…as I have grown weary of “hiding” who I am, and have been, for over a year now.
I have put this off and put it off for a while now but I realized that I needed to be up front and honest.
Also, I wanted to put a face to what I am:
I am an atheist.
Not even joking; not even a little bit.
I’m going to attempt a bit of a summary — if that is even possible. How can I even try to sum up what has been such an evolution of self?
It was a gradual process and not a path that I deliberately set out upon. Ten years ago I began asking myself questions about whether or not I thought that the Bible was the inerrant, infallible word of God. And so I started reading. The answers I discovered scared the shit outta me.
Allow me to give you some back story if I may:
You see — I was raised in church. My Irish Catholic mother became a “born-again spirit-filled” Christian when she was twenty-four years old. My father sort of stumbled along behind her in his faith for a few years until finally becoming a believer. I grew up in the Vineyard, a church that was, at the time, non-denominational and becoming well known for its contemporary worship songs. I loved church. I loved the music. Life was good. I learned my bible verses. I went to the youth retreats. I learned the hand signs for all of the worship songs. I longed for the day when I would speak in tongues. The laying on of the hands. The pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Oh, I learned it all. It was a language, a lifestyle; easy as breathing. I was told I had a gift for worship, that God had blessed me with melodies from heaven. My talents were not mine, they were to be used for God’s glory, and I accepted that totally and without question. Why would I question it? I didn’t know anything else.
After my mom died when I was thirteen life was pretty rough. I still went to church for a couple of years after that but, as I got a little older, my father and I fought like it was our job and my siblings and I were left on our own quite often while he was working. I worked a lot, too, working as many as three jobs at a time to help pay bills. I dabbled in underage drinking; I chain smoked cigarettes and generally felt very sorry for myself. I lied a lot back then. Life was so wretched that I wanted to be anything but me and anywhere but where I was. I didn’t really do church all that much in my later teen years.
One night, in a drunken stupor (that I was driving in such an inebriated state makes me shudder), I drove myself out to the cemetery where my mother is buried. I threw myself down on my mother’s grave and had a long conversation with Jesus about whether he was really real. I had an experience that I believed was real. I truly thought that I felt the presence of God. I decided then and there to start going back to church. I joined a Christian band, got married to the tall bass player of said band when I was a WAY TOO YOUNG twenty year old, and had my first son, Phoenix, when I was twenty-two. During all of this I became heavily involved in the 6:00 pm night service of my old church, the Atlanta Vineyard. It was started by a young worship intern at the church; a bright-eyed, talented optimist named Billy who wanted to create a church service geared towards people in their late teens and early twenties; it was called Vineyard Sunday Night. VSN grew from being just a young adult service to a service that attracted people of all types. “We attract a certain psychographic – not a demographic,” was something that was often said. I became a regular worship leader and band member; sometimes traveling all over the country to lead worship alongside Billy for different church retreats and functions. VSN became so well known for its music, especially within the Vineyard churches, that we even recorded a live worship album called “1000 Generations”.
A core group of us took our now rather large evening service taking place in a suburb of Atlanta, and planted a church in Midtown Atlanta. It was at our leaders group meeting that we voted, if I remember correctly, and the name Trinity was decided upon. Trinity Vineyard ( now Trinity Anglican Mission ) was born. The first service happened in October of 2002. It was a great success. In fact, the church is still doing really well; some of you reading this probably attend Trinity or, at the very least, a church planted out of it.
In 2005 I read a book by Daniel Quinn called “Ishmael“. It was the first time that I had read something that made me realize that not everyone took the Bible and it being the literal “Word of God” seriously. That there might be different interpretations. Yes, yes, I know. I was naive; however, my natural rampant curiosity took hold and I picked up a book about the inconsistencies of the Bible. I don’t even remember what it was called. It just became, “…that book that scared me.” I read about two chapters and didn’t go any further. The cognitive dissonance roaring in my brain was dreadful. It was easier to retreat to the known and comfortable. Plus, my marriage to the tall bass player was crumbling and it was causing problems with my relationships in the church. The last thing I needed was to throw the, “…and hey, I’m not sure I think this stuff is true,” into the fray. I locked all my doubts up in a corner of my brain and got down to the business of survival.
June of 2006 saw the end of my marriage and the scandalous kissing of Zack Arias in my front yard.
Life got all kinds of hard and glorious and sweet and sorrow all at once after that and I didn’t have time to think about much of anything over the next few years.
July 2008 Zack and I were married; blending our families — a cocktail of 3 parts Arias’ and 2 parts Coffee’s, and then — SURPRISE — 6 weeks after our marriage, finding out we had one on the way.
It was in Barnes and Noble with a brand new Hawke Danger in a baby sling that I found myself in the philosophy section holding a book called “Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible” by Bart D. Ehrman. My little sister, who had come out as a lesbian a few years earlier, was struggling with reconciling who she knew herself to be with the fact that we had family members who believed she was living in sin. “We love her but hate the sin.” Or, “It’s not God’s best for her.” Or, “She just hasn’t met the right man.” Or, “The Bible says that homosexuality is a sin. God abhors it. We can’t condone this. What’s next? Are we going to legalize beastiality?”
