Lets Make it Official
So, I've been lurking around these forums for quite some time (nearly a year) and I figured it was time I made an official account and introduced myself. I'm a 17 year old high school senior from southern Illinois. Well, here's my story...
I was raised Episcopalian and attended church every Sunday with my family, prayed regularly, and absolutely believed in the existence of God. Luckily, the church I belonged to was one which encouraged thinking, rather than blind faith. I don't know exactly when my journey to apostasy officially began, but the most intense and important fraction took place at the end of summer going into my junior year.
I had been essentially apathetic towards religion until the 9th grade. I had gone through the motions, but had never been concerned about it. Near the end of my freshman year, my parents convinced me to attend "Happening", a weekend long experience for those who wanted more out of Christianity. I was apprehensive at first, but everyone there was very welcoming. The entire weekend was filled with hugs, emotional stories and discussions, religious songs, and hours of prayer. Looking back, I see it as a form of emotional exploitation, but at the time, it didn't seem too strange. The second day in, I felt like I could sense God's presence and what I thought was a genuine religious experience occurred. Granted, I did not start flailing around on the ground speaking in tongues, but I felt a spark. And that spark gave me a reason to believe the Bible (though I still hadn't read it) and pray to God on a regular basis. I truly believed that weekend had brought me closer to God. Of course, by the end of summer my junior year, much of the initial enthusiasm of the experience had worn off and more doubts had begun surfacing. Despite this, I still completely maintained my Christian beliefs.
I'm not sure how it came up, but I started having regular discussions with a friend about religious matters. At the time, she was much less religious than me, but not a proclaimed atheist. These countless thought provoking conversations rekindled my interest in religious matters. I remembered a website a friend told me about during the school year, www.godlessbastard.com; I had tried to read it once before, but it was just too much. This time, however, I was determined to at least give it a fair shot. I visited the site and starting reading Mr. Bastard's manifesto. It was the most vile, unapologetic, blasphemous, offensive, blatant criticism of religion I had ever read. This man truly was a godless bastard. I was shocked that anyone would have the audacity to label religious beliefs as "lunacy" or "delusion". But, once I was able to look past how terribly offended I was, I realized that behind the mocking, he did make some valid points. He addressed questions that had long been in the back of my mind, and brutally, but effectively, disassembled and mocked many of the arguments I had used to rationalize my beliefs.
While his site was interesting, it was more focused on the hypocrisy and problems with religion than on theism as a whole. So, while it may have affected my views about Christianity and religion in general, it did little to my belief in god and an afterlife. Over the couple weeks, I read through the entire site, as well as several others he provided links to on his page. I think at this point I had crossed the point of no return, though I didn't realize it at the time. I started taking down the names of the various websites, lectures, and books I had examined, or wanted to study. In addition, I begun taking out quotes from The Bible of atrocities, contradictions, etc; though at that time I was still painfully ignorant of much of the context, among other things. Although my belief in Christianity was fading fast, I still had a rough belief in a god/afterlife. It took an entire change in my mindset to finally drive me over the edge.
I don't know if it was any specific lecture, or book, or website that caused me to change my thinking. I don't know how long the idea had been hovering in the back of my mind before I consciously reflected on it or even when exactly that reflection occurred. Whatever the case, I stopped looking at the existence of god and an afterlife as something that unequivocally was, and started looking at it has something which had to be supported by either logical proofs or scientific evidence. Before then, I had never scrutinized the idea of the existence of god or an afterlife - it had always been a given, I had never even seriously considered the possibility that either of these were not so. But under this new "show me" mindset, both ideas fell short. The whole thing was kind of a shock to me, I no longer had belief in god, and that made me... an atheist?
"Shake off all fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear." -Thomas Jefferson