Our first story this week comes from Gideon:
I was raised in a conservative Catholic household in Northern Ontario, Canada. I was an ardent Catholic myself, even considering taking Holy Orders myself, until the age of 20.
The reason I lost my faith (gaining my sanity in the process) was simply my curiosity. I became obsessed in my early teens with reconciling scripture with the world as science has revealed it. I was sure I could right up till the day I knew it couldn’t be done. I lost my faith all in one go. It made my homelife (I still lived in the family home) difficult for about a year, but no where near what I have heard about from some of my American friends. In the 30+ years since, I have continued learning as much as I can about as much as I can. I’m surprised at how tiny was the world I lived in.
To quote Giordano Bruno, “Your god is too small for my universe.”
Next, here’s Jerry:
When I was a child my family would go to the church of christ. It was a non Sunday school church of Christ, I don’t know why non Sunday school was important but I guess it was to my family. My grandfather was a preacher at this church. The first time I started to question the church and what it was preaching was something my grandfather said during a sermon. He said when we die we would be with our loved ones who had gone before us. He used an example of when a man’s wife died first he would be with her when he died. I thought about this for a while. I thought what if a man loved a woman and she died then he met another woman and fell in love with her and then she died. When he died who would he be with? Then I started to listen to other things he said and read the Bible. I read about Lot and his wife and what they went through. How Lot gave his daughters to a crowd to be raped. My grandfather never talked about that. He just talked about Lot’s wife looking back and was turned into a pillar of salt. I listened to my grandfather tell about how this god told a man to kill his son. What kind of a god would do such a thing? The man should have said no I will not kill my son. Instead he said he would and this god thought that was great. I didn’t want to have anything to do with a god like that. I saw how people would pray for things to happen. When this thing they were praying for would happen it was a god thing. If it didn’t happen it was because of god’s plan we were not supposed to understand. People in the church would talk about how god gave us such a great spring day. Then when a tornado would kill people it was Mother Nature. They said god is everything or god is nothing. How could god give us a great day then Mother Nature kill people? Well after a lot of thinking I decided there was no invisible person in the sky. My name is Jerry and I am an atheist. I live in Oklahoma, City. That’s right the belt buckle of the bible belt.
Finally, let’s hear from Ben:
As a child growing up in the Baptist church, I recognized early on the absurdity of religion and the hypocrisy of its adherents. I was also appalled at how religion motivated good people to work against their own interests. I was well aware that my mother gave to the church despite the fact that we lived in the projects and could have used that money for any number of needs, and I was known to argue with Sunday school teachers about the scripture by using the Bible against itself. I was soon an outsider as far as the church membership was concerned. Their religion and hypocrisy was disgusting to me. They were extremely materialistic and used the shallowest of standards to judge character.
Despite this, the indoctrination did its damage. I grew up with a sense that something was wrong with me. Why did I not feel joy when hearing gospel music? Why was I not touched by the Spirit? Prayer seemed silly and futile no matter how seriously I took it. I began to wonder if I wasn’t, perhaps, cursed.
In high school, I briefly entertained the thought that there was no god. This was out of anger with the inequalities of life. It had nothing to do with critical thinking or reasoned logic. Because of this, I soon fell victim to Islam. It seemed to explain my aversion to Christianity: the Christians and Jews had peverted the message of Allah-Islam was the final and purest version of God’s word. A friend had left a copy of a translation of the Qu’ran by my house, and I flipped it open and began reading. I experienced, what I now know to be, an hallucination. I felt completed. I had been made whole. All the answers that I had been searching for were here. Justice, morality, and the Blueprint for life were before me. This prolonged feeling of bliss lasted a few weeks. I believe this is the same “ecstasy” that Christians describe when they say they are “born again”. Studying religions has revealed this to be a common occurrence that anyone can experience given the right combination of stimuli.
It wasn’t long before my rational mind, or Shaytan as other Muslims would call it, began to have doubts. I was never one to accept someone’s view as my own, so I began my own personal study of Islam. The doubts mounted: if it were true that Allah designed his religion so that it could be practiced anywhere on earth, what of Eskimos and those living far North where day and night could be measured over days? If the Prophet Muhammad was so gentle and kind and the best of mankind, how is it that he fucked a nine year old? This was especially repugnant to me; and the explanation-that Aisha was chosen to become the archetype of Islamic womanhood-just didn’t ring true. I could have thought of a dozen ways to teach women the religion that didn’t involve pedophilia. Having been raised by women, their place in the religion bothered me in general. If the purpose of hijab is to encourage modesty and not draw attention to a women, wouldn’t that mean that a woman living in the West shouldn’t wear it? Of course, Allah and his messenger know best.
I began to have that nagging feeling again that I had from Christianity. Something was wrong with me. I felt no joy from prayer. I started drinking. I kept having sex outside of marriage. I felt really fucked up because I couldn’t resist the “temptations” that life offered. The anger that I had from feeling unworthy and weak began to creep in.
The breaking point came about four years ago. I could no longer fool myself. I had a personal crisis that left me feeling utterly alone and in despair. I begged god for an answer. Of course, no answer came. What did happen is that the crisis abated completely from my actions. At first I was angry. After that passed, I realized that I wasn’t being honest with myself. I recognized that my faith was nothing more than hedging a bet. I had no love of god. There was only fear of its wrath and alienation from friends and family.
Little by little, the unnecessary guilt that I had been carrying dropped away. It seemed as if I had been carrying a great weight. I felt free. My intellectual evolution was even more dramatic. My younger self stood vindicated, telling me, “I told you so,” with a smile. Now he’s reclaimed his rightful place after killing the ugly, bigoted zealot that religious indoctrination created. He’s rather clever actually.
I do not pretend to know about all religions. Admittedly, I generally have contempt for it. However, it does not consume me. I do not spend a lot of time thinking about it. I am not one of those Bible/Qu’ran bashing atheists. I am, frankly, uninterested in learning more about faith. I believe critical thinking, reasoned logic, and genuine empathy are the answers to much of the world’s ills. My love of Black people and Black culture makes it downright painful to me to see an aversion to it demonstrated daily.
For my children’s sake, I carry hope that one day humanity will unshackle itself from religion, ignorance, and bigotry. As for me, I am finally free.