I got on this website mostly because I was interested in hearing other people's stories about how their journey in life led to agnosticism or atheism. I also wanted to tell my story and see how many people could relate to it. I know it's a bit long, but it feels important somehow to put it out there. Also, please feel free to tell me your story as I would love to read it.
I’m a 60 year old man and I can’t even begin to express, and certainly could never overstate, the profound impact that religion, and ultimately non-religion, has had on my life. Like many atheists, I grew up as a Fundamentalist Christian; you know, church service Sunday morning and Sunday night, Tuesday night “visitation” (knocking on doors of people that weren’t in church on Sunday to try to get them to come to church again), Wednesday evening service, Saturday youth group, Vacation Bible School, church camp, daily prayer, memorizing hundreds of bible verses, the whole ball of wax; total indoctrination! What I remember most about those religious years, though, was my unrelenting and nearly constant worry about people I loved burning in hell! It was completely torturous to have been so brazenly brainwashed with such nonsense, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that to be taught such a horrendous thing at such a young age was almost certainly a most vile form of emotional child abuse!
I’d have to say that for pretty much my entire childhood, I was, as far as being a Christian goes, “all in”. I believed what I was told and had virtually no doubt about the authenticity and truth of the biblical narrative our church espoused. Around the time high school began, though, there was a series of events, one being (believe it or not) when our Pastor told the one and only African-American family that attended our church that they needed to find another one because they weren’t welcome at ours; and this was in Detroit in 1971. Even having lived in a white-bread bubble for all 12 years of my life at that point, I knew there was something inherently and terribly wrong about this. That same year, my beloved grandmother died of a sudden heart attack and when I told my Sunday school teacher how much I was suffering because I wasn’t sure if she was “saved” or not, and greatly feared that she was now burning in hell, his idiotic and non-helpful response was to say, “Well, Brian, that IS what the Bible teaches and that’s why we have to bring as many people to the Lord as we can.” Of course at 12 years old, as you can imagine, all I heard from that statement was, “Yes, Brian, she is now literally on fire!” It was horrible. These events, and others like them over the next few years, eventually led me to a desire for an unflinching honesty and a desire to learn about what was real and what was honest; and what wasn’t.
I began dissecting and dismantling my religious beliefs when I was in my late teens and early 20’s. I can’t even begin to express what that process was like for me, but by the time I was through, after literally years of struggling and wrestling with it, I just couldn’t continue to be a “believer” anymore and would never again consider myself to be a Christian. I could find absolutely no conceivable way to reconcile my basic common sense with an entire narrative that seemed to be extremely unlikely at best. I just couldn’t continue to convince myself, anymore, of any truth in the litany of implausibility which I had so convincingly been taught. For example, I couldn’t come to terms with, or accept the “fact” that the earth could possibly be less than 10,000 years old, or that snakes or donkeys or burning bushes could talk, or that a man lived in the mouth of a whale for three days, or that a God could possibly ask Abraham to sacrifice his son to prove his love and devotion to Him, or that men could have lived to be 900 years old, or that a woman could be turned into a “pillar of salt”, or that the Noah’s Ark story was even remotely plausible, or that the 10 Commandments didn’t even prohibit such obviously immoral acts as rape or slavery – while at the same time included several basically meaningless commandments that had no moral importance or relevance whatsoever. The story of Job, raising Lazurus from the dead, God somehow being Jesus and some kind of holy ghost (whatever that is) at the same time, Jesus coming back to life, Mary’s virgin birth, the intolerance and hatred of homosexuals, the easy dismissal of any and all other religions, condoning slavery, a completely invisible place in the sky called heaven, a lake of fire for nonbelievers, all of the random, unfair and unnecessary suffering in the world, unanswered prayer, the hypocrisy of church leaders, other religions with literally billions of devout adherents that had to be wrong for me to be right, millions of children under the age of 5 dying every year; the list goes on and on. What I went through to come to my conclusions, I have to admit, was quite scary and horrible at times, but I reached a point where intellectual honesty and Christianity just weren’t compatible in my brain anymore and finally, after a long and laborious process, I just had to let go of that helium balloon called “faith” and watch it disappear.
Believe me, I am well aware of how nonbelief and apostasy are viewed by most people in this world, but I couldn’t square my religious beliefs with what made any kind of honest, real sense to me. So while atheism may mean all kinds of horrible things to people, for me it wasn’t anything more than an undaunted determination, willingness and desire to be profoundly honest with myself about it, and that’s all it was, and is, period. There was no evil, or Satan, or devil worship, or anything else involved. To believe in a God requires faith, which seems to me is nothing more than a willingness to accept and embrace a conclusion based on bad (or no) evidence, and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t see any value or virtue in that.
Then, once I’d worked my way through all of that and concluded I could no longer consider myself a Christian, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d been a complete fool, that I’d been duped, manipulated, lied to and cheated out of my real, actual life to that point. I swore to myself right then that I would never allow anything even remotely similar to that to happen to me again. I would live in the real world, the honest world, the non-delusional world, the world of evidence, peer-review, plausibility, believability and common sense. So I’ve spent the last 35 years completely determined to settle for nothing less than an unflinching pursuit of intellectual and emotional honesty with myself, unencumbered by supernatural or superstitious beliefs of any kind. I’ve remained vigilant because I felt so strongly that I never wanted to feel that tricked, or cheated, or ignorant and foolish ever again! There are no words that can adequately express how lucky I feel and how grateful I am to have escaped that world of complete and utter nonsense!
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