Sunday, August 2, 2009

My Deconversion Story, Part 3

I can’t really pinpoint a moment or a specific event. Most people can't, it seems. And part of me is really glad for that fact, because if I could point to one thing and say, “That's it. That’s what did it,” then I’d have to wonder if maybe I just haven’t done a decent job of getting over whatever tragedy I blamed on God and religion. Maybe that would be easier for my Catholic friends to accept. Maybe if I had this big, terrible event I could blame, then I could get my faith back.

But it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t just one thing. It was thing upon thing upon thing.

“Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why does God seem to answer only the most random of prayers? Why is it that even when I pray for someone with the deepest convictions of my heart, nothing changes? Why do I have to watch my friends go through pain and agony of many different kinds—physical, spiritual, emotional—without so much as whisper of reassurance from God? Why is it that every night I stare at the ceiling for hours, wanting so badly to feel that presence again, but try as I might I can’t? Has God abandoned me? Furthermore, why does it seem like I’m coming upon more and more aspects of God that just don't make sense? If God is good, why did he perpetrate so many evils in the Bible? If God is all-knowing, how can we have free will? If God is omnipotent, why is this world as horrible as it is? If God is perfectly just, how can he send people to Hell?” I could go on and on, and I know these questions aren’t particularly complex or deep, but they all came cascading down on me in the final months of my tenure as Retreat Planner. They shook me to my core. I sought professional counseling, for these and other problems. I wanted so badly to go back in time and erase the doubts, but I knew that was impossible.

Summer came and went. I thought a lot about what I believed. I realized that the reasons I’d had in the past weren’t trustworthy because they were primarily emotional. I believed in God because I felt like he existed. I loved Jesus because I felt like he loved me. But I had no reasons to back up those feelings. And try as I might, I couldn’t let myself believe something just because I wanted it to be true. I had to seek truth on its own, for its own sake, and without bias if possible. Nothing else would satisfy me.

I told myself I would take a break. See how things went without attending mass. Maybe I was just burnt out? Maybe I’d spread myself too thin during my service year? After all, some of my friends thought that, and I’d certainly devoted the majority of my free time to the Ministry. As my next and final year of college began, I opted to stay home on Sundays instead of going to mass. I tried to avoid weekly house prayers, but ended up going to those for the sake of keeping everyone on good terms. And a remarkable thing happened: nothing. I wasn’t struck by lightning. I didn’t get horribly sick. In fact, I had better grades that quarter than in any quarter of the previous year. I made new friends. I started living life for myself, instead of living for the expectations and approval of others.

And slowly, but surely, I let go of my faith. It was terrifying. It hurt so bad. But I let it go. I began studying arguments for and against God, seeing which ones held their ground and which ones fell flat. I told myself I was an agnostic, but once my last quarter arrived I could no longer deny how things had progressed. It felt good to step blinking into the sunlight. I was finally ready to face what had been coming for a year or more.

My name is Dale. I am an atheist. I once believed in God and his son Jesus Christ, but I don’t anymore. I don’t know what’s out there; I won’t claim to be sure that God doesn’t exist. But I know that I haven’t found a reason to cling to my old beliefs in the supernatural. I can understand a world that is purely physical. I can see it. It makes sense to me. And a world without a god seems more likely than a world with one, so for now the best answer I can give is that it’s likely that god does not exist.

I’m still searching for the truth. That hasn’t stopped either. This blog is a chronicle of my journey, written backwards, but also forwards, because even as I look at what I used to be, I get images of what I will become. I think and grow as I read more and more. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll be eating these words. Maybe not. That’s part of the fun, isn’t it?

Our lives are a one-shot deal. Now that I’m no longer encased in a web of superficial, paper-thin illusions and imaginings, I can start making the most of mine.

Thanks for reading.

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