Your Stories of Atheism: A Wife Teaches Us What Supportive Really Means
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Our first story this week is from an ex-Christian named Kirsten:
My story is not terribly interesting. I was born into a nominally Christian family. My parents never took me to church, but I had to go occasionally with my gran whenever I stayed with her. I found church to be utterly tedious. When I got a little older, my parent sent me to church- based summer camp, only because they needed somewhere to send me for a week, and the only options in our area were bible camps. I remember getting right into the singing and the campfires, but the religious services were still a drag. Still, I always thought religion was more of a tradition then something you actually believed in. I was never exposed to creationism or anything, so my love of science never interfered with my meager religious education. As I grew older, my beliefs evolved gradually. I went through a phase best described as “a billion people can’t be entirely wrong”, where I thought there might be something like a creator, but no religions likely had it completely right. Gradually though, the idea of a humanistic being up in the sky making things happen and answering prayers for sporting events rather than babies with cancer just became too ridiculous for me. When I first discovered that there were people who actually believed the bible – I mean, word for word, talking snakes and all – I lost all respect for religion. I mean, 8 years of university taught me that we have discovered so many things, and that there are so many more to discover. What once could only be explained by god could now be attributed to plate tectonics, oceanic currents, greenhouse gases, etc. I realized that we may not have all the answers now, and we may never know all the answers, but just because we don’t know why something happens doesn’t mean that the only explanation can be god. It just means that we don’t have the means of knowing… Yet.
Next, we have someone who wishes to remain anonymous:
And finally, a story of one relentlessly supportive wife and her husband who struggles with what he believes on a daily basis. From Jason:
I think daily about why I have become an atheist, and admittedly I think on it far too often probably. Given that, it’s odd that this is actually the first time I’ll have sat down and wrote my story out, prompted by a simple update on my twitter feed just…asking. So, here goes nothing, I hope it may help someone else feel less alone in this journey. I decided I was an atheist pretty early on, sometime in the 7th grade when a friend loaned me a book by Stephen Hawking (The Universe in a Nutshell). It was fascinating to me, and the universe seemed so much more interesting and varied than the world described in the bible. What did these moral edicts matter in the face of the sheer scale of our universe? How could anyone think these questions even mattered when we were so infinitesimally small and insignificant? I became more entrenched in my skepticism and developed contempt for religion, really. My love of science continued to grow through high school as well, so I went to college and studied Micro/Molecular Biology for my undergraduate degree. The God Delusion was released and it had just as wonderful an impact on my own confidence as it did for many other atheists. It made me feel empowered, and not nearly as alone as I had felt before. Unfortunately, the defenses I had built up over the last decade weren’t nearly as strong as I thought they were. After graduating from college, I was hit with a succession of difficult circumstances that really tested me. In retrospect I feel that in my emotionally weakened state I was primed to latch onto something, anything really that gave life structure and meaning. I woke up one Sunday morning and decided I needed to go to church. Any church, I really didn’t care. So I logged onto my computer and tried to find the nearest one. It turned out to be Catholic, so I called them up to ask if I was even welcome (yeah I know, seems weird but I had literally burned bibles as a way to light my cigarettes just for laughs, so I was feeling a bit guilty about whether I’d even be let in, like they’d be able to see the guilt draped across my shoulders). It turned out that they were starting a class the next night for new converts (known as RCIA). Thus started my journey into Catholicism, through what I eventually came to know in my heart was really the subtle moving of the Holy Spirit in my life, (not so) gently leading me through those difficult times to guide me home to Mother Church. I became obsessed. I drank scripture study for breakfast, read theology on breaks at work, prayed my rosary incessantly, listened to the local Catholic radio in the car, etc. I couldn’t get enough, and Sunday’s were my favorite day of the week. The solemn Mass, the creaking of the wood pews as we all kneeled down, the smell of the incense…it was my new life. For several years I was ecstatic, and eventually married my high school friend in the Church as well, taking our vows together, going through marriage counseling together, and things couldn’t be better, right? Well, except that we had to have some special dispensations, because the love of my life, my best friend, the person I care more about than anything on this planet…is an atheist. And at first, it was no big deal. She was the best. She was supportive of my belief, and would go to Mass with me occasionally and eventually even decided to go through RCIA herself (though not to convert, she would tell me; just to learn more about what I believe). But due to an incredibly difficult death in the family (is there any other kind?) we had to miss a few of these classes. I went to the nun in charge to explain our situation, knowing how she would understand and realize we’d just be there part-time. Her answer was to try again another year, and that my wife would just have to wait. Now some people think I overreacted to this, but it was like a physical slap to the face. My emotional life was so tied up in this Church, and they were telling me my wife was not welcome. How could they do that? It hit me hard for several reasons, but the primary one was the growing internal crisis I was having about whether my wife and I would be together in Heaven. I loved her and respected her decision to not believe in God, and yet every week I’d go worship a God that would eternally punish her, this beautiful, kind woman, for nothing other than not joining his club. Every night I would pray for the Holy Spirit to work on her heart to develop a moment of conversion like what happened with me, until I realized I felt like I was reasoning with her executioner. Who am I even worshipping? What kind of God would separate us, and not only that but torture her for not believing? I felt sick, and unsure of everything. I tried to twist the theological knots in a way that worked in our favor, but it never works. I started to doubt everything; scripture seemed full of horror now, not love. Prayer felt empty, not uplifting. Mass felt like being surrounded by hypocrites, not brothers and sisters in Christ. Finally, one night we sat down to eat dinner and my wife asked if I was going to say Grace. I sat there silently, feeling the tears well up inside me. I just started crying, and was honest. I couldn’t say Grace anymore, because I didn’t think I believed in God anymore. It was gut-wrenching to tell her. We both cried, and we both started a new journey together the next day as a couple of atheists. We moved on, and started picking up the pieces of my shattered faith together. I started reading more atheist/humanist authors and listening to particular podcasts that helped me immensely. I felt like I was waking up again, taking a broom to all the cobwebs in my brain. I think of skepticism like a muscle that has to be worked, and mine was severely atrophied. One of the best resources for me when first settling into my atheism were the podcasts The Atheist Experience and The Thinking Atheist. These, coupled with the books I was reading gave me all the tools I needed to really objectively look back on my experience as a theist and realize how wrong I had been.