My Atheist Story
My name is Katlin Kolby, Kat for short. I’ve been a skeptic for as long as I can remember. I’ve read this same statement, or some variation, in most every atheist confession, and I’m sure that I’ll read it a few thousand times more. I’ve always had “…but why?” in the back of my head. My attempts to answer that little voice have proven to be very taxing indeed. I should start from the beginning, as there is no other place to do so. My parents didn’t raise me in accordance of any religion. They raised me to question. In fact, I remember my father telling me something similar to “question everything” when I was young. My childhood was somewhat fragmented due to constant moving. I was moved to Tennessee from Michigan in third grade, moved a few places around the state for a couple of years, back to Michigan for half of sixth grade, back to Tennessee for the remaining half and the majority of middle school, then finally to Fairview, TN for the rest of my eight grade year and all of high school. This shuffling and constant upheaval of my life caused a social disconnect within me. My avid playing of MMORPGs only widened the gap between myself and peers. I never really had a “home town,” and because of this, I like to say that I grew up on the internet.
When I was eight, my dad and I started playing EverQuest. This game introduced me to so many people outside of my day to day life. There were people from different cities, states, countries, and continents. After the introduction of other people in the world, I became a part of many social networking sites. Many of my best friends didn’t go to my school, or even live in the same state. My entire social life was online, and what few friends I had in reality did not really equate to the shared experiences I had with people elsewhere. The people in Tennessee frightened me. The majority seemed less than human with their barely understandable accents and generally ignorant behavior. After some time, however, I quickly found that spending most of my nights on a computer left me feeling distant from society. I yearned to have closer friends. I had been hearing about church a lot from my classmates, and it always sounded exciting. They talked about sitting around, hanging out with their friends, playing games, and generally having a good time together. This sounded wonderful to me as a preteen feeling out of place.
My best friend, then, became a girl named Jordan. She and I hung out every Wednesday and Saturday night at choir practice, youth group meetings, and general slumber parties. We spent time together in church on Sundays. We also went on a mission trip together for a whopping three days, which is an eternity to any pre-teen. We watched Veggie Tales, participated in choir, and both became puppeteers in a program designed to teach even younger children about Christ. Her mother was very impressed by my vast vocabulary and quick learning skills. I knew how many teaspoons were in a tablespoon, I could cook, I read books, and I generally knew more about the workings of everyday life than the average kid she had met. I talked about things like genocide and atrocities, using words like “horrendous” and “appalling.” This was all very impressive to Jordan’s family until I started asking about all of the religious stuff we participated in.
My doubts were immediate with the church; I just had not voiced them much. I was having fun with my friends. I was connected to the community. Everything they talked about sounded good; give unto others, love thy neighbor, help those that are in need. It started when I decided to research the origins of Easter and Christmas, being thoroughly confused about what Santa Claus, eggs, pine trees, bunnies, and presents had to do with Jesus Christ. What I found was puzzling. See, no one normally talks about these things openly with an adolescent. Even though I had had contact with MANY people from many different areas, I never really talked to any of them about religion, thus never developed an understanding of anything outside of Christianity. The only option ever presented to me was Jesus, and the taboo nature of talking about religion kept away anything beyond that. What I found about those sacred holidays, however, changed my outlook entirely. I had no idea what Paganism was, no knowledge of atheism or agnosticism, and I certainly hadn’t been talked to about problems of evil or suffering. I did not want to get much further into it, as the fear of losing my friends was more intense than my desire for knowledge at that age.
I approached Jordan’s mother about these things, and she said she couldn’t give me any answers, that I should address our pastor about my concerns. Surely, he would be able to set me straight and quiet my wandering mind. Our pastor was, ironically, always too busy to talk to any of us children about our questions. I addressed my youth group instead, which was run by some enthusiastic high school Christians. Obviously, they didn’t have any answers either. No one could tell me what the Pagan holidays were and why we stole their traditions! They all just knew that these days were about Jesus, not growth, prosperity, or moon phases, and certainly none of them could define “yule” for me. I went back to researching. After reading more, I found out that Christians just covered up Pagan holidays to try and get rid of other ideologies, that Jesus probably wasn’t born on Christmas at all, and that all of the symbols involved in both days are very obvious and meaningful when looking at from a Pagan’s perspective. I learned that Christianity has a long history of tyranny, attempting to stamp out everyone that doesn’t believe what they do. I then began to think that it’s very likely that Christianity has it all wrong.
