less convinced I was -and the older I got, the less my parents pretended they believed.
Finally, when most of my friends started doing their ‘confirmation’ at church, I decided that really, I could think of better uses of my time than go to church and recite things I did not believe in just because it was the done thing and everyone was doing it. I really couldn’t see a silver lining to it. I think it was one of my dad’s proudest moments when I told him I didn’t want to do it. He actually went so far as to tell me, traditionally you receive a cash gift once you completed confirmation and he was very proud that despite that I had chosen not to go through with it because I knew I didn’t believe in it. I was actually not being noble but was merely unaware there was a monetary reward associated with it but to be honest it didn’t really bother me, not going to church still sounded a better reward! My nan was not quite as pleased. While she had left the church herself – she has since then told me openly on several occasions she doesn’t believe in a Christian god – she was very worried about what her neighbours would think. She has gotten over that now- although she has re-joined the church because she thinks (and this is her reasoning not mine)- it will be more practical when she dies as she will be buried in the cemetery closer to home and that will be easier for everybody.
Today I’m happily and openly atheist. Sure, occasionally I have doubts. I’m a worrier. I constantly worry about horrible things happening so quite naturally once in a while the question: “What if I’m wrong and burn in hell?” does pop up in my brain.
But then I realise, if there is an all loving god, he’ll love me anyway and if he’s more like the creationists describe him, I couldn’t in good conscience worship him anyway so I would go to hell all the same for not being devout enough and so, in the end, it really it makes no difference what I do as long as I’m a halfway decent person and not a psychopathic axe murderer.
Thank you for your story, Katrin! Here’s one from Chris:
I was a 17-year-old Christian when I joined the Army. Throughout Basic Training, I went to church every Sunday and I would pray every night and before I was about to undertake a difficult task. I wasn’t any kind of a militant Christian, but I suspect that was only because I didn’t really know there was another option.
After the 10 months of my initial training, I was sent to Korea (side note: I highly recommend going there!) where I met some of the most interesting people of my life. Attached to nearly all of the US Army units over there are Korean soldiers referred to as KATUSAs (Korean Augmentees to the US Army). They speak English well enough to be placed in one of the US units and serve as a Korean ambassador and tour guide of sorts. I was fortunate enough to get to know a couple dozen of them.
One day, I asked one of our KATUSAs if he knew where a good church outside of the Army base was and which denominations were around. My question was met with bewilderment. He informed me that he would have no idea about “good” churches in the area because he does not believe in God.
I was extremely confused.
I asked him if that meant that he was Buddhist or one of the other Asian beliefs that I was too ignorant to understand, but he simply told me that he does not have any kind of religion. This absolutely baffled me.
I spent about the next three months doing all the research I could on the various world religions, looking for the “right” one. I read the Bible, I read parts of the Book of Mormon and the Quran, I learned about Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism (on top of reading the Old Testament).
After I had spent months learning, I finally decided that there is no “right” religion, because they are all wrong. Sure, there are good things you can take from nearly every belief system, but 100% dedication to one and only one is ridiculous. Most of all, though, there is not god or gods.
It took me a couple of weeks to realize what my conclusion meant. As somebody who was raised Christian, the existence of an afterlife had always been the inherent belief. Those who do wrong are punished and if you ask nicely enough, my imaginary friend would help. After fully understanding that becoming an atheist meant that none of those things is true, I sunk pretty low emotionally and mentally for several months. Thankfully, I had a solid group of friends who were concerned. Once they got the conversation started, I learned that I was absolutely not alone in my newfound understanding of the world. Nearly half of my friends and colleagues in Korea labelled themselves atheist, agnostic, or nonreligious.
After learning that I was not alone, I was able to address some of the issues I had with being an atheist, mostly the fact that there is no kind of an afterlife. I’ll never forget what I was told: “It’s not a bad thing for there not to be a heaven. By getting that there isn’t an infinite amount of time on your hands, you should appreciate everything that we have now and use our very finite time here on Earth as the precious commodity that it is.
It took me quite a while to fully come to terms with the implications my new worldview stipulated, but I find that I am more honest, more well-rounded, more rational, and an all-around better person than I was before.
Thank you, Chris. I’m glad you found others like yourself out there and you were able to realize that you are not alone. That is the sole sentiment that drives me to continue to do what I do. I know there are so many people out there struggling with doubts or the realization that they are an atheist and they feel alone and low. I hope that what I do provides reassurance to those people and people like you that they are actually not at all alone and there is nothing wrong, at all, with lacking an active belief in any deities. The only way I know how to attempt to provide this reassurance to others is to talk about it as much as I can.
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.
Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay