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.