How I became an Atheist - The Fear of Coming Out

    I was born in 1976 to a family who were members of the WGC or Worldwide Church of God, now known as Grace Communion International.  When I say my "family", I mean my entire family.  Grandparents on both my mom's and dad's side of the family on down through the generations went to this church even in different states.  I linked to the Wikipedia page so that you can read about it if you'd like.  They were in the middle of a scandal when I was born...something about malfeasance.  My memories of the "rules" of the church are similar to that of Jehovah's Witnesses.  I didn't celebrate my first Christmas until I was about 6 or 7, I think, nor Halloween, Easter, St. Patrick's Day...we didn't even celebrate birthdays.

    I was a curious child and remember wondering about lots of things.  Thankfully, my parents did everything they could to encourage that from buying science kits to sending us to weekend science classes of our choice called Super Saturday School where we learned about all kinds of sciencey things.  One I remember in particular was on geology, which I enjoyed immensely.
   
    I remember most of the people from the church being very nice.  I remember living in a community where a lot of our neighbors went to the same church, so those were the people we spent social time with as well.  One of the members was my sister's and my babysitter for a very long time.  I remember my mom and dad leaving the church for good, but I don't remember why.  (I think I'll ask them about that.)  After leaving the church, I remember my mom having problems with her mom because she left. Basically, I think, calling her out as a heathen.  It wasn't pretty.  My dad's side just seemed to ignore us for a while, which wasn't too nice either.
   
    I remember finally getting back together with the family several years later and we started having monthly picnics and getting back to normal, as it were.  My parents just kinda left religion on the back burner and still don't attend any church.  I did most of my growing up believing in a higher power, but I was reluctant to put a Christian "God" label on it for a very long time.
   
   When I was about 20 I became a born-again Christian.  I went to church in bare feet because I felt it brought me closer to Jesus.  I read the Bible, though, I must admit, not very much.  Maybe that's why it took me so long to put all of it aside.  I prayed.  I sang in church with my hands up, crying and feeling the holy spirit.  I went to group meetings set up within the church.  I went to Bible study groups.  I was, without a doubt, a Christian.
   
    I'm not exactly sure when it happened, but I started doubting.  When I was 15, one of the most important people in my life came out as gay, which goes against what a lot of people close to me believed at the time.  However, I think most of my doubts started when I started watching LOTS of documentaries with David Attenborough, Stephen Hawking, and the like.  Who better to teach me about the facts of the world?  One is the most well-traveled, knowledgeable man in the field of natural history, and the other I admire not only for his contributions to science, but his ability to intellectually stimulate the scientific community through his "crazy" theories.  I watched the programs lots of times over several years and absorbed as much of the information as I could...then I started thinking.  It was like taking off the "rose colored glasses" and seeing the world for the first time.  There wasn't really an "ah-ha" moment until about 3 months ago (4 months now), but it took me a long time to get there.

    I had been so ingrained with the fear of hell that I couldn't bring myself to actually say "There is no god."  It took me a year to convince myself that it was okay.  For most of that year, it made me physically ill to think about it.  The fear welled up inside me every time I tried.  Thankfully I live with an atheist and that has been a way for me to connect in a small way and talk about the things that were scaring me.  He helped me make it okay inside myself so I could let it out and actually say "I'm an atheist." and be thoroughly convinced of it.  He doesn't feel like he's done anything, and perhaps he didn't do anything active, but I knew how he thought and it was a small source of courage for me.  It still scared me, but I was able to "play through it" and get passed it.  It still makes me feel nervous talking about it.

     That's when I realized how bad religion really is.  Not only was I holding on to anger I felt toward god for losing my first child to S.I.D.S when I was 26, I was also more scared than I had ever been in my life!  There was nothing left for me to be angry about.  The entity to whom I delivered my anger was gone and now I could be okay with saying, essentially, "Shit happens."  That's just the way the world works and the only way to do anything about something you don't like is to learn about it so maybe you can fix it and it won't happen again.  As I said before, I still get butterflies when I think about the whole thing because I can still feel that fear, but my knowledge tells me that it's a psychological problem and nothing more.  Because I know that, I can work on getting past it.

    I watched a movie called The God Who Wasn't There and I have to say that the ending scene where the filmmaker, Brian Flemming, denies the holy spirit in the middle of the church where he became born-again was one of the most powerful moments I've ever seen on film.  When he said it, I could feel my insides gasp with horror for the briefest of moments.  It almost made me cry because I was that guy.  To someone who has never been a christian, it may just seems like a cool or funny ending.  For me, that moment was what Passion of the Christ was for me as a christian.  Yes, I totally fell for Mel's crap.

     Once I finally made that monumental leap and denied the holy spirit, I got unbelievably angry.  That anger didn't really have an outlet mostly because I didn't understand it, making it impossible for me to process.  I struggled with it for a little while and while on one of my YouTube surfing trips (query - atheism), I ran into Greta Christina!  That was truly an "Ah-ha!" moment.  I could finally put a label on what made me feel so angry.  This woman put it so beautifully that I couldn't really add anything to it.  She was speaking for me.

