My lack of belief in God is not something that happened overnight. It's the result of a journey that has spanned much of my adult life. I'm writing this because I want my family and my friends to know the whole story and not hold misconceptions because they know just bits and pieces. I'll want my kids, someday, to read this and understand my journey as they make their own way on theirs.
I was raised a Catholic. I went to a Christian elementary school. I went to a Catholic High School. I've made all my sacraments. But while I believed in God -- that is, I held his existence to be true in my mind -- I always had unanswerable questions. During my early years I simply pushed those questions out of my mind and assumed at some point everything would make sense.
Cracks in the Foundation
The event that put the first big crack in my belief structure was the exposure of the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal in 2001 or 2002. I was simply floored to learn about the priests' behavior and the Church leadership's attempted coverup. What God would allow this to happen? What God would allow the people who are supposed to be preaching about love and tolerance to hurt young people like that and then try to sweep it under the rug?
It was at that point I lost complete faith in the Church. While I still believed in the existence of God, I no longer held the Pope to be His spokesperson. I no longer held the church in any regard other than contempt. My adherence to other Catholic customs and rules slowly slipped away as I came to question their necessity. Could a person really be a serial axe murderer, pray for forgiveness and go to Heaven, but God would send a good man to Hell on a technicality like having eaten meat on Fridays during Lent or missed a few Sunday masses? It didn't make sense.
The Ultimate Rationalizer
After 9/11 and the furor that erupted over Islam and the Qur'an, I came to the realization that I had experienced my first mass murder justified by a God. I understand it wasn't the Christian God, but did that really matter? There are examples throughout history of religion and God being used to justify all sorts of terrible acts - The Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, Salem Witch Hunts, etc... All of those people were so sure they had God on their side and they used it as a vehicle to cause harm to others. What God would allow such vile acts be committed in His name?
Coping with Death
To me, religion's purpose is to be a coping mechanism. Religion helps people deal with their own mortality and the mortality of others. Nobody wants to die, and religion offers a convenient way to exist forever, so long as you meet the seemingly arbitrary requirements of getting into Heaven. When my grandfather died in 2008, it was tough. Internally I was extremely angry and sad. I saw the pain in others this event caused, others who were likely questioning God for the same reasons I was and it caused me to reassess my beliefs.
I consider myself a logical person. Things have to make sense for me to accept them, and with religion I've always had questions that never had sensible answers, if they had answers at all. After my grandfather died, I let those lingering questions from earlier in my life back in and I started asking even more.
If miracles exist, surely someone would have noticed by now. Why hasn't anyone caught God's hand in the cookie jar? And if one of those miracles is the ability to heal, why hasn't God healed any amputees?
If the Bible is supposed to be the Word of God, why does God support slavery? While such support is never explicitly noted, slave ownership is never denounced either. In fact, the rules in the Bible regarding slavery explain how someone should own another person, which accepts the premise that people are property. How could God -- who's supposed to be infallible, by the way -- get the easiest, most obvious moral question his creations will ever face completely and utterly wrong? And that doesn't even begin to touch on God's views on far more complicated topics like human sexuality.
While there were still other unanswered questions, the damage had been dealt. All that was left was the killshot.
What Free Will?
We're taught that one of God's gifts to us is free will. Free will is the ability to make a choice without compulsion. We're also taught that God is omniscient, that is, he knows everything that is going to happen. Omniscience and free will are mutually exclusive. If God knows what's going to happen -- God says I'm going to wash my car tomorrow; I can choose to wash my car or make God a liar -- then our path is already determined for us and we lack free will. If our path is pre-determined by God, and he knows if we're going to Heaven or Hell, then why create us at all? What's the point? He must be some kind of sadist. After all, what kind of loving being subjects his creations to an unavoidable eternity of torture?
Christianity requires us to believe we have free will, but at the same time makes the existence of free will a philosophical impossibility. That was it for me. I couldn't do it anymore. I had to let go.
Atheists are portrayed as empty, lonely, depressed people. That characterization couldn't be farther from the truth. For me, coming to the conclusion that I didn't believe in God was refreshing. No longer did I have to feel like I had to go through the motions and ignore the questions tugging at my heart and at my mind. I could stop pretending.
Telling my wife was one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do. It came out over the course of a couple months in a few discussions we had. She's very religious, and initially she didn't believe me. She attributed my "beliefs" to laziness and a desire to avoid attending Sunday Mass. Eventually she came to understand my position and while she doesn't agree with me, she at least understands where I'm coming from and accepts it.
I know this may be hard for people to believe, but I truly harbor no ill will towards those who believe in God. I don't think people believing in God is a waste of time or anything like that because the libertarian in me doesn't know what's best for everyone else, and who am I to tell them they can't have their religious beliefs for whatever reasons they hold them. I'm not here to tell anyone what to believe or how to believe it. Each person must travel that road on their own.
We have an interesting situation here. What am I going to do with my children? My wife wants to raise them Catholic. Natalie loves to sing and really enjoys the religious songs at school. I suspect she'll want to join the church choir at some point. Jack likes to say grace with Natalie before dinner. I don't want to take that away from them, so I'm OK with Gill's wishes. I know they'll have questions. Natalie does now, though she's never voiced them to me directly. All I can do is answer them to the best of my ability and let the chips fall where they may.