"I haven't become an atheist, I've simply made a choice to be honest about what I truly feel."
I spent the first twenty years of my life living a lie. The fact that I didn't realize I was lying doesn't really make it any better. In fact, I'd say it makes it worse because it means I was lying to myself as well as everyone else. You see, I was raised a Christian in a Christian household by Christian parents. My grandfather was a minister for well over 50 years and up until I was 21 I had always maintained that I too was a Christian. I have argued in favor of Christianity and have in the past brought many people to a belief in Christianity, much to my personal shame at this point in my life. I have stood at the pulpit and given sermons and taught more bible study lessons than I care to remember. At 13 I was more knowledgeable in biblical and theological studies than most people twice my age. And I was quite proud of it.
But I had a deep dark secret. For all my knowledge of the bible, and all my prayer I had never felt the presence of god in my life. No holy spirit moved me, although to hear me speak of Jesus and the bible one would never have guessed it. I am a natural extrovert and have always had an abundance of charisma, so it was easy to apply that to exclaiming my supposedly fervent belief in Christ.
As the years passed however, the lack of an emotional connection to god became an ever increasing burden that weighed me down in all aspects of my life. I would often find myself in prayer thinking that it was ridiculous to be having a one-sided conversation with myself. I felt foolish, but worse still I felt that I must be failing in some way. I questioned why god had never shown himself to me as he seemingly had to so many others. I could not figure out what it was I was doing wrong. I found myself lamenting as Jesus supposedly did on the cross, crying out "Father! Father! Why hast thou forsaken me!"
As I struggled through adolescence and early adulthood my feeling of disconnect and abandonment by god only grew. By the time I was 18 I was a Christian in merely a cultural sense, holding onto the label mostly out of convenience and an urge not to be seen by my friends and family as an outcast, or worse, a heretic. At times I even indulged the notion that I had been a victim of Satan who had hardened my heart against god. I look back at such thoughts now and can only think that I was a fool for entertaining such notions.
As this continued I finally entertained the notion that I was perhaps wrong about god. I had never given a real consideration to any other religion, so I decided it was time I did so. For the next three years I invested the vast majority of my time in the study of other religions. I loved the ideas I came across in Buddhism and became enthralled in eastern religion and philosophy. I dove into Hinduism, but found all the mythology and pantheon of gods to be tedious and confusing. I revisited Christianity, going back to its roots and dissecting Judaism and Catholicism. But still god did not present himself or show me a clear path.
Finally at 21 I came to the position of agnosticism. I was content to say that I was unsure if a god existed, but that since I desperately wanted there to be a god, I chose to believe that one did exist. I was certain that none of the gods of the various religions were real after years of study of these religions, but I thought maybe none of them had gotten it right and that there was a god that no one could really describe or put a finger on. So for the next three years I flip-flopped between the labels of agnostic and spiritual, still unwilling to accept what I knew deep down inside.
At 24 my whole world changed. That was when I met my wife. For the first time in my life I felt like I had a confidante. She listened as I rattled on about religion and god and my struggle with these ideas. She graciously attended mass with me because I found the rituals a comfort and to be enjoyable. She listened to my musings about my own personal existential ideas and my own ideas of a possible afterlife. Eventually I shut up long enough for her to talk and that's when she asked the one question I hadn't truly been willing to ask myself, "What if there is no god?"
It was heresy. It was blasphemy! It was ludicrous! Of course there's a god... except that I really wasn't so sure of that. It had always been at the edge of my thoughts, but every time it crept forward I pushed it back to the recesses. Was that really a possibility? The more I considered it the more the idea asserted itself. Maybe I had never felt god because there wasn't any god to feel. Maybe I had just been holding on to a comforting delusion. Maybe I wanted there to be a god so badly that I simply wasn't willing to ask myself if the idea of a god made any sense at all.
It had taken 24 years but I finally accepted what I had felt all my life. I simply don't believe that there is a god. I've never really believed it and I'd been lying to myself for all those years, trying to convince myself that I did. I didn't proclaim the gospel because I believed it, but rather because I wanted to believe it. I wanted to believe it so I wouldn't feel so scared about dying and that just being the end. The odd thing was that looking back on it, holding onto that belief had only made my fear worse and once I let go of that desperate wanting to believe, I was finally free to simply live.
My wife showed me that I had every reason to be content with this one life if I was just willing to make the most of it. And in the end I came to understand that I haven't become an atheist, I've simply made a choice to be honest about what I truly feel.