How I came to be atheist is actually a pretty long story. I've explained it to a few people in the past, and even moreso in recent times, since reason, logic, and atheism have been more prominent in my thoughts. I'll start from as far back as I can remember, which is probably when I was 5 or 6 years old.
I grew up in a Christian family. Not all church going Christians, or "by the book" Christians, so to speak, but Christians nonetheless. My grandparents on my mother's side were pretty religious, but they didn't really force it on anyone else. I accompanied them to church quite a bit as a young child, and went to church with my mother some when she would decide to go. As a child I don't actually recall having a strong belief in God, but I do remember occasionally praying, and I do recall having fun at Sunday school and hanging around with my friends from church. I went to Vacation Bible School in the summers between school years, and I remember having fun there. I never actually saw "God" as "God." I went to church and Sunday school because I was able to hang out with my friends, play games, and make macaroni Jesus pictures on that cheap colored construction paper that always smelled funny.
I guess I began questioning things when I was about 8 years old. When I was 8, my grandfather on my dad's side died of lung cancer. He fought this for 6 years before finally succumbing to the disease. The irony of my grandfather's death was that he died on Christmas morning. Being 8 years old, I was absolutely devastated, even though I only got to see my grandfather a few times a year because he lived in Louisiana, and I lived in Indiana with my mother. My parents divorced when I was still an infant, which I guess is important to this story, as it will tie in a bit later on. I didn't know where my grandfather had gone after he died, but I was imagining that it was Heaven. That was all I knew of religion and death at that age. Good people died and went to Heaven. Bad people died and went to Hell. Even at a young age, I was taught that bad=eternity in Hell.
Two months after my grandfather died, I was taken out of my mother's home. She had a pretty serious drug problem, couldn't hold a job, was about to lose the house we lived in, and she had become physically abusive in the 2 years prior to me finally being removed by Child Protective Services. My dad was given custody of me at this time. I just remembered, as I am typing this, that I moved with my dad in Louisiana exactly 20 years ago today. I am now 28 years old, and I remember because during the 12 hour drive to Louisiana from Indiana, lots of stuff about Groundhog Day was on the radio. My dad was not big into religion. I suspect he is agnostic or atheist, but he won't outright say it. He's very big in keeping religion private and to stay away from him with it. "Don't force your beliefs on me," was and is a pretty common quote from my old man.
I had a great love for my mother, and at 8 years old, I didn't understand what was going on or why I had really been taken away. I was afraid of my mother, and I knew that was a big part of it. I knew it had something to do with how she would hit me, shove me, or push my head through drywall. But at 8 years old, I still loved my mother with every fiber of my existence, and I forgave her for these things. Between the ages of 8 and 12 years old, I probably saw or spoke to my mother about 10 times. I'd say that's pretty pathetic. I was always a pretty smart kid growing up, and I eventually figured out that part of the reason I never saw her was her dependency on drugs, and the fact that she was ashamed of it.
Christmas eve when I was 12 years old. I'm visiting my grandparents in Indiana, who are my mother's parents. I loved them, they basically raised me. Fantastic people. Loving, religious, but would die or kill for me. I'm awake at midnight watching tv, and the phone starts ringing. Luck would have it I'm in the bathroom as soon as the phone starts ringing. Plus, the thought of "who the hell would call my grandparents' house at midnight on Christmas eve" was pretty strong. So I didn't rush to the phone. My grandparents were asleep, and the phone didn't wake them. I heard the answering machine pick up the call, and I heard the sobbing voice on the other end of the phone, and I realized it was my mother. I hadn't seen or spoken to her in over a year at the time. When I had last seen her, my grandparents had just bailed her out of jail, and she disappeared the same night, saying she was "Going out for a walk."
I ran to the phone, trying to pick it up before she hung up the receiver on her end. I remember her entire message. I was in tears, and absolutely hysterical. She said "Mom, Dad, it's Vanessa, and I'm just calling to say merry Christmas, and that I love you." She hung up before I could make it to the phone.
The next morning she called again, and I was able to speak to my mother. And it was the last time I ever did.
