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.