I've been reading threads on this forum for a couple of months now and find that there's a lot to gain from so many open-minded and well-informed people here, so I thought I'd ask to be part of it and maybe write a few posts myself.
I'm a 57-year-old atheist, I'm Greek and live in Greece. I'm a high school teacher of English (as a foreing language - EFL) in Xanthi, a town with a population of about 50,000, situated in the north-eastern part of the country. I'm married and have a daughter. My wife (49, also an atheist) is also a high school teacher with a degree in electrical engineering and my daughter (28, probably an atheist, or at least non-religious so far) is a primary school teacher.
I started 'flirting' with atheism when I was about 16, but had to go through a long and painful process becoming a full-fledged atheist (at about 24), after spending the first 13 years of my life as a Greek Orthodox christian, then the rest of my adolescence plus a few more years as an on-and-off (but in a steadily and progressively diminishing manner) Jehovah witnesses 'sympathizer'. The change from GOC to JW symp happened when my mother was approached by JWs, naively accepting their evangelism and consequently speaking to me, her first child, about the 'good news' and the 'truth'. My father became furious when he found out and forbade my mother and me to have anything to do with JWs. I'd say that my father was atheist in a way, though he never really expressed his views to me or my three brothers, except only once, when he said to me, "There's no god, only a greater force." I was around 10 at the time.
My folks were no church-goers, though my mother was always religious, both as a GOC and, later, as a JW until her death. They didn't make us kids go to church either, except at Easter; they didn't even ask us to. Only my mother would sometimes, while she was still a GOC, say it would be best if I and my brothers went to church and/or Sunday school from time to time. Neither did she insist on me going to JW meetings after she became a JW. As a result, I'd only go when I felt like it, which was not very often, especially because I had serious doubts who the real god was and could not accept the fact that there was so much evil and death and misery in the world. I still thought there was a god, but I was enraged at his failure or unwillingness to intervene and put an end to all that.
Meanwhile, I was frantically reading JW books and periodicals. I mostly believed what I read there and found myself wanting to be worthy of Jehovah and Jesus, imagining I was going around people's homes spreading the word! But those feelings never lasted long. I'd go from ardent believer to harsh doubter in a matter of days, or a couple of weeks at most, and that, metaphorically speaking, put a heavy burden on my shoulders and made me miserable. It was a slow, exhausting, torturing process.
One of the worst parts was their eschatological insanity. At that time, they thought that the Armageddon, i.e. Christ's final battle with the forces of evil and, consequently, the end of the world as we knew it, was to happen in 1975. I remember sitting with a seemingly well-informed Jehovah's witness on the balcony of his apartment one hot summer night while he, fervently thumbing through the pages of his bible, was citing biblical verses to me that supposedly proved the year 1975 was the time when 6,000 years would have passed since the beginning of creation. One verse said that one day for god was 1,000 years, another that it was one year (as the guy saw fit for his calculations, of course). Then it was from Adam to I don't remember who so many years, or from Noah or from Abraham to I don't know who else to Jesus to some important historical event etc. etc. another number of years. To cut a long story short, the final sum total of his additions pointed unambiguously to 1975 and that was the year when Jesus would begin his reign on earth for a thousand years and when the righteous would be rid of the devil and his angels, but all those bearing the mark of the beast would be annihilated for all eternity (at least there was no hell, that was some consolation!)
We were already past 1970 by that time and those years until 1975 saw me progressively estranging myself from the witnesses and their grim predictions, though deep inside me fear lurked. Then the critical year arrived bringing with it a final nightmare that materialized on my brain synapses while I was asleep one night in late fall. I dreamed that the end of the world was coming lightning fast and found myself somewhere high up in the sky. I started falling into a bottomless abyss with nothing around me to hold on to. Other people, but not too many, were falling too. The most impressive thing, however, was that there were thousands of large, white flowers around me, rather slowly descending along with me. I said to myself that I had been a fool not to have believed and now I was getting what I deserved. It was not a very fearful scene while I was still speeding down through the air, but I felt that great fear and agony were in store for me far below. Thankfully the nightmare didn't last long, nor did I ever reach the level where the greatest fears were supposed to be waiting for me. I don't remember very well what happened next, I don't think I woke up, most probably I ...changed dreams.
So, the end of the world didn't come in 1975. Unfortunately, my father's end did come that same year, when he succumbed to cancer at age 52. Eleven years later, another misfortune befell my family, when my 27-year-old brother (the second born) died in a road accident. My mother followed three years and three days later, a victim to breast cancer, in 1989. She was 61. It seems that Charon, luckily, decided then to give the rest of us a long break, as my other two brothers and I still live to this day, my brothers now in Germany and Belgium, happy(?) Jehovah's witnesses, having fled before they were 20 (they're twins) to avoid doing their compulsory military service, as JWs won't touch guns.
My traumatic passage through religion, combined with the shocks of the deaths in the family, especially the death of my brother, kindled in me an underlying depression, which has made my life unbearable for long, though intermittent, periods of time. I've always had a fear of death (and not only) ever since I remember myself. When I was getting closer and closer to the age that my father died, I was afraid I would get cancer too, seeing also that this disease seemed to run in my father's family as his two brothers also died of cancer at about the same age. Thankfully, I have - so far at least - escaped it, by some five years now. I was diagnosed with depression in 1988 and have been seeing a psychiatrist on and off since then, and have been on medication (fluoxetine), also on and off, since - if memory serves - 1993 (fluoxetine wasn't widely available in Greece before approximately that time).
Well, it's not all grey and cloudy, however. I've had some really good times in my life, long ones too, especially since I sought medical help. I also took up a hobby (picking, photographing and studying wild mushrooms), which has generally worked wonders with me and won me recognition and respect among mushroomers, as I have become quite knowledgeable in the field. Another fine development in my life is that I've found on the internet people like you who can think rationally and have respect for science and logic, so I don't feel (relatively) alone in my life choice to reject the supernatural and be spared its harmful repercussions. I still have a few left-over fears to deal with, since they're unfortunately deeply rooted from a very early age and come back to me when I feel weaker or in my dreams, but I'm optimistic seeing that I already feel more secure just by reading some of the enlightening posts from you people on this forum.
I've come to this site, and have also been visiting some other, similar ones (but I haven't registered with any of those others, at least not yet), in order to feel at home with people who share the same or similar views, at least as regards religion and existential matters, and be helped, and help others myself if somehow I can. I hope we have something to give one another. I can't make any promises, if I'm made welcome, about posting regularly or being a very active member etc., as people like me unfortunately tend to be somewhat unpredictable in their moods, but I'd really love it if I could stick with you people. It remains to be seen.
Please accept my apologies for this rather long first post. I'm happy that I can and will say that it's so nice meeting you and, after what seemed like a long lurking, finally speaking to you.
Spare the rod and spoil the god!