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The Atheist Journey

By Isabelle Hernandez ~

At the age of ten my mom became the drama director of our church and I was cast in the lead role. Our church wasn’t very big and no one was really looking at resumes or talent, for that matter. Willingness was all that was needed and I was not only willing but I was thirsty to serve God and let him use me to speak to others. I wholeheartedly poured myself into my role, conveying as much as I could into the acting so that the audience might not see me but see God and God’s plan. Granted, my experience in life and all matters concerning it was limited and to be honest I didn’t understand Christianity; they were just stories to me. Some stories I loved but most inspired fear.

When I was 11 we lived in Miami and we attended a super church that was super obsessed with the occult and the ways the Devil tries to get into our lives. I remember a Saturday morning, Mom woke me up and she instructed me to gather my ceramic unicorn collection which I loved more than anything, she told me to put it into a trash bag. She then grabbed a beautiful antique Korean tea set her aunt had gifted her on her wedding day that had an intricate paintings of red dragons over the navy blue saucers. We placed everything in the black bag and my Mom took me to the kitchen, grabbed a wooden stick and told me we were rebuking Satan from our lives because he was using these items to live amongst us. She said to take the stick and hit the bag, breaking the glass and rebuking as I did in Jesus’ name. I look back at that scene, which is still vivid in my mind, and see the foolishness. In that moment I saw Satan as a tangible thing, a creature so crafty that would even live in a 50 year old tea set waiting to influence us in evil ways. Needless to say I was prettified of him, afraid he would grab me from under my blanked at night. Afraid that he would creep in from a movie or a TV show, I was in short, governed by the fear of Satan.

Some years passed and I understood the concept of Christianity more and more until one particular evening, caught up in the energy of those around me, I decided to accept Jesus as my savior, for with him I was told, nothing was impossible. But I held a tiny horrible secret within me one that I have probably not confessed until now, it was all an act. A beautiful act by a girl trained in the arts of acting. I did not feel a spirit, I did not feel God but everyone around me seemed to and I was not going to be left out so I also closed my eyes, cried and said I felt Jesus. As the weeks went by I would lie on my bed and beg God to speak to me, to talk to me the way he seemed to talk to others. But there was silence. The resounding sound of silence is one of the scariest things. Why not me? I pondered and cried because I felt I was doing something wrong – I loved Jesus with all of my heart, I loved the Bible, I considered myself a Christian yet… he never spoke to me. I never heard his voice. How did so many in the Bible hear his clear words yet he wouldn’t say a thing to me? My mother told me he spoke differently to everyone and I remember the deep seed of dissatisfaction that began growing inside of me. I felt like a child that had been placed on time out without really and truly comprehending why.

For many years I stayed on God’s time out but no one knew. I kept all this inside of me all the while outside I went to service, I ‘praised him’ and I gave testimony. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t stop talking to God. I decided since he was ignoring me to change my tactics on how I addressed him. You see, before, I was taught to speak to him in reverence; I’d be kneeling, to show my respect for he was the almighty. So, since he continued his silence, I decided that I was going to talk to him like I talked to everyone else. Straight up, looking up at the ceiling. It was during this time that I struggled between demanding answers and pleading. I would demand for him to explain something that had gone wrong. My room would remain quiet. I kept hearing the verse ‘faith as small as a mustard seed’ and I would concentrate and place all of my faith in him. I would go to sleep knowing he was going to fix something by morning. But it never worked. Night after night, week after week, months upon months, my faith was unshakable. I did not deter. I felt that perhaps prove myself to him, prove how much I believed in him.

The change came when I began reading. Reading, many would argue, is knowledge. So I began reading and my knowledge began to grow. I knew of things that didn’t pertain to the church or God or the Bible. Knowledge bloomed before, I couldn’t contain myself. Answers to questions the Silent God refused to answer were being peppered in papers before my eyes. I moved out of my parent’s home when I turned 20 to go to college in another city. I remember that day so clearly, it was one of the best days of my life. There was a freedom that overwhelmed me as I closed the door and waved them goodbye. It was liberating, as if breathing when you’ve been too long underwater. Suddenly, life and the world were before me and I couldn't wait to start running recklessly towards it, to get to know it.

