It’s odd for me to think that I was a Christian for the majority of my life up until recently. The thought to me now seems ridiculous and admittedly even a little embarrassing. Not that I was ever particularly gung-ho about it. It was more of a passive belief — my parents believed, my parent’s friends believed, I went to church, I prayed, but I never evangelized or even really liked talking about it. It was just a part of my life, like being Republican or Democrat. I subscribed to the belief system because that’s how I grew up; no big deal.
The most frightening thing in retrospect is that it may not have been as “passive” as I imagined it was. Believing that an omnipotent omnipresent deity looms from heaven, and will one day judge your for your thoughts and actions will inevitably have a profound impact on your life, and the lives of those around you. The questions of abortion, gay marriage, premarital sex, euthanasia, etc become vastly more complicated when you believe that a wrong answer could possibly condemn you to eternal damnation. And what I think made me a believer for so long was the fear of questioning. Not necessarily a fear of death and punishment, but a fear of God’s disapproval and the thought of one day having to atone for that indiscretion. To even think that there was a chance that God did not exist would be an offense to God, and it was best to just not think about it.
I liken it to my belief in Santa Claus when I was younger; scared to question because Santa Clause was listening and would not bring presents to those who do not believe. As children grow up it seems so natural and obvious that they would relinquish their beliefs in Santa; it would be silly if they didn’t. The thought of an adult believing in Santa would make anybody cringe. But it makes me think of how different things would be if 50% of the population believed in Santa, and people sang songs and worshipped him like they do God today. Would we be so quick to dismiss the belief as silly and childish then? Granted, the stakes are quite a bit higher when you’re talking about an eternity in heaven or hell, rather than a yearly dose of presents, but to me it highlights the power of persuasion (and indoctrination) and how important it is for a personal belief to have the proper support from your peers.
I cannot pinpoint the exact moment that I lost my religion, but I can say that it occurred much later than it should have and has been liberating ever since. I am free to think rationally, without guilt, and have values based on my own morals and principles, without the fear of a judgement day. Don’t get me wrong – beliefs in the supernatural are fine, beliefs based on gut feelings and hunches are fine, and beliefs for which you have little or no explanation are also fine; the important thing is that they are recognized as such and are not used to negatively affect the lives of others; that is when it becomes a problem, and that is when it requires a sober reflection on yourself and your beliefs.