I grew up Catholic; my mother was a moderately religious Catholic and my father was a totally disengaged Lutheran, so Mom was more-or-less in charge of my religious upbringing. I attended Catholic elementary and high schools, mostly because the public schools in my city were so horrible. So I did get a fairly thorough religious education, but it was a distinctly liberal one; in the ’60s and ’70s California Catholics, and their schools, were definitely liberal. They taught me about social justice, and the “sanctity of life”. The former stuck with me. I first started questioning the latter in high school, because I couldn’t see a small bundle of cells as a human being, and I watched an aunt die bravely but horribly painfully of cancer. I began to see abortion and euthanasia as not universal evils.
In college I attended the local student Catholic center for awhile, then got busy and slacked off. I met my future husband, who came from a Nazarene background (though he wasn’t particularly religious) and he despised all things Catholic; he’d been taught from childhood that Catholics were all ritual and not True Christians. So we were non-religious together though the rest of college.
During all this time, from childhood, I was suffering from mild, undiagnosed depression. After we graduated and married, we started attending a non-denominational Christian church. Oh, how that church experience fed my depression! Every Sunday I was told what a sinner I was, how unlovable I was, how it was only by God’s grace that I could be saved. By this time the depression was progressing, and I was telling myself that I was no good; hearing it from the pulpit just confirmed it. By the time Husband insisted we stop going to church because every sermon made me cry, I was deeply depressed. There were other contributing factors to deepening my depression, too, especially work, where goals were always set that no one could achieve. I was baffled as to why they didn’t fire me. In truth, I was one of the highest-performing engineers in the department. But I couldn’t believe that then.
Finally, when I became unable to work, I was diagnosed with and treated for depression. It took awhile, but I began to see myself and the world in a reasonable way. My successes became things to celebrate, not deprecate, and my failures not catastrophic, but something to be learned from. I started re-thinking everything, including my religious beliefs. Gradually I began to wonder why I believed in a 2000-year-old collection of stories from ancient sheepherders, and why I believed in such a malevolent, narcissistic, sexist God. But I still had a soft spot in my heart for the death and resurrection of Jesus.
What really broke it for me was when I read a book (can’t remember the title) on archaeology that provided a reasonable alternative to Jesus’ death and resurrection, suggesting that his friends conned the Romans into letting him off the cross before he was dead and leaving medicines for him in the tomb. Then it was they, and no angel, who came and rescued him a few days later.
That was the end of my religious belief. It helped, too, that my husband had migrated to atheism a few years before.
Now I’m a reasonably happy atheist, glad that I no longer have to worry about an afterlife, and determined to make the most of the life I’ve got. That determination led me to abandon my original career, take care of my parents during their last years, and then go back to grad school (MS) to take up a new career… which, at age 52, is a very scary proposition. But once I figured out I’d regret NOT doing it on my deathbed, it was something I had to do. I want to leave with no regrets.
Oh, and I’m more of an advocate for social justice than ever.