My atheism became known while I will still living with my parents, a couple of years before I increased my independence by moving out. More than once during this period, Mom sent me notes though email or left on my bed to scold, guilt, console, or apparently say anything that she thought might cause me to accept Jesus once again and renounce my disbelief. (It appears to me that this was her motive, at least.) Once, when she realized I was not going to church anywhere anymore (though I had been going various places on my own from time to time, seeking what I could consider a believable faith) she stated in a letter that as long as I lived at home I was required to go to church somewhere (anywhere!). This was part of a larger requirement that I seek what she referred to as “spiritual growth.” I went to the closet church I could find that looked decent, though I saw the things I found unbelievable in Christian faith as much there as anywhere else I went. I stopped going after a few weeks, and the topic was not brought pushed at home again. I don’t think much in the way of spiritual growth was achieved in this way.

On the other hand I think I have achieved more in real “spiritual growth” as an atheist than I did in all my years as a Christian. I have experienced the type of growth that I think I never could have truly achieved within an evangelical Christian context.  I have learned to trust my reasoning abilities, to always strive to learn new things, and to change my beliefs to be ever more consistent with my new learnings. I’m much more likely to think out an issue, come to my conclusion, and trust in that conclusion even against popular opinion until someone rationally convinces me otherwise. The fear of doubt and reliance on authority was instilled in me by the Christian notion that salvation depends on unquestioning belief* and obedience to God. I knew even when I was still a believer that (the wrong kind of?) knowledge and self-confidence could be dangerous to belief and would undercut the authority of those that have set themselves up as speaker for God.

I’ve made it my goal to grow in confidence, willingness to stand out and speak my mind. Willingness to be different. And I have gone though enough cycles of being absolutely convinced of something only to have my mind changed by new information later that I’ve grown in tolerance of the disagreements I have with others over religion and other contentious topics. No matter how convinced you are that you are right, there is always a possibility that your view might change in the future**. Everyone molds their worldview on the experiences and information they have had in their lifetimes, and remembering this is inspiration for humility and compassion for others. I am still working on growing in that area.

*The tradition that I was raised in was somewhat lenient on what was allowed to be questioned, such as the nature of Hell, or whether or not God created everything in literally 6 days. However if you doubted that it was historically accurate that Jesus existed or rose from the dead, or that he was literally both God and man, or that the Holy Spirit was real, your soul was in danger. I was taught directly that you can be as good as person as you could possibly be, but if you don’t believe in Jesus you don’t go to Heaven (and there is only one other alternative.)

**If this gives anyone the idea that I might convert back to Christianity, be sure you know that the amount of evidence that it would take to convince me would be on par with what it would take to convince me that the sun revolves around the earth after all. Possible perhaps, but not very likely.