Friday, March 22, 2013

My Journey to Atheism

It was March of last year that I became an atheist. Listening to the Thinking Atheist podcast, reading the Friendly Atheist blog, watching Star Trek, stumbling upon “Science Saved My Soul,” and intellectually devouring Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” led me to conclude that my search for spirituality was futile. I came to the conclusion that the “spiritual hole” that I felt WAS NOT there – I only felt this way because society asserts that I SHOULD feel that way. I found that I can have a wonderful and fulfilling life, although American culture asserts that I can’t have a meaningful life if that spiritual “hole” in my heart is not filled by at least one deity or dogma.

My spiritual journey has been a long one. It began as a Protestant in north Florida – my mother was a tepid Methodist, and my father was an apathetic Calvary Baptist. We were what I would call “Holiday Christians.” We went to church on Easter and Christmas – most of the time. I had picture bibles and was taught Bible stories, but we didn't read the Bible every day, go to Sunday school, or Bible study. My father was in the Navy, so we wouldn't have had a consistent church community to return to, anyway – we moved every two to four years, so community building was beyond us. 

After my parents divorced when I was 11, I became interested in faiths other than Christianity. I was strongly attracted to Wicca and started to practice it in solitary until I went into the Marine Corps at age 17. I thought that it was different, but in reality, my “practice” was just as tepid and apathetic as my parents toward their Christian faith. I felt dumb performing rituals, chanting, and dancing all alone. I did reach out, briefly, to the local Wiccan community, but I found that they were as bad as the Christians – it was like there was a contest to prove who was more Wiccan than everyone else. It was like High School superimposed over a religion.

 In my early 20’s, I found Asatru, a reconstructionist religion. Asatru is Northern European spirituality; it is based on what the Vikings may have believed, derived from written historical accounts. It’s polytheistic and encompasses gods such as Thor, Odin, and Freya. I thought I had found it – I thought I had belonged.  But then, my ritual group started to change. It got bigger, louder, and started to charge people money. Soon, there were rifts – one right after the other – tearing the kindred apart. I decided to leave, during one of them – the truth was that I didn't feel anything anymore – the rituals felt silly, the gods were nonexistent, and the people were as self-absorbed as Wicca and Christianity were. I didn't believe any more, and I think that I didn't really WANT to believe any more. I transitioned into a solitary practice, and my rituals became less frequent. I tried to revive my enthusiasm, but it never came back. I still have terrific friends from this community and occasionally attend events with a smaller kindred. They welcome me whole-heartedly as one of their own; I still enjoy the culture and feeling of community there.

After I lost my Asatru faith, I labeled myself as agnostic, and started to research Buddhist philosophy. I loved the concepts, but most traditions have some form of dogma, which I was unwilling to accept. This continued until last year, when, in January, I started listening to the Thinking Atheist podcast - I stumbled onto it looking for information on Atheism because I was curious. It was only a couple months after that when I just gave up trying to believe. I realized then that there was no way that I could defend something that I could not prove exists. I couldn't even defend it to MYSELF.

And you know what? That “hole” is gone, like my belief in God. When I finally admitted my unbelief to myself, it disappeared – and was replaced by a profound respect for the vast, terrifying, exhilarating universe.

"Stars must die so that I can live.
I stepped out of a supernova… And so did you."
                                                                                                                ~Phil Hellenes


I still “practice” a stripped-down uniquely American form of Buddhism – meditation and mindfulness with an occasional reading of a Sutra or other Buddhist-based article or book are the only practices that I need. I am not an expert on Buddhism, nor do I want to be. I’m not perfect – I still make mistakes, get angry, and occasionally fall prey to pride and impulsivity. In short, I’m human.