it was strange to realise, recently, how much more comfort i derive from being an atheist than i ever did as a christian. i never truly, truly believed in christianity; i was afraid of the wrath of god if i quit believing–when i was eleven or twelve it really stressed me out! i started exploring other religions/nonreligions and thought god might strike me down. my fear (and forced participation in religious studies) kept me somewhat tied to the religion for a few more years.
i spent at least as many years in church programs as i did taking ballet, and more years in church than of baseball or piano lessons. the strange thing is that my family isn’t religious, exactly, but my dad was very firm on us doing church classes afterschool for a few years and then confirmation when my brother and i were older. then, as a teenager, i hung out with some church kids because going to youth group was pretty interesting, because it was free and sometimes we watched movies. during my religious education, i often came across questions about logical gaps in christianity, but my religious teachers were never able to give satisfactory answers; when i was twelve, my pastor told my dad that he was impressed that i could ask him questions he had no answers for!
about the time that i graduated highschool i found a book that changed my perpective completely: Farewell to God by Charles Templeton. i had never processed the idea that it was okay to be godless, or really questioned the alternatives to a religion i never really believed. for a few years, i was still afraid to label myself as an atheist, because i was afraid i was wrong. ‘agnostic’ was a much safer term.
but now, i find it freeing to think that after i die, there will be nothing. i don’t have questions about what heaven will be like or if people i love will be there because i know that all we have is this time on earth, together. this perspective of the ultimate end forces me to appreciate every moment i get with those i love. it’s comforting to know that the only purpose in life is what i give it. no ghostly being has a purpose laid out for me; it’s up to me to make my life meaningful. i am not failing some grand plan by following my own path.
atheism goes hand-in-hand with huge scientific thoughts, like considering the size of the universe and how small our place is within it. given the perspective of the scope of the universe, it doesn’t matter that i struggle with body love or the emotional fallout of my marriage ending. it’s not a cop-out for me to avoid working on improving my body image or getting through my emotions, but it’s a nice check to remind me that the universe is so big, and we are so small.
after ‘farewell god’ i didn’t read any other nonreligious writings until i receivedthe god delusion as a gift in autumn, 2010. it blew me away and resonated so strongly with things i had been thinking or feeling, including my strong dislike of organised religions. i have firm belief that organised religions (especially the big three monotheistic ones) have been more harmful to the world than good and it was so wonderful to see that echoed in the god delusion.
recently i came across another atheist/humanist source of pleasure, truth saves. in a rare bout of undivided attention, i read through most of the website in an evening. once again, so wonderful to read a well-presented case against christianity and for a humanist secular perspective.
after seeing numerous studies reporting that atheists are the least trusted of many religious, ethnic and minority groups (here, here, and this most recent gem that revealed atheists were treated with a similar level of distrust as rapists) it has become very important to me to be ‘out’ as an atheist. my hopes are that if i am open about my nonbelief, and i encounter people hostile to nonbelievers, it will open a discourse that leads to their realisation that nonbelievers are not bad people. we just deal with the world in a rational way that does not leave space for a flood that covered the world, riding to heaven on a horse, the sun being drawn by a chariot, etc. i am a humanist, and motivated to do good not because of some cosmic tally-keeping, but because i want to contribute to the world being a better place.