I am 34 years old and was brought up in a Mennonite Christian home in Winnipeg, Canada. (Now how to follow that sentence? A whole range of emotion emerges at the thought!) I went through all of the typical things that a child in such an environment would go through. I was taken to church every Sunday and was sent to a religious private school. Along with my brother, I was raised in every way to grow up to be a devout Christian. Unlike my brother, I had serious trouble accepting this path, even at a young age.
I recall being 8 or 10 years old with my mother at my side as she tucked me into bed at night. I would ask her, "Mom, bad people go to hell right?". "Yes" she'd answer. "What about the good people then?" I'd ask. "They would go to heaven of course." she'd reply. "Even if they didn't believe in God?" I'd continue. "No" she'd say "..because they don't believe in God, they would go to hell when they die". "But what if they were really good people? What if they did good things their entire lives? What if they spent their whole life helping other people?" I'd say, fearing the reply. "These may have been good people and many people are good, but if they don't believe in God, they will go to hell when they die." she'd finish. I knew in my heart right then and there that I was one of those people who would try to be a good person in life, but I wouldn't be following the path of God!
This was of course a child's point of view of the world, but my need to question things was never in any doubt. I remember sitting in the pew of our family's church one Sunday morning when I was about 15. Everything seemed to come together for me all at once. I understood that I had an option. I did not have to follow in my parents footsteps only because they had told me to do so.
My choice to leave was hard on everyone and I was made to feel extremely guilty as a result of it. There were times when I thought that perhaps I would feel more comfortable in another religion rather than abandon it altogether. Ironically, the Christian school I attended held religion classes which explored other religions in a surprisingly unbiased way (or so I perceived at the time). Undoubtedly, this class was intended on reinforcing our Christian beliefs, but for me it had the opposite effect. To my surprise, I found that my beliefs were starting to shift more and more away from religion altogether. One seemed as irrational and nonsensical as the next. I then realized that I was an atheist, but I had no compass or point of reference to go on from there.
I'm sure many of you are all to familiar with the following scenario. My family and friends are all Christians and although I had completely renounced God and the church internally, I had a much more difficult time of it announcing it to anyone else. The very prospect of doing so frightened me as the consequences would be severe.
It all came to a head when I was barely 18. An argument ensued about something seemingly trivial (in my eyes) and the short of the story is, I ended up directly challenging my parents to choose me or their belief in God. Their eyes turned away from me and my mother ran into the other room in tears. I had my answer. I moved out within the month.
Over 15 years on and relations with my parents are still somewhat cold and I am constantly reminded that I am tolerated, but not much more. I have also long since lost the friends I had at the time and I don't envy those who are in similar circumstances and who make the transition away from religion later in life.
Up until very recently I had become very practised at keeping my opinions on religion very much to myself. Past encounters with expressing my opinions on religion had only ended by me alienating myself. After all, until the fall of 2006, I wasn't even aware that there WERE outspoken atheists like Richard Dawkins & Sam Harris. I only happened to stumble across the article on "The New Atheism" in Wired magazine, but when I did my jaw dropped. I was absolutely thrilled to read an article in a popular mainstream (don't tell Wired, but they are mainstream) magazine. I immediately went out and bought The God Delusion and I've been reading on the subject ever since.
Finally after all these years, I am coming to terms with my beliefs about the world, and finally shedding the guilt I've been feeling for so long. I am less afraid of voicing my opinion and when I do, I do it knowing that there are others like me doing the same thing. Thanks to Dawkins I now fully understand the implications things like natural selection and evolution have on persons of faith, however like many others here have stated, KNOWING is one thing, but coming to terms with it in your heart (for lack of a better term) is quite another. I hope this forum will help me finally reach that end.
Thanks for reading.