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Atheism Gave Me Hope

By Ethan ~

I grew up in a moderate-to-strict Christian household. My dad was a pastor (at first of one that was part of a chain of churches called Calvary Chapel, now a Southern Baptist pastor). When I grew up, I had a rather positive idea of God. I always thought of him as this parent-like figure that was always watching over me, and always had my back. I went to a Christian school most of my life, until 7th grade, where I was pulled out and homeschooled until my junior year of high school (HORRIBLE).

While I was growing up, I never questioned my faith. I always thought of people who questioned their faith as people who didn't have enough faith to call themselves Christian, and that those who were truly "saved" would never question their faith. I always went through most of my life just blindly following God. If I had any questions, I would always ask my dad, who I thought of as this infallible source of knowledge and had all the God answers. Whenever I heard actual profound questions about God, (Such as, “If God created us, who created God”, “Why would a loving God allow so many horrible things to happen”, “If God created everything, why is there evil in the world”, and so on) I usually WOULD have answers to the questions. However, from a logical standpoint, they just wouldn’t make any sense. I also thought that I just understood God at a level that most of these other people didn’t because they hadn’t been “walking with God” long enough to understand it at my level of knowledge (yeah, I was an arrogant prick when it came to my actually weak faith).

As I grew up with a lot of these beliefs, I had other things that came up in my life.

First of all, I had major anxiety issues when I started going through puberty, and so I would have many days when I would cry, be scared, and feel hopeless with certain things that to most people wouldn’t seem scary at all. I prayed about them and asked everyone to pray for me on the issues, but alas, nothing came about. The only thing that helped me through the issues of anxiety was time.

Another issue that I had was the fact that I was gay, and could not for the life of me fight these feelings. I tried so hard to be straight, and was always told by so many of the Christians that homosexuality was a choice, and that I needed to fight it. It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school when I finally accepted my homosexuality, and even then I tried to play it off as “I struggle with this, but I believe it’s wrong, so I won’t partake.” I still considered it part of who I was, while having the internalized homophobia. It was all because of this belief that I had that it’s wrong to be gay.

I tried so hard to be straight, and was always told by so many of the Christians that homosexuality was a choice, and that I needed to fight it.Finally, my senior year in high school, I came across this ministry called YoungLife. I fell in love with the ministry because I thought it would be the key to me being able to actually enjoy my faith, and not just believe because I was scared of going to hell. So I got as involved with that ministry as I could, and went off to become a YoungLife leader when I was in college. As I went through my senior year, I was also heavily involved with a youth group at my dad’s church. The youth group was led by a controlling youth pastor who tried to take advantage of my weaknesses. When I told him about my “issues” with being gay, he told me not to tell anyone, and didn’t like me by any stretch. He used many opportunities to belittle me, make me feel less-than, and force gender norms on me. He had issues in his own life that he was using me as a scapegoat for.

Finally, my years in college came around, and I decided to lead with the ministry YoungLife, go to my own church, and become an individual (but not so individualized that I wouldn’t be able to leave my faith). One day, as I was going to church, I heard a message from the college pastor, on April 14, 2013. It was probably one of the scariest days of my life, because this message was about what it really looks like to live as a Christian, and made me believe that I wasn’t truly a Christian at all. This led me to do everything I could to save myself and become a Christian so that I wouldn’t burn in hell.

Nothing really ultimately changed, except for the fact that I realized by the end of yet another anxiety phase that I hate Christianity, the God is cruel, and that we were all essentially set up to fail with the odds against us for making it into heaven. I didn’t want to admit that to myself because I didn’t want to piss off the God who I already didn’t feel like loved me. I remember thinking to myself how scary the “reality” of a God who forces people to love him unconditionally at the penalty of hell was. It was beyond frightening for me. I had so many days where I couldn’t even get out of bed because I knew the thoughts of fear and torment and hell would flood my mind. I tried all I could. It just wasn’t enough.

I later had a few months of what was one of the happiest moments of my life. I was actually finding that the less God I had in my life, the happier I was. I still tried to maintain my faith though. Eventually, I resigned from the ministry I worked for, which was my last taste of trying to work for my salvation (even though according to Christianity, salvation can’t be earned).

It was a few months later of me having time to myself to think about what I truly believe that essentially led to me ultimately questioning my faith. I tried so hard to hold on to my faith. I’ll never forget the one day I was driving to work one day, and I actually admitted out loud to myself, “ . . . I’m agnostic. I don’t know if God exists.” It was over the summer (of 2014) when I started becoming more and more uncomfortable with the idea of atheism being my belief.

When I became an agnostic/atheist, I realized that life no longer has to be about pleasing a god who will punish you if you don’t submit to his will, rather it’s actually an opportunity to enjoy myself and do good during my short period here. That’s it. There will be no burning in hell for all eternity when I’m done, nor will there be any worshipping of god in heaven. All I really have is what’s in front of me, and now I can finally be free to live happily and do good for others without having to wonder if it’s “God’s will” or not.