I come from a family of Christians who, while devout in their beliefs, are also quite private about them. My parents read children’s versions of Bible stories to me and occasionally took me to a church service, but we didn’t pray together and we rarely talked about God. This changed when I was about nine or ten years old. My parents experienced a sort of spiritual revival and we began to attend church every week. I prayed for what was probably the first time. I started praying every day in fact, at least once before bed and usually several other times throughout the day. I read daily devotionals. I talked to everyone about God, always looking to share the Good News with anyone who would listen. I looked forward to going to church every week and listened intently to the sermons. I started going to Bible study on Wednesdays and resolved to read the entire Bible.
When I was thirteen I got a crush a girl. I can remember the exact moment of realization – I was walking down the hallway at school with two of my friends, playfully bickering with one of them, when the other made the clichéd joke that we sounded like an old married couple. I had a sudden vision of my friend and me as just that and the fierce feeling that yes, I want that. I did not come from a family, church, or community where “gay-bashing” or homophobic rants were common – for the simple fact that the existence of homosexuality was never even acknowledged. I had only the vaguest idea that gay people existed from books I had read, things I had seen on TV, and whispers I had heard at school. Most of what I had heard had been negative.
I knew that most Christians disapproved of homosexuality but didn’t know why that was. I was far too afraid to ask anyone I knew about the subject, so instead I turned to the Bible. I was still working my way through the Old Testament in my quest to read the entire book. Many of the things I found in it horrified me. Stories like Noah and the Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and what followed between Lot and his daughters. Stories to which I had either never before been exposed or had never fully realized all of their disturbing implications.
What the Bible had to say about homosexuality did little to comfort my worries. It seemed clear that I could not love both a woman and God. So every night when I prayed before going to bed, I would beg God to take away my inappropriate feelings for my friend. I did this night after night, often crying myself to sleep as time went on and my feelings failed to disappear. Eventually a seed of doubt burrowed its way into my mind. As I continued to read the Bible it nagged at me that some of the stories seemed illogical, even impossible. I knew that it had been translated many times. It therefore seemed possible to me that the Bible was not infallible. And if it was not necessarily literal, if it had been mistranslated over the centuries, if some of the writing was simply the word of a man instead of the Word of God, then maybe God’s opinion on homosexuality had been misrepresented.
My prayers changed. Instead of asking God to take my feelings away I asked Him if they were really so wrong after all. I pleaded with Him every night to provide an answer. I cried myself to sleep with worry afterward. He did not answer. The seed of doubt began to bloom. “Am I wrong?” became “Are you listening?” became “Are you there?” In all my contemplations on what it meant to be a Christian (and whether being gay precluded being one), I came to the realization that I had no stronger reason for being a Christian than the fact that that’s what I was raised to believe. So I sought out arguments for Christianity. They failed to convince me. I sought out arguments for other religions. They also failed to convince me.
After nearly two years of unanswered prayers, questions, and introspection, I came to the conclusion that Christianity was simply not true. I still believed in a god, however. I felt sure that something spiritual existed because I had experienced it myself. While singing with my church congregation, watching a meteor shower, and in countless other situations I had felt a kind of euphoria and connectedness with the world that convinced me that something divine must be present. Not the god of any religion practiced on Earth, but something else. A supernatural being who created the universe and everything beautiful within it, but did not demand sacrifices or worship or any sort of acknowledgement at all.
By this point, I had started high school. I fell in love with my science classes, where I learned about the universe and the planet we live on. I learned the science behind the natural phenomena that I found so beautiful. I read the writings of popular scientists like Sagan, Feynman, Dawkins, and Hawking. My attachment to the idea of the supernatural became weaker and weaker. I adopted a “maybe, maybe not” attitude to the existence of a divine being. This agnostic attitude eventually leant more toward “probably not” and then “almost certainly not.” After three years of questioning, I finally started calling myself an atheist when I was sixteen.
Now that I am an atheist, the world is still beautiful. Meteor showers still inspire the same feelings of wonder in me. I still cherish my family and friends and feel most joyful when surrounded by a community of like-minded individuals, though I no longer find that community in a church. I now base my moral judgments on reason and careful thought, rather than the words of a book written over a thousand years ago. Slowly but surely, I am letting go of the feelings of guilt and shame about sex and sexuality that religion instilled in me. I can now recognize the stories of the Bible as the myths they are, without feeling like a bad Christian for doubting their literal truth or doubting God’s judgment in commanding horrible acts. And best of all, it is through losing my religion that I gained a love of science. Science, which encourages and depends on curiosity and questions rather than trying to stomp them out. Science, which with inquiry and persistence actually offers answers to those questions – unlike all my unanswered prayers to a god who isn’t there.