As a young child I used to wonder why I existed at all. The thought made me dizzy. I considered the only answer I knew, that God had created it but it was not satisfactory. I also thought about death. I remember the moment I realised that one day I would die and that when that happened my consciousness would ceased and I simply would not be. The thought overwhelmed me and made me feel sick. I clutched at the easy answer; that I would go to Heaven. In order to believe that I had to believe in God as well and so I did. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It is only with hindsight that I realise that it was the fear of death that made me push away all my doubts.
My family was not particularly religious. However, I was given a children’s Bible and I used to read it. In the UK every state school is required by law to hold daily assemblies of a Christian character in which pupils engage in an act of worship. This means that from the age of four I regularly told by my teachers that the world was created and controlled by an omnipotent deity. When I had doubts I reminded myself that my teachers seemed to believe it was true.
For me religious observance was always a very private matter. I used to pray each night but never told anyone that I did so. My mother once suggested that if I wanted to go to church our neighbours would be happy to take me. I never did. I hated being in church because there was always a nagging voice inside me that said it was all nonsense. I tried reading the Bible but it was very different to the children’s version and there was so much that troubled me. I chose Religious Studies for GCSE (ages 14-16) and A-level (ages 16-18). The subject was fascinating and well taught but it only gave me more reasons to doubt. I found I could only really discuss my religious beliefs with my Jewish and Muslim friends because etiquette dictated that we never criticised each others’ religions. If I talked to Christian friends they would express doubts similar to my own.
My progress towards atheism was gradual and painful. I accepted that my Christian beliefs did not correspond with any denomination and later rejected Christianity entirely. I tried to make myself believe that there was some kind of god and that death is not the end but it was wishful thinking. I drifted into agnosticism and then to atheism. At the age of 23 I started a relationship with an ardent atheist who is now my husband. I started to read his collection of atheist books, starting with The God Delusion. By this time I had accepted that there was (probably) no God and I enjoyed reading them. They gave me the confidence to describe myself as an atheist.
I had always imagined that rejecting religion would only bring despair. In fact it brought relief. A lot of internal conflict was resolved when I stopped deceiving myself. I no longer had to fear everything that made me doubt. I still do not like to think that death is the end but accepting it brings me a lot more comfort than pretending it isn’t true. Acknowledging my atheism has been a liberating experience.