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The Anniversery of My Unbelief (sort of)

March 31, 2011

Light dinner conversation…

Just over a year ago I was at a convention with two of my friends, having dinner the last night before we headed back home. The conversation between the two of them turned into a rather heated debate over the role of women in marriage. My friend J, a conservative, reformed Presbyterian, falls firmly on the side of Paul (the apostle), saying that women should submit to their husbands. D, a less conservative, less religious, Methodist, believes that Paul was writing to people of a certain era, when it was considered proper for women to submit to their husbands and slavery was alright.

During the course of the debate I was mostly silent. I had seen J debate this exact same issue with another friend before and knew that he wouldn’t be moved by any argument. D was arguing against the infallibility of the scripture, claiming that it was only a historical document written by men, reflecting the mindset of the time. J was, of course, insisting that the scriptures are the Divinely Inspired Word of God, 100% infallible and literally true in every aspect. I began to realize that I agreed far more with D’s view than with J’s.

This realization wasn’t exactly a huge epiphany to me; I already knew that I believed the same thing, more or less, but it was during this conversation that I realized, too, that I no longer believed in the religions based on these scriptures. I also found the courage to side with my friend D (partly because I wanted to calm J down, he was getting quite irate, loud, and forceful at this point and people in the restaurant were starting to look at us) and tell J that I, too, think that the scriptures were written by men and weren’t some magical book dictated by God.

The conversation ended in a stalemate, I managed to calm J down and get D to stop pushing his buttons so we could enjoy our meal in peace and not ruin the last night of the trip for all of us. But that realization stuck with me, kept nagging me for the next few weeks. I, of course, continued going to church (since it is my place of employment), but I spent most of the time praying that God would reveal himself to me if he were truly real. I had prayed this prayer a number of times in the past, but usually ended up choosing to believe regardless of my doubts.

That hideous strength…

This would be the last time that I could cover over those doubts so easily. Each time the mountain of doubts had grown larger and the strength of my indoctrination and faith to cover it over had become weaker. I was no longer able to hide my unbelief from myself. I remember sitting in church one Sunday morning, having completed my half of the service, not paying attention to the sermon but “pondering these things in my heart” (to paraphrase Luke). It was then that I actually admitted to myself that I no longer believe. I admitted that I am, indeed, an atheist.

Now that I think about it, the conference was in mid-March, so it was probably April before I admitted my unbelief to myself. I know that it was after Easter, which was April 4 last year. So this post may be just a bit shy of the anniversary of my “becoming atheist” (though I now consider myself to have been an atheist for much longer than this, but this was the point when I actually realized and admitted it to myself).

One year later…

So, now I have spent nearly a year coming to terms with this fact and trying to figure out what it will mean in my life. I have spent a year looking for employment outside the church (unsuccess­fully), I have spent a year actively hiding a large part of my life from almost everyone I know, and I have spent a year experiencing the freedom of being able to allow myself to explore the world of atheist writings and videos online and in print.

It has been very eye-opening, especially reading the story of Dan Barker. I have come to realize that I am not alone. I am not the first minister to doubt his religion and then abandon it for unbelief, logic, and reason. I am not the only person stuck, right now, living a secret life. I am not the first to see the inconsistencies in the scripture and in the doctrines I have been taught, and doubt the religion that has taught me these things. My ideas aren’t new, or incorrect. Reading the writings of other atheists doesn’t often cause me to see something new, rather it usually causes me to nod in agreement, having realized the idea they are writing about on my own some time earlier. (This is not to say that I never come across new information in the writings of Dawkins, Harris, and others, I do, but the basic facts that lead them to not believe are the same facts that led me to not believe.)

I have spent a year noticing just how much Christian dogma my friends on Facebook post, and wondering how many of them would defriend me were they to find out the truth. (There are a handful of my friends who I know will not abandon me, even Christian ones, for they already know of this blog and my secret life. To those of you with whom I have trusted this information: I thank you so much for your understanding over the past few months.) I have spent a year feeling more and more alienated from my family (though,  I also know that the alienation I feel is a drop in the bucket compared to how many families actually operate, I am still very close to everyone in my family and I have the feeling that even when/if I tell them of my unbelief that they will still love and accept me)  each time I visit.

Overall, the freedom I’ve found in doing away with my dual-minded ability to not believe in God while embracing the religion far outweighs the negative impact that having to hide a large part of myself from those around me has had. (And let’s be honest, I have been hiding this part of me for over fifteen years now. The only difference is that I’m no longer hiding it from myself, too!) I am free to think the things I think, free to appreciate the world around me for what it is, free to live my life now and not worry about my life after I die. I no longer have to feel guilty for my doubts, and that is a wonderful thing.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2011 12:24 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing your story! I had a somewhat similar experience, in that when I would read something critical about religion or read a story that was religious satire, I would find myself agreeing with many of the points, even when I still believed in God. By the time I actually realized I was an atheist (about two years ago) it wasn’t a sudden change, but an outcome of a slow process. Personally, I went from really believing in a personal God in middle school, to believing in a vague higher power during high school, to realizing I was an atheist in my third year of college.

