The story of how a computer nerd from Midwestern Indiana lost his faith and found something better.
I know what you’re thinking: Here’s another bible belt kid who thinks he’s making some statement by being an atheist. Well, you’re not wrong. I do take a certain amount of pride in having lost my faith, if only because of how extremely liberating it is, and because of how much my worldview has improved since. I don’t want this to be some sort of brag story, but rather I want to share it in the hopes that it will help other people who were in situations like mine. There’s not a whole lot of drama, my family didn’t throw me out, but if someone takes something positive from my story, then I’ll be content with that.
I’ve lived my whole life in Indiana, from birth to pretty much present day (did a brief, 1 year foray to Utah for schooling, did NOT work out), and for those of you who know next to nothing about Indiana, I’ll give you the down low. Indiana is a red state, to the core. You couldn’t expect anything less from a region populated almost entirely by farmers and cows. I lived in Fountain County, a place with only a handful of real towns. Every town had at least two churches, and my hometown in particular had three within the town limits, and Dawkins knows how many were scattered among the fields and forests in the surrounding area. In my neck of the woods, you could be Christian, Amish, or Jewish; Anything else was socially unacceptable. My school was literally in the middle of a corn field. So, now that I’ve established how rural my upbringing was, let’s get on with the actual story.
My mother was a Lutheran, and my father was a Southern Baptist. Because dad worked pretty much 7 days a week, I went to church with my mother. Let me start by saying that, of all the religious services I have had the displeasure of sitting through, Lutheran services are by far the most laid back and easygoing. Both the churches my family attended rarely spoke at all of hell, and there was even a gay couple that attended one of them. The sermons and such focused mostly on the love of God and Christ, the rewards of heaven, and all about how to be a good little Christian. My experiences and knowledge of Hell came from those rare experiences when I attended a Baptist service with my dad or his family. Needless to say, I was horrified by the concept of hell, a place where everyone who’s ever done anything wrong without accepting Christ goes to suffer for all eternity. When I was younger, I didn’t question any of it: I ate it all up. I loved being a Christian, I loved the Sunday School classes and the Youth Events. I loved the years when we went to go to “Acquire the Fire”, a big ass Christian event full of music and skits and other bits of...entertainment. People would actually leave their seats in the stadium (The RCA Center in Indianapolis), go down to the main presentation area, and bow before a giant cross while having “Religious Experiences”. I tried it, once...I never told anyone but while I was kneeling there, in front of a giant cross and listening to a bunch of people weep and pray, I felt nothing. No tingling in my brain or spine, no sensations of awe or wonder. I just knelt there waiting for something to happen, and nothing ever did.
I felt like a freak, like there was something wrong with me. It was the first time I ever questioned my faith, and I was maybe 11 or 12. I was scared, because there were people in my group going on about how they had heard Jesus speaking to them, or felt God’s hand on their shoulders. Kids teens, adults...many of them had tears in their eyes, talking about what they had experienced on that floor, and all I could do was nod my head and agree. What was I supposed to do? Tell these people the truth? Not a chance. What if they kicked me out? What if not feeling anything was some kind of sign, like I was doomed to go to Hell? My church friends were the only friends I had, so I nodded my head and went along with it.
It was right around this time that things started getting worse for me. I was a fat kid, I was uncoordinated and useless in sports, and I loved books, so of course I was bullied. It started getting worse as I got older. I felt miserable. Other kids would beat me up on the way to the bus stop, they called me names and spread rumors about me behind my back at school, and then to round out the day, I’d get beat up again on the way home. The beatings were the worst, honestly. The bastards didn’t want anything from me, I had nothing to give them: They just wanted to hurt someone. Every night, I prayed that God would help me...because that’s what you do for someone you love, right? If God loved everyone in the world, then that meant he loved me, and if he loved me, then that meant he’d help me! I didn’t care how, if he made me stronger or faster, or if he beat up the bullies or simply made them disappear...I just wanted someone to step in, someone to save me from a situation I didn’t think I could save myself from. My parents couldn’t help me, and no one at school would help me. I was a good kid, I never hurt anyone, I followed the rules, but I was still getting fucked over, and the injustice of it all drove me up a wall.
Of course, it didn’t matter how much I prayed, or how good a kid I was: God never came, Jesus never said a word, and the bullying went on. When I was about 13, I started getting really interested in computers. I would spend hours on our family’s PC, roleplaying and gaming, doing school work and researching anything that caught my interest. The internet opened up the world to me, and for a while, that made being a Christian easier. I learned about all the awful things happening in the world: The genocides, the school massacres, the rapes, the wars...seeing all of that made me realize how small my problems were, and I started to believe that the reason God and Jesus hadn’t been helping me was that they had more important things to do than deal with my problems. There were people starving to death in Africa, children being kidnapped, raped, and murdered all over the world, and I had the audacity to expect God and Jesus to help me? I felt like an asshole, so I stopped asking them for help.
