The Long Road

The Long Road

10 May, 2009

It didn’t quite happen overnight, but my acceptance that there isn’t a God and officially becoming an atheist happened shortly after I turned 18. The story doesn’t start there, though. I’m still trying to pinpoint what series of events happened that lead up to my deconversion, but here’s the story so far.

The Beginning
Shortly after Katrina, I finished my application to MSMS and received an acceptance letter that summer. This was very exciting for me. This would be the first time I would be staying away from home for an extended period of time. I would be living in a new city with new people and new things to see. It would be the experience of a lifetime. I met a few people from the Gulf Coast who were also going to MSMS, so I had a head-start in the social department. I also met my new roommate for my junior year. We got along very well – our interests were very similar and we both liked many of the same things. We had a common friend who introduced us to each other. It was turning out to be a good experience for me.

Then he dropped the gay bomb on me. That was certainly a shock for me. I didn’t know what to do. I said some hurtful things powered by the Bible and some of the beliefs that were taught to me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was showing some pretty bad intolerance. But, we made it work out and I tolerated this one gay person because he was a friend of mine before he came out and I couldn’t hate someone I made friends with. That was pretty much my first lesson in tolerance.

An Open Forum
The semester goes on and I make a new group of friends. I realized later how diverse this group was. It ranged from strong Christians to atheists, Protestants to Catholics, Jews, Hindus, and even Muslims. This was my second lesson in tolerance. MSMS is one of the most diverse schools you can find in the country. People of all races, religions, and political and personal opinions coexist on a small campus within the gates of MUW. In order to survive at this school, one must become tolerant, especially when bartering for ramen noodles. This was also my first real exposure to people with differing opinions. This was the first time I was able to see and hear the opposing side. It was an open forum of thought, opinion, and speech. This was a new experience for me. I went from a sheltered environment, blocked off from strongly opposing arguments, to an open environment where everybody was free to speak what was on their mind. I was free to form my own opinions rather than having my opinions forced upon me.

Questioning Church
Not to skip too far into the story, I spent my Sundays in a futile attempt at finding a new church. Raised a baptist, the only church I really attempted to go to was First Baptist Church of Columbus. They had a shuttle that dropped by every Sunday morning. The people there were nice and accepted me into their congregation. Yet, I didn’t feel like I fit in. It wasn’t quite what I was looking for. As the weeks went by, I began to realize what I wasn’t really enjoying about the church. Many of the sermons were contrary to what I believed. The more and more I listened, the more and more I realized how intolerant some of the messages were – in one message, he blatantly said that homosexuality was wrong. By then, I had pretty much formed a new opinion on homosexuals (I befriended several gays and lesbians by then). His message just seemed wrong. It prompted me to begin questioning the morals of the church, the morals of the Christian faith, and my own morals. It prompted me to question my own beliefs. I never went back to church again in Columbus.

Experiencing God
Having atheist friends when you’re a Christian is an interesting experience. It gives both of you a chance to talk about religion from your point of view and hear what the other side has to say. I remember clearly stopping at a light on the way back to campus with a car full of people. The topic of discussion was, of course, religion. I asked why my friend was an atheist. I remember not accepting his answer and told him that one day he would become a Christian. I clearly remember saying “You just haven’t experienced a life-changing event yet. It’ll happen someday. I promise.” He replied with something like, “How do you know? You don’t know the future.” I remember the conversation going awkward and the light turning green, so I just dropped it there. I really had no reply to that.

Did I myself really have a life-changing event? Did God really try to bring me closer to him? I really wasn’t sure by then.

Unanswered Questions
Even though I didn’t go back to the church in Columbus, I still talked to the youth pastor from there. He would come to the cafeteria every week and I would sit with him and talk with him. Many of the questions I asked never had a clear answer. Many more questions were not even addressed. It was the same story when I asked other Christians these questions. The variety in answers really did not point me in a single direction, especially answers that ended in “we really don’t know God’s will.” Not knowing was not enough.

Last Summer of Christianity
The summer between my Junior and Senior year was the last summer I participated in any really big Christian event. My faith was at a low point before going off to Florida for the annual BigStuf conference – basically a few days of intense concert style worship, bible study, and fun at the beach. My questioning really went on the back burner after going down to Florida. The rest of my summer I basked in the glow of Christianity. That would be the last summer I would ever do that.

Continued Questioning
Did I myself really have a life-changing event? Did God really try to bring me closer to him?

Honestly, I’d have to say no. All of the big things that have happened in my life weren’t influenced by God. They were simply events that had logical natural reasons behind them – Katrina was just a storm. My mom got off the railroad tracks just in time. My parents were able to work it out because they’re rational human beings. People are kind and compassionate on their own. Nothing really special.

