My story, continued
(This is the continuation of my second post, “Let’s start at the very beginning.”)
New found freedom of ideas
In college I began to seek differing viewpoints, though still mostly in secret from those around me. As I said, I went to a Christian university and most of the students, professors, and staff members were good Christian folk, mostly Southern Baptist. Most, but not all. There were a couple of professors who didn’t quite fit in with what I then thought of as Christians, it intrigued me. It was in college that I was first introduced to the idea (in a religion class) that the Bible contained many inconsistencies and contradictions. I met the first Christian evolutionist I had known, and I began to wonder, more and more, about the things I was as a child. If my college education accomplished nothing more than this then I am very grateful for it.
When I started college I was studying music. Just music, no actual declared major. I soon bowed to the pressure (from my family, professors, and fellow students, whether or not they realized it) and declared my major as church music. This was a great decision as I got a lot of scholarship money without having to worry so much about keeping my grades up like I would have had to with the honors scholarship I started on. I also began working in the church by the end of my freshman year. By the end of my sophomore year I was officially a music director in a local Southern Baptist church!
Sophomore year was a very hard one, I was working my first job in my chosen profession, I had a heavy course load, and I had to worry about my upper-levels at the end of the school year. For the non-music majors out there, upper-levels were sort of a mini-recital for the music faculty to determine if I could start my upper-level classes the next fall. 15 minutes of music. It shouldn’t have been that hard, but nerves got the best of me and I flubbed. Nerves and the stress of that semester. There were many times that semester that I came close to having a nervous breakdown, and I was having to deal with these doubts on top of everything else.
I survived. I re-did my upper-levels first thing in the fall and passed. Aced them, actually. I got into the rhythm of working in the church, of actually being in charge of something rather than following someone else’s orders. But I was still trying to figure out this faith stuff, and what it was I really believed. There were many times I could barely listen to the preacher because I didn’t agree with what he was saying, but I kept my mouth shut and did my job.
New ideas, same old doubts
It was sometime during my first (of two) senior year that I discovered reformed theology. (In the protestant church the two major streams of theology are Arminianism and Calvinism, the biggest defining differences between these two is free will vs. predestination, that is an oversimplification but this is not a post about that, reformed theology is another term for Calvinism, the Southern Baptist church is largely Arminian.) I thought this was the answer to all my problems! Sure, I’d had the wrong answer all this time but the right answer still involved God, the Bible, and almost the same ideas I’d been taught all my life, just a few key points had been wrong!
Of course, I still had my doubts. Indeed, now that I was actually studying theology, I had more. Lots more. But I just ignored them as best I could and kept on being the best Christian that I could. This began to weigh on my mind heavily. I graduated and was still working at the church I started at in my Sophomore year, but I was quickly getting burnt out being in leadership position in the church, especially one that I no longer saw eye-to-eye with. I told myself it was just the difference in theology, but really it was a difference deeper than that. I wasn’t doubting the fact of predestination over free-will, I was doubting the existence of God.
Well, the economy took over for me. I was barely making $150 a week at the church and the economy was in a slump. The job market in my area was dry and money was running out, quickly. I quit the church and moved back to my original hometown. I found work and settled in. I got involved in a Presbyterian church, and a local community choir. I made friends, I worked, and went to church. I began to enjoy life, ignoring my doubts by not thinking deeply on religion at all. And at least the church preached the theology I’d discovered in college.
I worked there for three years and took another, better paying job. I sang in a few productions with the local opera. I realized I missed music and decided to go back to school. A year after I’d started, I quit that job and moved again, starting grad school, studying choral music. My intention was, at first, to get my maser’s and doctorate and then get a college job. I had no interest in working for the church anymore.
Then I discovered that it is nearly impossible to get a college job without high school or at least middle school teaching experience. I had no desire to do that, I really feel that I would do a disservice to any kids I may teach, and I realized that I also really had no desire to teach at the college level after seeing how the politics of it all really interferes with the music. I decided I would go back into church work. I found a local church in need of a choir director and started part-time. I worked there for a year and then moved to another church (the job I have now), also part-time.
Admitting the truth to myself
It was while I was at that first church in grad school that I realized I no longer believe in the Bible, Christianity, or God. I realized that I had ideas far, far to the left of most of the people in the church. I realized that I no longer agreed with my parents on anything. I was in a small group Bible study with some friends and I realized that I really didn’t agree with anything I read. But I didn’t say anything about my disbelief. I kept quiet and I said the things that I knew would go along with what a Christian would say. But I no longer believed them.
I started reading online some of the leading atheist thinkers like Dawkins. I began following PZ Myers’ blog. I began watching videos on YouTube from folks like Thunderf00t. (All of these names, if they are not familiar to you, are on my Links page.) And I didn’t find myself questioning much of what they had to say. I already agreed with these people.
I still couldn’t admit to myself that I no longer believed in any of this, that I was an atheist. I convinced myself I was just in a period of doubt. Of course, the more I examined what I believe, and what I had believed for some time, I realized this period had lasted for over 15 years, half my life. I realized this wasn’t just a period of doubt, but that I no longer believed what I learned as a child, or what I heard at church each week.
So, I admitted to myself that I am an atheist. I no longer believe in Jesus Christ, God, or the Bible. I am working at a church until I can find a full-time job outside the church. I will continue my music as a hobby for now, grateful for all I have learned but realizing that, at this point, it just isn’t a viable career for me. I will apply the skills I’ve learned in the church work in the secular work force and not regret the time I put into it. This happened sometime before the beginning of summer.
It was still hard, having this secret that I couldn’t tell my family, anyone at work, or most of my friends. And I still don’t really know what I’ll do in life. Making a major life change in this bad job market hasn’t been easy. But, at least I don’t have a family to deal with, at least I’m not in a long-term career position, and at least I don’t have much to lose!
I thank you all for the support I’ve received over the past few days. I knew others would have similar stories to my own, I didn’t expect to hear from them so soon. I look forward to further discussion with everyone!
(Update: I’ve made a new post that expounds on the actual ideas that led to my becoming an atheist.)
- Becoming an Atheist at a Christian University (friendlyatheist.com)
- I took the red pill (new.exchristian.net)