The regiment of church 3-4 times a week, seeing the same people, listening to the same voices and being surrounded by the same small-mind mentality was suddenly gone. All at once, I saw a world open with opportunity, unseen things, and inexperienced things – so many things to come. It was that year that I realized that I hated going to Church. Subconsciously, I suppose, I realized that I didn’t want to go back to that life I had led. But I was still too afraid of this God who never spoke and never showed himself and the Hell he had created to cast all those who disobeyed him. My church visits became more and more seldom and my marked up Bible stayed longer and longer on my bookshelf while I plowed through other books in my literature classes. As the days ticked by and my mind knew more and more I realized that there were other, more important things, in this world than considering if wine was a sin or not. Like a typical college student that first leaves home I suddenly believed in nothing and everything at the same time. I began to ask serious questions. Knowledge, I saw, was a wonderful thing. Once you’re aware of something it’s permanent. Why would God not want us to eat from the tree of knowledge? Why was it a sin? Why is knowing things bad? Why was it that it was always my fault for not having enough faith?

The turning point was that I began to ask questions to other people who were more interested in discussing them than shutting me up with a ‘pray to God and ask him’. I was tired of this silent God, I was growing resentful. As time went by his importance in my life went from all consuming to insignificant and I began questioning his decisions and his motives. The things he’s allowed to happen to good people, the atrocities committed in his name. I began to learn in-depth about slavery, the holocaust, colonialism and endless topics. My spirit was restless, restlessness bordering on anger. Then I began thinking of all of the things that had not even been documented, of all the people across the world, across the centuries, across the millenniums who had suffered with the name of God on their lips as they shuddered their last breath, dying a needless horrible death while this just and loving God watched, perched high from his throne being adored by thousands of angels.

It suddenly became quite clear to me that the reason for all those things was one simple conclusion: there was no God.
Why create us, I wondered? The answer I was given was simple: he created us because he loved us and we were part of his greater plan. Little did the person who kindly explained this to me knew but it only served to fuel the sinking suspicion that had taken root inside of me, the suspicion that God was, to put it plainly, full of shit. If he was all-knowing why would you create a person you knew was going to end up in Hell in the first place? Is that person just a pawn to for someone who actually will go to Heaven? If so, does that mean he loves some and others and just ‘part of his plan’? It was a realization that the more I knew about Christianity and the more I read the Bible as a ‘history book’ rather than the Holy inspired text, the more it made no sense. The plot holes were popping up everywhere and at the same time things started to make sense. Why was he silent to me? Why didn’t he show himself to me despite me begging him to?

I also realized fairly quickly that this topic of discussion was not welcomed in circles of believers. That right there caused the great divide. Since everyone I knew up until this point was in fact a church-going believer I found myself to be quite lonely. My questions were not welcomed and my radical ideas spurred people to place hands on me and pray. Something started happening inside of me during those years and that was the beginning of my lack of fear, fear I realized was the root of my Christian world and I was losing it. I wasn’t afraid of asking questions, I wasn’t afraid of reading things I was once discouraged from reading, I wasn’t afraid to think on my own and free from this tyranny that had controlled my thoughts all my life. It was, without doubt, an awakening. The stuff that happens in movies with the rising music and the perfect editing, suddenly every single moment of my life was aligned and it made sense. The silent god who never spoke to me, the plot holes and the lame explanations, the contradictory Bible, the fear element instilled in people, the false hope, that horrible feelings of suppression I got from just stepping into a church. It suddenly became quite clear to me that the reason for all those things was one simple conclusion: there was no God.

