ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Learning To Love Myself As An Atheist

Updated on January 17, 2015

Why I'm Sharing My Story

To be an atheist is not always the easiest path in life. There are a lot of people who hate atheists and act cruel to them. For a long time in my life I had to hide my beliefs. I had to hide the fact that I was an atheist because I lived in a community of Christians who were unaccepting of such a path.

Living a life where you can't be yourself and you have to hide who you are is very hard. In hiding my beliefs I wasn't accepting or loving myself. I feared how my atheist self would be judged and treated by others who believed differently. It took many years of self-hate and doubting who I was before I could tell people openly that I was an atheist. These days I carry the label of atheist with pride. I don't let the haters make me feel horrible for being who I am. We all have to go on our own journeys to figure out how to love ourselves and to find our own truths. It took me a long time to figure out that I had to learn to love myself before I could live a happy life.

I hope that in sharing my story others who have been in similar situations will realize that they aren't the only ones struggling to be an atheist in a world dominated by religious ideologies.

The Worst Crime: To Be An Atheist

I remember the first time I ever told anyone I didn't believe in God. I was around 13 or 14 and sitting on the kitchen floor talking to my oldest brother. I don't remember the conversation we were having before my admission but I remember what happened after. I told him I didn't believe in God and he looked at me with shock and then anger. My other brother walked into the room and my oldest brother said loudly "Did you hear what she just said? She said she didn't believe in God!"

I didn't know at the time that this was wrong. I was just a little kid. I grew up in a household where religion really wasn't talked about so I was left on my own to figure things out. I did know about God, heaven and hell, and the basic stepping stones of Christianity that kids are taught but at that age most kids have lots of questions and thoughts. In that simple statement "I don't think I believe in God" I learned quickly that I had said something that was going to get me treated as if I were a delinquent. Though I wasn't an atheist at that point, I was old enough to wonder what was real and what was not. That day I got my first lesson in religious discrimination.

They both were upset and kept asking me questions. They lecture me about the Bible and God and told me that I was wrong. They yelled at me and shamed me for thinking such a thought. I remember not being to happy with myself or them afterwards and feeling very confused about life's truths. It would be a while before the topic of religion would come up again. When it did I was in for the worst period of my life.

9/11 Changed My World

I was 14 years old when 9/11 happened and my world changed so that Christianity became a more important topic in our household. 9/11 and the terrorist attacks scared the world. Both of my brothers were deeply impacted by fear for their immortal souls. Some people thought that such a horrible event was the beginning of the end of the world. It was this event that triggered my brothers and my mom to seek answers and comfort in their religion. They began to go to church and read the Bible. Before I was born, when my parents were still married, my mom, dad, and brothers went to church. My mom was Catholic but they went to my dad's Baptist church. After I was born, they divorced when I was around a year old. My mom was a single mother and church became an afterthought because she had a family to provide an income for.

When Christianity seeped into my world at the age of 14 the way it emerged in my life wasn't positive. In was out of 9/11 that the worst side of Christianity surfaced in my life. Before, religion was non-existent in our household and wasn't an issue, but after 9/11 that statement I made years earlier that I didn't think I believe in God suddenly became a focal point. My family didn't care so much about me and what I needed to make sense of the world as much as they cared about me submitting to this ideology so they could save my soul from the depths of hell.

For a young kid with hardly any religious education the idea that a God existed and loved people but let so many die horrible deaths on 9/11 just didn't make sense. As a 14 year old I had questions like "Why would a loving God do something like that?" I was still young and learning about religion so I questioned everything. My questioning was taken as me not believing in God and my family got angry anytime I said something that went against what they believed.

I remember my oldest brother being the worst to deal with. He would corner me and drag me into debates where everything I said was wrong. There were days where he would make me sit in the living room and he would ask me religious questions for hours. No matter what I said I was wrong and he made me feel like crap. At that time I wasn't an atheist and had never even heard the word. I was just a confused teenager searching for answers.

Some days I'd be there with my angry brother for 4 or more hours being told I was wrong time after time. Four hours is a long time to lecture a kid on how wrong they are about everything. A lot of damage to my self-esteem was done to me in those sessions. My family was blind to the internal struggles going on within me. I became depressed and angry. I was angry at my family, angry at God and Christians, angry about 9/11, and so much more. I constantly questioned what was true and not and whether God was real or fiction. No one noticed that I was going through a huge struggle in my own head. At some point I stopped talking and fighting them and hid in my room away from their constant berating. I didn't want to talk to people who only seemed to care about proving themselves right and not caring to even listen to what I had to say.