     I found that video about a month ago (two as of now) and since then, I've been looking for an outlet and to connect with others like me.  I met a wonderful person living in India via my father.  We connected through a Flat Stanley project for my daughter's for school.  We became Facebook friends and, through that, I found he was also and atheist.  It's cool to connect with strangers on a FB page who are in the same camp, so to say, but it feels much more like a connection when it's someone you have a deeper interaction with, even if it's just through friendly emails that have nothing to do with atheism.  Just knowing that someone who grew up in a completely different way would believe the same things I do gives me comfort.  I just think that's really cool.

Thanks for listening to me.  It felt good to get that all out to the world.
Noodles be with you!  R'Amen!

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Comment by Jedi Wanderer on March 29, 2012 at 4:26pm

Well science is good too, much better really when it comes to making a living, but philosophy penetrates the inner world, not just external reality. I find that to be most useful for growing as a human being rather than just succeeding externally according to the rules others have set. (Shrug)

 

No those are all philosophers, and all good ones, ones that I like for the most part. Aristotle is dense and difficult, so I wouldn't start with him. Actually I haven't even gotten up the courage to really delve into Aristotle, to my great shame as a philosopher! When I have time, one day. Hume is one of my favorite philosophers, but its not beginner stuff. Kant is also difficult and not one of my favorites, but a very important philosopher nonetheless. Confucius could be a good place to start. Plato is accessible, if you pick the right dialogue. Actually, I wrote a paper recently on Plato's Symposium, it is an excellent place to start reading philosophy and then you could read my paper if you wanted and get a far better understanding of it from reading the text alone. My paper is in my blog post called "Thumos!" Thumos means "spirit", so if you want to get a perspective of how an atheist handles the internal world and what theists really mean when they use that kind of vocabulary then this might be right up your alley. Of course it would also serve my own personal agenda of getting people to read my paper, in the interests of full disclosure! :-) Thomas Paine was I think mainly a political philosopher of the American Revolution, so if you're interested in politics that might suit you. Philosophy in general is deep by its nature and so not easy, so if I try to think of something good for a beginner I am kind of at a loss. I would say that a must-read even for beginners is Plato's dialogues concerning the death of Socrates, they are fairly easy and historically relevant. There are three or even four of them really, the three I can remember are Phaedo (?), Apology and Crito. Or, if it's not beneath you (kidding!), you might just want to pick up an introductory book to philosophy. I have quite a few of those and its always helpful to go back to the basics and remember what the essential questions are. And obviously I can't shut up about philosophy so if you ever wanted to ask me a few questions, or even have a nice long discussion, I'd be happy to oblige, time-willing. Nice to meet you btw!

Comment by Nontheist Central on March 29, 2012 at 3:57pm

Thanks for your kind words, Phoenix!

I probably know more about philosophy than I think I do, but it's not anything I've studied, really, at all.  I'm more of a natural history/human behavior kind of girl, but I would love to get into it.  It seems to be the mainstream for Atheists these days.  I have picked up a lot of the free e-books on Amazon from those early philosophers, but haven't gotten to reading any of them yet.  I picked one up called Ethics by Aristotle, some Thomas Paine, David Hume, Kant, Plato,  and Confucius just to name a few.  Some of those may not be philosophers, per say, but I thought their views on things might be interesting.

Comment by Jedi Wanderer on March 29, 2012 at 3:21pm

Well look on the bright side - you get to see the world through young eyes all over again, and this time with the wisdom to know reality from fantasy! And you know that there are countless questions and still more answers, and so a deep world to discover and new things to learn every day. You seem plenty bright, so if that didn't cheer you up then I would also say that you will likely catch up pretty quick. Do you know anything about philosophy? That's my own special love, and in my opinion the real antidote and alternative to religion.

Comment by Nontheist Central on March 29, 2012 at 1:43pm

Thanks, Phoenix!  It's good to be here.  Shaking off religion has definitely opened my eyes and stimulated my mind.  I'm in a well established group, however, and I feel like I'm totally lagging behind everyone else.  I'm just starting to think about things Atheists have been discussing for years and it feels a bit like being a kid who doesn't know much.

Okay, so there are blogs, forums, groups and discussions.  I'm so confused as to what I should put where that I'm feeling like a technology noob too.  Grrr!  

Comment by Jedi Wanderer on March 28, 2012 at 3:55pm

You have a very interesting story NC. It is definitely nice to meet people who share your beliefs regardless of background. I have a feeling only atheists can really make these kinds of connections, because religious people make up all kinds of imaginary distinctions that just end up cutting people out unnecessarily. Its good to have you aboard, glad you weren't fooled forever and now that you have shed that awful philosophy you can have a much clearer perspective on life. And btw, you would probably have gotten a much bigger reception if you had posted this as your introduction as a discussion rather than as a blog post.

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