I had questioned for several years before I finally came to the place where I would willingly refer to myself as an atheist. Growing up, I was raised in a conservative Christian home, so the first thing that came to my mind about my identity was my faith. Shortly before I got married in 2018, I had my first real crisis of faith when I realized that I didn’t have any real reason for my belief in god. That sent me down a spiral of questioning, which didn’t end for another two years.
You see, I’d always been a rational person when it came to my beliefs about the world. I believed that, although science may not agree with my worldview, my views would be proven correct in the end. After all, I thought, if the events in the Bible are literal and historical, it should be perfectly reasonable to assume that they could be verified by historical study. But as I got older, I realized that in all studies of history and archaeology, there was no real evidence to back up what I saw as “historical events.” There were no mass graves from Israel’s armies destroying hundreds of thousands in a single battle as the bible describes. No evidence of cities or historical landmarks in the places the bible describes. And any view of ‘flood geology’ as the creationists I followed promoted could be easily and more accurately understood by the way tectonic plates shift over time.
In the end, I realized that faith had to be just that: faith. I no longer went out of my way to find evidence of the flood or try and find ways to make evolution or the big bang seem impossible. I didn’t believe in those things, to be sure, but I was still under the impression that, in general, these ideas were pretty moronic. But I also realized when it came to the belief in a god like I purported to believe in couldn’t be proven to exist. One could also point out that similarly, this god could also not be disproven, but for someone who was naturally a realist, this wasn’t super satisfying.
I’d always been pretty skeptical when it came to verifiable claims in the real world. My mom had a tendency to get caught up in conspiracy theories, so for a long time I had heard tales of vaccines causing autism, cancer being curable in foreign clinics, or con trails being able to control the weather. For a time I was open to these beliefs. After all, who wouldn’t want the cure for cancer to be a weekend in Mexico? But as I got older I realized that there just wasn’t anything substantial to many of these claims. It got to the point where a claim would be made that fit in my family’s previously established views and that was all the evidence that was asked for. So after a certain point, although I still believed in god, I had placed my beliefs about god and religions in a separate ‘standard-for-evidence’ box compared to that of claims of conspiracy or medical pseudoscience.
Back in 2018 however, the last thing I wanted to do was make waves. After all, I was about to get married! I couldn’t just jeopardize my relationship with my fiance to some existential crisis. After all, we were compatible. I would be fooling myself to think that I could find someone else like that. So in the end I let it go. I stopped questioning, stopped looking for evidence, and did my best to hold on to the little feelings I got as evidence that god was real and was a part of my life. I’d sit in church listening to sermons I didn’t find very deep and songs I hated, all while conversing with other Christians whose political and social ideologies differed from my own more and more seemingly every day.
Still, it wasn’t until my wife and I found ourselves expecting that I was suddenly forced to examine my own beliefs for real this time. We weren’t planning on having kids for at least a few more years, after all, I wasn’t exactly making a great deal of money and Janna’s job wasn’t anything worth sacrificing the cost of childcare for. So here I was about to be a father with a job I didn’t care for, still tackled with debt from getting married and moving into our own place, and of course the aforementioned deep-seated existential crisis of faith continuously in the back of my mind.
The real rub is that it was by taking the context away from me and my wife that I suddenly realized the importance of reaching a consensus on my own clash of beliefs. I could frame myself as a libertarian, or a centrist Christian all I wanted, but it didn’t get rid of the fact that for the most part, I was just an agnostic politically undecided twenty-year-old person who was about to find himself undertaking one of the most difficult and important jobs by helping to parent a child. On top of everything else I didn’t want to lie to my son by allowing him to be taught things I “wasn’t sure” were true.
So with all this in mind, I started dissecting my own beliefs. It started small with reading books on Christianity as well as other religions. I read about people of varying degrees and styles of faith surviving horrible tragedies and coming through them all, allegedly thanks to their faith. Through these, I came to realize that the faith I had been raised in was nothing special. When the Dalai Lama argued that science could not ‘disprove’ reincarnation, or Yusuf “Cat Stevens” converted to Islam after nearly drowning, how was that any different from my own justifications of my beliefs?
The final nail in the coffin of my religious belief came when I started listening to the audiobook of ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins has been a prominent figure in the atheist activism community for many decades, but I always saw him as just an argumentative person who threw the baby out while keeping the bathwater, but listening to the first few chapters of ‘The God Delusion’ made me realize how much I’d misjudged him. Nowadays, there are a number of things I disagree with Dawkins, especially his approach to issues of islamophobia and his increasingly right-wing rhetoric, but at the time I was shocked at how human of a writer he seemed.
As I listened to chapter after chapter of this book, I found to my surprise I wasn’t having any beliefs challenged at all. I didn’t have to change my mind about anything; Dawkins was saying things I already believed but didn’t know how to put into words yet. As I listened to the problems with the Watchmaker parable or Pascal’s Wager or heard about the complexities of how well the process of natural selection was actually understood, I was shocked. I wasn’t being brainwashed or tricked by clever arguments.
But what scared me about all this wasn’t what I believed so much as what it meant for me. I couldn’t avoid using this term anymore. I wasn’t just a centrist or a left-leaning Christian. All those years I didn’t just have less of an interest in church or an annoyance with Christian music. I was an atheist and I had been for quite some time. I didn’t know what this meant for my marriage or for my soon-to-be-born child, but I did know that I couldn’t lie to myself after this. For me, the self-deception was over and I could never go back to that state of mind ever again.
“Sh*t,” I thought, “I’m an atheist.”
One thought on “Sh*t, I’m an atheist…”
Yes, you are an atheist. That’s a well-written account, very to the point and precisely observed.
There’s a lot that each of each of us in a religious family need to overcome – give it time, though, a strong mind and sense of independence, and there’s no going back to the absurd nonsense.