It wasn’t because of a tragedy.
It had nothing to do with those who call themselves followers of Christ, and yet do evil.
It’s not youthful rebellion, or a way to get back at my parents. (Note: I mean, it's really, really not. My biggest regret about losing my faith is the hurt it causes my folks. I get really fucking tired of this assertion.)
It wasn’t because I wanted carte blanche to run my life as I wanted.
It wasn’t because I wanted to be different.
It wasn’t because I wanted to cause trouble.
It wasn’t something I went looking for.
And when I finally accepted it, it was with deep reluctance, and I still wished there was some way to go back.
I’m talking about why I am no longer a Christian.
I have been getting some questions about why I no longer believe in God, and I’ve been putting off giving a more public explanation, even though I know friends and family would probably like to understand what seems like a sudden and dramatic change. I finally decided to just write up a blog post to point people to. There's just not enough room on facebook.
I’ve been hesitant, for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a more formal “coming out” as an atheist. Secondly, I don’t want to offend anyone, and by explaining why I don’t believe something, it can seem as though I’m demeaning those who still do believe, which is certainly not my intention. So let’s get that straight from the get-go: if you’re looking to be offended, you might be, but if you’re looking to understand me and other atheists like me, keep reading.
Let’s clear up some common misconceptions from the beginning. People sometimes have some assumptions in place when they hear someone has declared they no longer believe in God. So let’s address them.
1) I did not become an atheist because of “bad Christians.” I’ve been around the church all my life. I’ve seen some of the worst and some of the best. I know Christians are human, and I certainly don’t blame the church for some of its bad apples.
2) I did not become an atheist because of some tragic event in my life. There have been many tragic events in my life, and none of them became the catalyst for my atheism. If anything, they pushed me closer to God. I might have acknowledged my atheism earlier, if it wasn’t for bad things in my life drawing me to the comfort of belief (or other’s belief for me) in God, the belief that everything would work out in the end, that I was in God’s hands, part of His plan.
3) In fact, there was not one “thing” that “made” me an atheist. Rather, it was an accumulation of many things over a number of years that contributed to my current state.
4) I didn't want to be an atheist. Losing my faith was the hardest thing that has ever happened to me. The personal toll sometimes seemed more than I could bear. I wanted to believe so badly (and prayed for belief, with no avail). But, ultimately, the evidence against God is overwhelming, and I have to acknowledge that I can no longer pretend to believe if I want to live with integrity. Though it would be so much easier to believe, you can’t force yourself to believe something you know isn’t true.
A little backstory:
There were many things that just didn’t work for me over the years, things that I was required to believe in to be a Christian, tenants of the faith that just didn’t make any sense to me. I had pushed these doubts aside. I wanted to believe, truly. But there was a lot about Christianity—and I’m talking about the basics, here, stuff I’m going to get to below, not the politics, not the external, debatable fluff—that didn’t make any sense to me.
Oh, I knew the right answers. I knew the answers to all the questions I had. If someone came to me—hell, people did come to me—with all the doubts I was having, I knew all the right things to say. But they didn’t make any sense internally. So I pushed all my doubts behind a wall and desperately tried to forget them. For the most part it worked; I was a good Christian girl. And faith means believing in God, even when you don’t understand. Believing in the mystery. It would all be revealed in heaven. Trust in God.
Part of the problem was that I began to seriously study my religion. And what I found astonished me. There was so much cruelty in the bible. My supposedly loving God ordered genocide and rape, condoned slavery, made women chattel. I thought seriously about the church's problem with gay people, and the more I thought, the more pissed off I got. Hell stopped making any sense whatsoever, and the justifications I heard just made me sick. And as I learned about the origin of the bible, the vast number of contradictions, errors, and probably forgeries it contained, it became harder and harder to regard it as the backbone of my faith. The doubts were overwhelming, and the pat answers from childhood and apologetics books weren't doing the trick anymore.
The more I learned about the world around me, this pale, blue dot in the vast cosmos, the more doubts came, the harder it became to push them back. The more I learned that I had been lied to as a kid about the basics of science (the age and formation of the universe, evolution), the more I wondered what else had been a lie. And I found science to be far more fascinating than any stories I had been told in Sunday School. I saw the world with new eyes. Everything fascinated me, from the stars in the sky to the grass below my feet. I hungered to learn more, and I devoured everything I could get my hands on. It was amazing, and it was true. Unlike everything I had been taught in church, science could be proved. The wall holding back all those doubts started to crumble. That scared the crap out of me.
So I started trying to shore up that wall any way I could. I poured myself into church. I thought if I was having trouble believing, maybe doing devotions twice a day would help. Maybe I should start going to mass every morning. I thought about becoming a nun, devoting myself entirely to God. I thought about being a missionary. If all I did was serve God all day long, maybe I’d stop feeling like this, like I didn’t feel God was even there anymore. I prayed, many times a day, the prayer from Mark 9:24: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (TNIV)
And then, one day, I got up. It was a normal day. Nothing that special. It was mid-afternoon, when I realized, “I don’t think I believe in God.”
It was a shocking thought, but it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.
“Yeah,” I thought. “I don’t believe in God.”
And the walls came tumbling down.
It was an internal shift, a click of integrity in my consciousness. I hadn’t believed in God in some time, but I had been desperately professing belief in the hope that true belief would be forthcoming. This was acknowledging to myself something I had known all along. It was immensely freeing.
One further thing to add: I used to believe that all of my doubts, all off the issues that I will explore in this blog, would have ultimately been okay if I had ever felt like I’d one genuine spiritual experience. I don’t feel like I have ever felt the presence of God. I know that other people believe they have. I have wanted that experience my whole life. I’ve thirsted after it. I’ve prayed. I’ve fasted. But I don’t feel like I’ve ever felt God—the Holy Spirit—present in me. I used to feel that if I had experienced that, truly felt God, than everything else would have been meaningless.
However, when I nearly died last year, I experienced very vivid hallucinations. I believed things, insane things, terrifying things, with all of my being. Even after recovering, after getting off some of the heavy-duty drugs, it took a long time for the fear and certainty to fade. I experienced the cognitive dissonance of strongly believing two opposing things at once, and it was not fun (understatement). All that to say, I no longer trust personal experience, from myself or testimony from another.