    I’m also sort of a “secret atheist”; I haven’t told anyone yet. However, I don’t work at a religious institution, so it’s probably easier for me than it must be for you. All the best with finding a new job and with everything!

    • April 2, 2011 8:38 pm

      Thanks, Ani! I’ve been so amazed to learn just how many people there are out there with stories so similar to my own.

      Also, while I really wish I could have lived my live up to this point not having been indoctrinated with the lies of religion, I am glad that I have spent so much time thinking, studying, and struggling with these issues. I know that this is truly what I believe and not just some malarkey I’ve bought into.

  2. Steve permalink
    April 10, 2011 5:27 pm

    I am right there with you. I am a minister (of music) too and am an atheist. I began doubting some stuff 10 years ago but nothing serious. I suppressed the doubts. About 5 years ago I decided to really begin digging through my faith and see what it was based on. I had all the intentions of growing closer to God. Well, as you can see that didn’t work out. I read and watched so many books and documentaries, asked questions to scholars, and had open dialogue with my closest friends who don’t really believe anymore either. From where I stand now, I can’t believe I used to think the way I did. I am truly free inside but keep this secret from family and friends (except 3 or 4). What I have found is that no amount of logic and reason will convince those who just see things through the eye of faith. Luckily, my wife and I stopped believing together and have drawn even closer because of it. Best wishes to you throughout your journey!

    • April 10, 2011 11:52 pm

      Thanks for the comment and for reading! You’re the first music minister I’ve heard from since starting this, glad to know it isn’t just pastors who study and become convinced religion is a lie, but other kinds of ministers too! :)

      I’m also glad to hear that you and your wife both stopped believing together, I’ve heard a lot of stories where that doesn’t happen and it seems to only end badly.

      You mentioned that you can’t believe you used to think the way you did. Just tonight in the evening service the pastor was saying something about Mormonism, as he was speaking I was thinking how insane I always thought the Mormon religion was but never really stopped to think how insane my own religion was. Really, they’re equally crazy.

      • Steve permalink
        April 11, 2011 7:34 pm

        So, how do you get through all the day in and day out stuff at church? I just treat it like any job and pretend I’m all about the product and sell, sell, sell. (kinda anyway) I actually avoid direct answers about theology and such so I don’t get too divided mentally. It’s not too hard just singing and acting into it because I do love music. However, I try to remain a little vague in song setups and stuff like that sometimes. It’s kind of an art really I guess. I find if I haven’t been studying anti-religion material it’s easier to lead each week. However, I can’t hardly do that because I love to learn. Does anyone at your church suspect you’re not buying it? Yeah, I’m trying to change careers too and as soon as I do it will be a huge burden lifted. Did you participate in the LaScola/Dennett study? Or, have you read it?

      • April 11, 2011 10:35 pm

        Well, it helps that this is a part time job. I do my office work and choir rehearsal on Wednesday afternoon and I lead music in the services on Sunday. Sometimes I’ll get asked to do music for a funeral, but that is a separate gig which I consider to be solo work (and I get paid separately, as well).

        I think that my part-time status helps with their perceptions of me, as well. I don’t really get involved in theology, and I don’t consider myself a minister so much as just a music director (which is hard in the SBC, because they consider their music people to be ministers more than other denominations tend to). Even if I hadn’t come to realize my unbelief, I went into this job knowing that my theology (and politics, moral standards) were vastly different than those of the SBC. Theological viewpoints were never brought up, I was hired because of my music training and as a part-time interim.

        I feel really weird leading prayers now, when asked, but I have always felt a bit shy about public praying/speaking, so nothing has really changed. The hardest part, for me, is listening to the sermons. The preacher is a just left of fundamentalist kind of Southern Baptist guy, and I haven’t shared his views on anything in years now. Ten years ago I wouldn’t have agreed with anything he teaches, now even less.

        No, I didn’t participate in the study, but reading about it is what caused me to a) realize that I am an unbeliever, and b) that I’m not alone in being an unbelieving minister. It is one of the things that prompted me to create this blog.

        I wrote about it in “The Story That Started All This” on October 11, 2010.

  3. almost there permalink
    September 18, 2011 11:46 pm

    I don’t think I am an atheist quite yet, but can’t figure out what is left in my religion to believe in anymore. It seems that at least once or twice a week I find yet another point I can’t buy into. I’m still a full time minister increasingly feeling like a fraud. This isn’t for the money, that is for sure, I just like helping people. Problem is, I choose to help with something that actually works, common sense, compassion and care. I guess if it is a gradual thing, my atheist days are coming.

  4. September 18, 2012 1:17 pm

    I know this is a late comment, since this article is over a year old, but I just felt the need to leave a comment after reading….Great post.

    I am free to think the things I think, free to appreciate the world around me for what it is, free to live my life now and not worry about my life after I die. I no longer have to feel guilty for my doubts, and that is a wonderful thing.

    • October 5, 2012 1:04 am

      Thanks! I always hope that something I write here will affect someone else. Of course I know it really doesn’t matter, the most important thing this blog has given me is an outlet for these thoughts, a way to keep myself sane, but it is always good to know that someone else likes what I’ve written.

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