What does it mean to be an Atheist?

Sistine Chapel - No god

The term “Atheist,” in the most base of definitions, can be broken down into the sum of its parts. “a,” which means, essentially, “not,” and “theist,” which refers to the belief in a god or gods. Put simply, and obviously, “not believing in a god or gods.”

This should not be construed with the statement that an atheist “believes in atheism,” as this is a double negative. To believe in not believing. I make this statement because I often hear people say, “well, he believes in Atheism.”

I believe, as do any properly defined atheists, that there is not a god, or gods, in existence. Better said, I do not believe in a god.

The reasons for being an atheist are typically based on many different experiences. At this point in my journey, which has, in many ways, only just begun, I can speak only for my own basis for atheism.

My Background

I was born into a Christian family. Both of my parents were pastors and ministers with a strong passion for their religion. (They continue to this day.)

I grew up with two brothers, both older than me, making me the “little brother.”

In the mid-1980’s they traveled to Africa as missionaries, this during the reign of Idi Amin. During our stay there my parents worked with some of the poorest people in the world. (Of which, world wide, there are approximately 5.5 billion+.) They helped build churches in at least two communities, teaching the people their religion, praying with them, ministering to them, and showing them how to worship “God.”

This time of my life was particularly important as the result of a childhood trauma. While on vacation, in Kenya, as I recall, the forces of Idi Amin and rebel guerrillas clashed in a violent coup outside of the resort my family was staying in. While the details are best left unsaid, the trauma of this event, along with related events during our time in Africa, gave me PTSD at a very young age.

Growing up, I was raised strictly in the church. I attended Sunday School and church every Sunday until I was almost 18. Of course, having accepted the world that was presented to me at the time, I did not object to this, and often took comfort in what I had learned, as well as the “god” that I had been trained to believe in.

At the age of 17 I lost my virginity and began to go through the experience of guilt related to “sex out of wedlock.” The confusion and frustration with my inability to continue to “serve god” led to a fall into rebellion. I discovered drugs, for a brief time only, and then “came back to god.”

During this time, I met my ex-wife, who I married as quickly as possible, within 7 months of meeting her, in order to resolve the need for sex within the bounds of marriage. I was also still using drugs, drinking rather heavily, and struggling with my confusion over religion.

I was, however, rooted in Christianity. This led me to a number of instances of “backsliding,” and revivals into Christian living.

My marriage was a war zone. I was constantly struggling with “sexual sin,” believing that pornography, lust, and my natural reactions to biology were sinful. This led to repeated instances of getting caught looking at pornography, and even, eventually, instances of meeting up with women for sex.

For the later part of my marriage I struggled with the belief that I had a sinful sexual addiction. I attended a 12-step program, Rejoice Ministries, and tried over and over to thwart my “sinful nature.” This included a cycle of sexual desire, acting on desires, which included looking at pornography, as well as meeting up with people for sex, sudden guilt, shame, and remorse for my “sin,” followed by a period of Christian revival.

I refused to look at any of my marital issues as being legitimate reasons for divorce. My ex-wife was lazy. She weighed, for a period of more than a decade, more than 360 pounds, (the equivalent of 3 healthy women of her same height.) I refused to see the inherent cycle of abuse between she and I. I became what some call the “identified patient,” because I was struggling with so much anxiety over my inability to control my sexuality, with my ex-wife, who was verbally and sometimes physically abusive, and my children, who I was terrified would end up with the “generational curse” of “sexual sin.” I struggled constantly with my own desires, making war inside my own mind to try and root out the evil that led me to my sinful ways.

But, because the Bible is so adamant about divorce, specifically about the fact that when a man or a woman gets a divorce and then EVER has sex again, they are an “adulterer,” I continued to struggle to stay in my marriage, to repeat the cycle of action, shame, remorse, and revival, and grew more and more angry, anxious, and upset.

Finally, after praying for forgiveness from the god that just never seemed to come through completely, it began to dawn on me in the last year of my marriage that maybe there just was not anyone, or anything, listening to what I was saying.

The initial logic was that, if God was supposed to be helping me, why wasn’t I getting better? It must mean that I was not worthy; that I had to work harder to defeat the devil. Then, the doubt began to creep in. “Why would God allow me to keep going through this?”

At one point, I began to think that the only way to achieve God’s desires for my life was to attend seminary, and become a pastor with an advanced degree in Christian Theology. If I was living for God every day, every hour, and every minute, to the point that it was my job, as well as part of my personal life, I would be able to constantly keep the devil out of my life. Otherwise, I would be too weak to live up to God’s goals for my life.

During my final struggles, I had been waking up every morning to meditate on the Bible and pray. During this time, I watched a show that discussed how the human brain works during religious experiences. (Here is an article, among many, on the issue.) The religious experience, as it turns out, is the same for all religions, regardless of belief system. In fact, the brain goes through the same thing when people go through non-religious meditation.

So, how could there just be the one religion, my Christian religion, and only the one god described, in the face of this experience everyone was having? I’m sure there are apologetics in full swing in response to this question.

Finally, I simply felt that there was nothing really there to listen to me. I was simply talking to the air in an empty room very early in the morning. The feeling of “oneness with God” went away, and the words on the pages of the Bible began to make less and less sense.

This progression was not voluntary. In fact, I was struggling to return to the feeling of being under God. Regardless of this, the rest of my brain, the logical part that continued to ask unanswerable questions (at least by means of religion), continued to tell me that what I was doing was nonsensical. I was praying to the walls; to an imaginary friend in my head that had been forced on me in my childhood.

The last straw came very easily. I just accepted that there was no god. Not that I could prove it either way. Not that it mattered, in fact. There just was not anyone or anything on the other end of my conversations.

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I have been an atheist since then, about three or so years, at the time of this writing. My belief is not that atheism is the true religion (it is not a religion, despite some sentiments to the contrary), but that there is no god to worship. There is nothing in the universe which humans, or any other being, can talk to as the one true power over everything. There is simply the physical world that we are surrounded by. There is simply the universe, galaxies, stars, planets, and creatures which live here on Earth. Metaphysical beings cannot be proven to exist any more than the Tooth Fairy.

That is what it means to be an atheist. That is my story and how I came to where I am.