I was raised Christian. I believed God was the creator of the universe and Jesus died for our sins. I believed the Bible was the infallible word of God. As I was thinking about my childhood and past, I realized as I got older, my views evolved, but I could not express them. As a Christian, I was expected to believe wholeheartedly in the message and shun anyone who didn’t. I did exactly as I was raised to do and I truly did believe. It wasn’t until around my high school years that I began to question.
In youth group and Bible study, we were encouraged to question, but not too much. Soft questions were allowed but not hard questions. Any religion or competitive thought was ridiculed and seen as something “dumb.”
I remember one time we were discussing Islam and Muslims. One kid commented that she despised Muslims and wanted to snatch their hijabs off their heads. I recoiled at her remarks. I didn’t say anything, but that’s where my issues with how I had been raised magnified. The group leader did not chastise the kid. Here I was in church and another kid was talking about essentially assaulting someone because they did not believe in the God we believed in.
It was also around that time I met my first atheist. I was a sophomore in high school. She was Caucasian. Everyone hated her and kept their distance. I didn’t hate her per se, but I sure didn’t hang around her.
As time went on I continued in Christianity even though I had serious concerns. I was expected to go to church and act Christian, even if everyone around me acted one way Monday through Saturday, and another on Sunday. I was growing tired of the hypocrisy in my family and in the church I attended at the time. I felt myself pushing away from the whole thing. I was going through the motions of being a Christian.
I started looking at other religions out of curiosity even though I knew I had to stay a Christian. It was absolutely discouraged to leave Christianity for any other religion, because that meant you were giving up on Jesus and God and you’d be going to hell.
I kept the threat and fear of hell in my mind even as I started looking at other religions. I was unconvinced about converting to anything, but I wanted to learn more. I learned as much introductory stuff as I could about other religions. I didn’t even know there were so many religions. Yes I knew about the Big Five: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, but I didn’t know about Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, and Jainism, among others.
All this time I had been ignorant to the religions of other people. I had only been around people and ideas that reenforced how I was raised and what I believed in. I had grown in an echo chamber. I now realized that I couldn’t continue in that way. I had to go outside the chamber. I needed to expose myself to other beliefs and ideas.
Around the middle of last year, a little while after I moved into my own apartment, I decided to learn more about Buddhism. I had remembered the main concepts of the religion from when I learned about it previously. This time, I wanted to go deeper. I watched videos explaining the religion and personal accounts of believers. It was very interesting. Unfortunately, we don’t have any Buddhist temples where I live. The closest one is about two hours away. I liked what I learned about Buddhism, but I still wasn’t certain if I even wanted to still be religious. Although, Buddhism has no deity, as Buddha was not a God, but an enlightened man.
As the year winded down, I started looking at atheism. Now up until that point, atheism was as foreign to me as Dutch. I knew that atheists didn’t believe in God, but I didn’t know much more than that. I started watching videos from YouTube atheists and learned much more. I learned that atheist don’t believe in the monotheist God nor do they believe in polytheists gods. Atheists are not a horrible group of people and they aren’t devil worshipers. Also, atheism isn’t a religion. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a God or gods. Atheism does not claim affirmatively that no God/gods exist. Learning about atheism has been interesting. I am seeing yet another different perspective from my upbringing and I don’t feel threatened by it.
I am not sure if I am an atheist or if I am just in a questioning stage and may go back to Christianity in the future, but I do know I feel freer. I feel I can breath easier as I look at other belief systems and I’m not closing myself off to other experiences and ideas. I now know I cannot learn in an echo chamber. Therefore, I am going to learn more about religions, atheism, humanism, and any other belief system because I feel that is how I can grow as a person.