At the age of 30 the answer hit me like a bolt of lightning. I sat up on my bed, sweating and shaking. It was both the scariest and the most delightful thing that had ever occurred to me. I did not dare tell anyone, I answered questions the way they wanted me to and still, I kept the secret for me. It was not for anyone else, I realized. Not just anyone could handle this secret. This secret was so powerful, that if found out it would alter the world as we knew it. Think about it, religion has shaped the course of civilization for both better and worse. It’s caused millions of deaths, it’s a powerful force. I could stand in a corner and yell this out for all who passed and I would be no more listened to than a crazy evangelical wearing ‘REPENT GOD IS COMING!!’ sign. On matters of religion, I find that it’s a very personal, serious thing for individuals. For many, it’s the most precious thing that they have. They hold on to it like lifesavers, their faith is unshakable and anything I say will simply place me in the category of heathen. I internalized that for a while, listening to others and how they spoke of their faith in God.

What I find most interesting about people, and perhaps this is a generalization because I am Hispanic and a woman (and as we know Hispanic women can either be a sexy hot siren or a pious woman) is that people automatically assume that you’re a Christian. They will say things like “Well, you have to have faith in God, because you know that is the only thing that keeps us going.” How many times I wanted to shout NO! I refrained myself as I went through my period of quiet. Quiet because I was content in my own knowledge but I didn’t feel comfortable telling people. Why? Because on one hand I had seen what a metaphorical lynching can look like and on the other hand I didn’t feel like having an argument with a person who honestly believed that a man had been swallowed by a whale, lived inside of their stomach acid and was spit back out by said whale and lived to tell the tale.

I am turning 35 this year and I have finally surpassed my anger at God because you can’t be angry at something that never existed. I have studied religion and do not disown people for their beliefs because I know firsthand what it is like to truly believe. I actually enjoy listening to them, especially Muslims who tend to be so knowledgeable and enjoy a nice chat about the historical aspect of their religion. Sometimes they ask me what I am and in the past 2 years I have happily stated with a smile “I’m actually an atheist.” There’s always a great reaction face.

Something switched inside of me along the way, I know where I stand. I am confident and at peace with it and I know this is still my secret. Unless you’ve gone through the journey I have which has taken tears, sweat, doubt, hopelessness and loss of sleep you cannot understand. People who don’t understand seem to think that I made this decision lightly. That I didn’t consider it, that I’m angry, it’s so misunderstood it’s rather comical seen under the right light. When people tell me that I will be in their prayers I just nod and smile and thank them. It’s not their fault that they don’t know anything else and it’s certainly not my place to tell them. The journey from deep belief to Atheism is the most personal journey an individual can make. It’s the hardest, it takes work, it takes battling through confusion and despair and finding yourself still strong and standing after it’s all said and done. It’s the realization that it’s not the next life that counts but this one. This is the one you’ve got to make count for you not for anyone or anything else. The rules I live by I live by because I have my morals still intact. I don’t lie – not because it’s a sin (I hate that word) but because it can cause damage to people and I’m hiding things for no reason other than fear. I don’t kill – not because God said not to (but really he did) – I don’t need a deity to tell me this. I don’t kill because that’s another person’s life that I have no right to take. The moral compass is me – I know inherently what is right and what is wrong. I do not need a guidebook to consult and I shouldn’t have to.

I still feel horrible for the things I believed in back then – how I was taught to hate homosexuality, how it was a sin. Just to think of all the people that have been made feel like they are going to hell just for being who they are angers me above everything. All the kids that were the same as me, thinking they were going something wrong pisses me off, I was to talk to them and tell them it’s not them that there’s nothing wrong with them. My family is still firm believers but I do have a few wonderful friends who have high disdain for religion and love having conversations with me about religion in general. I have made it clear that I do not pray in the table – don’t ask me. I get asked why I celebrate Christmas and I have to patiently explain that I celebrate the camaraderie, the spirit of happiness that comes with having those you love around you enjoying good food, drink, music and family and that has nothing to do with an old book. Thanksgiving is still my favorite holiday but for me it’s a time to reflect on the good things that have happened in the year and to be thankful as a human being.

I sometimes sit back and reflect on my 30 years inside of a religion that controlled my thoughts and my life, this journey to self-discovery has shaped me. I am strong and certain in beliefs and the lack of fear I think it’s portrayed in the way I state things, seldom do people question my certainty. Little did I think as the young 15 yr old who ardently prayed to Jesus would morph into the woman I am today.