This article is also published on ExChristian.net.
After reading some of the testimonies on ExChristian.net, I feel that my story cannot really compare to the bulk of those on this site. I did not suffer from the hypocrisy and iniquity of fundies, as so many of my fellow apostates have. I was not trapped in a vicious circle of hate, self-doubt and false promises for years, or even decades, like so many of you were. I was and am not surrounded by hordes constantly trying to preach the word of their god to me and to save my soul. Nonetheless, I too have a story to share. Most here saw the light when they realised the logical contradictions and absurdities inherent in the concept of the Christian god, when the sanctimony of (then) their fellow believers showed them that Christianity does not necessarily make one a better person, when no gods came to comfort or save them in my time of need, or when they realised that the bible was just another tome of mythology (and not a particularly interesting one at that, unlike Greek, Egyptian or Norse mythology). My path towards self-actualization was slightly different. It has been a year and 9 months since I embarked upon this journey, and maybe a year and 7 since I've become an atheist.
As far as religion is concerned, I am lucky to have been born in Singapore, and not in the US, as most people on this site seem to have been. In Singapore, Christians make up 15% of the population or so, and our polity is secular, so religion does not pervade public discussion and discourse as much here as I am led to believe it does in the USA. People tend to be less evangelistic here, perhaps due to the need to show respect for those of other religions, and kids don't go around talking to other kids about their gods (and condemning others to hell for blasphemy). I am also lucky not to have been born into a particularly religious family - though my mother brought me up in the tenets of the faith, I was never dragged to church or fed daily tales about the invisible man in the sky (at least not after I was about 9 or so, at least); my father is a free-thinker and my sister does not talk much about her religious beliefs, whatever they might be. Perhaps naturally, I grew up a liberal, non-denominational Christian with an idea about the more general and commonly agreed-upon Christian doctrines, and believing in them, not because of any good reason, but because I had been brought up to do so and vaguely felt the Christian god's presence every now and then. Religion entered my mind but rarely, and I usually didn't dwell upon religious thoughts, seeing no point in doing so.
One of my best childhood friends was and is a staunch Catholic, and comes from a religious family, so the two of us did discuss some religious issues. He told me about things like demons, exorcisms, visions and the like, and I listened curiously; almost incredulously. As time went by, he became more and more devout, and correspondingly hardline in his religious views, and often accused me of not being a real Christian (among other reasons, because I thought homosexuality was permissible), and wondering which god I really worshipped. One of the reasons for his religious fervor was a Catholic retreat which he'd gone too at the age of 16 (if my memory serves me right), from which he'd come back charged and more religious than ever, and from time to time he waxed lyrical about how good the retreat was, and about what he'd experienced. I was a little skeptical about this whole retreat business, and even joked, at the time, that I might become an atheist after the retreat. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine how prophetic my words would be; this retreat was the pivotal point in my religio-spiritual life. Meanwhile, my two other best adolescent friends, by demographical chance, were coincidentally Christians as well, and as time went by they also became more religious, though they were much more reserved in sharing their religiously-inspired views, and were less extreme, to boot.
At the age of 18, I was enslaved. Not having the courage to be a conscientious objector and stew in military barracks for 2 1/2 years, I allowed myself to be enslaved and trained as a killing machine (though I must add, not a very successful one, fortunately). As one might expect, in my despondancy and misery, one of my ways of coping was by turning to religion, and I became slightly more religious, deriving a modicum of comfort from my delusion. Time went by, and slightly more than a year after my enslavement, my staunch Catholic friend asked me to go for the retreat. Apparently it was the last time that this "excellent" priest would be conducting it, so it was my last chance. Biting the bullet, I decided to go for it, to grow in my faith and come closer to my god.
The retreat was an eye-opener. I had been to some church services before, but never had I experienced charismatic preaching and fundamentalist beliefs (eg the condemning of oral sex and contraception), which were alien to my liberal disposition. For its seven days, I was forced to think upon many questions that I had never asked myself, or indeed had been sub-consciously avoiding. I examined and questioned my faith, and the basis for it, and ultimately, after a great deal of (unanswered) prayer, meditation and thought, found that there really was none. There was no evidence at all for the existence of god (or gods, if you like). However, I did witness a Great Power while at the retreat. A power which could slay half the crowd in the spirit. A power which could induce people to start talking in tongues. A power which could heal people of perennial pains. A power which granted great and marvelous visions to all who were struck by it. The power of mass hysteria and wishful thinking.
It would have been easier to just believe, no doubt, but I knew I could not believe in a lie without losing my soul (so to speak).
Some might question the role that logic and reason have to play in religious matters. Prima facie, this is a fair point. However, if we trust only to faith, how are we to tell the true religion(s) from the false? Many tens of thousands of religions and denominations (at least) have been extant on this planet, at one time or another. How are we to tell which are true and which are false? How are we to decide whether to offer libations to? Jehovah, Allah, Brahma, Buddha, Zeus, Amon-Ra, Pele, Kim Jong Il, Quetzalcoatl, Odin, Zarathrustra, Anshar, that big tree over there or the Tooth Fairy? All of them? Or perhaps none of them? Given that a great deal of religions are mutually exclusive and contradictory, it is quite safe to say that they cannot all be right. A true religion, should stand up to the rigour of a test of logic. After all, gods might defy nature, but surely they cannot defy logic.
Some would doggedly insist in the power of faith. However, as Nietzsche memorably observed: "A casual stroll through a lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything". One can have faith that the Moon is made of Green Cheese, that NASA didn't really visit the Moon, or that Jews are evil and were behind the September 11th attacks, or even that God is a rabbit, but that does not change objective reality. Some would argue that they know their god is the true god because they have experienced his power. To which I reply that 4 million Americans believe - indeed *know* - that they have been abducted by aliens (it's called sleep paralysis, among other things). And what about the hordes who claim that they saw Elvis walking into their local pub just the other week? If everyone *knows* that their god exists, and is the only god, who is right? Of course, the faithful will dismiss the others' experiences, just as theirs are in turn dismissed by the rest.
Liberal Christians might be tempted to pull me back into the fold by saying that true Christianity is very different from the fundamentalist streak that disgusts so many non-Christians so. Some even tell me that non-Christians do not go to hell, even though the verses in the New Testament dealing with that topic are among the clearest and hardest to "interpret" away. However, no matter how liberal Christianity may be, there is still no basis for it, so ultimately there is no reason to believe.
I sincerely wish that more may see the light and free themselves from the shackles of religion. One may believe in anything he likes, as long as he does not harm others, but I find self-actualization to be much more meaningful than religious delusion.
As I am wont to tell others:
"My eyes were opened.
I saw the light.
The Truth set me Free!"
Became a Christian: Birth
Ceased being a Christian: 20
Labels before: Liberal, non-denominational Christian
Labels now: Atheist, bright
Why I joined: Born into it
Why I left: I realised the truth