My history with the Church is one that many people can relate to. I was born and raised in a religious environment, ever since I was born I was taken to church every Sunday and sent off to Sunday School to learn about the Christian faith. When I got home, I was met with Christian music, my parents Christian friends and family, and Christian cartoons and books to entertain myself with. I went to a Church of England primary school, where every day we would say prayers in school assembly, we had regular religious education lessons where we would learn about the Bible, and once a week the local Bishop would come in and preach. We would sing Christian songs praising God and every year, like most other schools in the UK we put on a nativity play, the difference at my school being that everyone there actually believed it. I went to church twice a week, once on a Sunday morning and once again during the middle of the week where all the children of the adults who went to church would meet for additional Bible study and worship. I went to Church camps, residentials and weekends away where we would praise God almost non stop. I was instilled with the fear that not believing, or questioning my beliefs would result in me suffering an eternity in hell without my friends and family. It was expected that I would grow up, get Baptised, marry a nice, young, Christian man in a Church ceremony and give birth to the next generation of young Church goers.
However, ever since I can remember, I questioned what I was being taught. When I was five I asked my Dad if Jesus could have actually been a bunch of different magicians who all looked similar, one would have died on the cross, one would have risen from the grave, and they all would have worked together to make the water look like wine. I wasn’t old enough to question the whole story, just the specifics. When I was seven I wondered why God never seem to speak to me, I never heard his voice or got sent signs so I just had to guess what he was trying to say. When I was nine I found it curious that when people spoke in tongue it just sounded like a bunch of gibberish, and it was remarkably easy to get this ‘gift’. When I was eleven I asked a youth leader where dinosaurs and evolution fit into the Bible, and wondered how the big bang could have occurred when God made it all. Finally, when I was thirteen, I took to the internet with these questions. What I was met with were a load of atheist sites, all of which where asking the same questions, except this time they had answers.
Over the next year or so I began going to church less and less, and spent more and more time on the internet researching all the doubts that had been growing in my head over the years. However, as this natural progression was occurring, I was getting increasingly terrified. I had been taught that if I didn’t believe in what the Bible said, I would go to hell. For some reason, this one thing stuck in my head when none of the other stuff I was taught did, and I was scared. I was scared that me not believing would mean I would die and spend an eternity suffering. However I couldn’t drag myself away from the fact that Christianity just didn’t make sense. I was stuck in this limbo area for about a year. My faith was decreasing day by day, yet I remained terrified of what would happen if I stopped believing altogether.
In order to get myself out of this situation, I began looking online for evidence that God was real. I prayed almost non stop, begging for a sign that he was there. However, the damage had been done. All the ‘evidence’ that was put forward to me had either been refuted in something I had previously read, or was unsubstantial, and I received absolutely nothing back from God. No signs, no message, absolutely jack shit. Looking back, that was the point that I fully stopped believing, yet I wasn’t just ready to declare myself an atheist, I felt that would be the final nail in the coffin, the point of no return, and for a terrified young 14 year old, it was just a step too far.
I specifically remember the point in which all my fears went away, it happened almost instantaneously. It was when I was 15 and I was lying awake in bed one night thinking about everything I had read online and been taught in church when I had an epiphany. I realised that if I didn’t believe in God then I shouldn’t believe in hell as the two come hand in hand, therefore there was nothing to be scared of. It sounds outrageously simple and I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t thought of it before, yet there it was. In that moment I felt almost euphoric. I had broken free of over a decades worth of indoctrination, and I could finally think for myself. That night was the first time I was comfortable calling myself an atheist, and boy did it feel good.
Over the next few months I was probably the happiest I had been in a very long time. I began to really look at the Christian faith in a new light. I saw how the Church indoctrinates its youth, how it uses scare tactics to keep in the adults, and for the first time ever I saw just how flawed the whole religion was. I allowed myself to ask questions about things I was previously just too scared to ask for fear of going to hell. I began to think critically, I developed a love of the natural world and I genuinely felt like I had been set free.
Part of me was still scared, not of going to hell but of how to tell my family of my disbelief. I very fortunately had friends who were all atheists so I didn’t have to struggle to tell them, but my parents, especially my Dad, were still deeply religious. I knew that I would have to tell them at some point, I wasn’t going to base my university choice on how good its Christian Union was, I’m not going to get married in a Church and I’m not going to raise my future children as believers. It was only a matter of time before it would all come out.
Telling my parents actually turned out to be the easy part, it just came up in conversation. However, it’s an understatement to say that it was the calm before the storm. Over the next few months I had to endure endless arguments in which I was called a bigot and closed minded, accused of being unquestioning in my faith or lack of faith, told I had no morals and that I hadn’t done my research properly and being given book after book of Christian literature. Ironically, I had probably done more research into Christianity than either of my parents ever have done or ever will do, however because I hadn’t come to their conclusion I was wrong. Compared to what some people have to go through I had it fairly easy, but to a young 15 year old who had only just started thinking for themselves and being proud of their beliefs, it was a tough thing to hear.
Fast forward three years, and I couldn’t be happier. Being an atheist feels like the most natural thing in the world, and I am finally proud and happy to talk about my religious views. I don’t have to cower in embarrassment every time somebody asks me if I’m religious, I don’t have to fear an eternity in hell for saying ‘oh my God’ or not wanting to go to church, and I don’t have to force myself to believe something that logically just doesn’t make sense. I honestly feel like a new person, and I don’t ever see myself going back to religion.
I am still recovering from years of indoctrination, I am acutely aware of the fact that my mind is very susceptible to blindly accepting Christian teachings again. Every time I read an article written by a Christians, watch a Christian in debate or see a congregation or somebody preaching I have to remind myself of the reasons for leaving it all behind and that it doesn’t make sense. It can be hard, but it is getting easier.
If anybody reading this is currently struggling to leave or is scared to leave religion (specifically Christianity), there are a few resources I would recommend.
– The book ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins helped me a lot, I read it just as I realised I didn’t have to be scared of hell, and I honestly wish I had read it earlier. It will answer pretty much all of the questions and doubts that will be running through your head right now.
– The TV show ‘The Atheist Experience’ has numerous clips and an archive of all of its shows online, and the main host Matt Dillahunty is amazing at clearly and concisely shooting down Christian arguments.
– Sam Harris is a good one to watch in debates, he particularly focuses on morality and he is very good at explaining a lot of the flaws in Christian doctrine. He also wrote a book called ‘The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values’ which I haven’t read but I have heard good things about.
– Jaclyn Glenn has a self titled YouTube channel, in which she (sometimes humorously) discusses misconceptions about atheism, and debunks the occasional Christian argument.
– The website patheos.com has good arguments and articles from numerous different faiths and belief systems, including atheism, so will have something for everyone.
Finally, just know that it does get better. You may be in a scary place right now, but that feeling passes with time. Just stick it out, think logically and do your research. Whatever conclusion you come to, as long as you’re happy and aren’t being an asshole because of it, is perfectly fine. Just know that you’re not alone and you aren’t being crazy.
I hope this makes some sort of sense and you can take something from it. Thank you for reading.