I couldn’t make sense of that. I had been reading all of the Christian apologists in an attempt to figure out what Christians believed. Why is this so hard? I would wonder. Who has the TRUE and RIGHT interpretation of what the Bible says? Everyone has an opinion; who is right? I bought the “Jesus, Interrupted” book with the thought that it would only be fodder for strengthening my faith. God was on my side. We were a team. I had a RELATIONSHIP with him. God was gonna cream Bart D. Ehrman and send him crying home to his momma.
Well, good ol’ Bart, while not clobbering God in my mind, definitely did some serious damage. I could feel myself thinking, “C’mon, God! Get back up! You’re not going to let him do that, are you?” I did, however, finally give up on the idea that the Bible was without fault; that it was God’s word to humankind. Obviously that wasn’t true anymore. Okay, then, I thought, the Bible is an amazing piece of historical literature written by people who weren’t who they said they were and who cares if the first five books of the Bible were written by four different people? Who cares that there are so many contradictions? It made me feel better knowing that God hadn’t done a shitty job communicating to human beings through a Bronze Age book. Good. That would’ve been a bad idea anyway.
My curiosity, however, was only increased. I surreptitiously started reading everything I could get my hands on. The God Delusion by Dawkins. God is not Great by Hitchens. Godless by Barker. I started googling the hell out of everything. I would read something profound in an atheist book and run scrambling over to the Christian writers looking for anything to provide a retort; a better answer, of which, sadly, there were none. What about my spiritual experiences? Those were real, right? Oh, apparently not.
I desperately wanted the atheists to be wrong. I would lie awake at night having long drawn out conversations in my head with God. “C’mon. Please. You’re kidding, right? You ARE going to show up, right? Is this like in the movies when everyone thinks the good guy is dead but he’s really not and there’s like a big fuck off dramatic moment where the good guy shows up at the last minute? Is that what this is? C’mon! I’m FALLING HERE. PLEASE CATCH ME.” I kept up the act with everyone. Praise Jesus. Let’s bow our heads. I’ll be praying for you. Amen and amen.
But the more I learned the quieter the cognitive dissonance became till one day I realized that I didn’t believe in God anymore. I didn’t need anyone to catch me because I had caught myself.
It broke my heart, though. I wrote down the following words:
“I never set out to lose my faith in you, but you made it so easy to do.”
I went through a period of feeling oddly guilty that my thoughts were just that — my thoughts. Julia Sweeney describes it perfectly in her autobiographical humorous monologue “Letting Go of God”. (If you have the time, you should listen to it. It’s funny and insightful and really really good.) Then there was the realization that, Oh my goodness. I’m an ‘effing ATHEIST. But wait – I’m still me. I didn’t turn into an evil, crabby (well, except for monthly punctuation), baby eating, weirdo who lives in caves and lies in wait for someone to bless me when I sneeze so that I can destroy them.
Zack, of course, was the first to know. That was a year ago. Then I told a couple of my closest friends here in town. Then a couple of months after that I emailed all of my closest friends that don’t live in town and “came out to them”. Then I emailed another larger group about it, too. I didn’t want everyone to find out…well — like this. Some responses were lovely and accepting. Some were tinged with sadness. Some didn’t respond at all. One friend said something telling, (and here I’m going to paraphrase badly)
“You always post such interesting stuff on Facebook and I always thought it was cool because you were challenging some of the traditionally held beliefs but it was okay because you were a Christian, too, and I thought it was a good way to get people to stretch their brains a bit.”
“So what you’re saying is that when people find out I’m an atheist I’ll be written off? Like, Oh, NO wonder she was sharing that stuff about transgendered people and all that weird stuff. She’s an ATHEIST.”
“Yeah, basically. It’s sad, but true.”
“Great. That sucks.”
So, there you have it. That’s where I am.
To all of you believers out there:
You’re not going to tell me anything I don’t already know. For instance, here is a list of things most of you are thinking and/or have thought while reading this:
1. Satan has overtaken me and deceived me. Screwtape and Wormwood and all that, right?
2. I’m under spiritual attack.
3. I must’ve not been a TRUE believer in Jesus.
4. This is a phase.
5. I’m being dramatic.
6. That I might’ve given up on God but God has not given up on me.
7. That I need to lean not on my own understanding.
8. It was my search for knowledge that led me down this path and knowledge is evil.
9. What is my purpose now?
Please, do me a favour, and watch this:
15 Things Christians Say to Atheists (And Shouldn’t)
Hemant Mehta does a lovely job here. He’s a nice guy that Hemant.
Have questions? Put them in the comments or shoot me an email: meghan @ meghanarias . com
Thanks for reading.