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Freedom Bought with Pain

By Michael Hines

Let me start by saying that I am an atheist. More correctly, I am an eighteen year old anti-theist. It both saddens and angers me to see the prevalence of religion in my state and country. I live in Texas, which is not an ideal place for someone like me. I look and see the discrimination against atheists and homosexuals (which, incidentally, I am not, but they face a similar or worse plight than I do) and the absolute hypocrisy of the Christian presence in America.

Someone who is openly atheist has next to no chance of holding any political position in this country, let alone my state. I find that it is such a shame that the admirable goals of the Framers of this country, religious freedom in particular, have been so twisted by religion itself. It is for this reason that I am an anti-theist and actively strive towards the shifting of power away from these people. I have nothing against the personal belief in a deity, but I do not want to be ruled by a religion that I do believe in.

Let me start at the beginning. I was raised Christian. A full blown, young earth creationist, home-schooled Bible-believing, god-loving, church-going Christian.

Fetch?Image by eskimo_jo via Flickr

I spent my early years living in military housing in Ft. Lewis, Washington. It was there that my brother and sister were born, and it was there that I received my first pet, Samson, an Australian Shepard whom I named after the herculean Bible hero.

There was a public school at the end of the block where I lived, and I learned that it was there that children learned about Satan and evil and various other scary things, and that I should be grateful that I was home-schooled. There is at least one time that I can remember that my parents threatened to send me there if I did not change my behavior and I can remember being intensely afraid of being sent to the evil place at the end of my block where The Devil reigned and God and Jesus were cast aside. I was quite content to be home schooled, and had an immense love for science in particular.

Soon, my parents decided that we were Messianic Jewish. I cannot remember exactly when this transition happened, but I remember the time that we were getting pizza with friends and my family made sure to get pizza without pepperoni, because pepperoni was made from filth.

Fast forward several years. We stayed Messianic Jewish and my Samson soon shared the house with another pet, my black cat, Charley. I swear, he was the most intelligent cat I have ever known. I remember multiple times when I was sick that he would come and lay by my side. I don't know if he sensed that something was wrong with me or if it was mere coincidence, but I loved that cat with all my heart, and I am quite certain that he loved me as much as any cat can.

When I was 13, I was given my Bar Mitzvah, where I read my Aliyah in front of my entire church by my father's side, and was then baptized on the same day. I had become a man, and I felt as if I could take on the world.

Another year passed, and we moved to Texas. I found myself slacking behind in my home school, and finally my mother had had enough. I was promptly shipped off to a Middle School, where I managed to get by in all my classes, earning the love of most of my teachers. It was science class that I rejoiced the most in. I loved science class, and even though I entered the school in the middle of the year, I quickly got up to speed, reading my textbook from cover to cover. Evolution be damned, it was only a theory after all, but everything else was amazing.

I soon graduated from Middle school and moved on into High School. In the ninth grade, I spent the first half of the year moping, having no friends and feeling quite alone.

It was then that I met a girl named Charlotte. She really saved me from myself, perking up my spirits and becoming one of my best friends. She and her girlfriend were Wiccans. I accepted her religious choice, but found it necessary to defend my own beliefs whenever the topic of religion came up. It was she who planted the seeds of doubt in my heart, and I found many of the questions she asked me I had to in turn ask my youth group leader. Certain things just didn't quite line up. Suffering, for example. Why does God allow children to die of starvation? What happens if a man in South America dies without every hearing the Gospel? How could any merciful god send a person to suffer for all eternity for simply not believing?

I continued to fight the good fight, however, and persistently believed that even if I didn't understand God, that didn't mean that he wasn't who he said he was. Right?

The succeeding year, my parents moved me back to home school, for a Christian program. History class was all about biblical history. Biology was taught from a creationist standpoint. I found that I grew tired of it. I just stopped doing the work, not out of conscious rejection of Christianity, but because it simply lacked the zest my public school textbooks had given me. I failed that school year, and was held back a grade.

At Thanksgiving, we drove to my grandparents house and left the pets at home. When we came back, Charly wouldn't eat. We took him to the vet, who explained that his liver was failing. For two weeks, we force fed him baby food and water with a syringe, hoping and praying that he would get better. I prayed harder than I can ever remember. I quoted scripture on the healing of the sick, and begged God to make him get better. It was not his time, I told myself. He still had a good six or seven years. I fed him and gave him water and watched as his condition worsened. I watched as my dad performed CPR on him as his heart failed and I cried when he finally died. I said nothing at his burial, remaining silent in my grief.

I tried to keep the faith. I read the bible and convinced myself that it was just God's will. God works in mysterious ways, I told myself. I just had to trust him.

It was about a year after that, more or less, that Samson grew ill. It turns out that his body was riddled with tumors. All we could do was try and make him comfortable as he died. Finally, we buried him next to Charley. About a month after that, my parents were talking divorce. Apparently my mom was going to take my baby brother and my sister and was going to live somewhere else. I prayed for comfort. I begged for help from the Lord. And I realized something.

I heard no response. Absolutely nothing. I was talking to myself.

It was then that I realized the truth.

At first I spiraled into depression. I was depressed for at least a year. I grew to hate The Lie. The Great Deception that had let me down. I was never taught to believe in Santa Claus, but I imagine that it is a similar experience. Everywhere I went, The Lie was embraced.

I became a Nihilist. Morals were false. Existence was worthless. Life meant nothing and Death was worse. The only meaning in my life had been stolen from me, and now I was alone and angry and hurt and soon I was going to die. Die. I was going to lose myself. All of a sudden, I stared into the future in terror at the thought that I would lose my identity and my consciousness and my thoughts and my feelings and I was afraid. Multiple times I felt compelled to just get it over with and end it then. My nihilism was just that strong. In many ways I still hold these same beliefs, but I am getting better.

Sometimes it hurts to believe what I believe. I find comfort in knowing that there are millions of other who are of the same understanding as I, but it is still hard. But I have promised myself that no longer would I lie to myself just because The Lie made better promises.

I wish I could say my story has a happy ending, but I don't know yet. Perhaps it will. Perhaps it won't. But I feel better knowing that I'm not deceived any more. That the blinders are being taken off more and more people everyday. That science and human power are making the future a less scary place each day that goes by. Freedom from disease, freedom from ignorance, freedom from mortality, all things to look forward to on the distant horizon, not because of archaic beliefs founded on the superstitions of bronze age nomads, but because of reason and logic and brilliant minds.

That is why I am an ex-Christian. It was freedom bought with pain, but freedom nonetheless.