A year later, I was 13, in the 8th grade, and just living like any other 13 year old near Christmas. Reading new comic books, playing with new toys, when my dad walked into my bedroom, with the most horrible look on his face. I started crying before he could tell me anything, because I knew what he was about to tell me was going to be devastating. My mother had been murdered in a drug related homicide 2 days before Christmas. They couldn't identify her or notify next of kin until Christmas day. She didn't have an ID on her, from what I remember. I found out my mother had been murdered on December 26th, 1996. One day after Christmas. After this, I can honestly say, and you can notice the pattern and tell why I think this, but "Fuck Christmas." Everything in my life that was terrible happened around Christmas. Every death in my family was within a couple of weeks of the supposed "Messiah's birthday." The happiest time of the year. Here I am, barely into my teen years, and I feel nothing but hatred during this time of year. And loss.
I remember praying so hard that there was no way God wouldn't hear me. I prayed for answers. I prayed for peace. I prayed for my mother to have peace in death. At 13 years old, after a couple of months of praying to God and crying myself to sleep at night after the loss of my mother, no matter how flawed she was, and feeling embarrassed and ashamed. I was ashamed that I was praying. I was embarrassed that I was talking to something I couldn't see, hear, or touch. And right then, I knew something was wrong with religion. At this time, I felt hatred towards god. I wasn't quite an atheist then, but I was well on my way. My 8th grade year was pretty terrible. I don't remember one positive thing about it, truthfully.
Fuck God, was what I felt, heard in my head, and said to myself. He took away things that I loved with no explanation. He ripped me away from my mother, who was battling addiction, poverty, and raising a child on her own. I had no one to blame but God. I mean, God created everything, right? Which means he created me, my mother, my family, my mother's addiction, the drugs she took, and the feelings she had when she hit me, shoved me, and put my head through drywall. Why would I not blame God? He made all of these things. That's when I started getting the "God works in mysterious ways" bullshit, and the "It's all part of God's plan" nonsense. Fuck God's plan. I want to know why my mother was murdered in cold blood and I was left wondering. But as we all know, religion doesn't answer questions. Never has. Never will. It breeds and hopes for ignorance. It wants acceptance and blind faith. It wants followers and sheep. I can't get behind that.
My freshman year in high school. Some "popular" kid commits suicide in my school. I knew him. I didn't like him. This didn't affect me. I felt sadness because someone had died, but I wasn't a fan of the kid, so I wasn't hurt. Just saddened. I was enrolled in high school in Southern Mississippi....so the story gets interesting here. There were prayer groups for this kid's death. Grief counselors were called in. I thought it was excessive, especially since a kid I was friends with during my sophomore year committed suicide, and not a word was spoken in my school about him. He was just dead one day, and his locker was cleaned out. Oh...he wasn't popular. Didn't have a lot of friends. Pathetic. When this kid during my freshman year killed himself, we found out during my first period English class. The other students in the class wanted to hold hands and have a prayer. I was liked in the class, but wasn't popular or anything. I didn't stand up, join hands, and say the prayer. Someone asked me why. I said "I'm an atheist. I don't believe in God." It was the first time I had said this in a public place. I was surrounded by my peers, some friends, and a teacher. I don't remember being scared when I said it. At the time, saying I was atheist was a rebellion more than a mindset. I still meant it, though. Every word of it. Then....right after I said what I said.....one of my fellow students leans down close to me, gets an inch from my nose, and says to me, "You're getting your ass beat after class." And then I was scared. This kid was a junior......in a freshman English class, so you can see what I'm saying here. He was an uneducated bigot. I was walked to and from classes by a teacher for a while after that. So there, to my surprise, was my first run in with "God's love." I continued on through high school with the knowledge that god was not real. I refused to admit he was because I felt nothing for him. There was nothing there. I hadn't even begun to look into all the science that disproves his existence. I just knew he wasn't fucking real.
