Thursday, June 07, 2012

Why I Am An Atheist #3: Will

Boston Atheists member Will writes:

When I was 6, my family briefly attended a congregationalist church. In Sunday school they taught me that Jesus was everywhere. After that, I was terrified that I would walk around a corner and run into zombie Jesus.

When we moved to the suburbs, we no longer attended church. Mom and dad never talked about religion, but I knew that mom was an atheist and dad a believer. Despite her atheism however, mom did believe in ghosts.

At 13 I was deeply depressed and on the verge of a nervous breakdown due to physical and psychological abuse. One form that the depression took was obsessive thoughts that the devil wanted me to sell my soul. I tried to put it out of my mind, but couldn't. So one day I said yes, I will sell my soul - I will sell my soul in exchange for the President of the United States calling me at exactly 2:00 the following day. Needless to say the president never called. But I learned a powerful lesson.

That knowledge could sweep away irrational fears. I began questioning my belief in god. I noticed that the only time I really thought about god was when I was in trouble or in pain. This seemed craven to me and offended my sense of integrity. One day I had the courage to say out loud that there was no god - all the while looking for a lightning bolt from on high.

By the age of 16 I was fully vested in reason as a means to learning about the world. I questioned everything and spent hours each day using logic to arrive at answers. I strove for complete objectivity in my thinking and viewed emotion as an unwelcome intrusion. However, at the same time I felt a schism in my consciousness between reason and subjectivity; between logic and meaning. I valued reason highly, but at the same time I was capable of having sublime experiences of awe and oneness that seemed supernatural in nature. I longed to heal this schism and through philosophy arrive at a unified viewpoint. At the same time, the abuse I had suffered as a child left me with emotional scars and a deep dissatisfaction with life. But I realized intuitively that the fault lay not with the Universe but with my perception of it. I felt that if I could just view existence from a slightly different angle everything would make sense and I would be happy.

I turned to reason to bring about this fundamental shift in perspective but soon realized that reason alone would suffice - something in ME had to change. It was at this time that I was exposed to Taoism and Buddhism. Having abandoned reason as a means to profound self-transformation, the idea of a knowing beyond words appealed to me; as did the idea of sudden enlightenment. I dropped out of college and joined a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. But ultimately I couldn't see how all the chanting would lead to enlightenment and I left.

Next, I explored many different religions and cults. I had contact with Eckankar, Scientology, Moonies, Urantians, and Jim Jones' ill-fated Peoples Temple trying to find something that I could believe in, but to no avail.

The next 10 years I engaged in an intense self-examination and analysis of my mind. During this time I could be described as a Deist. I had some vague notion that maybe there was some abstract thing out there that had set the Universe in motion and then went on vacation.

My years of self-analysis eventually lead me to question my concept of self and the existence of free will and this in turn lead to the enlightenment that I had been looking for all along. In questioning my concept of self I had successfully rooted out the last vestiges of supernatural thinking and arrived at a wholly naturalistic "spirituality."


This post is part of a series, in which members of the Boston secular community explain how they came to the decision to identify as atheists. To read more posts in the series, click here. To submit your own story, email