Evolution of an Atheist
I would love to be able to say that it was solely reason and calm analysis that drove my de-conversion process, but it wouldn’t be quite true; which is not to say that reason and analysis played no part whatsoever, because they did, they played a huge part. However, at some point, I decided that if I was going to be completely honest with myself, had to re-evaluate some of that intellectual history; I had to include and give proper weight to emotional history as well.
Looking back, I can, of course, find quite a few examples of times where I had doubt, times where I expressed doubt, times where I explored and grappled with doubt. Hell, I wrote a paper trying to tease out why in one version of the story of Kind David taking a census, it was God that told David to do it (2 Sam 24:1), and in the other, it was Satan that told him to do it (1 Chr. 21:1); I told priests in confession (I was Russian Orthodox, confession is an even bigger deal there than in Catholicism, I think) about DOUBTING IT ALL; I refused to get confirmed in the Episcopal Church as a teenager because the catechism instructor wouldn’t answer my questions; I read The Selfish Gene as a teenager. I had me some doubtings, is the point. But every time, I let faith trump doubt, I begged for more faith, the priests told me they saw my faith, I performed some impressive mental gymnastics and lived with the regularly recurring bouts of cognitive dissonance, I defended the fucking indefensible position of the sinfulness of homosexuality to my gay friend. I fucking well believed, I fucking well doubted. I did not engage my doubt. I pushed it aside and shoved it down, I trusted that it would all eventually become clear to me.
I went through a long period of time where I would (usually over beers or whiskey or both) be discussing religious things with a friend or friends and would insist that I was, in fact, very religious, I just wasn’t very good at it. (Yes, I was well and truly an alcoholic by then as well, I just wasn’t ready to deal with that yet, either, other than perhaps in one or two [drunken] diary entries.) So I guess that was a sort of transitional faith period for me. I tried to get back into the church, even, tried to re-become the Reader I had once been ordained to be (like, literally, ordained… by a Bishop and everything – I still have my Reader’s robe, and it’s fucking cool – makes me feel like Neo or something).
Then I met some people. More than that, I met the people that I knew were my people. And they were atheists. Every one of them. Or near enough. One was an igtheist at the time (I did have to look that one up). These were the people that, in their own way, sort of deconverted me. They did it not by preaching, per se, but by being open about who they were. Yes, we did talk about that stuff. With gusto, with joy, with passion. More than anything, really, they made it acceptable and safe for me to begin to engage with my own doubt. Let me say that again, just in case didn’t catch that: they made it okay. I did the thinking, the engaging, the reading, the research – in the end, all of that really is done with oneself; faith is an intensely personal thing, in some way (intensely social, too, but that’s a separate, if related, topic). But they made it ok to be me.
So after a while of doing some more reading and research, I did what I called, “Trying it on for size.” I couldn’t just jump off the bridge and free fall into atheism, so I tried it on for size for a little while, as if it were a t-shirt, to see how it fit. It fit. In fact, after a while, I realized that what I had actually done was take off a whole suit of ill-fitting clothes so that I could walk around naked comfortably, in my very own skin.