How I became an arrogant atheist, and then a humble agnostic

On a long and empty stretch of desert highway in southern Colorado, I waited to be struck by lightning by an angry God. Instead, I lost my faith forever.

I’d been wondering about God, and how I felt about him, for quite some time. I was raised Catholic – even went to “Sunday School” and all of that, as a kid, but I hadn’t gone to a Catholic church for about 10 years because my parents didn’t go. I still called myself a Christian and, as such, went to various church services with my friends’ families with great curiosity: Baptist, Methodist… I even attended some alternative version of a Christening of a good friend’s child. I was very moved by the service that day and told them all so but, surprisingly, nobody tried to recruit or convert me at all; they were just very kind to me and, because of that, the Mormons nearly won me over. But, like so many things in my life, nothing struck me as being quite right for me (and I’ve never been much of a joiner), so I ended up doing my own thing. I’d heard about this whole “personal relationship with God” option and figured that was enough for me. I talked to God quite a lot – several times a day, in fact. I had my own, personal, relationship with God, and that relationship developed to include a great deal of complex (one-sided) conversation, as well as a relatively small number of personal requests.

Eventually, he started pissing me off. I felt he wasn’t keeping up his end of the deal. I was a good Christian. I did good acts. I sung his praises. I even listened to Christian Heavy Metal for crying out loud (Imagine!). But he never answered any of my prayers – not one – not even the smallest of requests. In fact, it seemed, the more I prayed over a problem, the more miserable it would become. And, if I looked around, it seemed like a lot of people had problems – big problems. All over the world, people had problems. Huge, unimaginably-bad problems. The more I thought about it (and I thought about it a lot), the more I became convinced of God’s incompetence.

So, one night when I was particularly angry (the why doesn’t matter) I told him so. I really let Him have it, too. Laying in bed, looking at the ceiling, rather than the usual night’s prayers, I told Him He was an incompetent Asshole who didn’t deserve to worshipped and I wasn’t going to do it anymore. I really did.

Then, I rolled over and went to sleep.

The following morning I was still pissed at Him and didn’t talk to Him. It felt like a relationship with a girlfriend where you have a fight at night and then go about your business the next morning avoiding each-other’s gaze. I wasn’t giving in. I was going to just go about my day and focus on what I had to do and not think about Him.

“Fuck ‘em!”, I thought. Seriously, my argument with God had reached that level. I’d HAD it! I didn’t care.

I went about my business that morning getting ready for school (college) and then got in my car. I lived at the south end of Colorado Springs and went to a University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo, which was a 35 minute drive through Colorado’s version of a deserted desert. I always loved this drive. It gave me time to think. But on this drive I was scared. The way I talked to God. If someone talks to their parents that way, they’re in big trouble. If you talk to a professor that way, you can expect to get kicked out of class, if not out of school. If I talked to my boss that way, I would most certainly get fired. But I talked to God that way. I was scared of what would happen next. Boy was I in trouble!

But I was stubborn. I was right and He was wrong.

I was scared, but I also stewed, “Who did He think He was?”, I thought, “to get all these people to worship and believe in Him… and for what? He was doing a terrible job!”, I thought. And waited.

And waited.

Days went by with me gripping the steering wheel on those long, lonely drives, waiting for something to happen. Waiting for His wrath to come.

It didn’t come.

And then, it happened. I had an epiphany. One day, while driving back from school, with the setting sun shining in my eyes, behind the wheel, in the middle of that long stretch of highway, it finally occurred to me why the wrath never came.

“There is no god.”

I smiled. I might have even laughed out loud. I don’t remember. I only remember the feeling. The revelation washed over me like ice water. It soothed me. And, for the first time, it all made sense.

There is no god.

I felt a weight off my shoulders and felt a relief and freedom like I’ve never felt before or since. I drove home happier than I’d been in quite some time. And that was that.

I was an atheist.

