Like others, I was raised in a fundamental Christian household, first as an Independent Baptist and then a Southern Baptist. We went to church at least three, sometimes five times a week. I was a good girl, very obedient and believing, but I remember being thrown by a Sunday school teacher’s answer when I asked where your soul was – floating above your head, she replied. So I was a bit skeptical of souls from third grade on. (Side note – I reasoned there was no santa when I was five because santa’s presents were addressed to me in my dad’s handwriting. Ditto with easter bunnies and tooth fairies. I wasn’t completely naïve, just when it had to do with religion.)
I excelled in everything God- and church-related; I wanted to be a good example of a Christian from an early age. So after I was saved at four years old I worked hard to learn as many Bible verses as possible, to be obedient, to witness to my friends, to hand out popsicles at the park on hot days, etc. One of my proudest moments was when I won my state’s Southern Baptist youth Bible Drill contest and got to go to nationals. I taught Sunday school and Vacation Bible School from high school on, sang in the choir, helped lead our music program while in college. Over the summer of my junior year of college I married the pastor’s son, my high school beau (because God told us to get married), and we led the youth group together, intending to go to seminary after a couple years. At this point I had been part of the church for twenty years and it was the source of all of my comfort, friends, fun, and work.
My changes started while in high school. I was convicted over and over that I wasn’t “truly saved” and spent many nights and mornings desperate and crying while studying my Bible. One day something clicked, I forget what it was, but I had an “experience” that I thought was salvation for real, so I got re-baptized. A year or so later my new year’s resolution was to understand how salvation works, so I spent a lot of time analyzing Bible verses and reading Christian authors. Except that things started unraveling. I gave up the notion of the soul entirely, then later miracles, then prayer. By the time I got married in college I believed God had pre-ordained everything and didn’t interfere with the world, because that wouldn’t make sense. An astronomy course my senior year of college opened my eyes to actual science and messed more with my already-hanging-by-a-thread belief system. It didn’t help that my husband was a philosophy major who discussed logic puzzles with me every day. So for a year my beliefs came undone as I watched, helpless, rationalizing everything in an attempt to hold it together. Then one day I narrowly avoided a car crash and realized I hadn’t prayed. It’s impossible to describe the floor falling from under your feet , the helplessness. I knew I didn’t believe in God anymore, but had no idea what to do. My husband was headed to seminary, my church was my lifeline, my whole life revolved around God and Jesus.
After some months’ awkwardness, I discovered my husband had also stopped believing in God. We finished up at the church and fled town within a year, anxious to separate ourselves from religion. Now I had no friends or family, no work, only a husband who was as unhinged as I was. Lots of alcohol, some counseling, and ten years later, we’re still together. It’s a rare thing to have a friend who shared such an experience.
So why am I an atheist? The short answer is because I finally saw my religion for what it was: a confusing set of beliefs that made no sense once carefully considered. That said, I would not wish this experience on anyone. Sure, I consider myself more moral and caring than I ever was before, but I also lost all my friends and am still rebuilding the trust of my family and my husband’s family. In the end, it’s worth it to be a rational person, but I will always feel haunted by my past and have regrets.