First off, please don’t call me a backslider. I know that if you consider just the part of my life that matters to you, backslider is the appropriate term, I get that. The more appropriate term for me should be born again atheist. Yes, I agree that that makes me seem like the edgy cool kid from a 90s teen drama about “alternative lifestyles”, I’ve come to terms with that but, as the phrase suggests I think there’s a version of my story that you don’t know, because I don’t really buy into the whole omnipotent thing.
Next, how about we clear some things up real quick. This isn’t my parents fault, at least not in a sensible way. I guess if you really want to get nitpicky you could blame them for not putting a priority on taking me to church. Although I do distinctly remember enjoying a free corned beef and cabbage meal at a catholic church one time, so it’s not like I was completely uninitiated. In reality, there wasn’t any sort of pressure put on me to believe in anything.
Life was fine for a long time that way. I never felt as if I had missed out on anything nor did I ever feel myself wanting for things that I didn’t think I could achieve or figure out. Then just as I was coming into my own combative teenage self I was stricken with a crisis. It’s easy to call it a crisis of faith, I’ll allow that without judgment, but I don’t think it was exactly that. I remember fear being a big part of it. Without explanation I found myself terrified of what was awaiting me after death. It became a persistent and pretty fucking annoying thought. Had I gotten it wrong this whole time? Could I hedge my bets? If hell existed, was I going headfirst? Now, to be clear at this age I hadn’t quite learned to be ashamed or regretful of my actions, I just had a pedestrian knowledge that what I thought was a decent way of life could still end in me burning, writhing, or otherwise existing in an unpleasant place for eternity.
With a heaven and hell sized rock on my shoulders I decided it was about time to start believing in something. Thankfully I had some friends who were entrenched in the Christian lifestyle and were more than willing to usher me to their chosen house of worship. I’m sure this speaks volumes about me, but I was essentially a prom date with a narrow view of the evils of high school when it came to the practice of believing. I allowed it to take me back to the motel room with just a few well placed pick up lines. It said it loved me and I’ll be damned if that morning after, laying on the tacky flower print blanket and drinking continental breakfast coffee, was beautiful.
The relationship didn’t end though. The afterglow lasted long past the morning after, with both of us taking from each other what we wanted. I found myself hypnotized by the euphoric services with people praying loudly and unabashedly and from me the church achieved another member to add to the attendance numbers. It was great like this, I might never have left if I had remained satisfied with singing and the church was content with just my presence. But, like all good half cocked loves formed on a moment of desperation and poor standards, we started to want more from each other and in the infantile states we apparently both at, neither were able to provide those new conditions.
I played the devoted defender of the faith. I argued and debated with those who I once called brothers in our lack of beliefs. They never laid hands on me and spoke in tongues anyways. Not only did I fight against all the arguments I myself used to use, I really did try to put away some of the personality traits that I was told would be harmful to my walk with God. I did my best to live in the world but not be of the world (whatever that meant), I tried not to defile my body since it was indeed God’s temple after all, and I swear I tried not to have dirty thoughts about some of the prettier girls at service. The one part of myself that wouldn’t die or at the very least stay quiet for long enough was my want for answers. Which I soon learned weren’t in great supply.
In my defense though, I was told that God could provide everything I needed. So I didn’t feel like I was overstepping my bounds when I started asking questions to things that weren’t explicitly stated in The Bible or in any of the sermons. I didn’t think it was unfair to ask how hermaphrodites were viewed by our favorite guy in the sky. I thought that it wasn’t a big deal to ask why there were so many different versions of The Bible when it said that God’s word couldn’t be altered. Yet, with each one of these types of questions I felt my faith draining away. Not because of the lack of answers to these questions, but the quality of the responses. Too many times did I hear “Pray about it.” “We can’t know God’s thought process.” “This person is leading a bible study that might answer that question”. It was these deflections that really sent me on my path back to atheism, but they didn’t take me all the way.
What eventually dragged me back to my natural state of non-belief was just as sudden as what had sent me to church in the first place. It was a Wednesday evening and I was on my way to service. On the final stretch of the trip a deer ran out in front of me and I only barely missed it as my car spun out and nearly put me into the ditch. In a brief moment, as the creature looked at me as it’s inevitable demise and I saw it as the same I realized that I didn’t feel sorry for the sins I was on my way to repent for. The drinking, the sex, the cigarettes, the questions, the clothes, the music, none of them incurred any sort of remorse in me. Instead the only thing I found myself afraid of was the tithes I hadn’t paid and the lack of a tie I wasn’t wearing. See, I had become very aware of the fickleness of the congregation I had infiltrated. I had witnessed sweet girls being ostracized because they weren’t wearing a jean skirt that matched a different girls. I had heard the gossip being spread about this parishioner doing this and that, while we were watching movies that were clearly not holy. This is what scared me. Hell did not anymore.
I hung on to the title of Christian for awhile after the last Sunday I had spent on a pew. But, it wasn’t long after that I realized that I just didn’t believe anymore. My faith had served me when I needed it to, but once the crisis had passed and I had more confidence in my own mind and existence I knew my spot on the third row, about a quarter of the way in, should belong to someone else. I should clarify something though, I’m not an angry ex-believer by any means. There are people who I had met and days that I spent with them that I will always cherish. I don’t regret my time as a Christian in any way.
There are those who don’t believe in God because of science or logic. There are those who don’t believe out of rebellion to an abuse or series of infractions. There are those who don’t believe simply because they had never been introduced to the idea. Then there’s me. Who refused to believe because I no longer fear.