Last week, we began a series entitled Atheists Coming Out. To start the series, I shared my own experience coming out as an atheist and solicited readers to submit their own stories that might help motivate and encourage non-believers to be open about their lack of faith with less-than-supportive friends and family.
Each testimonial featured in Atheists Coming Out will help give insight to the large percentage of atheists who, for fear of rejection or misunderstanding, have not been open about their lack of faith. I will choose five (5) of the featured stories to be included in an upcoming book on this very topic. To submit your 1000-1,500 word de-conversion/coming out story, please send it to David@DavidGMcAfee.com with “Atheists Coming Out” in the subject line. Please feel free to share this page to ensure everyone gets the opportunity to participate.
This week’s feature is by Jason of Godless Living:Jason Location: Texas (Kingwood) Age: 33
My name is Jason, and I’m an atheist. This feels weird to write for a guy that grew up in Southeast Texas and once was a worship leader studying to be in the ministry. After an upbringing in Catholicism, I left at age seventeen and spent time in Methodist, Assembly of God, Vineyard, and Non-Denominational congregations. I took courses at a bible school with the hope that one day I would become a pastor. As a result of some questions about my beliefs in one of my final courses on bible doctrine, I ended up choosing a different career path. For the next 15 years or so my faith started peeling away. I didn’t realize what was happening, but I was gradually losing many core beliefs of the Christian religion. Was there really going to be a “Second Coming”? Were my homosexual friends really going to burn in an eternal lake of fire? What about my friends of other faiths? Was Jesus really the Son of God? Was he born of a Virgin? Was he the only way to salvation?
These questions tormented me and led me to studying the origins of Christianity and how the bible was put together. I became suspicious as I noticed things like the time lapses in the writing, contradicting books, questionable authenticity of the authorship of certain books, and different forms the bible had taken over the years as the church continued to disagree over which books were inspired. I also noticed things in the bible I had somehow missed before. When I chose to read the bible without the filter that it was the infallible word of God, I started seeing some terribly atrocious things that God was responsible for: genocide, killing of women and children, killing non-believers, killing homosexuals, etc. When I considered these things combined with the idea of eternal torment for people who merely didn’t share my faith, it no longer logically fit with the idea of a loving and compassionate God. Through these studies I came to the conclusion that Christianity was a myth not all that different from many religions all throughout history. Toward the end of this journey, I was attending a very liberal Episcopal church that allowed me the space to have my questions. One friend, in particular, supported me through my doubts and encouraged me in my seeking. However, it was a Sunday morning while standing to recite the Nicene Creed that something hit me. I began the prayer, “We believe in one God…” I had to stop. I just listened as I realized I no longer believed.
When I first acknowledged that I wasn’t a Christian, I still felt like something else must be out there. I still clung to a vague concept of God and described it as the sacredness at the center of our lives. I started studying the Eastern philosophies of Buddhism and Taoism. I didn’t want a new religion, but I enjoyed some of the philosophical teachings of Buddha and Lao Tzu. I still felt as if there was a God, but perhaps he/she/it would meet you through whatever tradition you chose. I started writing about these thoughts and questions in a public blog. I started to receive emails and phone calls from concerned friends. I was told of the slippery slope I was on and how they would be praying for me. My friends were clearly worried about me. After a couple of months, I learned that some of my family had been reading my blog and were equally worried. I moved the blog to an anonymous location and reached out to different online communities for support. I began to feel very alone with one exception, my wife, Julia. She had started seriously doubting the faith about a year earlier, but had remained quiet about it. I was lucky to have her by my side as I struggled through this. Her and I became closer than we had ever been as we started to feel like we had no one else besides one another and our two young sons.
In a reaction to the loneliness, I wondered if I had made a mistake. I studied more, contemplated, and even prayed. However, through the continued struggle my beliefs were further reinforced and I realized that I no longer just wasn’t a Christian, but I was an atheist. Though I was open to evidence that suggested otherwise, as far as I could tell, there was no God. It took a while for me to get comfortable referring to myself as an atheist. In fact, I often avoided the subject. There was such a stigma associated with that label and I knew that if my mere questioning of my faith and studying Eastern philosophy was worrisome to my friends and family, atheism would certainly devastate them.
Regarding my friendships, I was mostly right. Since many of our relationships were with friends we met through churches, we lost what we had in common. There were very few instances where people just quit talking to us strictly because they couldn’t stand to be friends with atheists, but rather we weren’t the people they knew before. We were the ones that changed. Without casting blame, we just drifted apart after we ran out of things to talk about. Though we maintained a few relationships, many are now non-existent or forever changed.
Aside from the strained friendships, family would prove to be tough. I love my family and we’ve always been relatively close to each other. While they all belong to different denominations in the Christian faith, they all participate at some level. Things felt weird for a while and there was unspoken tension on many occasions while we all struggled with our emotions. On my side of the struggle, I was feeling like a victim and felt as if everyone was disappointed in me. On their side, I think they hated to see me leave something that had been so dear to them. My mom talked to me about how hard it was for her and my dad to read my blog. They wished they knew what they could do to help me. She also told me they wondered what they had done wrong. This particular thought hurt since I considered myself a decent person. I have a good career, a beautiful family, and have never been in any kind of trouble. I simply no longer subscribed to the faith of my childhood. I know this wasn’t meant to hurt me, and I understood how hard it must have been for my parents to see this. Their Catholic faith is a part of who they are and has always been something they have strongly identified with. While everyone was generally pretty cordial with me, I knew some of my family was struggling with it. The tension I felt made me want to stay to myself and the loneliness persisted. My online community of friends and blog readers wasn’t really enough to make up for the losses I felt.
As I approached the anniversary of my departure from faith, I finally started to find comfort. The main way I found this was in coming out. I have a couple of close gay friends who I talked to through this struggle and one pointed out that what I was feeling was really similar to how he felt when he was trying to come out as a gay man. You just want it to be okay to be yourself. You want so badly to say how you feel about things and just want people to allow you the freedom to feel that way. This coming out process for me has been progressive. It was easy online where you can always find someone who agrees with you, but it’s been much harder in person living in Kingwood, Texas. In this part of the world, you don’t run into many atheists in your day-to-day life. I found myself just referring to myself as non-religious for a while as I was scared to use “the A-word”. I now proudly accept my atheism and am passionate about speaking up for secularism, free thought, reason, science, and logic. I’ve developed a passion for helping believers and non-believers alike to value secularism and equality. Every relationship is different, but with most relationships it’s just becoming old news. I even have a friend who jokingly refers to me as his atheist friend and likes to remind me that I’m the only atheist he knows. There are some I can talk with freely and others where we just avoid the subject. Either way, our social life is mending, and I owe that to coming out and finding comfort in just being myself. I’m finding that as I get more comfortable within myself, others start to accept this as part of who I am.Jason firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.facebook.com/godlessliving Godlessliving.wordpress.com To submit your 1000-1,500 word de-conversion/coming out story, please send it to David@DavidGMcAfee.comwith “Atheists Coming Out” in the subject line. Please feel free to share this page to ensure everyone gets the opportunity to participate.