During my junior year, I started looking for spiritual fulfillment in other religions. I had pagan and Wiccan friends. I began reading up on these different religions and mythologies, and even participated in some of their rituals. I still didn't believe it. I was just looking for something I couldn't find. My dad and step-mom found out about my religious experimentation by looking through my backpack and finding books on paganism. My dad didn't understand it, and researched it, and found some cult with a name similar to the coven I was around at the time. This cult was pretty crazy, and said they were Satan worshippers. So of course, this was the first time I was told I was a Satan worshipper, and I was grounded for about 6 months. I began to go insane because I was grounded for so long, and it didn't help that my cunt of a step-mother started printing out parts of the Bible and hiding them in random places in my bedroom, such as "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." This was my stepmother. I was getting Biblical death threats from my conveniently Christian stepmother, whom hadn't stepped foot in a church in probably 20 fucking years. So, my disdain for Christianity grew, and I was subjected to more of "God's love."
So....what did I do? I couldn't hang out with friends, I couldn't go places. I was basically a religious prisoner in my home. So I started going to church so I could get out of the house. A Baptist church. It was about a half mile from my house, so I walked there on Wednesday nights for youth group. I actually had fun at these youth group meetings, even though I didn't believe in God. I just needed social interaction and to be with other kids, and I knew this was the only way my parents would let me out of the house. Who, southern Mississippi, wouldn't let their kids go to church? Just seems evil....doesn't it? Well, this is where I finally cast aside any and all hope for Christianity for being tolerant. My youth group leader, during a little activity with our whole youth group, which consisted of about 20 or so kids, ranging in ages of 8 to 17, took a dry erase marker in his hand, walked up to a dry erase board, and began writing down a whole bunch of different religions on the board, circling each one, then, in the top left corner of the board, he wrote "Jesus," and circled it. He turned to all of us, and he pointed to the part of the board holding the names of all the other religions, which was plentiful, and including Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and quite a few others that I can't remember, and he said "All of these religions on this board are WRONG. And they're wrong because they don't follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, our lord and savior." I was a very tolerant teenager. I didn't care about anyone's religion. I was hateful at times to people, and I still am, but I was tolerant of others' beliefs. I think my dad put that into my head at a young age. I looked at this youth group leader, who's name I've forgotten, and honestly I couldn't care less what his name is, and I said to him "That's hypocritical, and it's wrong. You're no better than any of those other religions." I got up, said I was leaving, and I never walked back into that church again. Hurricane Katrina destroyed that church, from what I was told, and I'm glad. It was a pathetic place filled with lies and brainwashing. Don't tell me all about love when you literally turn your backs on people for not believing in the same invisible friend that you do. Assholes.
That was it for me. No more religion. No more Christianity. But I was fascinated by it. I loved reading about it. I loved arguing and debating with people about it. It wouldn't leave my mind, because I couldn't understand why people would embrace bigotry, hatred, ignorance, and straight up bullshit. I finally figured that out. FEAR. People are so afraid to die that they will grasp onto any fable they can that saves their existence.
I had a discussion with a very openly gay man on Twitter one day. He was bashing atheists. Telling them they were going to burn in Hell. A GAY man....openly gay.....dropping judgment on other people. When I asked why he was condemning others, he said he was scared. He said that he would rather believe in God, be a gay man, and hope that God would spare him eternity in Hell if he lived a good life. I sympathized with that for about 2 seconds, and then I realized that he was pathetic, sad, uneducated, a hypocrite to the Nth degree, and that he was worse than any heterosexual Christian I had ever met. He believed he was even more special than any other Christian. He is gay. An "abomination," according to the Bible. I don't think that fits God's criteria for Heaven material. Heaven is a pretty exclusive club, from what I've noticed, and the cover charge is pretty high. You have to give up knowledge, love, and acceptance. Tolerance, beauty, and kinship. Just so you can hang out with the cool kids in Heaven. Sounds like 3rd grade to me. I've been out of 3rd grade for 20 years now, and I can honestly say, I'm not going back because an invisible man fucking wants me to. I do not believe in God. I don't need faith. I have myself. I will take care of myself. I will continue to be human. I will continue to be logical and reasonable with my beliefs. And I sure as hell will not condemn someone just because they believe in something, or they don't believe in something.
That is the story of how I came to be. I hope to elaborate on different points of this blog in the future, as well as my neverending fight with and against religion.
I can only hope that these future writings, and this current one, might actually give someone courage enough to come out and say "I'm an atheist, and I'm ok with it. I'm happy. I'm moral. I know the difference between right and wrong, and I don't need the fear of punishment or the hope of reward to make me choose RIGHT."