When I became an atheist…
One of the larger, popular atheist blogs asked people to describe in five words or less what their experience of becoming an atheist was like. Because I tend to be so verbose, this was no easy task. I came up with this:
It was a non-event.
Of course, four words leaves out a whole lot of back-story.
The defining moment for me did not occur when I let go of my belief in a god. It occurred when I stopped believing in Christianity. When I let go of Christianity, it was sweet relief: relief from being condemned by an angry, hateful Christian deity for being LGBT, relief from the fear of suffering in hell, and relief from a set of social codes that were far too restrictive and didn’t make sense. Nevertheless, I didn’t stop believing in a god. I only stopped believing in the kind of god who endorsed common prejudices and social beliefs regarding gender and sexuality. I stopped believing that god looked favorably upon organized religion and human kind’s tendency to use religion to control others.
My belief in a generic, religion-free god wasn’t really a burden. However, questioning the legitimacy and relevance of my childhood religion eventually led me to question the existence of all deities. Seeing some of the worst sides of Christianity during my childhood, in my family, and out in the world, led me to distrust almost anyone who believed in a god. So, I continued my belief in a god for a brief period of time and then shifted to pure agnosticism. Over the course of several years, I transitioned to solid atheism.
The moment I finally stopped believing in a god, it was almost a non-event. I can’t place exactly when it happened and it wasn’t a major revelation. It was like noticing a pattern in the wallpaper that had been there for so many years, but went unseen. One day, in my mid-twenties, it simply “clicked”: the human notion of god was nothing more than an act of projecting the human psyche upon the universe. We anthropomorphize the universe in an attempt to understand it and feel more comfortable with it.
Years have passed and since then, my feelings toward religion have softened. I’ve met a lot of fabulous Christians. I’ve gotten to know people from a variety of other deity-centered faiths who are decent folk. Religion is no longer the big hairy monster I once saw it to be. With these experiences, my fear and distrust of religious people have eased. Even so, I still feel very little trust and respect for repressive, conservative people of faith. I doubt this will ever change for I have good reason to strongly dislike such people. Nevertheless, I have grown comfortable with religious people who are humane and open-minded in their faith practices. I see beauty and worth in those religions which embrace a caring, empathy-centered ethic and truly welcome all people from all walks of life.
I have also softened my regard toward the existence of deities. I still find the deities of organized religion to lack credibility, but I firmly believe that it’s impossible to prove or disprove the existence of deities should one leave the finer details of such entities completely open. The formless god that I came to believe in after letting go of Christianity is the god I hold no opinion upon. She, he or they may exist, or they may not. I do not know. However, religion usually tries to color in the details, and that’s why I find religious notions of god/goddess/etc. from across the globe to lack credibility. They try to define the inscrutable.
Because of my partial agnosticism, I feel intellectually neutral toward a lot of theists, polytheists, and other spiritual folk. I don’t feel the need to try to convince people that their beliefs are unfounded. Furthermore, my dirty little secret as a “partial atheist” is that I have my own godless, oddball spirituality, and consequently, I tend to be demur in the presence of other spiritual folk. I like my coffee black with sugar. You like yours with milk. Who am I to argue?
So, in the larger scheme of my life, finding my atheism was a non-event. I don’t feel a desire to tell theists they believe in unusual things. I still have my own version of woo, although I’ve rarely explained the details to anyone. I think proving or disproving the existence of deities is an act of futility, comparable to peeing into a gale-force wind. My philosophy can be summed up as this: if someone’s beliefs aren’t hurting people, then I probably should mind my own damned business. If, on the other hand, someone is using their beliefs as a weapon of social repression, I will challenge them without pause or remorse.
On the whole, I suspect that my beliefs probably annoy the crap out of both atheists and theists of a more radical flavor. The mischievous part of me enjoys annoying people who are annoying, so I’m cool with that.
So, I have a few questions for the tiny number of readers at my blog. What was it like to discover your non-belief or belief in a deity? What did it mean to you? How did it feel? Did it change your life?
Please be gentle with each other, y’all. I have a moderator’s stick and I know how to use it.
Oh, and since I’m a wordy lass, I’ll forgive you if you write a long comment. No five word restrictions at my blog. No sirree!