Born in 1947 in the first wave of WWII 'baby boomers', I was raised unremarkably as a free-thinking, progressive Episcopalian, an experience without much soul-scarring trauma and for which I still have fond memories. So I cannot claim that running from horrible memories of dogmatic tyranny was a factor. I immediately followed that up with a period of social and political activism centering on civil rights and war in southeast Asia. What propelled me to finally eject religion as an unnecessary companion to all my moral sojourning was an intersection of two things:
1. An inescapable, growing awareness that the very foundation of religious faith was rooted in illogic, inconsistency and insufficient evidence to justify the blind fealty that it so officiously demanded.
2. A inexplicable welling up of the courage needed to simply withdraw my assent to religious faith as a way of knowing. I can't stress enough how important this last factor was in my ultimate leap of reason.
That was some years ago and as I happily reflect, largely without regret, it was the most sane. clear minded decision I ever made.
I'm a "post religion" atheist. I wasn't raised to believe in any particular faith or religion (perfect now that I look back).
I met my wife, who believed but had "backslidden" and felt she needed to get right. As such, she asked me to attend church with her one Easter and because I was falling for her and thought she was so stinkin hot, I agreed. Long story short, I began to dig the change of perspective and wanted to be in sync with my wife so I continued to attend with her. I slowly started to develop friendships with members of the church and those personal connections kept me wrapped up and involved in the church for years.
About a year ago, we relocated to the Kansas City area and began to visit churches in the area and none of them really did anything for me and found the people in them so hypocritical. Soon after, I began to spend more time studying the Bible and research religion as a whole. I found so many things in the Bible that just made me sick to my stomach and I just couldn't force myself to believe any longer.
I finally decided to tell my wife of nearly 12 years that I had been living a lie and had to come clean and free myself from the religious dogma that I had forced myself to believe for so long. She continues to practice her faith and I am ok with it but refuse to participate just because I love her and our 4 kids.
Underneath all the external trappings and time spent deeply entrenched in The Church, I think I've always been an atheist, or at the very least, agnostic. My parents forced me to attend Sunday school and catechism classes when I was a kid, but I ended up having the minister ask me to leave because I "asked too many questions."
I later had the full-blown born-again fundy experience, read the bible cover to cover several times, prayed daily, taught Sunday school, functioned as worship leader, song writer, musician/pianist, and held many other positions in the church over the years. I never considered my continual questioning of everything contradictory to my faith (although others in the church did); in my own concept of god, I thought he would want me to question everything, because that would only serve to strengthen my faith rather than diminish it. What finally turned me on the organized and church aspect of christianity was the rigid gender roles/subtle sexism (if god accepted all as equal, and I'm supposed to have a personal relationship directly with him without the need for an intercessor, then why was the ministry so hell-bent on me needing them to be my spiritual "heads?") and the financial and sex scandals of the church organization I was involved with.
My belief system continued to evolve further and further away from christianity. I took a belief quiz at belief.net once, and my ideals/values indicated that I was neo-pagan, so I explored that for awhile. I was never able to fully accept it. For me, it was simply trading one ideology of magical thinking for another.
The pivotal, turning-point moment for me came when I had my first child, who was born prematurely and had a very rare genetic disorder that was not compatible with life. During the 4 days I had with him, and in the aftermath of his loss and my grieving process, it became more and more crystal clear to me that I was not neo-pagan at all, but rather atheist. I wasn't angry about the loss, I didn't blame a non-existent god, I understood science well enough to "get" the deal with his genetic disorder...but I became very, very angry with the christian platitudes that were offered to me as "comfort." It was absolutely ludicrous (and insulting) to have people tell me that my dead baby was now somehow magically transformed into an angel who would then watch over me for the rest of my life, and whom I would someday be reunited with in a mythical place called heaven. I was his mother, his caregiver...how bizarre to be told that now that he was dead, somehow god was going to make him caregiver over me. It was during the grieving period when it just all became so clear to me how crazy and bizarre and fantastical religious claims about death (among other things) were.
It didn't hurt that my ex-husband's very religious mother made an issue out of whether or not our baby was baptized before he died. It was insulting enough to be told he was an angel now, but even worse to have it implied to us that if we didn't have him baptized before he died, there was some cruel and sadistic god who would send him to hell or purgatory or limbo or some place of suffering because of something we failed to do. His genetic condition caused him enough suffering as it was, and she was seriously going to claim that god would allow him eternal suffering because of a ritual left undone? Are you fucking kidding me?! And after he passed, I was expected by his family to never mention him again, because it was just "too painful" for them to even hear his name. Really? He was my baby, but it was too painful for them?
I had 4 beautiful days with Ian. His short life, and his death, could be called by some a very spiritual experience for me. Certainly, it came with a great deal of epiphany, but I think it would more accurately be called deep, and meaningful, and yes, enlightening. Because being his mother for 4 days, and then having to dig deep within myself to find the courage to let him go and take him off of life support because it was the right thing to do, because I loved him and didn't want him to suffer needlessly just because I wished I could have more time with him, well, I can tell you, those are truly defining moments in a person's life.
His life was short but beautiful. His death was also short but beautiful. But the truly beautiful thing about my baby boy's life and death is how it brought me to the epiphany that life could be beautiful and deeply meaningful entirely without religion. That people could find the courage within themselves to do good, and do what is kind and right, without religiosity or religious morality dictating what that "should" look like. That I could be free to grieve his loss in the way that was healthiest for me, that I could see his life and death as something positive and, strangely, life-affirming.
To quote Damon Fowler: "Every second of life is precious when you don't get eternity."