Once I shed religion, I became a better person
I didn't grow up in a religious household. My dad was raised Catholic, including attending Catholic school. By the time he grew up, he'd had enough. My mom grew up with a devoutly religious mother and an abusive father. She went to church with her mom several times per week, because the alternative was staying home and being beat and molested by her father. By the time she grew up, she'd also had enough. Although my parents didn't attend church while I was growing up, we were still self-proclaimed Christians, because we “believed” in a Christian God, heaven and hell.
While I didn't attend church with my parents, I loved spending time with my grandma. I spent many Saturday nights at her house, and attended church with her on Sundays. Her church was very strict. Watching television was a sin and a hell sentence. Women who wore pants, or even skirts much above the ankles were bound for hell. Wearing makeup or cutting one's hair as a female was a sin punishable by hellfire. There were too many sins to list. Basically anything “worldly” was sinful. So it was at a very young age that religion started to confuse and terrify me. My mom lets me watch TV, but she knows it will it send me to hell? I also attended church wearing beautiful department store dresses, rather than long and unflattering homemade ones. The people of the church that talked of unconditional love looked at me with such hate and contempt because I broke their mould. It was too much for a kid to deal with, so I really didn't. Not until returning in hindsight.
And so, for 28 years, I lived as a “Christian”. I tried not to think too much about it. When I did think about it, I was scared. I was “sinning” every day and not asking God for forgiveness nearly enough. But I was a good person. I helped people. I saved animals. I did things good people do. And yet I was still destined for hell. I never once considered being an atheist though. That was a sure sentence of hell. I might still be forgiven at the pearly gates for wearing pants and watching TV.
Then I moved to the deep south of the US. That's when religion really started to confront me. I couldn't push my thoughts to the back burner any longer. I was surrounded by churches. One on every corner. Yet I was also surrounded by the most spiteful, hateful people I've ever known. Hating gays, waving confederate flags, toting guns. I had no choice but to start thinking logically and critically of religion. So I thought and thought and read and read. And the more I thought and read, the less religion made sense to me. I realized so many things. The thing that really smacked me in the face was the hypocrisy. I realized I'd never in my life met a true Christian. One who walked the walk instead of just talking the talk. And the more I thought about religion, the less sense it made. Nothing, not one thing added up! So I spent 3 years calling myself agnostic as I searched for my truth.
Once I shed religion, I became a better person. I could no longer offer someone in need a simple prayer. I knew a better world was up to me, not God. I knew this life was it, so I couldn't muddle through hoping my afterlife might be better. I couldn't commit sins of my own heart knowing it was okay because all I had to do was ask for forgiveness afterward. Sometimes I wish I had religion. Losing a loved one is way more stressful when you can't just think they're going to a better place. And it can be hard to make actual positive impact without just throwing out thoughts and prayers. But my life is so much better now. Much more meaningful, because I control my worth and my contribution to this earth. It makes me a friendlier, happier, better and more conscientious person because I am my own god. And I can leave this place better off than I found it.
When I wear my Invisible Pink Unicorn pendant, I have a constant reminder to be my best because I am the friendly face of atheism, and shedding the stigma of atheism is important to me.