A friend of mine asked me this this morning: So you consider yourself an atheist. But I've read your blogpost about your initial thought of God. How did you go from believing in a neglectful God to believing in no God at all?
It's time for a story. Like all stories there is a beginning. Imagine, if you will, me (or what you think I am like) a few years back. I was still in the closet then and still struggling with who I was. My coming out story as a gay man is very much entwined with the departure of my belief in God. A few years ago I slipped into a much depression that caused me to flee my parent's home and go to BYU after being away for a couple of months. My brothers had both gotten married that summer and I had just had surgery on my nose. My sister had fled her own family due to an abusive husband. I still remember that summer. I remember the fires so thick that they darkened the sky for weeks with smoke. It was so bad that there were warnings against going outside.
I felt the heaviness of despair even though I couldn't identify why. I figured it was because I just wasn't trying hard enough in my belief in God. I had managed to conquer my gayness and set it aside, or so I thought. So I went back to BYU in hopes of fleeing the darkness that haunted my dreams and my waking thoughts. The darkness that spoke of despair, of failure, and of pathetic ugliness within. I fled to BYU and faced a frustration that I could not begin to imagine.
I was so poor that all I could afford to eat was ramen. I had no money in my bank account because I had to use it to pay for rent. I had used up the last of the gas in my car so I had to walk everywhere. I remember that September, warm and fading as the earth made its inevitable revolution around the sun and the seasons changed. I had just gotten new shoes for church that I absolutely loved but the heel of the shoe destroyed my heel, leaving it bloodied and the flesh torn. I couldn't even by band aids and would go to school in my normal shoes only to come home and find the heel of my sock soaked through with my own blood. I remember crying a lot and wondering what was wrong with me. I began to have depressive episodes that would leave me stunned and unable to socialize. I was heartbroken and in despair and I didn't even know why. I had no social life due to work and school and would find myself alone in the apartment doing homework while my roommates went off on dates and hung out with friends. I couldn't understand why I was sad. I couldn't understand why I was full of anxiety and despair. I just couldn't understand.
The months went by and depression sunk deeper. I sought a psychologist but we could figure out nothing. I remember confessing to her that I would commit suicide if I thought it would make my life better but I only saw the disappointed faces of my dead relatives that would greet me. I only saw the fact that existence continued on after death and I was trapped in a life that would never end. Death wasn't release. It was the sealing of my doom. I felt trapped in my life and that I would become trapped in death.
When January came, I felt a surge of hope that things would get better. Something would change. And something did.
I nearly tried to kill myself.
That day was a weird day. I was anxious and frustrated, full of an emptiness I could not fathom. I walked home that day with an eerie determination to come up with a plan to kill myself and to make it so that no one would care or take note that I had even passed away. That my life would hardly noticed going out and even less noticed in its absence. I wanted no one to mourn over me for I thought I was being selfish wanting that. I didn't want my family to even care. I wanted everyone to forget about me so that in my passing, my final gift to them would be a life without the burden of remembering me or acknowledging my death.
Yet I was so scared by these thoughts that I instead took a sharp knife and cut my arm several times to induce blood. I remember the feeling of peace at seeing my own life essence filling the wounds I had made. The bright, vibrant red of blood that told me it was good and I was still alive. How quick that sudden rush of peace turned to guilt, emptiness, and despair. I sank onto the couch and cried for nearly an hour. I was pathetic. I would blubber to myself, "Help. I need help." But no one came. No one knew I was dying inside at the time.
Help did come later, thankfully. And the sweet gesture of friendship of love sheltered me from my own dark thoughts. In all of this, I believed I had failed God. I wasn't really going to church and I wasn't really reading my scriptures. I was such a failure. God did not want me.
But then that weekend I poured my heart and soul out to a friend of mine while online. I told him of the loneliness and the emptiness I felt at being gay and at BYU. I told him how desperately I wished I knew other gays at school. And what he did next forever altered the course of my life. It was an alteration I have been forever grateful for. He helped me come out by getting other gays to meet me. Helping me find other people like me so I wouldn't feel so isolated. He set me down the path that I am on currently today.
And I am forever grateful for the kindness that he showed me.
About that time of letting go of the heaviness in my heart, I asked a friend for books to read on atheism. I had a character for a story and I wanted to better understand how someone that didn't believe in God or a god thought. He offered me books and I accepted one. I read it with mild curiosity until deciding some pages in to give the book a real chance and see if the author's claim was true. I was so busy that semester that I didn't have time to read the book but I did manage to read it all over the weekend after school got out. The idea that there was no God and it made perfect sense was riveting. It was as though my very mind was allowed to be free! I felt as thought I could stand up fully without having to crouch low or stoop. I felt the sweet sense of peace and serenity like I never had before.
God had passed away in my mind. Where God had been was now opportunity. It was the opportunity to truly know and understand the world around me. I remember that summer with such happiness that I still seek to imitate it to some degree every summer. It became a season of friends, of reading books that filled my need to understand, and it became a summer of discovery. So horrified was I that I no longer believed in God that I sought to read my scriptures and try to believe. But as I did so, I felt a great calm come over me. I understand what I was reading far better but I felt no compulsion to believe. I felt no need to believe. I could look around at the mountains, the desert, the people, and the society around me and at last understand how they all interacted on some level. I could recall memories without the shade of guilt that normally came for small, insignificant details of imperfections.
By the end of summer I fully embraced what I had been telling people: I was an atheist.
There was no God that haunted my dreams and whispered of knowing my many imperfections in the daytime. No Spirit granted me crushing humiliation over my attraction to other men. No Jesus died on the cross for my pathetic sins because I was pathetic and disgusting before me. I was freed from the trap of belief. Free to believe and accept what I thought was right and true. And I was free to discover what was truly real and actually right.
What began as a delusion of belief now has ended in the gentle sands of rational thought and rational accepting of the world around me. God did not die in epic throws of disease, fighting, or anger. God died quietly, slipping through my fingers like a ghost. God was ethereal and nothing now. God was nothing more than the invention of the minds of people seeking something that was not there. And I was grateful to no longer hold to the tyrant of my childhood.
It has been nearly three years since my belief in God died and I have never been happier. Tell me, friend, does that answer your question?