I would consider what happened to me verbal abuse. Because I wasn't accepting Christianity I was treated like I was a bad kid. I was a good kid. I never got in trouble, made good grades in school, and was well behaved. I was constantly yelled at and insulted. I had religion forced on me out of my brother's fear the end of the world was coming because he believed the Bible predicted such an event.

Confusion Then Clarity

Over time my depression got worse and worse to the point I was suicidal. There were a few times I came very close to killing myself. No one noticed either. The abuse and forcing of religion continued until one day I just broke. I remember the day well. My mom and brothers forced me to go to church. A person can't just say they adopt a religion. It's a personal choice. It can't be forced. Whatever the belief system, a person has to believe it and feel that it is the truth deep down in the depths of their mind and heart.

On the day I was being forced to go to a church I was being forced to adopt their beliefs when I didn't accept it as truth in my mind or heart. The way they got me to go was by yelling at me. I remember during the service I was so angry and hurt that I cried silently in the pew. My mom and brother noticed and were embarrassed. When we got home I went to my room and just cried.

It was out of that moment of pain and sadness that the fog of confusion in my brain cleared. I strangely found a moment of clarity. I had stopped crying and was staring out the window. It was a sunny day and the sky was a brilliant blue with fluffy white clouds. The air was cool and felt good on my face. I don't know why but it was in that moment I stopped caring what my family thought of me. Maybe it was the looking out at the world and seeing its natural beauty that helped me find peace of mind. Maybe I finally had hit my breaking point and decided to stopped struggling with my family. Maybe it was the thought that I only had to graduate high school then I could escape my family. Whatever it was, that day though I had hope that things would get better.

Finally Finding The Right Path

My relationship with my family was damaged and it was around the age of 14 that I began waiting for the day I was 18 and could move far away from them. I got accepted to college at the age of 18 and applied to live on campus, away from my family. It was while I was in college that I was able to think for myself and to form my own identity and perceptions of the world.

I've always been a smart person, even as a kid. I loved reading and researching. I remember back in high school I would read about cultures all over the world and how people differed so greatly from place to place and changed throughout history. When I went to college I studied Sociology which offered a perspective to studying people and the way they act and think that made sense to me. I didn't just choose to be an atheist. I became one because of my education. In college I went on an intellectual journey to learn about every religion I could to see which I thought was the path for me. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Native American spirituality, along with religions that no longer exist and new ones emerging were all part of my education. I wanted to understand different beliefs, their origins, and practices.

I didn't find a good fit in any one religion. Some had nice teachings but the supernatural elements were never something I could accept. It was only in the world of scientific approaches that I finally felt at home in my own mind. I found that science offered me explanations about the world and how it works that made sense and answered the questions I had my entire life. When I study religion I see it through the mind of a scientist. Looking back, even as a young kid, I always tried to explain the world as a scientist would.

A Zen Buddhist Helped Me Love Myself

In my search for my identity and acceptance of my atheism I somehow found peace with myself with the help of a Zen Buddhist. In a college philosophy class I was assigned to read a book by Cheri Huber, a Zen Buddhist, called "There Is Nothing Wrong With You." I often find it funny that it was in the teachings of a religious teacher that I accepted my atheist self.

Huber's book was all about learning to accept who you are. She talked about how people will put you down and make you feel horrible but their voices don't matter. The only way to be at peace within yourself is to accept who you really are and love that person. I appreciated her book because her view was so peaceful. I read more of her books and listened to her in interviews. When I'd seen the worst people could be because of their religious perspectives, I appreciated how kind she was to all human beings no matter who they were.

Huber gave me the stepping stones I needed to change the way I thought about myself. I stopped being angry at Christianity because of her and forgive those who had judged me badly. I learned to reflect and try to understand why people are the way they are and in that understanding I realized I judged Christians in as hateful way as they had judged me. In hating religion I caused myself internal turmoil and couldn't have peace of mind in my world surrounded by a Christian family. When I let all the anger go and proclaimed that I was an atheist and proud of that all the self-hate and hate for others slowly drifted away.

College Is A World Of Diversity

A college campus is an amazing place. There are students from all over the world, from different religions, and cultures. For me it was a great place to be an atheist. For the first time in my life I met other atheists and it was okay to be me. I found a place with people who thought and saw the world through a similar lens and that feeling was wonderful.

It was on campus that I also began hanging out with a Christian friend who was determined to convert me. Because I had let my anger go, I was willing to talk to her just to learn about her perspective. She and I would meet up once a week and talk about our beliefs. She wasn't forceful and only cared about having pleasant conversations about spirituality (the opposite of what I experienced in my youth). For a year, she and I would meet regularly and have nice discussions about religion and science. I began reading more about science and what other atheists had written. After a year of talking my friend finally gave up on converting me and when she did I finally realized that I was an atheist for life. No matter what Bible passages she presented me or evidence she gave me to prove her beliefs right I could not believe they were the truth.

