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Even though you’re an atheist, have you ever experienced a moment that could be called “religious?” Like an epiphany about the world or complete peace?
Well, the following blog is probably going to make me sound crazy. I’ve told very few people this story, because I’m afraid people will think I’m looney, and here I am publishing it for the world to read. When I was in grade 12 (when I was still floating around somewhere between sort of religious and agnostic), we were in the midst of all sorts of problems with my brother. He had gone missing for about a week, and my parents were distraught, and my ability to be the strong one for both my mother and father was starting to crack.
I was in my bedroom, crying rather extensively. I felt completely helpless, and the amount of pressure I felt to be the glue that holds my family together was too much. I was only 17. I had never really prayed for anything too seriously, at this point, at any time in my life. I felt like, at that moment, all other options were explored and I said what the hell, and prayed.
And I prayed hard. I cried and cried as I did it, concentrating as hard as possible. I did it for I think at least an hour, I stopped keeping track of the time. All I wanted was for my brother to come home. I begged and pleaded with God. “Please let him come home. Please let my family be normal again. Please let him come home. Please don’t let him be dead. Please bring him home again.”
The next day was Sunday, and since I was still a Sunday School teacher for the nursery class at my church, in I went with my mother. She went upstairs, and I went to the hall underneath the church where the nursery room was. I was tidying up the mess that had been made by the Girl Guides that use the same space during the week, and the last thing I went to remove was a paper on the floor. I started to crumple it, and realized the texture wasn’t paper. It was a photograph. I picked it up, and there, in the middle of the church hall, was a baby photo of my brother and I.
Let me tell you, my heart nearly stopped. This photo, as far as I knew, should have been in that photo album in my mother’s closet covered in dust, beneath some shoe boxes. I’d seen the photo before, I knew that was where it came from. I had never brought it into the church for any reason, that I could remember. I showed my mom at the end of the church service, and she cried in the car. The feeling of finding this picture after the evening I’d spent the night before, was overwhelming. It was confusing, it was frightening, it made me question everything.
My brother was found and came home the next day.
It scared the shit out of me, and I became a bit more devout for a period of time. But then my uncle died, my mom’s best friend died a slow and painful death of cancer, my aunt got breast cancer, and all along, my brother’s problems got worse. He went missing for six months. Don’t think I didn’t try praying my guts out for him to come home again. He didn’t. The tears that flowed through my house, the amount of chaos and depression, was far worse than it was when I prayed that night in my room, my family’s life was in shambles. No help was offered.
It made me realize, despite how odd and coincidental all of those circumstances were at the church that day, it wasn’t God that reached down and stole that photo out of my mother’s photo album, to place it on the floor. I remember having it out of the photo album when I was in middle school a few years prior, because it was such a cute picture, and I remember bringing it to school to show my friends. I certainly could have brought it to the church, too, to show the other SS teachers or classmates, and just couldn’t remember when the overwhelming confusion set in when I found it.
If God cared so much about helping my brother, why does he still have those problems 7 years later? Why didn’t he help me when I prayed for anything else? Why didn’t he save my mother’s best friend, or my uncle or prevent my aunt from getting sick? Because, those prayers went unheard…just as the first ones about my brother were. There is nobody up there to hear them.
I think I did what any desperate person with a religious upbringing, would do, with the use of prayer. And, quite frankly, I’m glad this happened because it allowed me to question things, and really allow logic to work through the problem. There was no miracle that day, or any other day.
Some story, eh?
Did you lose any friends because you decided to be an atheist? Did your family flip out?
Simply, no. My friends are mostly atheist or agnostic, as it is, and any of the few who are theist, doesn’t seem to be too bothered by it.
My parents, as I have mentioned, do not like the fact that I don’t believe in God, so we just don’t talk about it. I don’t like upsetting them.
Do you think religion is obsolete and should be wiped completely off the face of the Earth, or does some good come out of it?
I totally think religion is obsolete.
It serves no purpose but to be a force which can manipulate politics, as far as I’m concerned. There are plenty of charities out there that we don’t need to have faith-based charities. I think it sticks it’s big nose in places where it shouldn’t be (POLITICS POLITICS POLITICS), and it is a major factor in wars and violent acts. Without religion impeding research or human rights, we’d be a far more civilized and evolved society.
And as for the whole thing about “good comes out of it,” to some degree this is true, but it results in a large amount of false hope, and it takes credit away from people. They pray and pray and pray for things to happen, and it either doesn’t and that’s “God’s work” or it does happen, and that’s “God’s work” too.
People need to learn to be able to face reality, and give people credit for the good things that happen. It wasn’t a god. It was their own actions and choices.
Are you a more outspoken or more apathetic atheist? Why?
I don’t think I am apathetic, but maybe more of a reserved atheist. I constantly feel that I would not remember specifics if I were to engage myself into debate with a religious person, and this is mostly why. I tend to get easily flustered when put on the spot about anything. I know what I’ve learned from the various sources I’ve watched/read and I feel that I would not do atheism proud by starting a conversation, tripping over my words and thoughts and then wanting to end the conversation for my pride’s sake alone. They would think I was full of shit, and that I clearly didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.
I told my parents I don’t believe in God, and they got very upset by me saying that, so I just don’t talk about it with my family, either.
What religion did you grow up with? Did you have positive or negative experiences with religion?
I was born into a Lutheran family, and starting at a very young age, I went to Sunday School every Sunday. There was no questioning that. When the time came, I was confirmed, and I even taught Sunday School for four years. My beliefs had changed to that of an agnostic by the time I started spewing it out to the young ones. I would have more of a guilty conscience about it if it wasn’t for the fact that I only taught the pre-school class and all we did was make crafts and do coloring pages of Bible-related things, without teaching much of a lesson, beyond a few sentence introduction. It also got me my community hours for high school.
I didn’t mind going to church/Sunday School because I had friends from school in my SS class too, so we got to hang out with each other for a few hours outside of school once a week. I also didn’t mind going to the actual service, because I love singing, and the hymns were just another chance for me to sing.
I do remember finding my one SS teacher to be very critical of me questioning things, so I stopped asking, although I didn’t stop questioning in my head. I also remember for my confirmation present the SS teachers gave me a book about a girl who goes to a new school where they teach evolution, and how she handled it. I read it but didn’t absorb anything from it.
We had a fun youth group that didn’t really get into religion very much, we’d get together for non-religious movie nights, and stuff like that. I liked being around the little ones I taught in SS. It all boiled down to “I live in the country, there’s hardly anything for me to do…so why not.”
At what point did you know you were an atheist? Why did you become one, what were the factors leading up to the decision, if you weren’t always one?
I was raised in a religious home, but was never really down with religion. I always just assumed the Bible was metaphorical, even as a child. I usually didn’t give much thought to God or religion, except during hard times.
The only time I ever used to pray was when I was going through some rough times, related to serious family problems. It was only after spending hours and hours of crying, and an ongoing helpless feeling. I would try prayer for an hour or so.
Of course, that did nothing. And more and more bad stuff started happening. I just felt like, why am I trying to pray to nothing?
I think because I wasn’t 100% sorted out about my beliefs/thoughts, most people would’ve called me agnostic.
I started dating my boyfriend, Richard, who is an atheist. He introduced me to the “Four Horsemen” of atheism, and after watching things like Religulous, Zeitgeist (which, while largely is a conspiracy-theory kind of movie, has a very interesting comparison of Jesus to other mythological characters) and many, many Dawkins documentaries, my mind made itself up. My inner Spock turned me to logic and I never looked back.