“Atheism is a non-prophet organization.” — George Carlin
I’ve been inspired by a lot of blogs I have started reading recently about Atheists, and the journey to become one, and how that affects their life.
So I felt like I should finally put my own story to paper. . .you know what I mean.
I was raised Catholic. Not just a holiday Catholic, though. I was in Catholic school starting in Kindergarten [preschool was Christian]. I was baptized when I was a baby, received my First Communion, Reconciliation, and Confirmation. At one point, I had thought I would become a nun. I had sworn I would never kiss until I was married. I was at church every Sunday, and I was an altar server every early Tuesday morning mass.
However, my school life was rough. I was made fun of a lot. If it were found out I had a crush on a boy, the boy was made fun of because it was me who liked him. I did have a small group of close knit friends, but we considered ourselves the outcasts of the class. Since it was Catholic school, I was in the same classroom with pretty much the same group of people until the 8th grade.
When it came time to select my high school, I told my parents that I wanted to attend public school. It wasn’t about religion – it was purely about who I was around. The people I was around, they weren’t good people. I was tired of it. After a lot of arguing, my parents conceded, and I started to live a life out of a uniform for the first time. It was very life-changing and scary.
But I wasn’t done with the church. I worked with a group of other friends to help start a youth group at our church. Looking back, I see why we did this – we were all desperate for sanctuary. We were teens dealing with scary things. My parents had separated, I was in a big high school where I was learning just how socially awkward I really was. Other friends were dealing with similar changes. Once the group had started, we spent a lot of time in the youth room – bible studies, mass, pancake breakfasts, donut sales, you name it.
But this group was almost necessary to get me through high school. I always tell people, I would never go back. Ever. High school is a time I consider one of the worst times. I was lost, confused, terrible things happened to me. I lost my best friend to suicide, my first relationship was terribly abusive, I was having a complete mental breakdown and starting to self harm, and religion – the church, the people – were always there. Always constant. I could go visit the priest who led our youth group at any time and talk to him. Any night, someone would be there, hanging out.
I think that’s how religion pulls some people in. They feel that their life is spiraling out of control, and religion can give that anchor, that something they can latch onto and look at so that they don’t lose balance and fall over and not get back up.
That was me in high school. I do have happy memories. But I also have terribly sad ones. The church, and the people there, kept me sane.
I was still pretty sheltered when it came to other religions, I admit. I was still liberal, I didn’t believe in telling people what they could or couldn’t do. But I had never taken the time to sit back and think – is this the right thing for me to believe?
In college, things started to shift.
I was still heavily involved in the youth group, but there started to be a weird shift in how things were being handled, and it started to show the true colors of some of the adults and the ministry involved [the priest from my high school days left]. The fog over my eyes started to lift as I started to question their motives.
Then, there was an epiphany.
Now this is going to seem like such a silly moment, I know it. But you have to understand – I was raised in a world where everyone around me, that I hung around with, was Catholic. I dated a Mormon once, but we hardly talked about religion. We were 16 and he was hot, okay? Talking wasn’t on the top priority list for us. Anyways, like I said – researching other religions wasn’t something I really thought about.
But I was sitting in a college class, and I wish I could remember which one. But we were reading about ancient stories from different cultures, comparing them. And I froze as we read them. There were three different renditions of the story of Noah’s Ark, and other stories from the Bible that my memory has forgotten. It doesn’t matter. What matters is, in that moment, I questioned things. I wondered where the stories in the bible came from, if these other stories also existed, and perhaps before the bible. I tried to come up with historical reasons as to why this would make perfect sense.
No matter what I argued though, I feel that in that moment, the cracks started. I had never doubted my beliefs before then. I had always believed that there was a God, that I would go to Heaven when I died, that I could ask for forgiveness of my sins. It was a very overwhelming moment.
I pushed on, trying to ignore the cracks that were spidering out in my sub-conscious, trying to show me what else there was. I started to meet with a new group from my college. They were Christian, but I thought, we are all the same, in the end, right?
The group became extremely protective and scary. They tried to make me push everyone out of my life that wasn’t on the same path as me. When I fought back, they became worse. It was scary. I got out, though not without a lot of harassing. This just caused the cracks to grow bigger.
I thought a lot after that. I read the bible and reflected on all I had been through as a Catholic. I started researching other religions. I started researching my own religion. I started researching the history of Catholicism, and of Christianity.
Eventually, the cracks swallowed me whole.
I left the church group. I stopped talking to a lot of the people I used to know. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to – it was because I was afraid. They were so into their beliefs still. And there I was, doubting. Losing faith. In the end, after all my soul searching, I just realized that I lost the ability to believe. I didn’t want to believe, either. I felt like there was so much I hadn’t learned, having been sheltered in the world of religion. So I went out and started learning.
I stopped believing in God, I stopped praying. I stopped thanking entities for good fortune. I started just being thankful that good things were happening. I started appreciating life, and living as though this were the only life I would ever live. It was an amazing feeling.
I didn’t actually consider myself an atheist until just a few years ago. It wasn’t something I felt confident in putting into words – my family is still religious to an extent, and it also felt almost – like I was betraying them? As though all those years that they had put into my life as a Catholic was something I was throwing back in their face.
I still haven’t really had a “talk” with my family. I just tell my mom that I don’t believe in that stuff anymore, and leave it at that. She likes to say “That’s not true,” and whatnot. Maybe one day we can have a real conversation about it, but sometimes I feel we need to pick our battles wisely.
I don’t want to be the type of atheist that shoves my [lack of] beliefs down other people’s throats, or acts disparingly towards them for their own. I am more reserved, and try to avoid ruffling feathers. That’s also partly due to my anxiety I’m sure. My husband is of the same beliefs as me – but he was raised in a house without religion at all, so it was never something he had to even think about.
I do still have friends who are religious, and that’s great that it works for them. It used to work for me, too.
Just not anymore.