I am seventeen years old. I have been an atheist for about a year now. I don’t wish to sound overdramatic, but it’s been hard. I’ve never been on the receiving end of mistrust or had to hide myself before, and it’s been difficult to get used to.
I grew up very religious. My mother is a devout Catholic, and she had the most influence over my religious beliefs until I gave up my faith. My father is an agnostic with a healthy disdain for organized religion, though he never talked about this with us (I guessed, and finally got the truth out of him two years ago). Nearly every night, my mother would read to my brother and I from our children’s bible. She taught us, however, that the church and the bible weren’t always right-her way of coping, I guess, with the contraception ban and the thinly veiled hatred of gays. Later on, I went to Sunday school and then to Catholic school, which I still attend now. I believed in and loved God and Jesus with all the fervor of a young child.
As I grew older, however, things started not making sense. The whole notion of a “loving God”, for one thing. I went on a mission trip to El Salvador and saw for myself human suffering of a magnitude I had never known before. When I asked how God could let these people live that way, I was told that God was just as upset as I was, but he couldn’t do a thing about it. But how did they know? Was that something they were just telling themselves to reconcile all of the pain in the world with a God who loves us like his own children? A religious trip ended up sowing the first seeds of doubt in my mind.
I started thinking of Moses, who had supposedly met with God on Mt. Sinai to make the Ten Commandments. If those events had actually happened, couldn’t Moses had just carved the tablets himself to cement his control over the Hebrews? Could all the prophetic dreams that happen in the Bible just have been that-dreams? Could people have just been hearing voices? Mental illness had to exist back then, after all. I was very worried about the direction my thoughts were taking me. I didn’t want to burn in hell for eternity, and I didn’t want to have to admit to myself that death was the absolute end. But my thoughts consumed me until I had to admit to myself that the Bible had no authority to me anymore, and concede my atheism. And though the lack of an afterlife disturbed me at first, I realized that I would not feel anything, since I had not felt anything before I was born, and therefore I would be unaware of nonexistence.
I was at peace with my new identity when my mother forced the truth out of me. I had originally planned on not letting her know until I went away to college, because I had had a feeling she would be upset. It was during a fight we were having because I’d told her to the truth about not going to Confession that day at school. She gave me the third degree and finally, I cracked. Her reaction was worse than I’d thought it would be. She accused me of “dropping a bomb” on her, and that someone had obviously influenced me to believe what I believed now, and that this was just a phase that teenagers went through. As I pride myself on being a free thinker and that I’d come to this conclusion on my own, that irritated me. But then she told me that if I continued down this road that I would lose all my morals, and that I would end up as a criminal or worse. I think as a result of that day there’s a rift between us, and I honestly believe she has less respect for me than she did before.
I don’t plan on keeping my atheism a secret forever, but I’m “closeted” for now until I meet people who are more open minded. At my Catholic school, most of the people I know are very religious. One of my best friends teaches religion at her church. I don’t want to alienate them; when they think of atheists, they think of Christian-hating nihilists who want to kill all believers-not an exaggeration. I’m not one of those people at all, but indoctrination tends to get the best of people, and I don’t want to end up without friends. I’m also dating a guy who is great in every way except that he’s a Baptist religious conservative, and I wouldn’t want to alienate him either. My mom is trying to get me back to believing. This year for Christmas she got me a book about “miracles” that happened during the Holocaust. I really wanted to say that if God had managed to prevent the Holocaust, that would’ve been the greatest miracle of all, but I held my tongue. And it’s even worse that slandering atheists is acceptable everywhere, from the media to the highest levels of government.
Despite all of this, I am very happy in my unbelief and I don’t see myself having faith again. I like the new integrity and peace this identity brings me. When I do good things for people, I’m not doing them to score brownie points with a deity. I don’t have to rationalize and justify the Bible-“oh, God can’t think that about gay people. It was just Leviticus’ own prejudices coming through”-in order to believe in it. I don’t have to angst over why a benevolent God would allow such evil to go on in our world, I can just accept that no higher power exists and that people cause the world’s woes, with no supernatural entity that can stop them but won’t. I can just live my life knowing that this is the only one I’ll get, so I should live it well.
Something that is said a lot at my school is that faith sets you free. I don’t understand that. Faith had only chained me with doubt, confusion, and guilt over so-called sin. Lack of faith has set me free-free from dogma, free from hatred, and most of all, free from a petty, malicious, overgrown Santa Claus spying on me in the sky.