For a while I just basked in it. I’ve heard many stories of many other epiphanies like mine from many other people like me. I’ve heard how people felt. Few felt it for as long as I did. I felt it for years.

Eventually, I began to see that America is sort of organized for and by people who are Christian, and mostly insist that it be so for everyone else. So I got sort of lonely. I joined an atheist political group. For a year or so I attended meetings where we organized and angrily protested the status quo. With them, I’d rage against the injustice of being left out in a country that, supposedly, had a “Separation of Church and State.” I became a sophist, and my atheism was all about “science” and the lack of proof of god, and all of that. I even managed to get elected Vice President of that political organization. Then, in another epiphany, I realized those people were just angry and negative and weren’t doing anything positive at all with the uncommon understanding of the world I thought we uniquely held. I didn’t want to be part of that, so I quit and wrote something nasty in my resignation email (that I regret to this day) – that pissed all those people off.

I was alone again.

Since then, my feelings on the matter have changed many times, until one event that would lead me down a path that would eventually settle on a philosophy about religion and god that, I believe, is uniquely my own.

One night of heavy drinking with friends, I sat across a picnic table from a very dear friend discussing my beliefs and her’s, when she challenged me on, not my beliefs, but my arrogance about those beliefs – my certainty about what I knew and my feeling of superiority in knowing something that others did not. She humbled me. I had to face what I was saying. Was it within my value system to declare myself better, somehow more evolved and more enlightened, than everyone else, including my friends and family or anyone else for that matter? She got to me. And, after a time – days on some level and years on others – I started to change my thinking, not about my beliefs, but my feelings about the beliefs of others. I began to realize that, if anything, they were more human than I. Religion, I’ve come to believe, is simply part of the human condition.

Today, it all makes sense to me in a much different way than it did in the infancy of my atheism. I understand why religion exists. Religion assigns meaning to peoples’ lives. It gives people hope. It helps them overcome hardships and explains their luck. It answers questions – even the most difficult ones, like where we came from and what happens after death. It helps them teach their children – anyone, in fact – moral lessons. It reforms. It soothes and helps people who’ve made mistakes feel the relief of forgiveness. It makes people feel a little bit better when they see grandma laying beneath the bus that ran her over – “She’s gone to a better place.” It serves sinister purposes equally well. Religion helps people control others and convince them to behave (or vote) in certain ways. Religion is the Swiss Army Knife of humanity.

Religion exists for all these reasons and more. But none of these reasons have anything to do with “God.” And, because of that, and because of all the useful purposes religion serves, I believe that religion would exist whether or not there is a god. Because, for it’s own purposes, human beings would have certainly invented it. So, since religion was so pre-destined to exist whether or not there is a god, it is my belief, that this is exactly what happened. Human beings, more likely than not, invented religion and, therefore, also invented god.

I don’t feel alone anymore. I know that most people in this country are religious. It doesn’t seem to affect my daily life. I’m not very secretive about not being a religious person. (That’s the way I refer to it these days, “I’m not a religious person.”) But, frankly, I find that most people simply don’t give a shit. Nobody cares if I believe in god or budda or allah or athena, for that matter. They just care that I show up for work, that I don’t block traffic, that I don’t take too long at the window when they’re standing in line behind me at the bank or at the sandwich shop. I’m just another body.

I’m not fond of the definitions. Atheist, agnostic, whatever. How others define me is of little consequence. Frankly, I don’t really think about any of this anymore. A niece of someone I’m close to came out recently as an atheist which spurred some other people to do the same and, well, in solidarity, I figured I’d write something. So, here it is. Finally. After 20 years. My story is one of many, many, many stories like it. I just happen to like telling stories, so I figured I’d tell mine. I hope it helps or contributes or soothes or gives courage to someone – or even if it merely entertains. My story, I hope, is no longer about me, but about all those who still have yet to be stubborn against their God – and are still waiting yet to feel that wonderful feeling I felt that day on that long stretch of Colorado highway.


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