Well, today’s the big day. It’s officially been one year since my “de-conversion.” I marked this day down in my agenda as the “Day of Awakening” – not that I really mean that in a condescending way, like before I was asleep and now I’m awake, but for me it was a moment of truth-finding. I wanted a name that reflected the change in perspectives. Anyway, I don’t think that I really have anything profound to say here, but I’d like to take a bit of time to reflect and think back on the year that has passed.
I remember very vividly the day that I said my last prayer. I had just been let down yet again at church on Sunday (asking for some sort of sign), and I knew that I simply couldn’t continue on like this. It was too painful, and because I had already essentially come to the realization that I had no intellectual reasons to believe anymore, I was left only with the hope of God showing up in some way to help me out. After that Sunday, I took a couple days to sort it out in my head and figure out what to do. And then, on Tuesday, August 19th, I said my last prayer. I knelt down beside my bed, and told God that I was still open to hearing from him if he ever decided to actually show up. But, I could no longer keep on holding out hope, and I told him that I just didn’t believe that he existed anymore. (I know, strange to talk to someone and tell them you think they don’t exist!) After my prayer, I got up and stared out my window. The emotions were intense. The process I had been going through was one of the most painful times of my life, and saying that final prayer really didn’t help much. Maybe a little bit, though – it did give a sense of finality to it. My journey was over – at least, the bulk of it was.
Shortly before that point, I had been visiting a website for ex-Christians. It’s a site devoted to helping people that have come out of Christianity, to help them heal wounds and provide support in whatever way they needed. A notable feature of the site is its de-conversion stories, and one thing I did in the days that followed was to write up my own and post it there. Just writing it out made me feel a bit better, and the community at the site did help me as well. I mostly needed a bit of reassurance. I also read some of the other de-conversion stories, and was amazed at how much more difficult of a time some people had. Some had struggled for years. Others had told their family and were shunned or ostracized. One former old-order Mennonite woman almost was not allowed to go to her own mother’s funeral because her family did not want her to be a part of it. Reading those made me feel much better – because as much pain as I had felt, I know there were others who had a much harder time with it.
But mostly, it is time that has been healing my wounds. I continued to do research and read books and websites about religion and theology, and I really tried to nail down some new beliefs. After all, becoming an atheist is not like becoming a Christian. Christianity provides a pretty big structural framework of beliefs and attitudes. Atheism is more of a cafeteria lineup, and with so many options, it was hard to know where to begin. That’s been the biggest process for me, and it continues to be my focus. But mostly, what led most to my healing process was just getting away from religion for a while. I had been visiting that site for ex-Christians regularly, but it got to the point that it was making it worse to even read about religion. I just wanted to stop thinking about it for a while. Doing that helped a lot. I still did visit some sites that focused on the topic, but it had been such a part of my life for the previous year that I just needed to get away from it. I wanted to actually live life again.
So there’s a short summary of what’s gone on. I have found that life as an atheist has been, well, pretty much the same as life as a Christian, except that now I get to sleep in on Sundays. Seriously – when you really get down to your day-to-day life, not much changes. You still have family and friends, a job or school, and hobbies and interests. Some things certainly change in dramatic ways, but my life is no better or worse off now. I am still happy, and I still live a good life. And now I feel that I am being intellectually honest with myself, which is great. We always feel more satisfied when we believe that we are following the truth. It removes the angst of just not knowing. That satisfaction would have come no matter what conclusion I reached, but I’m just glad that I reached one.
Much of the pain is gone. I still wax nostalgic every once in a while. Sometimes I will get a worship song stuck in my head, and I wish I could go back to feeling that feeling that I got when singing those songs. Sometimes I get stuck at a loss for words when someone tells me about some personal difficulties they are going through. It’s so much easier to say, “I’ll pray for you” than it is to offer helpful advice or actually go and help them with actions. I’ve also spent so long thinking about myself and my own beliefs, that I’ve sort of neglected my friends to a certain extent. I have to learn how to meaningfully help others all over again.
But those, to be honest, are minor concerns. I have seen those painful memories or awkward moments fade with time so far, and I know that they will continue to do so as I spend longer on the other side of the fence. I am glad that those around me have been supportive and helpful, and I am glad that I have been able to focus my energies on other pursuits now that my crisis of faith is over. Certainly it is always a continuing journey, but the past year has shown that I am able to keep going and live a meaningful existence, even without the belief in divine beings. What the future has in store, I don’t know, but as usual, I am excited and optimistic for whatever will come my way. I hope that by this time next year, I’ll be able to report in and say that I’ve been able to nail down a more complete worldview. I want to figure out what I believe in terms of ethical theories, and also deal with my political persuasion. And of course, I also want to go out and enjoy my life a little bit – because that’s what it’s there for!
Anyway, that’s all I’ll say. This day, for me, is focused on atheism, on self-reflection, and on thinking about future goals. Now that I’m done this blog post, I think I’ll go out and watch a Richard Dawkins documentary, spend some time worshipping the god Athe (hah, get it?), and maybe sacrificing a virgin or two. Well, okay, maybe just the first one…