I found truth in science. I found beauty and purpose in numbers, theories, and scientific methods. I tried to think like a Christian in my earlier life. So many people told me that is was the correct path I needed to take that I tried. I tried to be a Christian. I read the Bible and listened to Christians tell me their beliefs but it never worked for me.

It took me a long time, but around the age of 21 I figured something out about religions and other similar beliefs. Different people's brains are wired to see the world differently. My brain is wired to think like a scientist. I can no more think like a Christian than a deeply dedicated Christian can think like an atheist. There is no such thing as right or wrong. We all think we know the truth but in reality truth is an objective concept. We all have to believe in what is best for us for our own individual lives. The path of the atheist gives me purpose, passion for life, answers, and so much more. There is no other path I can follow because I will not find those things anywhere else. Trust me, I've walked on many paths created by different religious ideologies but the only one that was 100% right for me was in the footsteps of atheists.

What Is Heaven To An Atheist?

After a lifetime of searching for answers I have finally reached a point where I know enough to be at peace. So what belief has brought me peace you may ask? It is the idea that when I look at Earth I see Heaven. If you think about the world we live in it is an amazing place. I can stand on a mountain and look down at the beauty of the world and have a deeply moving sense of awe. A simple flower in my eyes is made up of microscopic electrons, processes like photosynthesis, and more. The flower in return is part of a greater process within it's ecosystem. The world is an amazing place in how things work together and exist.

Some people think heaven is a place where you go when you die but to me heaven is where you are when you are alive. Yes, there are bad things going on like poverty, wars, etc. It is in the human experience of living and being able to experience all that life has to offer that heaven on Earth can be real. The ability to live and feel happiness, love, and more is a gift. It may be a gift from a God (if you so believe) or it could be a gift that was given through natural processes. Whatever the reason we are here we are lucky. It doesn't matter what a person's religion is. Our world is a heaven if we let it be one for us. Just look around and appreciate what you have and love your life. Don't get caught up in anger or hate. That is a waste of the precious and limited moments you have to truly live.

For Those Atheists Who Feel Alone Or Hated...

For those of you reading this who have been in the same situation as me there are a few things you should know that I wish someone would have said to me when I was younger. It's okay to be an atheist. There is nothing wrong with that. People might be mean to you, say bad things about you, and try to prove you wrong, but other people don't matter. Just learn to love who you are as a person.

You don't develop a belief system overnight. It is a lifelong process we all go through so there is no hurry to figure things out. It is in learning to accept yourself and your identity that you can start to ignore all the critics. You aren't alone and it is okay to be yourself.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      The "blame god paradox" occurs when a person blames god for things like 9/11. By blaming god we are saying there is a god. Hence its paradoxical quality.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 2 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Great job of writing about how you became intelligent about life, the universe and everything!

    • littlecat2013 profile image
      Author

      littlecat2013 2 years ago

      Oztinato That is true. I think when horrible events happen like 9/11 people think it is the end of the world and blame a god because at the time they are so scared and don't have the facts why it happened. Over time blame has shifted to Muslims and those who are Islamic and terrorists. The only bad part with blaming is that it brings out a lot of anger and hate.

    • littlecat2013 profile image
      Author

      littlecat2013 2 years ago

      Austinstar Thank you so much. I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Life is about personal growth and sometimes one person's story can help others who are dealing with the same situations.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 2 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Oz - We are not blaming "God" - we are blaming the BELIEF in a god. These people BELIEVED they were fighting for a god. It's ridiculous because the god they supposedly believe in is supposed to be "all powerful" (in their minds, not mine). What would this god need with puny terrorists doing his killing for him? Stupid behavior - NOT related to an ACTUAL god, because an ACTUAL god doesn't exist.

      The whole ideology of fighting for and believing in a god that needs a puny human to kill for it is just absurd.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      Austinstar

      it is a thin blurred line that I have caught many atheists out on. The way it was expressed in this Hub is almost a classic paradox ie ..".(paraphrased)how could God allow 9/11/?". This is the paradox I am rightly pointing out. Many, but not all, atheists constantly use this same argument: that once they were believers but they don't see how God could be doing/allowing all this horror stuff.

      The horror events are a totally different topic to God.