I told my fellow church goers about my findings. To my surprise, none of them listened to me. Not a one of them took the time to consider the implications of what I was saying. None of them could refute it, nor could they agree with it. They had no evidence otherwise and could not give me a straight answer as to why my accusations were just blatantly false. “The Bible says…” I cannot tell you how many statements started with this claim. I had not read the book in entirety yet, but I started then and there. Over the next few years, I separated from Jordan. I hung out with the “Goth” kids. I continued to socialize online. I looked into Paganism and I loved what I found. I loved spirituality. I was very much immersed with a sense of mystery and wonder with the world around me. Even though the dogmatic religions didn’t make sense to me, I still wanted there to be something that explains everything. I wanted answers. I looked into fairies, witchcraft, voodoo, and was normally interested in anything paranormal. I wanted conspiracy theories to be true. I hated the “man.” I saw myself as a rebel. What teenage girl doesn’t spend some portion of time with a general “you don’t understand” attitude? Well, I went through that phase.
I read about the problem of evil and the problem of suffering. I started believing in a personal God. I deemed myself “agnostic.” Even though I knew that organized religions were nonsensical, I still wanted there to be a loving, spiritual afterlife for me. I saw God as the explanation of the Big Bang. I subscribed to Zen-like attitudes about humanity. There will always be equal good and bad. Everything is balanced. This balance and the flow of life and energy are what I call God. Life is God. We are God. I hoped and clung to some abstract vision of what an almighty thing would be. Throughout all of these existential thoughts, however, I was still a teenager. I was emotional, naïve, and rebellious. I married the first man to truly mean it when he told me that he loved me. I did not realize that he was obsessive and controlling. We were together for my junior and senior years of high school, and our marriage lasted two years, one after high school and another while we lived in Murfreesboro so I could go to college.
His mother was a devout, born-again Southern Baptist. Her family ran a tight schedule, they owned their own towing business, and they were the type of people that truly believed President Obama is a Muslim terrorist. She dragged us to church once or twice. This was the unpleasant, hell-fire kind of place. It was the “look at my money” congregation. I felt like we were in Texas. His family was entirely religious. His step-father’s grandmother lived next door to them. We went there for Sunday dinner often. He had a gay Uncle Keith that married us. This uncle was of particular interest to me. He had come out of the closet and been banished from the family, then he crawled back into the closet in order to be accepted. He “found Christ” again, became a preacher, and had children. He was still very obviously gay. My husband’s sister married a man that beat her, and didn’t divorce him because her religion told her not to. His family contained the exact kind of people that I had despised. They helped me see the awful effects of dogma on individuals. Once he and I separated, I moved back home for a summer to get my life back together. I found myself during those few months, and I have been continuing to expand myself as an individual since.
I took the Introduction to Philosophy class with Professor Oliver. I loved every minute of it. I would talk to my, at the time new, boyfriend about every class. I got excited about school again, and I wanted to learn more about free thinkers. I changed my major from English to Philosophy, and I took Readings in Atheism the following semester. This class has changed me immensely. It has opened my eyes to so much more in the world, so many profound opinions, and helped me notice the wonders of humanitarianism and naturalism. I have become at peace with the grand mysteries of the universe. It is what it is. Over the course of the semester, I have accepted atheism. I have shed God entirely. God is an illusion. Life is so precious and beautiful that it seems offensive to waste it hoping that there’s someone out there making sure everything will be okay in the end. Who cares about the end? What about now? Why do people spend so much time worrying about what happens after life is over? I want to live my life without worrying about the meaning of everything. It means what I make it mean. What we do with our time alive is that much more important when one considers that they only have one shot. I’m going to focus all of my efforts on educating people about the current crimes against humanity. I want to tell people that they don’t have to believe if they don’t want to. I’m going to help those that I can. I doubt that it will happen, but if there’s something after death, awesome—isn’t that what we all wanted anyway? If there’s nothing, fine—I wouldn’t be aware of it, as I would cease to exist entirely.