Upward and Onward

Disclaimer: This post is from the archives, and may not represent the current views of the author. It also may not be at all interesting to read. Continue at your own peril!

Well, I think this is it. I think this is the end of the road for me – my stop is coming up and I’m getting off. I don’t know that I can, with any truthfulness, call myself a Christian anymore. How can one be a Christian without believing in Christ? It’s a little difficult. It’s been a journey – a long, arduous one. Emotions have torn me apart, logic has likewise torn my beliefs apart, and now it’s a horrid mess. Yes sir, mess over 11 months in the making is certainly a mess indeed.

But it’s a necessary one. Something inside has compelled me to move forward, in search of truth, despite the fact that everything else within me wants to wake up from the horrible dream and just go back to believing in the nice, comfortable God that I grew up with. I feel a little like a character in the Matrix – it’s comfortable, but if you believe or know it’s a lie, can you really keep living in it and pretend like it’s real? It’s impossible. I must follow the truth, and that’s all there is to it. My emotions will just have to shut up and come along for the ride.

But as I said, the ride is over. I’ve read all I can read, I’ve thought all I can think, and I’ve prayed my little heart out too many times to count. I’ve given God his “last chance” about sixteen times, and each time it’s gotten a little more desperate, though with similar response – silence. How could a loving God bear to let his own child agonize over something like this, without giving some sort of help? I don’t think there’s a rational response to that answer, except for one: Because he does not exist. That’s the only conclusion I can come to, from whatever angle I tackle the complex problem. So I’m done. Game over. I am getting out of this before it sucks away any more of my life from me. I’m going to piece together what’s left of me, and start building myself up again.

But the big question is still this: Where do I go from here? Atheism is a big, wide open expanse. After all, the only requirement to call yourself one is that you don’t believe in a God. Everything else is up to you to decide. What is my political stance? What do I think about abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage, and other social issues? How do I form my system of ethics? What purpose will I find for my life? Before, all these questions were spoon-fed to me. The assumption that the Bible is true led naturally to certain conclusions (although that is much simplified, since denominations wildly disagree on how to interpret what it says). Everything was neat and tidy. It was sterilized and sanitized and put into neat little packages. “If you are a Christian, you will do _____.” Nice and simple. A convenient way to interpret the world.

One thing I know is that life is not simple. And to its credit, I think Christianity does a pretty good job at covering many of the intricacies of life. It’s certainly had long enough to grow, develop, shift, and evolve to encompass them. But it would be so much easier if, now that I am setting that aside, I could just as easily pick up another framework for interpreting life. I could avoid this whole building process by getting something that’s ready-made. But alas, that’s not the case. Christians who talk about the “atheist worldview” or that “atheism is just another religion” don’t know what they’re talking about. There’s no formal dogma, no necessity to believe anything you don’t want to believe, no structured gatherings, no object of worship, and no developed traditions. It’s just a simple statement: “I don’t believe in God.” Or, “I lack belief in a God.” From there, the world is yours to define and interpret and model and structure. Just you, and the whole, wide world.

It’s a scary thing to face. It’s why I’ve spent so much time holding out for God to make his dramatic entrance and save the day. I want to believe that he’s there – desperately. But I just can’t anymore. The evidence all points against it. So that’s that. I need to keep a stiff upper lip, as the Brits say, and just go through with it. Somehow I have to figure out who I am, what the world is like, and what I believe about it all over again. Somehow I thought I was done with that back in high school. It certainly looked that way. But here I am, writing this, and telling the world that I’m no longer a Christian. How sad. How depressing. How freeing. How hopeful.

I’m starting to feel like I’m writing my graduation speech all over again, so I’ll stop. But let me just say that while I have been having some serious mood swings in regards to this issue, I am still hopeful about the future. I am confident that I will figure things out, and will find my own little sanitized way to interpret the world. Why? Because I must. It is inevitable that I will resolve my dilemma, because a person cannot permanently live in this state of tension that I’m in right now. Perhaps I’ll have to read some existentialist literature. I’ll try to find some Jean-Paul Sartre, and maybe he can shed some light on defining one’s purpose. Who knows? I surely don’t. But I’m willing to find out.

