As many current atheists, I used to be a person of faith. When I left that behind, I wondered what it was that ever made me into a beiever in the first place. I was never forced as a child to go to church, read the bible, or pray. My mother on ocassion used to go to church, but my father never, ever did. So what was it that caused me, and others I knew of like upbringing to suddenly decide that we were going to believe in something that wasn’t part of our experience to that point?
When I look back on that time, as I often do, I think the reason I became a believer was to be a part of a group, a community where I felt accepted for just who I was, and not judged because of it. There was no peer pressure, as we understand that terminology, because at the time, we were in fact a minority of kids and just needed a place to belong. We were like so many others, looking for something, not part of a popular clique in high school, mostly ignored by those that were, and we wanted to be separate from those kids that were.
Of course there were adults at church that helped us along the way, ever so helpful, engaging with this younger generation to the point where we became pseudo- celebrities within our various congregations, and , yes, as teenagers, given a level of leadership responsibility. We were completely sucked into the entire experience. That’s really all it takes when you’re a disaffected teeenager: being accepted, praised, and believing that yes, we were a part of something special.
So, over a short time, our new belief was reinforced. Even when, in private, some of us questioned, none of us ever raised the same questions to our various pastors. There was a feeling of guilt, at least on my part, of betraying not only myself, but my friends as well. I needed to be part of a group, and being a believer, satisfied that need.
It took some years for those early questions to become something that although I had tried to ignore as a teenager I no longer could. By that time, I was a young adult, had moved away, and not subject to any type of pressure from anyone about my faith. It was during that time that I realized that all those questions I had as a teenager, could not be reasonably answered.
No one should ever feel guilt about leaving their faith, especially when having questions about it. There’s nothing wrong with having questions about anything. It’s only when there are no answers to those questions that we need to step back and reevaluate. Of course, sometimes that in itself is harder to do if we’ve become so entrenched in the experience and not only have friends, but family as well.
I discovered that my faith was false and that I had deluded myself for years simply because I had a need to be a part of something. I don’t have any negative memories from that time, but I think that today I am happier than I was then. I discovered I didn’t need belief, or others to validate who I am. Slowly, others are as well.
4 thoughts on “Being a Person of Faith”
Jim, I am sorry that you were a disaffected teenager. I am sorry that any child feels that way and certainly sorry that any adult feels that way.
I believe that many people never outgrow the feeling of disaffection wherever they live or whatever circumstance they are in.
I tend to think that most people are doing the best they can. Some need faith and belief and religion. Some don’t. Some need cliques and causes and outrage and some don’t. Some need career, some need family and some seem to only need themselves.
It is difficult to take time to be still and to know yourself well enough to be filled to a gracious plenty with that knowledge. People have so much going on; worries, outrage, politics, drama. There was a time when human beings were not always in a hurry to finish doing, so they could go to the other thing that needed doing. They took time to just live and were in no hurry to just live.
You are correct, the disaffected will cling to any life raft in the storm of life. There are many worse things to cling to than mainstream Christianity of the modern era. I do not doubt that many who have lost their faith and belief continue to cling to the community and I will not begrudge them that comfort. Actually, I have on occasion been envious of that comfort, but not ever enough to become a hypocrite. For atheists such as I, that would soon be a suffocating situation, and so I make do with my immediate family when my own self is not enough.
I was disaffected because at the time, when I was 14, I lived in a place where I was treated by most of my peers as if I were an alien. I wasn’t born there, nor did I grow up there. I was “different” and therefore, to an extent, shunned. There were some others like me, and those people became my friends. I was the type that rufused to “go along to get along”, always wanting to be my own person. Becoming a Christian, seemed to “solve” that problem for me, or so I thought with my teenage brain. I learned that it wasn’t for me and by the time I left that place, 4 years later, I decided I didn’t need any of it ever again.
Yes, I think many people try different things to see if something will work, but it the end it is being true to yourself that actually works. And…if that is faith, well that is what it is.
So you have been an atheist since you were 18. That is about the time I started to drift away from organized religion, but only felt an atheistic certainty later in my life, early 30s.
I don’t think, way back then, I ever thought of myself as an atheist. It never occured to me one way or another until years later. Not believing was just that, and nothing else.