With this mindset, I started my catechism classes. Basically, these classes were the prelude to me being accepted as a full member of the Lutheran Church. With all the troubles I had been having, I took it seriously. People kept telling me that the answers to all my problems were in the bible. Well, I’d never heard anything read in church that actually helped me, but it was a big book! I was sure that if I read the whole thing, cover to cover, I’d find what I was looking for. I started with Gensis and worked my way in from there. For the start, it was all basic fare: Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, straight up into Exodus and on down the road from there. Throughout it all, I kept coming up with these questions, and I never got a satisfactory answer. I once asked my youth leader how Adam and Eve could be held responsible for their actions, when God, who was supposed to be all knowing and all powerful, not only made them innocent idiots, but also planted the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden, and THEN allowed Lucifer/The Serpent/Whatever your bible says it was to enter the garden and deceive them. I asked my Youth Leader how the Serpent could have gotten into the Garden without God knowing, since God is all knowing and all powerful. Then I wanted to know why God let the snake trick Adam and Eve, and then I wanted to know why God punished Adam and Eve for being tricked. When she told me that she didn’t know, I was stunned. How could she NOT know? I asked my Pastor, thinking that he’d be able to explain, but all he did was give me that same old line about how it was all a part of God’s plan.
To me, it sounded like God got a kick out of making First Graders do Calculus and punishing the ones that failed (like, all of them). That was where it started, but it was all down hill from there. The more and more I read, the more and more questions I had. To me, “God’s Plan” became the throw-away phrase for people who had no idea what they were talking about. When I finally finished, my faith was in shambles. Looking back on it, I felt betrayed. It was like growing up all your life believing that your dad is this wonderful philanthropist that takes orphans to amusement parks and beats up bank robbers in his spare time, and then finding out that in reality, he’s cooking Meth and using the orphans as drug mules. I went through with the Catechism, and joined the church as a full member, but I couldn’t stop questioning everything. Having read the bible, I couldn’t rationalize away the awful things God had done. At this point in my life, I knew bullies when I spotted them...and God was the biggest bully I had ever heard of.
Being only about thirteen or fourteen at the time, I didn’t really understand that I had the choice to not believe in God. Having been raised in the church, I didn’t believe there were any alternatives. I stuck with Christianity and reasoned away my doubts with Pascal’s Wager. I convinced myself that even if God was a huge asshole, believing in him and going to Heaven was still a better choice than turning to some other religion and burning in Hell for all eternity. I went along with it for about three more years. I didn’t finally break from the herd until I attended a Christian Summer Camp.
I was there for the Guitar lessons the camp provided, but since it was Christian Sponsored, there was also a lot of bible study, worship, etcetera etcetera. I had been to two others like it in the past, and I’ll be honest: I had a great time at all three. When we weren’t doing Christy-stuff, we were playing games and swimming and canoeing...just a typical summer camp, and it was great. On the second to last day of the camp, things got...wierd. See, they did this thing called a “Christ Walk”. Basically, they found the skinniest, whitest counselor they could, dressed him up as Jesus with a wig and a beard, and then re-enacted Christ’s final moments: From the point where Judas betrayed him right up to the crucifixion. They did it at dusk, so it was hard to see. The other counselors were dressed as Romans or playing other bit rolls, and even the torches they carried didn’t provide enough light to properly see anything.
It was...horrible. They used fake blood and make-up to simulate Christ’s injuries. They staged the beatings, the whippings. I remember listening to him scream and cry. I wanted so badly to intervene, to help him, because deep down I knew it was wrong. It wasn’t right that someone else should suffer like that for a mistake I supposedly made, for MY sins. It wasn’t even my sin! It was Adam and Eve’s! Knowing all of that, I couldn’t bear to watch, but I wasn’t given a choice: I had to stay and watch the whole thing. It made me sick, the injustice of it all sent me reeling. I know that they were trying to drive home the price Christ had to pay, to make the kids take Christianity more seriously, but all I saw was a man being punished for something he didn’t do. All I saw was another bully’s victim.
That was the moment I gave it all up. I walked away from religion. I could no longer worship the Judeo-Christian God in good conscience, because that God was a monster. I studied the bible more, because I knew that if I was going to leave Christianity behind, then I’d have to be able to justify my decision. I used every resource at my disposal to build my case, and along the way, I learned about Secular Humanism, Atheism, Evolution, and the wonders of a world governed not by a divine thug, but by natural, immutable laws. I rediscovered my world as a place where every effect stems from a cause, a world where I didn’t have to wait on someone else to intervene. Leaving behind Christianity taught me that I was the master of my own destiny, and that if I wanted something to change, I had to do it myself. No more waiting on “God’s Plan”, I was responsible for my own life, my own actions, and no one elses’. Coming to understand the logical failings within the bible, within Christianity, made it easier for me to accept the absence of a divine being. I learned the history of the bible, where it came from and who wrote it. I learned of the similarities between biblical figures and characters from other religions. You think Jesus was the only deity born from a virgin? There’s a list of them a mile long.
So that’s the end of my story. I’m 22 now, and have never regretted my choice. When you break the religious chains that bind you, you’re free to view a world full of more wonder and beauty than Religion ever let you imagine. You’re not afraid of speaking out when you know something’s wrong. You decide, for yourself, what is right. Becoming an Atheist was the best decision I ever made, but it wasn’t a decision I could’ve made on my own. Throughout it all, I had the support of dozens of people I had only ever met online. Thanks to the internet, I met people who had felt the same things I had, who had suffered similar hardships, or worse. Thanks to them, thanks to their support, I came to see Religion for the poison that it is, and I hope one day, if you’re stuck in a faith you don’t want to be in, that reading this will help you realize that you’re not alone. The Atheist community is bigger and better than ever. If you have questions, fears, concerns, you can find the support you need at amazing sites like Thinkatheist.com, or even Reddit’s r/Atheism threads