A Heathen’s Lack-of-Faith Journey

I listen to Christian radio during some long car trips.  It can be hilarious, and it passes the time.  There is much talk of “where you are in your faith journey.”  But I don’t have a faith journey, nor do I want one.  In its place, here is my Heathen Lack-of-Faith Journey:

I have never been a believer in any religion.  I am a life-long atheist.  And, having no de-conversion story, I always assumed my story of being an atheist was a bit boring.  I was raised in a secular home by an atheist mother and a “very, very strong agnostic” father (that is his own current self-description—he does have a de-conversion story).  I was never taught to believe, but never prevented from joining friends at church or youth group events.  My great-grandmother died when I was seven, and I asked my dad what happens to people when they die.  Though at the time, he would probably have identified as Christian, he told me, “We don’t really know.”  I accepted that, and never felt the existential dread I am told nonbelivers must feel.

I grew up in a pretty religious community and was more an object of curiosity than of teasing (at least as far as religion went).  The innocent admission that I didn’t “do” Lent was met with slack-jawed amazement by several middle school classmates.  It wasn’t until a few years later that I had a full-fledged debate with two classmates who assured me I was going to Hell for my lack of belief.

In a way, that debate was a good thing: I had to explain myself, and that is something that nonbelievers have to do quite often.  I told them that I simply didn’t see any evidence for anything supernatural—ghosts, gods, nothing.  Jeffrey Dahmer was in the news at the time, and I was assured that while born-again Christian Dahmer was currently in Heaven, I was destined for Hell unless I saw the error of my ways.

Then, as now, I see no reason to believe.  That is the crux of my atheism, why it is a lack of belief (and not a religion, as some believers claim)—I just don’t see it, there’s no good evidence.  And I still maintain that if Heaven contains people like Dahmer, just because they said the right words and believed in the right god, then I’ll be happier in Hell.

It is an all-to-common assumption that nonbelievers live empty, miserable lives, that we cannot possibly find love and meaning when we don’t believe in God.  The question of how to find meaning in an atheist life strikes me as very odd.  How could I not find meaning in my life?  I have a wonderful family, great friends, things I love to do.  I want to work on my career, find a partner, have children someday.  I don’t see how any of these goals depend on being religious.  My life has whatever meaning I choose to give it.

I feel freedom as an heathen.  Don’t get me wrong: I have plenty of responsibilities—to my family, to my job, to the people who live around me.  But I don’t have to worry about what any supernatural entity thinks of me.  We are all just people.  Not made a certain way by an all-knowing entity, or part of any master plan.  We’re going it alone, all together, on this planet, and we have only ourselves to thank or to blame.

I find that very liberating and exciting.

Posted on August 7, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Nice story. My tale is much the same. Neither of my parents adhere to any religion. Then again, they never taught me there was no God either, at least not that I remember. We had a copy of the children’s bible (i.e. the bible written in plain text and the graphic sex and violence parts ommittet), and I remember reading it a couple of times. But even then I just considered them stories, not a report of actual events by any stretch.

    The main difference I suppose is that being a Dutch atheist means I never got any ‘friends’ tell me I was going to hell. People who, in polls, identify themselves as Christians are slightly outnumbered by those who identify themselves as not belonging to any religion. And with only about 17% of the population going to a house of worship more than once per month, it gives an estimate of how many of those Christians are really serious about it. Add to that that I’ve lived all my life (minus one year in Geneva for work) in Amsterdam and worked/studied in physics, you can see how I wouldn’t meet many people who believe I’m going to hell in daily life.

    Technically, I am a member of a church though: I’m a member of a small youth group that meets in the basement of a church. The admittance fee means I’m also on the church’s membership roster. It’s a very laid back church though, that held same-sex union ceremonies even before gay marriage was made legal. So I don’t worry they use my membership to pump up the number of supporters that back them on campaigns against things that I’m in favor of.

  2. I think that if one has been brought up to build one’s life around something it’s very hard to conceive of people who don’t. I get the same sort of reaction around sports fans: no, I really don’t support any team, I don’t care who won “the game” last night or how many medals “we” got in the Olympics. It’s just not my thing. Man.

    (Ex-Catholic, but didn’t so much deconvert as gently slip away. In the UK our mainstream churches really aren’t aggressive in the way some American ones seem to be.)

  3. personalfailure

    ex Catholic here. I did believe as a child, but my faith was always in turmoil with my brain. I’d listen to sermons, read the bible, nod at the nuns all the while internally saying, “That doesn’t make any sense at all.”

    I mean, Passover is a celebration for the Jews, but how did the Egyptians feel about it? I’ve just never been able to not consider the Egyptians.

  4. That was pretty interesting, but it would have been even better if you called Greta Christina evil!

    • I’m pretty sure there’s a joke, but I’m not getting it, even after I found her blog.

      • The joke is, a different website Ruby used to participate in posted a piece by an atheist that called the desire to convert others “evil in one of its purest forms”, and used a post by Greta Christina as an example of what he was talking about.

  5. I too was never really a member of any religion, although for a time as a kid I did believe in a monotheistic god. My family didn’t go to church very often, so the silly dogma never stuck. Even though I was a monotheist, I was pretty apathetic about that belief and rarely thought about it. Eventually, in the summer before my freshman year of high school, I read this great book of collected short writings, speeches, and interviews of Douglas Adams. I read an interview he had with someone from an atheist organization, and realized that there was no good reason to believe in any gods. I’ve been an atheist ever since.

  6. Thank you very much for this post, Ruby. Like your father, I fall into the “strong agnostic w/ a deconversion tale”, and still struggle with what is essentially brainwashing from my fundie upbringing. This has given me a measure of hope and (whatever the word for being less lonely is. sense of solidarity? I don’t know.).

  7. I’m an ex-Presbyterian. My parents are both believers, and so was I until…man, I don’t remember the exact year. Sometime around 2005.

    See, I started off as super-credulous. I read books on alien sightings and ghosts and cryptids and all that. If it was weird or inexplicable then I loved it. But then I somehow stumbled upon the Bad Astronomer’s website. I’d seen clips of that Fox “documentary” a few years back on how the Moon landings were all faked. I hadn’t believed them, but I found his point-by-point refutation of it excellent. I then read his other articles, on bad science in movies and frauds talking about the Mayans and so-on. Eventually I decided to join the forums attached to the website.

    That’s where things really changed. Here were hundreds of skeptics who linked to lots of articles refuting all sorts of stories, many of them ones I had once believed in. I eventually decided that this skepticism thing was pretty neat and switched to being a skeptic on most things, though not religion.

    Eventually I realized I was being a hypocrite by testing everything but my faith. So I sat down and looked it through. I read The Case for Christ and similar books, and found they were nothing but logical fallacies heaped one on top of the other. So I became an atheist.

    The good news is that my parents took it well. My mom had gone through a period of atheism when she was my age and both of them are very big on evidence-based science. Still, it’s fascinating to think that if I hadn’t opened one link on one website that I’d probably be a believer right now.

  8. Cannot get the damn like-button to work. Consider this post a thumbs up on a post that resonates well with me.

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