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An Atheist in the Pew

By IDH ~

Good morning brothers and sisters. I'm your father, sister, spouse, maybe your best friend. I have a secret, and as much as I can allow it right now, I want you to know the truth. Though I sit in the pew with you, I am a closeted atheist.

Years ago I decided to "own" my faith. I did it for God, and for the Kingdom. I took up "God's Word" to make it my own, to demonstrate my love and dedication. My intentions were pure and holy. The first few years weren't so bad, and I felt closer to God than ever. I realized that the believers in the church across the street (the "wrong" kind of Christians) actually had some well founded beliefs, backed by scripture. In fact, almost every belief (even the contradictory ones) can be backed by scripture! But... what could that mean? God wouldn't author confusion.

My mind weighed this paradox for months... years... then over time a singular idea took hold:

Why have I starting with a conclusion? How is this possible, I asked. I realized that it wasn't my conclusion! I was born into it! Oh my God. You can imagine my surprise. I'd never really gone back with any detail to check the facts. How had this happened? It just "felt" normal, as natural as breathing or seeing a sunset.

So I turned to Christian apologetics. Surely, someone has some actual reason or evidence. I ask my Christian friends. I ask my church leadership. I research on the internet. Lee Strobel? C.S. Lewis? Dieing for a lie? Liar, lunatic, or Lord? We can't prove that it didn't happen? This isn't even reason, let alone evidence. These vaunted minds are the best there are? This CAN'T be all that there is. PLEASE let there be something! PLEASE GOD, LET THERE BE SOMETHING!!

The years went by. More than once I prayed for death, with hope of deliverance from my doubts. I tried to force myself to believe, I tried to shut the doubts out. I tried to unlearn and unthink, to forget the real world. I tried, prayed, pleaded to experience a spirit other than the one that was a product of my emotions. The doubts only grew. No one spoke. God remained silent. Eventually my faith withered, like a green vine in a desert. I still have difficulty calling myself an atheist.

But here I am, nevertheless.

I could go in front of our congregation right now and tell all of you the truth. You would probably laugh at first. I can't be an atheist, you'd say. I'm not full of rage or hate, I haven't changed. I still have "the spirit", you've seen it in me.

"I don't believe in talking snakes and talking donkeys. When was the last time you heard me speak of miracles?"

Your brow furrows. So maybe that stuff is metaphorical. You'd call me a liberal, but surely not an atheist.

"I don't believe in hell. When was the last time you heard me mention sin? I couldn't even worship a being capable of creating such a place if it were real."

Your eyes widen. I shouldn't say such things.

"I don't believe in trying to convert others. When was the last time you heard me condemn homosexuals, or members of other religions, or try to "win a soul" from a life of sin? Why can't God do his own talking?"

Your head spins. You have to sit down.

"I don't believe people come back from the dead. Not when they're dead for one day, or three days."

You experience terror. You realize that it's been years since I've said anything about "our" beliefs. You wonder how you missed it. Your throat tightens, you feel tears forming.

"I don't believe in God. I am an atheist."

You imagine God rejecting me, you imagine me burning, you imagine the pain of an eternity without me.

But it's all in my head. I sit here in the pew. I imagine the pain you would experience as I tell you these things. I feel tears forming, you most likely think I'm being moved by the spirit.

I love you, and I mean it. I'm your son, your daughter, your wife or your husband. I don't believe in heaven, hell, talking snakes, Gods, or resurrections. I feel angry and depressed that our church, that you, would consider me the unreasonable one for no longer believing in these silly things. I hope that this evil will die with us, that the next generation will be free of these lies; free to love and be loved for who we are, not for silly beliefs about childish stories of magic and monsters.

I understand that anxiety is real, even when it isn't based in reality. I live this lie for you, because I must, because "our" beliefs offer me no alternative. I lie because I love you too much to do otherwise. I hope, someday, I can tell you the truth. I hope some day you can love me for who I really am.