I never liked the word atheism. I never understood how someone could be atheist. I always thought, “how could someone that doesn’t believe in god or an afterlife live happily? Wouldn’t they feel incomplete thinking that this life is the only one? If someone didn’t believe in heaven, hell and almighty consequences, what would stop them from doing bad things?” Writing these thoughts out now makes me cringe, but (as you may have guessed) I was a devout Catholic for four years (and a “Holiday” Catholic for the years that preceeded them). In the grand scheme of things, four years is not a long time and it by no means makes me an expert in Catholicism or religion, but it did teach me a valuable lesson.
To explain to you what I mean by “devout” I’m talking about church almost every day (and the occasional twice-a-day attendance), praying constantly, reading the bible, going on mission trips, pretty much doing everything and anything I could to be involved with the church. During these years, I would have told you I was fulfilled, happy, “saved” even, but I don’t know if I ever even believed that myself. I always had doubts, insecurities, no one was fully convincing me of this religion thing and I wasn’t convincing myself. This, of course, was suppressed and buried, for in the church we are told that these thoughts must be coming from evil, from the devil. And as crazy as that may sound to some, that is a pretty strong device to use against someone who believes so badly they need to go to heaven. And so, the church uses this to their advantage to eliminate those doubts. But always that voice was there in me saying, this isn’t right. Reliving these thoughts now, I am almost shocked how similar it all sounds to a fairy tale, a made-up story of good and evil.
Looking back I think, how did I end up like this? Praising a god I do not believe in, and not because I didn’t try to believe. A lot of my life had been a struggle for identity, and at a time I was struggling the most (early high school years), I found this group willing to let me eat lunch with them and share a bible verse. They were so welcome and kind, just what I had needed during this tough time. But because I had not grown up a strong Catholic; I could never quite connect with them as I had hoped. And despite my best effort, they always knew more than me, prayed more than me, did more than me, and I think they always felt superior to me.
I’m not sure what happened, when that exact boiling point was for me, but I was done. I was done constantly feeling guilty for things I was thinking and doing because a priest said I shouldn’t, done trying to fit in with this group of seemingly nice people with judging eyes, done alienating my true friends and family because they had different beliefs than me. I was also done pretending religion was okay, because it is not. It is not right to judge someone because of their gender, sexuality, their ability to memorize passages from a book. It is not right to use that book and twist it to make any point you want. It is not right to believe something that was told to us thousands of years ago with such blind faith.
And so, as things often do, my relationship with religion went full circle and I was able to answer my own questions about atheism. I believe it is important to help your fellow man, animal and earth, not because there is some all-knowing deity, watching our every move and marking it on a long white scroll, but because it is our duty as human beings. Even from a societal sense, we need each other to survive. It is in our biological make-up to help each other and work together to create a thriving society. You do not have to believe in god to feel that and to do the right thing.
Guest post by Marissa, an atheist cat lover.