I come from a very catholic country. Growing up in such a country makes it very difficult to deviate from standard beliefs and traditions. So, as anyone would expect, I went to mass as a kid, and learned all about the catholic church's traditions and festivities. I attended a catholic high school, and I was taught to respect God, to repent for my sins, to confess to them, to pray, to have faith... Even though my parents were not very religious, unfortunately their marriage collapsed and that led to my mom using religion as a life boat. So my visits to church with her became more frequent, and I was led to believe that if I prayed enough, my parents would get back together. So I prayed with all my heart. I prayed alone and also sometimes with mom. I talked to God and begged for my Dad and Mom to be a couple again. I cried and the more I cried, I thought my tears would win God's attention. At mass the priest would tell us that faith is everything, that with faith God would reply. But when things got worse, when mom would cry all night long and I felt helpless and my prays went unanswered, I questioned why wouldn't God intervene. Why would he allow this to happen, when my mother was such a good and caring person? Why would he want her to be alone? So many questions in the mind of a young, and only child. I placed my faith on God and it had meant nothing in my life. I was devastated from the feeling of loss in my family, and even more so from not being important enough to God.
Maybe for different people, the awakening to atheism occurs in different ways. For me, it was a matter of survival. The only way I could get out of the depression I was falling into, was to reject the notion of God, as a defense mechanism to my frustration. I could no longer continue believing if it only hurt more and more to feel I was talking to walls. So my curiosity took me to read about the supernatural, unconsciously looking for other "Gods"; white magic, ESP, clairvoyance, telekinesis, out of body experiences... they became a fascination to me. The notion of the supernatural was a painkiller because it was magical. Maybe if I could bend metal or travel out of my body, I would be a special person again. Maybe I had special powers that would make my reality more bearable. Thinking back, there is much potential damage to self esteem that can come from faith in a God. I was a victim of it, and I still think I am an adult recovering from an emotional scam. Nowhere in my years of religiousness, or for that matter, "superstitiousness", did I encounter a single notion that my feelings were my own, and therefore my responsibility. Nothing was there to empower me, but rather to subdue me. If anything, I believe religion is emotional slavery, but that was a conclusion that took me many years and pain to assimilate.
The start of my awakening came one night, while watching TV. A man was talking about the Earth, about animals and about space. And despite the fact that he didn't mention God or Uri Geller, it was inspiring and magical. He explained things that were fascinating and at the same time understandable. His name was Carl Sagan, and the show was Cosmos. I couldn't tell science from fiction then; it was all the same to me. But his words introduced me to the scientific method. To the beautiful balance of imagination and hard evidence that science is. It gave me new meaning, new hope, of being able to understand why things are and to do it feeling that I wasn't headed to a cliff. Science is not perfect, but it has given my life security. It has provided me with certainty that I am very small as are my problems, and there is something a lot larger to discover and to understand. The way I lead my life is my own now, my responsibility and nobody else's.
But still there is a void. With my death my learning and experiences will stop. I know that who I am, what memories I have, will all be gone with my last breath. So there is a certain tragedy in knowing there is no God. The tragedy of something that ends, and so many questions that will be left unanswered. Of course, I prefer the hard truth than a beautiful dream, but I can understand why so many people in the world would turn to religion for immortality. Probably every atheist feels this to some degree. I know that in my case, the only thing I have concluded I can do, is to savor each moment. Each interaction with a friend, each favorite song, rainbow, poem, sunset... I appreciate all of it because it was so unlikely that I would be here writing this, and even so I am. It was a miracle that I would be born into a conscious being but it happened. So it makes the thought of death even more nostalgic. It is a fun but short ride...
Thanks for reading
My purpose was to share my awakening as an atheist and my feelings of joy when I think of how much we will learn as a human race, if we follow the steps of experimentation and constant inquiry.
In that regard, I believe that Mr. Dawkins is one of many heroes that this world needs to push us away from the slavery of faith based knowledge.