12/03/2010 | Share this article: View CommentsBy ExPenty ~
Now that I'm out of the closet as an atheist and used to thinking with an atheistic mindset, I've found myself more and more looking at the past with a mixture of nostalgia, incredulity and regret. I gave more than 20 years of my life for a cause in which I no longer believe, and I have many regrets.
True, in the course of my Christian efforts I did meet my wife, but that's the one good thing I can really say about it.
Looking back, I regret all the time I wasted trying to convert others to Christianity. I regret all the hours wasted in prayer to a non-existent deity, naively believing that I had an intimate relationship with him even though he never so much as spoke to me. I regret all the effort I put into church activities.
I regret giving up playing rugby because training clashed with prayer meetings and bible studies.
Most of all, though, I regret the big things I did as a result of believing God was calling me to serve him in a deeper way.
I spent 2 years with Youth For Christ on their discipleship and youth work training programme, Operation Gideon. Basically I was placed in a team of 3, based in London. I was embedded in a local church, lived with the pastor's family and generally spent 2 years meeting young people in schools, on the streets, at events and in church an trying to convert them. I also had to undertake a personal study programme, which basically amounted to further indoctrination and moulding me into a good evangelical.
After that, again following what I thought was the call of God, I spent three years studying Theology at London Bible College (now known as London School of Theology, a respected evangelical seminary). I did placements with a local Baptist church and Jews for Jesus, and I served on the Student Committee.
So that's five years out of my life dedicated to training and learning. What do I have to show for it now? Not a lot, besides regrets.
I was originally going to study Geology at University, before my religious beliefs caused me to change direction drastically. I was good at geology in school. I aced my exams without needing to study; that's how good I was at geology. Instead of studying geology, however, I wasted my time (and my state funding, as back then students got a grant as well as loans) on studying what I now believe to be a non-subject. Theology, the study of God, has as much real-life application as the study of mermaids.
I went on to become a primary school teacher because I believed that was what God wanted me to do. Several people since have told me that I'm wasted in that job, but it's what I know. Sometimes I like the job, sometimes I don't, but it's all I'm qualified to do and I can't afford the pay cut that changing jobs would lead to. There aren't many jobs that an atheist could do in good conscience for which a degree in theology is a useful asset, after all.
Now I'm a married man and a sole breadwinner with debts that I can just about manage, it's too late for me to go back to university to study something useful. I'm nearly 40 and have health problems, so it's too late for me to take up rugby again. I will never get back all the time and money I wasted on Church activities and on things that I thought honoured God.
God has stolen a lot from me, and I can never get it back from him because he does not exist.
Thank goodness for my wife, whom I first met when I was with Youth For Christ. She's the only thing that I can honestly say was good that came out of all that.