    • littlecat2013 profile image
      Author

      littlecat2013 2 years ago

      Oztinato I think you misunderstood what you read or didn't finish reading the whole article. When I said "how could god allow 9/11" I was referring to the questions and thoughts I had when I was 14 years old. I asked that question and others at that age when I knew very little about Christianity and I was at an age when I was too young to understand complex concepts like religion or science. Today I am almost 30 years old and I don't believe in God now because I have read the Bible, taken classes learning about Christianity, and more. I've learned about religions from all over the world and history. I've gone to college and am working on my PhD in Sociology and the Sociology of religion is an area I have studied extensively. I've very well educated so I didn't become an atheist because of 9/11 or any bad event making me this way. I became an atheist because of my education. I pointed that out later in my article.

      I didn't mean for it to sound like I was making the paradoxical argument as you said. My 14 year old self did do that a long time ago. I was just stating questions I had as a young kid at a time when something bad happened and made me confused and the only answers I was given were from a religious perspective. Today I don't even think of God as a cause when I think about 9/11. Over the years I've read about Islam, read the Quran and other important religious documents like the Hadiths Muslims use in their faith. I even read some of the writings of Osama Bin Laden to understand why he and his people could do what they did. I learned the history of the people we call terrorists, and more to understand why the event happened. After all my research I blame people for 9/11.

      Its like I said before. For some, they only have religion to explain bad events. Blaming god is easy when you aren't educated about the world and have no other information to go on. I think it's important to use things like science, history, and more to find answers to what happens in life rather than never seeking answers outside of a religious text.

    • littlecat2013 profile image
      Author

      littlecat2013 2 years ago

      I should also note at this article is a work in progress. With a topic so complex as this, it is difficult to explain a lifetime long journey into self-discovery. I went and edited the section where I saw I made a paradoxical argument. As I catch bad writing or arguments I will make edits.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 2 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Again, Oz, atheists do not and never have blamed "god" for anything as that is impossible. God does not exist.

      You are using an imaginary "paradox" that only exists in your head.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 2 years ago from Michigan, USA

      An awesome hub, Littlecat! As a long time atheist (and anti-theist), I always enjoy reading of the personal transformations of people from believer to atheist. I'm only sorry to see that your own story was so filled with turmoil, based upon the irrational fears of those who didn't understand your perspective.

      I'm glad to see that you also emphasized that atheists don't need to feel as if they're alone in the world, even though it sometimes feels that way. And there is no better way to demonstrate this than in the telling of our own stories for others to read. Thanks for sharing!

      Voted up!

    • littlecat2013 profile image
      Author

      littlecat2013 2 years ago

      Thank you very much Paladin. That was a really nice review of my work. I always enjoyed hearing others personal stories so I thought I'd share mine in case I can help someone else. As humans we are always growing and changing and reading personal stories help those seeking their own identities.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      LittleCat

      the only time I see some atheists offering explanations as to "what they really mean" ( after explicitly using the paradox) is when I point it out and they realize what they have just said. This repeated process is easy to find all over HP.

      It doesn't matter if a person is 14 or 84, all ages make the same error. I have even seen David Attenborough make the same mistake when he gave his reasons for not believing in God (ie .."how could God do this horrible thing...etc) regarding a worm which infects the eyes if you are careless enough to swim in foul water in Africa.

      Austin

      its time to fess up about this.

    • littlecat2013 profile image
      Author

      littlecat2013 2 years ago

      Oztinato I have nothing to fess up. I don't think you are able to make a good argument at all when you only have limited information (what I give you) to go on to make your judgement. What you are talking about hasn't really got any relevance to what I wrote and is just arguing how my reason for becoming an atheist has silly reasons according to you. This post is all about my past and my own personal story. I wrote it for other people who went/or are going through similar experiences as me. I didn't write this article for people to try to say my reasons for being atheist have "errors" and completely miss the message I tried to give.

      Atheists don't have a god to pray to or a religious text to offer guidance so we seek help with life's problems elsewhere. Some of us seek the advice and stories of others. This article isn't me teaching atheism or making an argument. It's me saying "Hey, I'm an atheist and this is the internal struggles I've gone though to get to that point and how I dealt with depression and people treating me badly."

      As a teen I suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts because I had religion forced on me and wasn't allowed time to figure things out on my own. The point of sharing my story is if there is some kid out there who is depressed, confused, and alone who needs to know that they don't have to decide their religion in one moment while they are still a kid. It's a lifelong process of learning. My process brought me to atheism but someone else's may take them to Christianity or Buddhism. That's okay. Different people have to find a belief system that they feel is truth in the depths of their mind and heart. A person shouldn't hate themselves just because others think their beliefs are wrong. That goes for any religion/belief system. Hate and anger isn't a path to leading a happy life. That's all I care that people get out of this article.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      LC

      I was asking AustinS to confess not you.