3 responses to “Upward and Onward”

Autumn

I remember my moment of feeling exactly this. I never set out to find out if God existed or not, I just had a lot of questions as a Christian and the answers brought me here. I can’t help that I no longer believe – it wasn’t a choice I made, it was a realization that hit me.

I’ve very much appreciated your blog Jeff. It’s been a huge help to me as I’m about 3 years behind you in this journey and was very lonely in this until about 2 months ago. I finally told my in-laws and my father about my lost beliefs (my husband and my siblings already knew) and a few friends know now too. Each conversation has gone really well (considering everyone but my siblings are Christians) but I have one more important one to tackle and it’s a doosy. My mother is the most religious person I know and not in a good way. She is the type of person who would be very susceptible to joining a cult. She has warped ideas about EVERYTHING and I’m terrified to tell her I’m an atheist. Growing up, we talked a lot about God and everything to do with it and even though I don’t give any signs of being a Christian, she still thinks I am one because I haven’t gone out and “sinned”. I don’t pray with her or talk about God or anything. I need to tell her because I feel like I’m living a double life and I’d rather her see me for exactly who I am. Anyway, I’m visiting her tomorrow with the intent to tell her – any advice? Words of encouragement? Ideas?

Jeff

Hi Autumn,

Thank you for sharing that small part of your story with me! I’m glad that my blog has been able to help. I certainly understand the process that you’re going through, and it’s tough to know what to say to people and when is the right time. I personally opted to tell my parents in two stages: I told them first that I was “having serious doubts,” and had a long conversation with them about that. After several months went by and they were somewhat adjusted to that news, I told them that I no longer believed in God and had another long conversation with them. I think this approach worked well because it let them get used to the idea of their son losing his faith. You have to remember that even though you have been mulling this over in your brain for a long time, it can come as a shock to everyone else! Being sensitive to this is important in order to keep the conversation positive.

You obviously know your parents much better than I do, but if you think it might help, it could be easier to have your father there at the time when you tell your mother. Since you’ve told him already, he can provide you with a bit of support and also help ease your mother into the idea as well. But that, of course, depends on the dynamic between your parents, and it could also make your mother feel like the two of you are ganging up on her. So use that with caution.

Other thoughts I had when telling my parents were to choose the right time. I certainly know what you mean about needing to be honest with your loved ones. But keep in mind that you have no obligation to tell anyone about your own personal beliefs (or lack thereof). Finding a time that you and they are both comfortable with will be easiest. I made sure when I told my parents that a) they were both in a relatively good mood at the time and b) I avoided telling them near any major holidays (if it didn’t go well, I didn’t want to sour the experience of that holiday for them forever!). Other than that, I just tried to be sure to be as civil about it as possible—trying to avoid arguing with them, instead just stating how I had reached my conclusions and answering any questions they had. This isn’t the time to try to deconvert them; it’s a time to explain yourself and let them come to terms with it as gently as possible.

I truly hope your conversation with your mother goes well! It is a difficult process, but being open with those you care about makes a big difference in how easy it is to build your life back up after tearing it all down. So thanks for your comment, and I wish you all the best, now and in the future 🙂

Jeff

Autumn

Thanks for your thoughts Jeff. Unfortunately, having my dad there is not ideal as my parents are separated but I guess at least I know that if this doesn’t go well there are still a lot of family members that know and are ok with it. So far I have been avoiding holidays to mention it because I don’t want to cause drama or ruin anything – I’m specifically visiting her tomorrow to tell her because I feel like it’s a good time. I am, however, going to suggest we go for a walk because I don’t want her to feel cornered or have to ask me to leave – I’d rather just give her the chance to not invite me back in if she’s uncomfortable with that. I like the idea of sharing my doubts with her first because what you said is true: that even though I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, it’s still a shock to others. Since I don’t get to see my mom a whole lot, I think I’m going to start the conversation by explaining my doubts and questions and lead up to the conclusion I’ve come to. It doesn’t give her a lot of time to prepare and adjust for what she’ll eventually see coming, but it’s better than me holding out longer and suddenly blurting it out when she brings up one of those warped ideas I mentioned she has. Anyway, I really appreciate you replying so quickly and for bothering to at all. It encourages me to see where you came from (very similar to my own background) and where you are today and I’m glad to know that somebody else knows how I feel. Being surrounded by Christians can be exhausting and very lonely sometimes. So thanks 🙂

Leave a Reply