It’s not easy, ya know. It’s not easy at all to stand at the edge of the proverbial cliff and cast off everything- you’ve- believed- in- with- your-whole-heart-so-much-you-would-die-for-it. And yet, I did it, like many others before me. I decided to leave religion behind and live my life based on the evidence that there is no god.
It’s not easy for a number of reasons. First, we must admit that what we’ve been taught to believe as infallible truth is, in reality, a falsity. It’s not easy to come to terms with the years of life I spent devoting myself to a ‘truth’ that I came to understand as antiquated and, well……made up. Jesus’ story is no more or less the same as the thousands of other heroes that we humans have invented. So what platitude can I offer to placate myself for squandering years of my life? The answer is somewhat inconsequential. First of all, just like any other life experience, I am able to find value even in negative circumstances. I would not be able to write this note if I hadn’t had the experience of ‘growing up’ in a church, for instance. On a deeper level though, what I came to understand is that I have the opportunity to live my life in the present, knowing I only have this one shot, so whatever else it was I did before, I am not doing it now and that’s really what matters. Besides, whatever it is I am doing now I am doing with a freedom and consciousness I’ve never known which makes me that much more effective to my world and present reality. So even if it seems like I wasted years of my life believing a myth, what matters is now and the choices I make. It isn’t easy though, and I suspect that many stop right here at this juncture because of the difficulty in admitting that what was taught as truth, is really a lie. It is painful to tear one’s self apart from the matrix of religion, proclaim it a fabrication and declare independence. It does not prevent many of us from doing so however and we come to learn that the pain is temporary, the scar – minimal.
Making the choice to leave religion behind for evidence and reality also means that we leave behind a fellowship of friends and family. For many teenagers it means being kicked out of the house by parents, or having college funds cut off, or being disowned completely. Yet, we flee. Makes ya wonder, doesn’t it? Why would we ‘give up’ the fellowship and love and security of these social groups? This is an especially critical point because love and security are the second most needed elements according to Abraham Maslow. In other words, we have a strong inherent need to feel that we belong and are valued by others and without it we cannot achieve our full potential. Shrugging off religion means giving up the social status of belonging to a group and any value gained from it. How do we manage to separate ourselves from the grips of acceptance and familiarity? Some may already have other social groups they can plug into. Some, like me, adjust to having a few close friends and cherishing family gatherings. Ultimately, the struggle to break free of dogma and the peace that comes with embracing reason overcomes any instinct to remain with the religious social group. It isn’t easy, but we leave religion anyway, and we discover that the pain is temporary, the scar minimal.
I recently came across a very informal poll/question in an online forum that asked “What one word would you use to describe being an atheist?” Before I read any of the answers, my first thought for my own answer to the question was ‘freedom!’ – it was automatic, I didn’t even have to think about it. As I scrolled down to read the comments of others, I was not surprised to see how often that sentiment appeared in some form or another.
It’s not easy to throw off years of belief and teaching. It’s not easy to leave behind friends and the sense of belonging that religions have to offer. It’s not easy to endure accusations of being ‘deceived’ or ‘led astray’. Yet the freedom that comes with recognizing reality and accepting the truth is far more enriching and fulfilling than anything we might have left behind. An atheist’s life is one where freedom is sweet, and the effort is worth it.