I grew up Catholic. I wasn’t abused as a child. I had two loving older parents and three older siblings. We were middle class average Americans. The overwhelming majority of my friends were the same way, white middle class Christian with two loving parents and siblings. As far as I remember, nobody was super religious. We all went to church on Sunday (at least most Sundays) and some kind of religious schooling, like in my case Catechism.
I’m telling you this beause so many times people like to use your childhood as an excuse for why something went “wrong.” Either some kind of abuse or some non-conforming family unit like divorced parents or gay parents or a father that drank too much or a supeer strict relgious household or something. None of which applied to me or most friends of mine.
By my teenage years I was hit or miss with religion. I still believed and would still count myself as Christian for the most part. There was even a point in senior year of high school where I tried converting these two wiccan girls. But I knew I didn’t like going to church and most of the ceremonies in general were stupid I thought. I also began questioning whether I believed in Christ or just God.
By my early twenties I let religion ride in the background for the most part. I still believed and even went so far as reading the entire Left Behind series, but I was exploring other ideas too. By that I mean that friends and I would sit around drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and talking about things like dualism and whether we were all part of God or was God separate from us. The philosophies were all still based on the premise that we believed in God. It just wasn’t based on a given religion anymore. By this point I honestly don’t even remember having heard the words atheism or deism. I knew there were people that didn’t believe in God (which seemed ridiculous), but I didn’t know what they were called. Deism was something I never heard of. I guess we weren’t as deep back then as we thought we were.
But something else happened in my early twenties. My highschool sweetheart and I broke up. We had been dating since mid senior year and were now twenty-two years old. This devastated me and sent me into a depression for about a year. During that year I ended up going out with friend one night and smoking some pot. Something I had done before but not often. By this point I hadn’t done it in a couple of years. But something was different this time. In the past I would get all goofy, but now I was starting to freak out. I was having my first panic attack in the parking lot of a bar where my friends were inside.
Basically I was really stoned and didn’t want to be anymore. I tried sleeping it off in the car and that didn’t work. So I started really flipping out. I even got down on my hands and knees praying in the parking lot to God and Jesus and that wasn’t working. I felt like I was in hell. I literally at that point decided that hell was real and I was experiencing it.
After that things got weird with me with religion. I continued to suffer from anxiety and panic attacks. I thought that perhaps I had been cursed or the devil was messing with me. Maybe I was even possessed. Maybe God was trying to teach me some kind of lesson that I shouldn’t smoke pot, I don’t even know. My mind was all messed up. I didn’t want to think about or talk about religion anymore. I was praying, I was asking God for help. But I continued to suffer.
Eventually I began to deal with my anxiety. I still suffer with it today. My life was forever changed that night. For many years I couldn’t even talk about it or write about it without getting anxious. But as I’ve lived with it and gotten older I have a better grasp on it than ever. Without any medications or therapy.
By my mid twenties a whole new world opened up to me. Atheism. A friend had turned me onto it and so I started researching it. It all made sense to me. It also greatly helped me with my anxiety. No longer was I thinking I was cursed my the devil or something. I started thinking more logically and realizing what was going on with me and why my prayers never seemed to be answered.
(Side note: it would be a very ironic twist if there really was a God that sent atheism to me as an answer to my prayers and to help subdue my suffering)
I jumped on the atheism train pretty hard. Not only was it helping me deal with my anxiety but it also jived really well with my technical mind. I’ve always been technical minded. Atheism is very logic based.
I also started to respect women more. As a Christian I had viewed women as servants to man. As it says in the bible about women being mans helper. Under this new world view of atheism I saw women as equals. I changed my entire perspective on gender equality.
I also no longer believed in ghosts and became skeptical about many claims people would make at face value. I was now looking at the world in a rational way and i wasted to share that with others. So I wrote many blog posts and debated many Christians. I felt like Christianity was the Matrix and I had escaped it and was now seeing the world for how it really was and not the fantasy I grew up thinking it was.
Because of my bouts with anxiety and panic as well as my past expeirence with relgion in positive ways, I could completely understand why people believed, either out of fear or out of hope. Maybe even a bit of both. But mostly because of indoctrination, where you just never really questioned it because doing so was ridiculous. But now I was free of that.
So I began questioning all kinds of other beliefs I held about the world around me. I mean if religion was wrong, what else was wrong? What else had we have been told or just believed as a culture that we shouldn’t. I unravelled a whole bunch of things and set myself on a path of better understanding.
But then I did something interesting, I turned my skepticism back on atheism. But why?
Truth be told, I knew I wasn’t religious anymore. I was now rational and logical. I had a whole new worldview now. The general atheism movement and everything it entailed was wonderful. Accept for one little thing, the lack of a belief in a higher power.
Sounds silly doesn’t it? I mean that is what defines atheism. Not believing in a God. But I realized that for myself, that wasn’t what I actually identified with. I identified with everything else that the modern militant atheist movement entailed. The whole thinking logically about the world, evidence based reasoning when it comes to claims people make about religion and the world around them. Disassociation with religion in general. All of that was great. But there was one side of me that I was ignoring, my emotional side. That part of me that did still believe in something beyond. Even if it was only a concept that existed in my head as an idea. It’s a powerful idea.
I realized it wasn’t associated with any religion or any wacko new age spiritualism that people throw around these days. I simply believed that it was rational to believe there may be a higher power at work. This is of course where some Christians hearing my story would begin to smile smuggly, as if they think they know something I don’t. But believe me when I say it has nothing to do with the Christian god.
What it does have to do with is personal perspective. Knowing that I am one person who will have biases. I will see the world through certain filters of my experiences and at the end of the day what I beleive about the world is personal. It’s custom to me. Nor is it entirely easy to explain my reasoning for why it is I believe in a higher power, because part of it is emotional. So I’m not even going to try. I don’t need to convince anyone else why. It doesn’t matter. It only matters to me what I believe, I don’t need the approval of others. The best you’re going to get out of me is that I call myself a deist and even that is a pretty loose definition.
Other than that, my general outlook on the world hasn’t changed much from others who call themselves atheists. They are the people I most often agree with when it comes to claims about the world and the way in which we approach them.
I continue to question things. I continue to be skeptical about claims. But I feel much more comfortable about my position in the world today and about who I am.