Since I’ve become an atheist, I have had to give up a lot of things I was used to. When giving up religion, God, an entire belief system, of course, there are going to be major changes.
For example, I gave up some prejudices. It’s not like I had obvious prejudice in my life, but I remember feeling sorry for people whom I thought didn’t “know” the truth like I did. When people asked why so many horrific things happen to good people in a world with a supposedly loving god, I thought they just didn’t understand God like I did. After all, what about free will or helping us to grow our characters? I ignored how in the bible, God didn’t really condone free will at all. I mean, is it really free will when you are condemned to everlasting torment if you refuse his commands? That doesn’t even fit our legal definition of free will. At the very least, it would be considered coercion or extortion. And I tried not to think about how a child getting cancer could possibly have a positive purpose. After all, to a Christian, this life doesn’t really matter as much as the afterlife.
Speaking of the afterlife, I had to give up ignoring this life in favor of an unknown possible life after death. As an atheist, I have to face that this life is all I have, so this makes me appreciate each day, see the beauty of now, and make the most of the time I have here instead of dreaming of a day when I get to die and go to some better place. To be honest, heaven never sounded that appealing to me anyway. I’m glad this is the only life I have, and I’m going to make the most of it.
Without God, I also had to give up being a child, being told what to do and how to do it. And without the hope of heaven, I had to give up selfish reasons for being good. Now, I have to decide for myself what I believe is right and wrong and how best to live out my ideals. When I do something for someone, I don’t think there is some invisible father watching me, counting up my good deeds in order to lavish reward upon me in the afterlife. I do it just because it is the right thing to do, it is kind, and I want to live in a kind world with the least amount of suffering for my fellow inhabitants of the earth. And who really wants to remain a child all her life? Aren’t children supposed to grow up someday and think for themselves? Apparently, not God’s children.
I also had to give up a lack of self-esteem and guilt. Being told you are nothing without God, a seemingly cruel and vindictive tyrant, can damage your self-image. Worshipping anyone, including an imaginary being, takes a toll on your self-perception. I’ve always had an issue with the idea of worship anyway. If there were a perfect being, wouldn’t he be too perfect to have an ego problem? If pride is a sin, then the god of the bible, if he existed, would be the biggest sinner of all. Why would he feel the desire to strike people dead and send them to hell for not bowing down to him? Does he have a self-esteem problem? He sounds worse than any monarch I’ve ever read about. But now, I don’t have to believe that something is inherently wrong with me just for being born human. I don’t have to tell myself that I deserve hell when, really, I never did anything to deserve eternal torment. If God created me and chose to make me with flaws, what gives him the right to judge me for it? And expect me to bow down and thank him for the privilege of not being tortured for eternity?
So, I had to give up fear of punishment, especially for thinking. I can’t make myself believe something so flawed and unbelievable. I can’t make myself believe something which has no basis in the reality I experience every day, and I can’t force myself to have the faith God supposedly requires to avoid his wrath. Now that I don’t fear my doubts, but instead embrace skepticism, the world just makes more sense, and I sleep just fine at night. People ask me, “What if you’re wrong?” Good old Pascal’s Wager. The common atheist answer is “What if you’re wrong about the particular religion you chose; what if you chose the wrong one?” But my answer is that if I’m wrong, God will have a lot of explaining and apologizing to do, and if his answers aren’t good enough, I probably won’t even offer him my forgiveness.
Furthermore, I had to give up pretending I don’t have a mind. I don’t have to pretend that the earth is six thousand years old, and that women were created as an afterthought, just to keep men company. I don’t have to pretend to believe that two of every animal on earth fit on a boat, or that we have different languages because God confused them because he was afraid people could actually build a tower to heaven, or that a man lived in a fish for several days because he refused to be a missionary (where’s his free will?). I don’t have to believe that it was a good thing for God to impregnate a barely pubescent, scared virgin teenager or that it was right to accept the blood of an innocent to atone for the sins of the guilty. Now, I can use my brain to think and say that it is actually silly to believe the unbelievable.
But the most important thing I’ve given up is confusion. The entire time I was a Christian, I was completely confused. When I first became a Christian, I wanted to learn all I could. I read, and I studied, but that’s the worst thing you can do if you want to stay a good Christian. The more I learned, the more I realized that the bible was full of contradictions, the god of the bible was a lying, self-centered villain with a maniacal ego, and that Christianity was just another cult like every other religion, based in no more reality than Scientology or the worship of Odin. Now that I am not a Christian, the world seems to make more sense, and I am not constantly in a state of anxiety over trying to figure it out.
So, I gave up my stress over making sense of religion, and with it, I gave up my conditioning—what I was taught from birth to accept without question or logic, what my culture decided I should believe, and I learned to see the world without the blinders of indoctrination. I’ve given up the chains of blind belief, and I feel truly free for the first time in my life.
So what do I miss about being a Christian? I miss out on wasting my life on a delusion. I miss out on forcing myself into a box in which I never fit, and I miss out on overlooking this life while I fantasize about the next, which probably doesn’t even exist. What I’ve gained from giving up on God is the whole world and the ability to be a grown up, making my own decisions, and living this amazing life as I see fit.—Christina Knowles