I recall two significant moments in my life as a christian. The first was as a young boy. I approached my Vicar and asked him what the evidence was for the existence of god. But not in a cynical way, I really believed that he had it. That I was now old enough to handle the facts. I really thought he was going to refer me to books about archaeological dig sites or other supporting books perhaps held in a library. To my surprise, he announced that technically there wasn’t any proof. That there was a moment with every christian where you had to sort of just hope it was true. Or rather, have faith. This answer deeply concerned me. And though I continued believe, a seed of doubt had been sown by the very person whose job it was to convince me otherwise.
The second moment was my unwitting participation in a “Toronto blessing” type event as a teenager. A cool young community leader spoke in “tongues” and lowered people to the floor as they were apparently “overwhelmed by the holy spirit” and probably the church band playing emotive “worship-music”. I remember feeling frustrated. Even though he suggested I shouldn’t be afraid to be overcome with the power of god, nothing happened for me. But I did so desperately want to believe. I wanted to be lying on that floor with everyone else.
My “conversion” was precipitated by my leaving home and going to university. I stopped attending church because I was now on a busy drinking and smoking schedule. And after a while, I started asking myself why I had ever been going to church. After all, my ceasing to attend hadn’t resulted in my being struck down by lightning. I couldn’t even recall what I was actually missing. I didn’t feel loss or a sense of emptiness. I just rather casually forgot about it all.
But I still had and have a very strong fear of death. Not how I go, just that I will. And it was certainly this fear that compelled me to seek refuge in religion. I was prepared to buy into any mumbo-jumbo if I felt it might release me from this “sword of Damocles” constantly dangling above.
But as luck would have it, I chanced upon a copy Being and Time in the university library. This was it! Existentialism. This was the answer I had been looking for. There were other people out there who not only understood my fears, but wrote books about it! It suddenly and clearly clicked into place. Understanding why I had wanted to believe stopped me wanting to believe.
I came to science through reading about chaos-theory and quantum mechanics. But the final minor and occasional pangs of guilt and desire to believe were ultimately irradiated by my discovering yourself and Christopher Hitchens. You didn’t begin the process of my journey to atheism, you completed it.
At 29 years old, I strain to recall that child, that unstable teenager looking for big answers to big questions. And now I realise that the trick is to stop asking *why* and start asking *how*. How did we get here? How does the world work? How will it end? Now these are questions that can at least begin to be answered. And admitting that there is no purpose other than the one we invent, results not in chaos, but in utter clarity.