A few weeks back, I read this letter from Timothy Havener, the son of a Fundamentalist Christian minister and an atheist. And what he wrote here brought my feelings in recent years to light.
As a child, I was a devout Catholic, going to morning mass, serving as a Pastoral reader, the Church Choir, and even aspired to religious service. As I got older though, and strangely thanks to the Jesuits who asked me to really think about why I believed, I found myself falling completely out of faith altogether and into a place where I feel deep inside where I should have been a long time ago. But despite it all, I still find myself being drawn to a almost militant fervour in my rejection of religion, even as I am so dedicated to growing as a citizen of my city and country. But I still didn’t quite understand why I was so angry at religion as a whole, and the Catholic Church in particular. Mr. Havener, in this letter of realization of himself, explains it so well as he, and so many other of my fellow atheists, have found themselves in the same place. It’s betrayal. I could say more… but I think I’ll let Mr. Havener explain it all himself:
Since I have become an atheist there is a growing anger inside me that sometimes flowers into a quiet, and other times not so quiet, rage. Theists and even some atheists do not seem to understand this emotion, or they trivialize it. Even I have not fully understood this causal effect of my deconversion. I know that I am angry about the lost years of my life wasted on delusions of grandeur and superstitious nonsense, but I have felt that was not really an accurate depiction of the deep emotional undercurrents I have experienced coming out of faith.
As a child, I remember that I loved to help people. My parents would often take me with them as they ministered to the sick, the elderly, and the needy. I was taught to love people as Jesus loved them. When I grew older my human compassion and empathy was filtered through a world view that instructed me to preach self condemnation and guilt as love. After all, if you truly loved your fellow man, you would do anything to prevent their eternal soul from burning in torment forever. So, I became a missionary to spread the ‘good news’ to those who needed the salvation of Christ. This became my mission in life and it consumed me.
When the walls of indoctrination started to crumble in my later years, I began to feel a sense of panic and fear. Fear that my mind was betraying me and that Satan was tempting me away from the Lord. At the same time I felt a drive to seek the truth fervently as I had been taught to do. This love for ‘truth’ and understanding had taken an unexpected detour to a place I never thought I would find myself. I would wrestle in prayer for hours in tears alone in the dark, pleading with a God who was never there. There were nights when I would wake up in cold sweats as if I could feel the fires of hell licking my feet.
After a while, when the fear and guilt subsided, I saw much more clearly what exactly religion had done to me. It had taken the innocence of a child who wanted to love and help people, and twisted me into a pawn to perpetuate its lies and fear. Worst of all, it made me think that this was love. I was taught that only through Christ could I experience true love for others. I was told my own heart was corrupted by the curse of sin I had inherited from Adam. When I would feel compassion and love for the afflicted I would always attribute these feelings to God and give credit to him.
This is where my anger truly comes from.
That love and empathy I felt was always me. The goodness I expressed toward others was always my own compassion and understanding. Religion was taking my identity as a person and the goodness in me, and using it to make itself stronger. But it did not stop there, it twisted the best qualities of my human nature and perverted it to spread a message of fear and lies to those most vulnerable to indoctrination. Looking back, it was if someone had stripped me of who I was and replaced it with a shell of a person.
The biggest betrayal was when I started to really look at the God in whom I placed my trust. The stories in the Bible revealed a psychopathic monster, not a loving father. The message of salvation became insulting to me. Why should I need redemption from such an awful, horrible creature who would slay infants and pregnant mothers because his feelings were hurt. I felt a level of betrayal that reached to the darkest corners of my mind and at the same time felt like I was betraying everyone who I had ever looked up to.
Christians only serve to compound this anger when they attempt to explain away the horrid aspects of Christian faith with nonsensical psychobabble or cherry picking verses. They seem to think that I was somehow flawed and never really a Christian when the truth is I believed more passionately than most of them. I do try to understand that they are just as deluded as I once was, but when you experience such a profound sense of betrayal that comes from seeing your faith with the eyes of reason, it can be an emotionally brutal ordeal that opens up scars you never even knew you had.
The sunlight of reality hurts when you step out of the darkness of ignorance and superstition, but that pain pales in comparison to what that light reveals when you can finally see what you did as a believer and what was done to you. That realization leaves you with an unrelenting anger that burns with a passion hotter than the fires of any imaginary hell. This same compassion that drove me to be a missionary now drives me in my anti theism. I seek to tear down the lies of religion so that not one more child will have to go through the emotional torment I experienced. No one deserves that…no one.