When God became my invisible friend.

I've been wondering for some time now, when did I start believing in God? I know exactly when I stopped, like most people on this site. It's a lot harder to break the spell of culture and what I learned from my family after some 30 years of being immersed in the idea of Jesus.

As a Hispanic girl in Southern California, I was naturally raised as a Catholic. I remember Sunday churches and early morning breakfasts with the family. I remember going to Catechism school on Wednesday evenings after begging my mom for a chance to do my Communion like all the other girls at school. But I don't remember when being Catholic and believing in God became so important to me.

How old was I? What was said to me to make me believe and want Religion so badly? What is said to millions of children and adults that makes them start ignoring science, reason and observation over what some person or book says?

I remember how comforting it was for me, when my great-grandfather passed away, to know that he had moved on to a "better place." Hearing the adults say, "he's not in pain anymore." I remember thinking how great it would be to meet God and be at peace for eternity.

Several years later, I began to get a better concept of eternity, and thinking, "how boring it would be to exist an eternity." Even in absolute bliss. Having everything just going your way, your every desire fulfilled, for ALL ETERNITY. How boring!

I performed my communion at the age of 12 and was so happy. But after I graduated high school and attended a Catholic two-year college, I started pursuing my Confirmation. It didn't take long for me to start questioning the church. I met a Priest who understood the crisis of faith I was having, and he told me something that helped a bit. "Just have faith in God." That kept me going a while, no longer interested in any particular religion, but just believing there was someone there to look out for me after I died felt good. (The path to being Agnostic)

I looked a lot into religious intolerance after 9/11. My own God Mother sent me an e-mail filled with Christian propoganda saying we (as a country) should return to Jesus because it was turning away that caused 9/11. My "reply to all" response may have been a bit hasty, but I still meant it when I said "it was religious extremists that caused 9/11 and using this time to proseltyze was inappropriate. Maybe we should try to understand that religion may have been the cause of thousands of deaths on 9/11 and not the reason to turn to Jesus."

She refused to speak to me for quite some time after that saying that without Jesus, I had no grace.

It would be years later that I stumbled on The Good Athiests and The Infidel Guy and made the final turn to Atheism. I slept soundly the night I "lost God" because I felt freer than I had ever felt in my life. No longer needed to live up to impossible standards and worrying that I might end up in hell when I was only trying to do "the right thing."

And more recently, I remember how badly it hurt losing my Grandmother and thinking I'll never see her again.

As painful as it may be to lose someone as an atheist, having no knowledge of a heaven or hell, I feel like it's right. The scarier the thought, the closer to truth it may be. The idea of God is comforting, which is probably why I bought into it. But I'm older now, and able to think for myself. I'm wiser now because I have seen both sides of the coin and made a choice. I'm free because the Bible is just a part of my past and not the rules which I must live by. And I'm not alone anymore because I found a new way to see the world.

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Comment by Andrew on November 9, 2008 at 11:26pm
I've sifted through the layers of dust and memories between my ears, but the old hippocampus didn't have any neurons firing with memories of a god belief. Similar to Dr. Meaden my family didn't discuss God or Jesus with me.

Now Santa Claus was different. This guy actually showed up like clockwork at the department store and went as far as bringing me presents. Perhaps the closest I can come to understanding what it must be like to stop believing in God is the day I stopped believing in Santa Claus. I can still remember making the decision in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. It wasn't an easy one, however, when it was finally made, after agonizing moments of playing tug-of-war with indecision, I felt like I couldn't turn back.

I struggled with the concept of God and tried believing for a short time in my early teens, I even talked with priests and ministers of various faiths, but after about two or three months determined that either something was wrong with me or what seemed like the rest of the world.

Since most of my friends went to some sort of church, temple or hall on Sundays I figured I'd join one of them for a summer. The whole family affair was fun. Learning prayers from my friend was highly amusing since his alternate wording was definitely not the approved version. Like a foreign language film without subtitles or an organic chemistry class, I just didn't get it.

The world seemed to make more sense after abandoning both Santa Claus and my race to catch God. In a way there was a lot less mystery and a lot more opportunity to learn in my life. I started to see how, when and why my friends leaned on their religion. It brought them comfort during hard times like Novocain in a dentists office or like the magic of Santa Claus in a believing child's eyes. I watched a lot of friends play that game of tug-of-war. None of them looked back in regret.
Comment by Dr. Terence Meaden on November 9, 2008 at 5:09am
I can say that I never really believed in the christian god or any other god at any time.
I slowly became aware that something called God was being mentioned now and then, and also some one called Jesus.
My parents never talked to me about God, gods or Jesus. They just got mentioned at times at school by teachers and other children or on the radio, and I was puzzled. It all seemed so odd.
Then came the turning point. At age 6 I learnt that Father Christmas was not real, following which the likely truths about other characters gradually fell into place. The rest of my story as regards my disbelief is summarised on my personal Nexus page, which you are welcome to visit. And my chief input concerning Atheist Nexus is to be found under my group called ORIGINS: The Universe, Life, Humanity, Darwin . . . and so on.
Comment by Ajita Kamal on November 9, 2008 at 2:58am
I loved your heart-felt story. As someone who took quite the same route many years ago, I can empathize with how you feel. I'm glad that you have already found comfort in your new perspective- many people find it hard to shake off all that child-hood conditioning.

I think that a big reason why we feel much of our pain at the thought of our loved ones dying is BECAUSE of the fact that we were conditioned at such a young age into thinking of an eternal heaven. If we had always had no such illusions and if alternative naturalistic explanations (like how we are all links in a continuous chain of life that has stretched unbroken for billions of years and will continue on for billions more, for example) were presented to us at an early age, we may not feel the need for the false pacifiers that religions offer. Maybe those of us who were raised as atheists could add something to the conversation here...

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