Why do I believe what I believe?

This was a hard question to answer. My beliefs were made of a combination of stuff – dogma spoon fed to me from a young age and a bunch of opinions formed on my own. But that’s not really why I held onto the belief that there was a God.

What happens when I die?

I honestly thought I would go to heaven. I believed that there was a God and that there was a heaven and that I was saved because I believed that there was a Jesus who died for my sins and I believed that I accepted him into my heart as my savior.

Do I really believe that?

I want to. I really, really want to. I just can’t accept that death is the end. There has to be something afterward. Right?

Near the end of the first semester of senior year, I was essentially agnostic. I was unsure that God existed, but I held onto that belief because I was afraid of not going to heaven.

In The Shower
I do some of my best thinking in the shower. I have no distractions to deal with, the hot water is relaxing, and I have all the time in the world devoted to thinking and washing. It was in that shower near the end of the first semester of my senior year that I thought about my belief in God and why I held onto it. I realized that I had an irrational fear of not going to heaven. I had already come to the conclusion that God didn’t exist, but my fear was keeping me from acknowledging this. But deep down, I had a feeling that there was no reason for this fear. Who’s to say heaven and hell exist? By now, the Bible wasn’t enough evidence to support anything anymore. It is riddled with lapses in logic, moral conflicts, and physical impossibilities. The stories in the Bible existed long before the Bible was written, and not all of the stories were about Jesus or the Hebrew God. So who’s to say that heaven and hell exist?

God died for me that day. I was free from the fear of heaven and hell; my mind was free of closed and backwards opinions, morals, and thoughts. But, my God died that day. “A Makeshift Eulogy” accurately describes the way I felt.

A Bout of Nihilism
Something that is common with those who leave the faith is to experience a bout of nihilism. From our perspective, eternal life becomes an eternal void. We realize that any and all actions done here on Earth today ultimately do not matter in the frame of eternity – the universe is going to end anyways, why does living matter? Why do morals matter? Why bother?

This nihilism brought me into a bout of depression. I went from having a purpose in life to becoming purposeless. I was happy that I was free from the shackles of intolerant and close-minded thought, but was sad to lose purpose and meaning in life. I was sad that I lost Paradise. I was concerned with not experiencing the future, sad that everything I do here will one day rot, worried about my memories that will be lost once I die. I had no reason to live but I didn’t want to die. I was conflicted.

Losing Fear
I am thankful I have loving and compassionate friends. One of my close friends pointed me to a wealth of material that helped him deal with the issue of mortality. I eventually got over the sinking feeling of being unable to escape my ultimate fate. I eventually accepted that death is a final experience in the process of living. I eventually stopped worrying about what happens after I die. I eventually stopped fearing death. The only thing I really fear now is dying too early, but I am not afraid of dying, period.

Despite having no real purpose in this universe, I learned that I must make a purpose for myself while I’m alive. It is the only way for me to stay sane and to have motivation to live. I learned that I shouldn’t concern myself with the ultimate fate of the universe, but worry about here, now, and the people around me. If I could make the life of the people around me better, and the life of future generations better, I’ve done good in this world. And none of this is driven by a promise of Paradise for my good deeds – all of it is done out of my own compassion.

Enjoying Life
It has been said that life is like a lottery. Billions upon billions have played, but only the 6.7 billion or so alive today won. We are the lucky ones. But like any lottery winner, the winnings eventually run out. I want to experience life to the fullest before I die.

Nature is a beautiful thing. From the cosmos to the microscope, nature is beautiful. It is amazing how, through seemingly random events, things as beautiful as a flower can form and clusters of stars can create beautiful patterns in the sky. None of this requires a god, a creator, an intelligent designer. All of it is defined by nature’s laws. Mother Nature defines the universe and Father Time sets it in motion. We’re just here to enjoy it all while we can. I don’t have a needy god asking for all my attention, asking me to give this life up to spend an eternity worshiping a self-centered deity. It just seems like a waste of a life to do that.

Occasionally, I do want eternal life. But, I realize that not only is it unobtainable, but it is this short, mortal life that makes everything much more beautiful. If I lived forever, I’ll eventually grow tired and bored of it all. No longer would life be beautiful for me. It would become an eternal chore.

Cutting Ties
So it was time for me to cut ties with Christianity. It was easy in Columbus – nobody was forcing me to go. Cutting ties at home was difficult. For about five months after becoming an atheist, I continued to go to church. Just before graduation, I called my mother and broke the news to her. I was officially out of the atheist closet. My mother was heartbroken and begged me to come back to the faith and go to church with her. For several weeks, she continued to ask me to go to church. Eventually, though, she came to terms with my position and stopped asking me to go to church. I was finally free from church.