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How did you become non-religious?

Aug 23 2004
My Journey to Becoming an Atheist...

I was born in Columbia, South Carolina in the mid 1960ís; and if you donít already know, South Carolina is one of the notches in the Bible belt. My family has never been overly religious but I think because of where I grew up, I was surrounded by religion all the time. (Also, as my story proceeds, you may surmise that as I was growing up I was sheltered quite a bit.) I was raised to believe in God and for all of my childhood I did believe. My parents took my brother and I to church, got us involved in Sunday school and generally taught us that what was right and wrong could be learned from reading the Bible. And, I took this all to heart. I believed all the stories about the beginning of time, about the Garden of Eden, the flood and Noahís ark and how Jesus died on the cross to save all humanity. I also had a literal belief in the darker side of the Bible and it scared the hell out of me. I really did think that lurking beneath the Earthís surface was Satan and his domain and that somehow this evil being was waiting to take me in to his world of suffering.

As I entered my teenage years, my interpretation of what Christianity meant in my life varied little if at all from what I believed as a child. But then one day my whole life got turned upside down and it was the beginning of the end of my belief in God. This all started when I was a very naÔve boy of only 16. I was working my first job ever and hating every bit of it. I could feel the inside of my head fighting to remain the little boy that I was; but maturity was inevitable and it was a jagged blade ripping up all that I use to be.

One night at work, I was talking with one of my co-workers. He was a college guy and seemed a little ďout thereĒ. Our discussion was centered on the music we listened to at the time. He was going on about the greatness of the latest Blondie album and I was telling him how much I loved the music of the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). He said to me that they (ELO) were devil worshipers and that some of their albums contained secret backward messages designed to turn unsuspecting ELO fans into Satanist. I was shocked by this. I didnít want to believe my heroes could be so evil. I went home that night with this on my mind and for the next six months was unable to think of any thing else.

I started playing my ELO albums not out of enjoyment but to listen for clues about their ďreligiousĒ beliefs. I knew that one album of theirs did contain blatant backward masking: Face the Music. Although the message was a benign warning that ďthe music is reversible but time isnít, turn backÖĒ; it came to represent something more sinister, an encrypted tome suggesting that Satan was talking to us through the very music we fans loved. And then the media started reporting on these accusations of Rock bands delving into the occult and trying to corrupt their fans. It all became too much and I started going off the deep end. I began to question every musical artist I listened to Ė were they Christians or Satanist. Even the most innocent of artist could be hiding behind the influence of the Devil I began to think. Music, this thing that I loved so much, became a source of torment.

Another rumor going around at this time (it was the early 1980ís), was that Proctor and Gamble were somehow connected to Satanism. The evidence for this could be found on every product produced by P & G: there was a stars and moons symbol on each product that many people said was associated with Satan worship. Once again something was fueling my minds obsessive behavior over this subject. I really did begin to feel that no one was who they said they were. It got to the point that I expected to see devils or demons around every corner. I would go to bed at night afraid I might become possessed by the Devil; and I would wake up mornings afraid to even think.

Although my mind had settled down quite a bit after a year, any thing could set me off again. I remember class mates talking about certain passages from the Bibleís Book of Revelations. They were discussing the anti-Christ. The craziest thoughts started tormenting my mind again. I even began to wonder if someone that I loved or admired could be this person and at times was afraid that I might be this very person. (I know it sounds crazy, but at the time I was scared, very naÔve and my whole world just seemed like it was rearranging itself.)

To combat some of my fears I began reading books on psychology. Some were helpful but others didnít speak to me. I got the idea for doing self-help and education from going to a couple of shrinks. The one positive thing I was able to tell myself was that I had a psychological disorder. I really wasnít going to become a Satanist or even find out that I or someone I loved was the anti-Christ.

My psychiatrist diagnosed me as having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It made sense Ė why else would I get so fixated on something so irrational? He prescribed me a tricyclic medication to control the OCD and saw me on a weekly basis for a while. And although these things helped break my obsessive cycle; eventually it was atheism that became my salvation.

Atheism freed me from the hell on Earth that is religion. I didnít have to be afraid of devils or gods any more because they simply didnít exist. And the Bible became nothing more than paper with meaningless words printed on them. Atheism made me feel so much more in control of my life and made me feel that I was alive again and not the subject of some arbitrary deity of good and evil. I could stop praying and stop expecting miracles to drop from the sky. And most of all I could stop beating-up on myself because I didnít meet some godís expectations of living life. At this point I began carving out my own path and relied on my wits and sense of compassion to guide me through life. To this day I am still an atheist and proud of it.

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