I became an atheist six years ago. Allow me to set the scene. January 2008 I moved to Syracuse, New York for college after a tormented absence from schooling. It was time to get things back in order, and I was going to do it alone. This I did, driving a rental car packed with my every possession, looking past brown snowdrifts at potential churches. There were plenty.
In the two weeks before class began, I spent a lot of time alone in the library with as many Christian books as I could muster, looking for that grain of truth that would keep me on the path from an eternity in Hell. It had been a long way to almost losing my religion, studded mostly by uninspiring sermons, idiotic radio preachers, and heartbreakingly attractive science. Long ago, I had decided that I would not abandon science and become fully irrelevant; I had to reconcile things like carbon dating with things like nine-headed lions. It wasn’t easy, and reading the Bible most certainly did not help.
In retrospect, it takes a submissive heart combined with a charismatic teacher to make sense out of 2000 year old documents in a world of wireless internet and space stations. Between general social aversion, the many scams of holy white men, and the 450,000 books on the subject of Truth, I decided that if there was truth to be found, I would find it myself. In 2008, the situation was getting desperate.
Syracuse in winter is a great place to stop believing in a loving God. Those two freezing weeks saw prayer so fervent that Saint Monica grimaced. It also saw a lot of time holed up in Syracuse’s Bird Library, surrounded by discourses on Christ’s necessity and the efficacy of prayer. Meanwhile God refused to hear my desperate plea to just simply make me believe in him, to allow me to suspend logic, to even go out of character and show me something.
Surely no one would be surprised that I received no such affirmation. The Christian would (has) insist(ed) that I leaned too heavily on imperfect human reasoning, that the wisdom of God cannot be translated and so we walk in a ridiculous human haze, manipulating a world bereft of God’s hand. He smilingly watches, loving us while intervening in nothing.
I decided that such a God understood human reasoning and heard human prayers. Then why, I asked six years ago, would he rather see another unbeliever produced than silently flip some tiny switch and gain that soul forever?
In the end I followed the only course I could and gave up the gods. Surprisingly, really; we would generally rather suspend thought and believe in salvation than throw it away, no matter how infantile it appears. Better to live a lie then die in Hell. Those were days of integrity, and I followed up on my determinations. Outraged that Jesus has wasted so much of my last 20 years, I turned furiously against religion, bloviating like a Limbaugh to my public speaking class, turning in furious essays, debating with satisfaction in class and out.
College was awful, and finally it ended. For a time I allowed a lull in my atheism, allowing that perhaps energy or love could suffice as a god on which to hang our good deeds. I’ve given all that up for a more Tea Party point of view: save your fucking self. Don’t rely on gods, on spirits, on prayer. We built this world, and we will build better still.
Life has gotten a lot better since giving up God. The freedom is incredible. No longer do I wither to think of the lost souls that surround me, of how (a single foul behavior will turn friends away from the holy light of Jesus) (popular culture emphasized dancing over prayer and so must be annihilated) (these other supposed Christians aren’t speaking out loudly enough about all those Muslims getting OUR souls) (ad infinitum). Freedom is a great thing. Eventually I traveled to China, Turkey, and Russia, and saw some other places where secularism produced a great society. More importantly, I gained the confidence to really work on saving myself, and have lived a much better life for it.
I hear a lot of talk of how freedom is the greatest American principle. I never felt so imprisoned as I did as a Christian. Really believing that God is sending 4 billion people to Hell demands complete submission to the cause of saving them. It does not allow for a nightcap after that hard day of work. It does not allow for raising a family. It does not allow for buying a house. Real belief demand, controls, obsesses, and destroys, or else God is most displeased, and surely we shall have to account for our failures one day. As a result, most Christians go halfway and watch that football game or make that first million, cheering with Limbaugh Monday through Friday and with Pastor on Sunday. As a young man furious for the truth, that was not good enough.
Now, truth provides more options than I could possibly pursue. Life is good. I may sample truths and falsehoods, feeling no guilt, growing all the time. If not growing, enjoying. If not enjoying, learning the hard way. A game of chess, a bike ride, an episode of Breaking Bad, or an article in the Journal of Plant Pathology; everything is allowed, and if it turns out to be bullshit, I will be the one to decide, not a fable, not a pulpit.
Six more years!