I have no idea. I used to know. I used to have a clear and complete picture of who I was, what life was about, how the universe worked (roughly), and what my future would be like. This has been thrown around and smashed into pieces several times, a bit like a vase in a washing machine. I'm currently piecing it back together, throwing out the parts that no longer work and adding new parts that I have found along the way. This much I know:
I was born in 1987 in the English countryside about an hour away from London, the middle child of a psychologist and an IT manager. None of my family or extended family were religious. I was taught to be grateful for what you've got, pursue what you enjoy, be open to new ideas, and be tolerant of others. I went to a good state school and sixth-form college, where I became friends with some very devout evangelical christians who were always nudging me to take a leap of faith to believe in their god. I resisted but we remained close friends as we went our separate ways. I went off to university to study foreign languages with the hope of living abroad, having as many interesting experiences as I could and meeting as many interesting people as I could. I drank a lot of alcohol, fumbled my way through a broad range of sexual experiences and found some time to write some essays, which I quite enjoyed and was actually quite good at.
It was in my second year that I gave in to my friends and 'found God' whatever that means. To me it meant committing to a personal relationship with a very mild, relevant Christian deity, but nevertheless adhering very strictly to the evangelical view of the Bible. It was like falling in love for the first time, but somehow better because it was a secret love that only certain people knew about. I threw all of myself into it, heart, soul, and even head. It was predominantly an emotional experience. I think I saw myself as mathematical and logical, perhaps to the extent of suppressing emotions up until that point, and this was my way of setting all of that aside and opening the floodgates so that I could feel something very raw and very intense.
Throughout my time at university I became increasingly fervent in my doctrine and my actions, moving into youth and student leadership roles at church, playing and leading in worship bands, and using my language skills on short term mission abroad. I paid less and less attention to my university work and became ever more distant from non-christian friends. When it came to my year of study abroad in continental Europe I saw it as an opportunity to witness to people in countries that I considered to be two or three times more secular than my own country. The Christians I met there were incredibly strong. In my mind this was either because they had to be to thrive in such a 'spiritually dry' environment, or due to the influence of the many missionaries from the US, many of whom were Bible-Belt fundamentalists. Because I was still learning the language, these guys became my best friends. We would joke about how when they would say pants I would say trousers, we would pray together for revival in the countries we had come to love, and I turned into one of them. I mean in pretty much every way: eating sloppy joe's, cornbread and peanut butter, learning how to play american sports, and I started a relationship with a blonde girl from rural North Carolina. I quickly became accustomed to what for me was a very rule-based subculture. Don't drink, don't swear, don't read Harry Potter. Guys and girls were segregated, and everybody wore checked shirts, had army haircuts and carried a Bible around everywhere. The values my liberal secular parents had tried to instill in me were a thousand miles away.
I got back to the UK, broke up with my girlfriend and had a conversation with an atheist friend on a 2 hour train journey that would change my life forever (again). I spent the next 4 months reading everything I could get my hands on, attending debates, hounding pastors and hapless street evangelists, and generally obsessing over finding out what the truth was. This wasn't an important question in my life, it was the only question. I said my last prayer at the midnight service at my local church on Christmas eve 2010.
I had now graduated from uni, and had lost touch with all the christian friends I made there and abroad, including the Americans, and countless others I knew from or through church. I was living in London, sharing a place with strangers, and I felt utterly alone. On top of that I had no idea what the point of my life was now. I had planned on planting a church or becoming a missionary. At the very least carrying out God's will and living in Christ until I got to heaven. Now what? No eternal life. No point to the universe. No point to my life. And worst of all, as I grappled with these realisations, I had lost all community, routine, support network and even friends. My flatmates could never understand, my parents could never understand, and my old christian friends could never understand either. I began having anxiety attacks and not wanting to ever go to sleep because it felt like a mini-death now that there was no one in control of the universe or my life. I experienced some mild depression, and began a course of cognitive behavioral therapy. It helped reduce panic attacks and some of the symptoms of depression, but all I wanted was to talk to someone about religion, but someone who understood what I was going through.
That's when I found this site in the summer of 2011. I read testimonies, watched videos and read articles by Marlene Winell among others. I have come a long way since then. I've been gradually repairing relationships with friends I had neglected either as a result of my conversion or my deconversion. I have taken up all sorts of new interests, like writing, drawing, running, politics and the environment. I've done another round of CBT and will soon go for some counseling. I still want to change the world for the better, but this time I want to engage with reality. Fantasy makes for great art, but the truth is always a better guide. So now I live my life the way I want to live it. Recognizing that I don't know anything like enough to not change my mind, as Hitchens said, taking the risk of thinking for myself every single day. I create my own meaning, I create my own identity and I'll even change the world. One of my favorite quotes is by George Bernard Shaw: "Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."
You might wonder after all that, am I really happier? As a matter of fact, yes, I am. Why? Because when you look at it in the cold light of day, it really is a wonderful world. I certainly wouldn't have it any other way. Here's to life, the universe and everything. Cheers.