      Also it is not a "silly" thing at all just a flaw in scientific logic that needs correction

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 2 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Oz, as usual, there is just no reasoning with you. You either read into my answer whatever it is that you fail to understand, or you just keep repeating your same old tired erroneous logic.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 2 years ago from Michigan, USA

      Oz, what you're failing to understand is that the "why does God allow evil" question ISN'T usually the reason that atheists don't believe. Even Littlecat described the question as a "focal point" that merely accelerated the journey she was already on.

      As for David Attenborough, he's not the one making the mistake. You are, because you missed the point he's trying to make.

      I'm quite familiar with that quote about the worm that burrows into the eye of an infected child, and I distinctly remember the context in which he introduced it. He offered that example, among a number of other similar examples, to directly counter the argument that apologists make when implying design in nature.

      Religious apologists often point to the most beautiful aspects of nature as 'evidence' of its 'perfect' design by a higher power. What Attenborough says is that, if you're going to point to the most beautiful aspects of nature as 'evidence,' then you must also contemplate the most horrible and tragic aspects of nature as well -- in which case the design doesn't seem so 'perfect' after all.

      In his own wonderfully subtle way, Attenborough is poking a stick at the apologetic inclination to cherry-pick things to support one's belief, while ignoring or explaining away anything that contradicts it.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      Paladin

      like many (but not all) other atheists you are skirting around this obvious paradox and apologizing for the gaffs of others who have fallen into the same honey trap.

      The blame god thing can be Direct or Indirect.

      The only time apologists like yourself come in on this argument is when someone else has been caught out doing "it"(blaming God) again on HP.

      Dawkins himself acknowledges that we are "hardwired" to believe in God. In other words we can't help doing what we are doing (referencing God) and may in fact be UNABLE to stop.

      Attenborough.....(paraphrased).."how could God exist if such a parasite exists?". This for him was the (Indirect) clincher.

    • Paladin_ profile image

      Paladin_ 2 years ago from Michigan, USA

      Oz, instead of "paraphrasing" someone, perhaps you should try quoting them directly, and in proper context. These are Attenborough's ACTUAL words:

      "I often get letters, quite frequently, when people say how they like the programs a lot but I never give credit to the 'almighty power' that created nature...to which I normally reply and say, 'well, it's funny that people, when they say that this is evidence of the 'almighty,' always quote beautiful things. They always quote orchids, and hummingbirds, and butterflies, and roses.'

      But I always have to think, too, of the little boy sitting on the banks of a river in west Africa, who has a worm boring through his eyeball, turning him blind before he's five years old. And I reply and say, 'well, presumably the god you speak about created the worm as well.'

      And, now, I find that baffling, to credit a merciful god that action, and therefore, it seems to me safer to show things I know to be truthful and factual, and allow people to make up their own mind about the moralities of this thing or, indeed, the theology of this thing."

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gfa88SeNohY

      Nowhere in his quote does he ask how God could exist if the parasite exists. And nowhere in Cat's hub does she suggest that God doing "cruel things" made her an atheist. Nor have I or any atheist I know offered this as THE reason for their unbelief.

      The truth, of course, is that the God-blaming "paradox" exists only in your imagination.

    • Titen-Sxull profile image

      Titen-Sxull 23 months ago from back in the lab again

      Thank you for sharing your story littlecat2013

      It sounds like your 9/11 experience was a bit like my own. I grew up in a fundamentalist household going to a Pentecostal church. We had to watch movies like Left Behind and be told that if we had any sin in our hearts when Jesus returned we'd be left behind to suffer the tribulation where you either get your head cut off for believing in God by the government of the BEAST or forsake God and go into the Lake of Fire.

      On 9/11 when I got home from school my Father read me a passage from Revelation about the whore of Babylon and said the end had begun. I was 13. It is so fucked up to tell a 13 year old the world is about to end, I can remember during my childhood wondering whether Jesus would return soon, hoping that the world didn't end during summer vacation.

      There was so much unnecessary guilt and dread in my childhood from being taught this stuff and it took years to break away from that. Glad to know you got free as well.

    • littlecat2013 profile image
      Author

      littlecat2013 19 months ago

      Hey Titen-Sxull Sorry for the late reply. It's good to know I wasn't alone in my experiences when 9/11 happened. People really freaked out at that time period and it took a long time for some people to realize the end of the world wasn't happening. It is a shame that happened to you. It is good that you were able to figure things out for yourself and find freedom in how you think. It's a hard road when you are following the path to self discovery. For me it was a lonely road but now that I know who I am I have been able to find inner peace.

    Click to Rate This Article