Underneath all the external trappings and time spent deeply entrenched in The Church, I think I've always been an atheist, or at the very least, agnostic. My parents forced me to attend Sunday school and catechism classes when I was a kid, but I ended up having the minister ask me to leave because I "asked too many questions."
I later had the full-blown born-again fundy experience, read the bible cover to cover several times, prayed daily, taught Sunday school, functioned as worship leader, song writer, musician/pianist, and held many other positions in the church over the years. I never considered my continual questioning of everything contradictory to my faith (although others in the church did); in my own concept of god, I thought he would want me to question everything, because that would only serve to strengthen my faith rather than diminish it. What finally turned me on the organized and church aspect of christianity was the rigid gender roles/subtle sexism (if god accepted all as equal, and I'm supposed to have a personal relationship directly with him without the need for an intercessor, then why was the ministry so hell-bent on me needing them to be my spiritual "heads?") and the financial and sex scandals of the church organization I was involved with.
My belief system continued to evolve further and further away from christianity. I took a belief quiz at belief.net once, and my ideals/values indicated that I was neo-pagan, so I explored that for awhile. I was never able to fully accept it. For me, it was simply trading one ideology of magical thinking for another.
The pivotal, turning-point moment for me came when I had my first child, who was born prematurely and had a very rare genetic disorder that was not compatible with life. During the 4 days I had with him, and in the aftermath of his loss and my grieving process, it became more and more crystal clear to me that I was not neo-pagan at all, but rather atheist. I wasn't angry about the loss, I didn't blame a non-existent god, I understood science well enough to "get" the deal with his genetic disorder...but I became very, very angry with the christian platitudes that were offered to me as "comfort." It was absolutely ludicrous (and insulting) to have people tell me that my dead baby was now somehow magically transformed into an angel who would then watch over me for the rest of my life, and whom I would someday be reunited with in a mythical place called heaven. I was his mother, his caregiver...how bizarre to be told that now that he was dead, somehow god was going to make him caregiver over me. It was during the grieving period when it just all became so clear to me how crazy and bizarre and fantastical religious claims about death (among other things) were.
It didn't hurt that my ex-husband's very religious mother made an issue out of whether or not our baby was baptized before he died. It was insulting enough to be told he was an angel now, but even worse to have it implied to us that if we didn't have him baptized before he died, there was some cruel and sadistic god who would send him to hell or purgatory or limbo or some place of suffering because of something we failed to do. His genetic condition caused him enough suffering as it was, and she was seriously going to claim that god would allow him eternal suffering because of a ritual left undone? Are you fucking kidding me?! And after he passed, I was expected by his family to never mention him again, because it was just "too painful" for them to even hear his name. Really? He was my baby, but it was too painful for them?
I had 4 beautiful days with Ian. His short life, and his death, could be called by some a very spiritual experience for me. Certainly, it came with a great deal of epiphany, but I think it would more accurately be called deep, and meaningful, and yes, enlightening. Because being his mother for 4 days, and then having to dig deep within myself to find the courage to let him go and take him off of life support because it was the right thing to do, because I loved him and didn't want him to suffer needlessly just because I wished I could have more time with him, well, I can tell you, those are truly defining moments in a person's life.
His life was short but beautiful. His death was also short but beautiful. But the truly beautiful thing about my baby boy's life and death is how it brought me to the epiphany that life could be beautiful and deeply meaningful entirely without religion. That people could find the courage within themselves to do good, and do what is kind and right, without religiosity or religious morality dictating what that "should" look like. That I could be free to grieve his loss in the way that was healthiest for me, that I could see his life and death as something positive and, strangely, life-affirming.
To quote Damon Fowler: "Every second of life is precious when you don't get eternity."
I don't think religion ever jived with me from early on. Even as a kid the stories sounded so absurd. All I had to do was crack open a story on Greek mythology and go 'Wow, these sound equally ridiculous.' I did experiment with the ideas of Buddhism, Wicca, and other spiritualist religions in the hope that I wouldn't turn out to 'just be an Atheist', because my dad didn't like that idea. But I was always an Atheist, I think. Nothing else ever made sense.