So you’ve finally done it. Taken the plunge. Shaken off the last remnants of your childhood and finally shaken off all your Faith and beliefs. Congratulations. You are now an atheist. It’s a pretty cool place, we get to sleep in on Sunday mornings while scoffing at church goers. The scoffing is usually followed by non-marital sex, pancakes and BACON. Followed probably by worshipping Darwin, Hawking, Sartre and all the other gods we have created for ourselves. Yes, it’s a neat place to be, as a seasoned atheist, however I do feel like there are a few things people need to understand about this very fragile non-religion.
I have had the (mis)fortune to experience life on both sides of religion and non-religion. I was raised in a very Christian house-hold and afterwards I was sent to a very Christian boarding school where I made very Christian friends and spent many Christian hours doing vigorous Christian activities. My childhood and torrential teenagedom was characterized by bible study, praying, church-going, bible-camping, kumbaya-ing ad naseum.
-Enter: my First year of University-
Obviously I had to take Philosophy as a major and obviously the first course in philosophy 101 had to be: Philosophy of Religion.
-Enter: Existential Crisis-
After just a few lectures my professors effectively proved my whole life a lie. They tore down my very carefully constructed ideals about Faith, God and everything else with their knowledge, reasoning and crystal clear logic. Try as I might, I couldn’t help but start questioning every single notion about, in my own personal case, the Christian Faith. I questioned every single thing I ever learnt in Sunday school, everything my parents taught me. Essentially everything I had ever known up until that point in life. I was beyond saving. No measure of bible verse reading, praying or church going could ever possibly duct-tape together the tiny cracks I started seeing appear and growing larger in my Faith.
And these are the things no one ever tells you about atheism. It is hell.
My friends and family were quick to tell me that I’m simply not believing hard enough, or that God is testing my belief in him. But what kind of a capricious God picks out one of his so-called children at random and decides to test them whether or not they actually love him? That answered all my doubts: Christianity was not a place I wanted to be. And I paid dearly for that.
Atheists are too often advertised as sinful people, people who can’t be bothered enough about religion to try, or are too lazy to subscribe to a set of rules and a belief system. What this advertisement does not show is the constant doubt every single person of non-belief secretly harbors. It may not be blatantly obvious, but it is always lingering. This doubt does not stem from whether or not we should believe, we know the answer to that already. This doubt stems from the question: so what now?
Deciding to become an atheist throws you into an epic existential storm, because you are quite unceremoniously ripped from your whole belief and value system. You come to live your life in a certain way, so as to subscribe to the norms and demands of your Faith, but when that disappears, you no longer have some imaginary fairy in the sky telling you how to live, you need to do that for yourself.
This was at once the single-most terrifying and liberating experience I have ever had. But I got to rebuild my life and value system in a way that seemed honest and true to me and only me, not the priest, not my parents, not the fairy in the sky, only me. Selfish? Perhaps. Satisfying? Fuck yes.
So do it. Come over to the grey side if you feel like it. If you don’t, that’s cool too, but please do not ever feel like this should be base don anyone’s feelings other than your own. Stop listening to the believers, who are secretly just jealous of all the non-marital sex and bacon anyway. Stop listening to the non-believer radicals, they are bound to make you bitter and sad. Listen to yourself. Believe what you believe. In a World full of Faith debates and debacles, this is the only thing that matters.