I think I sparked her interest, and if that's all I ever do for folks, I'm ok with that. I just want people to THINK and to QUESTION.
Please know that Lauren is not the real name of the woman behind this story. We have to protect her as she can’t be open about her atheism. Let’s hope that her contribution with this story and by her wearing the IPU pendant will work in favour of Putting a friendly face on atheism, and make a change for atheists.
I was raised in a non-religious household. Both of my parents believed in the Christian god in a loose sort of way, but we never went to church and my family wasn't "religious". When I was 13, I met a Christian friend in junior high school. She invited me to church (a Baptist church) and I went with them every Sunday mostly for the comradery, fun, and friendship. But it wasn't long until I was greatly influenced by my Sunday school teacher (who was also the father of the friend who invited me to church) who was a very rigid, evangelical Christian. Looking back at it, I can see I was manipulated and brainwashed as a young teen by this man and his family. My own dad wasn't very involved in my life, and I really think it was that missing part of my childhood that made me cling to this male Sunday school teacher and his form of Christianity during that time. Eventually, my mom started coming to church with me, then years later (after I left home & went to college) my dad started going to church with my mom as well. My parents are still a part of this same Christian church community to this day.
As a young married adult at the age of 21, my husband and I eventually "gave in" and went to a different, and more evangelical (Pentecostal), church with my new mother-in-law who was quite pushy with her religion. She would phone my husband and me every Sunday to ask if we were going to church anywhere & tell us she was worried about us going to hell. It was taxing and emotionally wearing us out, so we gave in and went with her in an effort to end her harassment. It was a VERY pushy church and my husband and I were new in the community and desperately wanted friends. This church promised friends, good connections in the community, etc. We started attending regularly and liked the "feel good" atmosphere which was great music, dancing, being "in the spirit", and a feel-good, emotionally-charged message. I explain it to others who have not experienced this type of euphoric, religious atmosphere as like being at a terrific concert where the music is good and loud, the people there all love the songs and share a certain comradery even though they are strangers, and an atmosphere of euphoria since most folks are drinking alcohol and enjoying themselves. A "spirit filled" Pentecostal church service is much like that - so much so that people even claim to get "drunk in the spirit" at these services. We were told that this church had the ONLY "truth" and that we were now a part of "God's chosen" people. That made us feel special and I see now how elitist it was, but it worked on us at the time. We stayed there for about 14 years, even raising our children there for a while - something I now deeply regret. While we didn't always agree with everything that church taught, we went with the flow for the most part, never asking questions about their crazy church policies & Bible teachings.
Eventually, I started to actually READ the Bible for myself. I read the entire Bible in a year's time, and I had many questions. I was consumed with trying to prove it was "right" by making sense of the inconsistencies and contradictions. I started asking questions. In my evangelical, misogynistic, Pentecostal church, women were to "know their place" and not ask questions. But I did. And not only did the pastor and the leaders dislike me for simply asking questions after reading my Bible, they actually told me to ask my husband instead, that HE was my "head" of household. I did ask my husband, and he agreed with me regarding the inconsistencies and blatant mistakes. We decided for ourselves that the Bible was clearly a man-made document with no real proof that it was divine in any way. We soon left that church, never to return. We were disowned by the people of that church who claimed to "love" us and they spread a lot of bad gossip about us. As it turns out, their love was fake as well.
In my extensive research, I was not only doubting religion, but doubting Jesus. For a time, I explored Judaism, thinking maybe it was just the "New Testament" that had gone awry. But, ultimately, I concluded it was all man-made and ridiculous. The stories in this Bible (and the Torah) were all simply ridiculous and those that weren't ridiculous were cruel and inhumane. Surely no such "higher power" could do and write about such malicious things, I concluded. I had spent a great portion of my life searching for god and his supposed "truth" - I was a diligent student. I concluded that there is no proof for god. Period. It really was that simple.
The one challenging statement that I found NO religious person can answer is when you ask them to PROVE IT. The fact is that no religion can prove it (their god & their holy book). The religious people in my life often then turn that statement back on me and say, "Well, you can't DISPROVE it!" But to that, I'd argue that it is the person making the assertion's job to prove their original assertion, and not the job of others to disprove it. If naysayers cannot DISPROVE something, it doesn't make the assertion true. I can't DISPROVE the existence of Jesus, or any god, but I also can't disprove the flying spaghetti monster or the invisible pink unicorn. There are an infinite number of things I could mention that CAN'T BE DISPROVEN - that doesn't make them real.
So, I remain an atheist. No one has ever given me actual proof that a deity exists, therefore I don't believe in any deity. If ever some actual, scientific proof is found, then I'm open to that. I don't think it will happen, but I'm not closed off to it, just as I'm not closed off to the idea of ANY actual scientific discovery that can be proven via the scientific method. But until that time, I remain in a god-less bliss. And that's EXACTLY what it is! When I left behind the idea of god, of a holy book of rules, etc. it really freed me. I didn't free me to "do as I wish" in a bad way, it freed me to answer only to myself and to my fellow humans. It freed me from all the elitism - understanding that there was no god who "chose" me and not others - who fed me and not others - who blessed me and not others. It freed me from being so judgmental toward others who didn't agree with my personal idea of god. It freed me of hatred toward others who were deemed "enemies" of my religion. It freed me to think. It freed me to love. It freed me to live fully. Today, while I don't adhere to any creed or doctrine, I do believe in humanity. I believe in the good in others. I believe in the love I feel for my family and other humans. I believe in honesty. I believe in reality. I believe in the here and now. I believe in ME and my own journey through this life.
As a follow-up to my biggest regret of raising my children in the Christian religion - we left all religion behind when my kids were ages 12 and 14. I am happy to report that both my kids are well-adjusted and are not religious people. One is a devout atheist, the other is agnostic and wants nothing to do with organized religion. Not only that, but they are critical thinkers and they are good human beings who care about others and fight for marginalized people in our society and in our world. What more could a person ask of their children? I am one proud mamma.
The day I received the IPU pendant I put it on a delicate chain and went out with some friends. 4 people asked me about my necklace that night! One who asked about it was a friend and we then had a lighthearted conversation about atheism. She did not know I was an atheist. She is pretty open-minded, though. We talked about it in a light conversation. She told me she was skeptical but ultimately believed in some sort of "higher power" - and I shared with her the basics of why I do not believe the same. She nodded & was receptive. She was surprised to hear me say I was an atheist, as I had been religious in my pas. Then we talked about how life is a journey of learning & discovery for all humans. It was a great conversation. I think I sparked her interest, and if that's all I ever do for folks, I'm ok with that. I just want people to THINK and to QUESTION.