Many people become atheists when they lose their faith. In all honesty, I never had any real faith to lose.
As a child, my family was Catholic, but not devoutly. My mother converted to Catholicism for my biological father. I never felt like religion was important. I was aware of Jesus, and I took Catechism classes so I could receive my first communion, but my focus was on the memorization and getting it right so that my teacher wouldn’t be angry with me. I was a high-strung little kid who was very worried all the time. I thought praying the rosary was like a magic spell; if I did it enough times, nothing bad would happen. I wasn’t worried about heaven or hell, because I didn’t think I was a bad person. I was far more concerned with the threat of vampires than with damnation or sin. The very few times I participated in confession, it felt pointless.
When my father committed adultery and bigamy, and my mother divorced him, we stopped being Catholic. He became a born-again Lutheran with his new wife and my mom and brother and I didn’t go to church anymore. (My mom would now tell you she is a theist, but not a Christian.) My brother Kevin and I were forced to attend church on the weekends we spent with our father. The sermons involved a lot of talk of sin and evil and repenting. Jesus said this, Jesus did that, you should feel like an asshole because Jesus did all this stuff for you and you don’t even want to be here at church today.
All the talk of good and evil and sin and forgiveness and heaven and hell finally got to me. I didn’t feel god’s presence, not even at church. I worried I was not a part of some big thing everyone else said they felt. One Sunday, the sermon was all about people who haven’t truly accepted Jesus Christ into their lives, and how they wouldn’t get into heaven because of it. I asked my father if my two best friends, who were Jewish, would get to go to heaven with us. He said, “If they don’t accept Jesus as the Lord, then no, they won’t go to heaven. They will go to hell.” My 11-year-old brain knew that was utter bullshit. Noah and David were even nicer kids than me. I immediately decided religion was unfair.
Later that year, I read a kids’ version of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and I fell in love. I thought evolution was the coolest thing I had ever thought about. I thought about it all the time. I checked out all the books on dinosaurs I could. I was obsessed with looking for fossils. When we had to make models in school that represented who we considered our hero, most kids made sports stars and actors–I made Darwin. I decided that I no longer believed that god created the earth, because that didn’t make sense whereas evolution did. I stopped saying the Lord’s Prayer in church, and I stopped singing the hymns that made statements I thought were untrue. By the time I was 13, I flat out refused to go to church anymore.
My senior year of high school, the boy I was dating was very into paganism. I had always loved magic and dragons and fairies and all that, so I took to Wicca like a duck to water. It was everything I liked: it was weird, it involved nature, it was ritualistic, it was casting spells. The part of me that liked praying the rosary and hoping for magic to happen because of it was really into all the dogma and ritual that came with Wiccan ceremonies. When the boy and I broke up, I continued being Wiccan, and was very outspoken about it at college. I even got thrown out of a class for standing up to the professor who told me that if I didn’t believe in God, I wasn’t welcome in his class. (Granted, I went to St. Kate’s, but that’s still bullshit.)
Paganism made more sense to me than Christianity. Multiple gods and goddesses, devoted to different aspects of the world and life, resonated with me more than the idea of one omniscient, omnipotent being. But it still didn’t feel right. I was still alone, and my rituals didn’t feel real to me. I felt like I was pretending, burying half a pomegranate at midnight on Samhain, or lighting colored candles on the lesser days. No magic was actually happening, and none of the spells I cast ever came to fruition. More to the point, I wasn’t any happier.
I eventually realized that Wicca was just another organized religion with rules and dogmatic trappings, and that upon searching my feelings, I didn’t really believe in multiple gods and goddesses any more than I believed in one god. Taking that one step further, I finally admitted to myself that I had only ever sought to fit in. Church attendance, catechism classes, Wiccan rituals…all I wanted was to belong to something. I didn’t believe in any of it. I decided it was disingenuous to continue pretending.
I only started labeling myself an atheist within the last 6 or 7 years. Prior to that, I called myself an apatheist. (Is there a god? I don’t care, it doesn’t matter.) Recent events in America have led me to the stronger, more militant approach. I am an atheist. I do not believe in any god. Period. In fact, I would further label myself an anti-theist. I believe religious faith and belief is more often detrimental to humanity and society than it is helpful.
Nothing has ever felt so right. I finally realized what I had been missing all those years: truth. Now that I’m true to myself and what I actually believe, I don’t feel the questing, wishing need for magic, or for belonging. I’m an atheist. I’m a human being. I’m living this life, right now, and that’s all I get.
It’s all I need.