*Disclaimer: The purpose of this post is simply to share my personal
journey with religion/spirituality. I am not seeking to persuade or be persuaded towards a certain belief or doctrine, nor do I care to debate about religion. I’m simply sharing my own personal story. Please feel free to share your personal experience/journey in the comment section, but I will not be engaging in a debate. Thank you for reading 🙂
Something that I want to start being more open about is my lack of religious belief. It is often something that I keep to myself, but I have noticed that I carry a lot of shame regarding the fact that I am an atheist. Living in the South, almost everyone around me is a Christian, and identifying as a nontheist, much like my experience with being a vegetarian, often puts people on the defense. Sometimes announcing yourself as either of these identities causes people to think that you want to debate with them about their own personal choices. I am a person who follows the philosophy of “live and let live.” 90% of the time religion never really crosses my mind. I am not a person who looks to have debates about whether or not a higher deity exists. It’s just not really a part of my life.
I do not come from a highly religious household. My parents weren’t the type that forced us to go to church every Wednesday night and Sunday morning. As far as I know, both of my parents identify as Christians, but the main reason that we did not go to church often when I was a child was because both of my parents were in the medical field and worked very irregular schedules. For most of my childhood at least one or both of my parents worked overnight and/or on weekends. The reason that we did not attend church on a regular basis was a pragmatic one rather than a philosophical one.
Growing up much of my church attendance was due to my grandparents. My maternal grandfather is a Methodist minister, and my maternal grandmother always attended her family’s church. Going to church on Sunday morning was simply a part of the routine whenever my siblings and I spent weekends with either of my grandparents.
There was a brief period wherein my family all went to church together during my senior year of high school, but it was never something that felt forced upon me.
When I was at my most religious point in my life, from the time when I was about 18-21 years old, it was of my own choosing. I was mainly attracted to the social aspect of church. There was a group of students in my high school that were a part of a Christian youth group, and it seemed like so much fun. I also felt like my family starting to go to church together during my senior year of high school brought us together after my parents’ near divorce when I was about 16-17 years old.
Another factor that contributed to my newfound interest in religion was having sex for the first time when I was seventeen. Something felt strange and uncomfortable about having sex with a guy, and I figured that it was the fact that this was considered a sin within Christianity. I later realized that this uncomfortable feeling stemmed from the fact that I was a lesbian.
Being a Christian in college did not bring me the same happiness that it had brought to me in high school. I don’t think this was entirely due to the religion itself, but rather the way that I practiced it. My religious beliefs were my entire life at this point, and because of the happiness that had coincided with my increased religiosity in high school, I thought that any happiness in my life had to come from religion. I joined a Christian ministry and a Christian sorority at the second college I attended, and I felt very out of place among the members. I had my sights set on making Christian friends, but for whatever reason this just didn’t work out. I didn’t feel like I fit in amongst either group, but I now realize that this was due to my lack of authenticity. Whenever I’m not being myself, people can usually tell. I took my religious beliefs to the extreme and alienated any potential friends who weren’t a part of these groups, which led to me being lonely, isolated, and depressed. I became dissatisfied with my life and blamed my religion for causing me to miss out on making friends and long lasting memories. I now realize that this sense of regret was my own fault and not my religion’s.
Somewhere throughout all of this, I realized that I was a lesbian. This realization allowed me to start living a more full and honest life. I became more open to different types of people and started to come out of my shell. My sexual orientation, however, is not the reason that I am no longer religious. There are many people who are members of the LGBT community while also being religious. The open-minded nature that emerged from my self-discovery did allow me to learn more about different religions and cultures, as well as atheism, and make my own decision.
Learning more about different cultures is a key factor in what led to my eventual atheism. I remember reading many myths of creation while taking World Literature in college and noticing the similarities amongst all of the stories. I also watched Religulous during this time period, and the idea that everyone is a non-believer when it comes to the deities of other religions struck a chord with me. During this time, from when I was around 21-22 years old, I had become a hardcore atheist. I watched atheist documentaries, read atheist books, and watched atheist YouTubers. I held a deep resentment for religion due to my not fitting in with the Christian groups in college and my newfound sexual identity.
After graduating from college, a very difficult situation came upon my family. I found myself broke, homeless, and hopeless because of it and tried to turn back to the god that I had once worshipped for comfort. By this point, I was already past the point of no return when it came to my religious beliefs. Things became very hard in my life at this point, and eventually, nothing else mattered to me except doing everything I could to help my family during this difficult time. I was also struggling with the idea of coming out as a lesbian at this time, but that became less of a priority to me as well. When you’re dealing with potential homelessness and scraping change together for a meal, all of the labels and ideologies that you place upon yourself begin to seem very insignificant.
Although I never returned to my religious beliefs, my disdain for religion and Christianity dissipated. Even though I no longer believe in a god, I appreciated the fact that going to church was the only thing that could put a smile on my mother’s face when she was at her lowest. I appreciated the heart and soul that people put into praying for me and my family. I appreciated the comfort that religion gave to those around me, and at some points, I envied their ability to believe because it would have made going through what we went through a little bit easier.
At this point in my life, I am not anti-religion, and I don’t try to persuade others to leave their faith. I do, however, want to be more open about my nontheism in appropriate situations. I believe that religion has a place in society, as it is a centerpiece for many cultures, and as long as it is not being forced on anyone, I am not against its existence. For me, being more open about my atheism isn’t about pulling people away from their own personal religious beliefs, but instead about normalizing the idea of not believing in god. Almost 1/5 of the American population is religiously unaffiliated, and I think that many people are afraid to identify as such in public. A big reason that members of the LGBT community became more accepted by society is through being out and showing people that some of their family members, friends, and co-workers that they knew and loved were members of the LGBT community. This allowed people to humanize LGBT people and be less afraid of the idea. I feel that the same thing can be done with atheist individuals.
My spiritual journey has been pretty uneventful, but I think it is an interesting story to share. I am fortunate that each decision that I have made regarding religion/spirituality has been my own choice, and that nothing has ever been forced on me. This has allowed me to learn and come to my own conclusion. I now identify as non-theist with Buddhist leanings.
What has been your experience with religion and spirituality?