I stumbled across this forum by mere chance a few days ago and the idea of it grabbed me, so I thought i'd join on up and share my tale with you all.
I was born in 1991 as one of 3 (triplets) into a somewhat moderate christian family in the south of England. Many of my earliest memories are church related. We attended the local Baptist church most weeks and my sisters and I were members of the small Sunday school class for many years. The people there seemed to be nice for the most part and I suppose being a child, some of the more objectionable material simply passed me by. (Interestingly in later years, I found out that my mother objected to some of the more fundamentalist material spouted by guest pastors, she retains her faith however.) As I got older this began to change and I grew more and more uncomfortable in the church as an environment. I was learning a great deal at school both in terms of science and for lack of a better word, sociology (in terms of different religions, sexual orientations, sexual ethics et al) and some of the things discussed in church just plain didn't sit with me right.
Still, I carried on attending, after all, if i just trusted in god and Jesus my saviour all would be well no? This went on for a couple of years until 2004. In that year I underwent massive surgery to correct some of the damage done to my body due to my cerebral palsy, my own growth was essentially slowly destorying my bones and joints. It was arduous and incredibly traumatic. A few days after my second bout of surgery my intra-spinal pain relief was removed (for saftey/long term health reasons) and some of the worst pain i've ever felt in my life began. It just so happened that on this particular day, at this particular time I happened to be completely alone, my parents were out of the ward taking a much needed rest, both of my neighbours were recieving treatment and there were no nurses around to help me. What had I always been told to do in moments like this? Ah of course, call out to god for help. So I did, again and again and again. There was no answer, no matter how hard I called no matter how much I prayed, nothing happened. No divine providence or assistance was coming. All of a sudden my world shattered like glass and a veil fell away. All these years where I had thanked god for my determination and resilience in the face of my condition it had been me. Just me. My own strength, my own convicition, my own sense of self that had pushed me through and that was what was going to get me through this as well. I suppose this is what many would call my 'moment of clarity.' But my story does not end so simply as so many do not.
Many weeks later once I realised the enormity of what I had understood, I began to feel afraid. What if I was wrong? What if it was the other side wanting me to think that? Had I betrayed god? I was terrified, threw myself back into reading the bible, prayer, attending church all in a desparate struggle to re affirm my faith. Yet the harder I tried, the more absurd it seemed and the harder it became. But what other options were there? All i'd ever really known was Christianity - as relatively mild a form of it as it was - and so I shared my thoughts with some friends at school and stumbled across the idea of agnosticism. Sounded great to me, I wasn't sure at the time regarding the whole god issue, seemed to fit quite well. It did for a while too, until I met some new people who challenged that as well, introducing me to the works of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens. Through discussion and reading over many many months even the idea of 'maybe there is a god?' Seemed strange to me, here were these great minds presenting me with all the contradictions, all the fundamental problems with faith, particularly the Abrahamic faiths, in relatively plain English. All of those doubts that i'd been habouring for years simply melted away. I finally accepted once and for all that there really was no omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient overseer above me... and finally felt relief, almost like i'd been holding my breath for all my life and suddenly exhaled
I'm lucky in so far as I was never likely to be disowned for my views, my mother and father had always tried to encourage independent thought, my mother's reaction to the news of my newfound atheism was one of disquiet more than anything else. More than once she would corner me into going to a church service and then afterwards ask me 'did you enjoy that?' with an expectant look on her face. The answer of course was invariably 'no'. Today she has ostensibly accepted my decision but still tries to encourage me to attend church. (I occasionally do for community events but take no part in any prayer.) I'm even close friends with the current pastor's daughter, she's aware of my views but to my knowledge has not shared them with her family. My father was a much easier sell, frankly i'm not entirely certain of his own beliefs and I don't think he is either. My siblings and I don't actively discuss matters of faith very often and generally leave that sphere of existence to each other. Again they are aware of my stance on the matter but do not push me on it, just as I don't push them on their own.
Despite all this being the only confirmed atheist in my immediate family can be isolating, even with the number of friends I have who also profess to the philosophy, for example I recently had to attend the confirmation of a friend into the ministry at a local pentecostal church, (of a revivalist bent) some of the things I heard and witnessed throughout literally turned my stomach, negative attitudes towards homosexuality (including one young man who was actively repressing/denying his own in the name of faith, this was lauded by the congregation of course.) and what I saw as the celebration of mental illness - speaking in tongues, trances and other examples of completely irrational behaviour. Needless to say I left as quickly as I could after the end of the service.
However at the end of it all i'm simply glad I managed to wake up and leave the faith. I fear that had I stayed for longer whilst habouring the doubts I had, it may have caused me a significant amount of psychological harm.
Thank you for reading.