It started when I was young, back when I had an obsession with ancient Egypt and its practices and theology. My mother said I was always one to question. I grew up wanting to be an archeologist, digging up artifacts and understanding how the people of days gone by lived and died. As my critical thinking skills began to develop I wondered “Would the people that lived in this era end up in hell as the theology I was raised in believed? Was time and geography all that distanced me from the ancient Egyptians who worshiped Ra?” While it was an interesting question, I knew that the theology that I grew up with was true…after all, my parents and everyone I knew said it was so. I was around 6 years old when I walked down the aisle to beg Jesus for forgiveness. I even remember once talking to a couple of close friends of mine in the school gym asking if they had ever asked Jesus into their hearts.
Later, around the age of 14, I was told that those who had accepted Jesus into their hearts would know an unending peace and would know that they were saved from eternal damnation…but that knowing and that feeling never came. I remember begging and pleading for my god to give me the reassurance that I was truly saved and would end up in heaven with everyone that I held dear, yet that prayer was never answered. I may have felt relief for days or weeks but the question was always nagging in the back of my mind: “Was I truly saved if I never felt this total peace others spoke of?”
I was 15 when I went on a “retreat” where I was starved of sleep and had constant contact with other steadfast believers. I remember playing games with friends and eventually ended up under the starry sky of rural Texas weeping after a heartfelt altar call, asking Jesus to save my soul once again. This time it lasted a little while longer, even if doubts crept into my mind now and again.
Then I was 17 and I’m not so sure anymore. I’ve seen friends struggle with self-harm and thoughts of suicide that god would not or could not defend against. I was one of them. I was a steadfast Christian, yet I struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts often. I would pray to god to save my soul and deliver me from this affliction and it would subside for the night only to be back the next day. I was a devout Christian yet I believed that literal demons were tormenting me daily and my prayers were only sufficient for a night. When I felt that I was not being punished enough for my disgusting sins I began to inflict punishment upon myself by cutting my arms. Because of my stress, insomnia, and religious upbringing, I saw shadowy figures tormenting me night after night with no respite. Eventually, I felt these demons especially when I listened to secular music. At first I was afraid and considered throwing my secular music in the garbage. However, one night I realized that the feelings I had felt from secular music were no different from the Christian music I was raised with. It was so bizarre at first to think that secular music could have this effect; but once I began to research into the subject, I realized that music, Christian or secular, was devised to evoke emotions.
Then I was 18 or 19 in my first year of college. I’m no longer sure what to believe. I still believe there is a god that is good, just, and loving, but I have my doubts. This is when I meet Mike. I don’t remember his last name, but I owe him an immense debt for opening my eyes. I met Mike, if I remember correctly, in my introduction to philosophy course. Mike was probably close to 30 and was fairly close to the stereotypical angry atheist; he disliked Christianity to the point of being visibly annoyed by students nearby talking about their worship service from the previous Sunday. I don’t remember how we ended up in a private discussion about theology after class had ended, but I distinctly remember Mike asking me what I believed. I stuttered for a moment and eventually spat out “I think I’m a deist?” I knew I didn’t sound very convincing as I didn’t even convince myself. Mike and I discussed philosophical arguments for the existence of god for a while and he challenged me to watch a few episodes of The Atheist Experience on YouTube.
At the time, I was working a job that allowed me to work and listen to videos simultaneously and I took advantage of that opportunity. While I didn’t completely understand the arguments being made at first, I began to familiarize myself with the philosophical arguments for and against the existence of a deity. As I listened to the arguments against the existence of a deity, the more they began to make sense. Now, don’t get me wrong, I certainly was not looking for a reason to abandon my belief in god. In fact, I was hoping to do the exact opposite, I began my research in hopes that I would better understand how to argue for the existence of a deity. In fact, I even went on several “mission trips” during this time. Despite my doubts, I dug even deeper into my religion and the doubts only crept out when I was alone at night, left alone to think.
However, eventually my fundamentalist beliefs about the Christian deity were eroded away. This erosion created an even deeper longing for an understanding of the truth about reality that has yet to be satisfied. I dove wholeheartedly into a quest for understanding all different kinds of beliefs about the world that previously I would have considered completely taboo. With my fundamentalist beliefs finally gone, I was finally free to ask what reality truly was without any preconceived notions.
Now, several years later in my mid-twenties, I am an agnostic atheist who longs to understand reality to the best of my ability and I do my best to challenge myself each and every day to discover the truth. I keep my eyes open and my beliefs open to revision. After all, according to Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”