Friday, November 11, 2011

Stories About Atheism

There's a current meme going around the internet right now about how people became, or came by, atheism. Everyone is an individual, everyone's story is different, and I'm at least partially of the belief that this has to do with the push-back against the way that atheists are continually characterized.

So, here's my story - how Enigma became an atheist:

It's hard for me to really reflect on what kind of a person I was in high school and before. I can look back to my first year of college and I remember some parts of that, but immediately after I got out of high school, I got hit with the bipolar stick, and I hit the bottom of a very deep depression. It came out of nowhere - it was like the sudden drop at the end of a roller-coaster. The road fell out, everything goes black, and I don't remember much of that entire year or the years before that. I have scattered memories, but I don't have anything detailed. I'm still struggling with the bipolar at times; just trying to reflect back to that period unlocks a lot of raw emotions that make me tear up. No memories - just an endless feeling of despair and hopelessness.

I remember what little I do of my childhood mostly because of what my parents have told me. I remember parts of my senior year, I remember some of my happier moments when I was with my friends at Skill Center and at school, but that's it. I was never fully exposed to an idea of a God; my mom came from a fairly religious family, but my grandfather was the one who had the largest impact on her life. I never met him; he died well before I was born. He was a quiet religious man, who believed that others should live the life that they wanted to, while he minded his own character and his own life and tried to be as Christlike as possible. In short, a real, true, genuine Christian. I never did meet him. He died from heart failure when my mom was a teenager.

My grandmother was likewise a quite religious woman. I knew her; she was the matriarch of my dad's side of the family and she basically held that ship together . She was a very strong woman - a rock solid woman that you could always depend on. I never really got to know her all that well, but when she died on Christmas Eve a few years back, it was rough. Especially when I look back and I had a chance to visit her, but I didn't do it, thinking that she would get better. I'd just gotten my wisdom teeth removed, so I didn't feel up to it. I still wasn't eating solid food, and she'd got into the hospital about a week before hand, held strong, and died that Monday before Christmas. We buried her that Friday after Christmas. I don't remember the exact year; I want to say it was 2008.

As you can expect, I wasn't a happy individual for the greater part of my life that I can remember - starting from about 2005 on to today, so I have about 6 years of memory that are crystal clear. Thanks to the bipolar, the extreme depression that hit after high school, and that veil of darkness that fell over me, I don't remember much else. This is the classic set up; unhappy person turns to atheism, swears at a God he supposedly doesn't believe in, and remains stormy and unhappy.

You'll note now that I'm a happy individual, and I'm still an atheist. Clearly, something went wrong /snark.

I did a lot of writing in that period from 2004 to 2006. I laid the groundwork for a lot of my novels that I'm still working on today, trying to straighten them out and get them to make more sense. I was egotistical about my writing, and I had a particular novel that I considered my "Magnum Opus," which I crammed full of symbolism, both useful and useless, and made bloated, overwrought, and just about everything you would expect from a person who's only self-worth they found inside of their writing and their knowledge. This novel was called Lemuria. Lemuria had a lot of interesting concepts in it - you can disbelieve me if you like, but I saw the TEA party. Granted, I didn't see them fall flat on their face - because I was depressed, I saw them actually winning and achieving what they were after. Aside form the hopelessness that pervades throughout the book is two other tense emotions - hatred and abandonment. While raw hatred towards anyone - politicians, any group of people, corporations, CEOs, whatever - is disturbing, it's the feeling of abandonment that acts as an anchor. The antagonist of the novel is an android named "Nod," who believes that he's the selected messiah of all Android-kind. Nod is a tragic anti-villain; every Christlike in his characterization. Unfortunately, the God that he worships is anything but.

It was in that novel that I started to explore the concepts of God, religion, and philosophy of theology. I still do have an interest in theology and philosophy of religion, but it's hewed from the same cloth that my interest in ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese, or Aztec mythology is hewed from. Lemuria was also my first attempt at an actual "hard science fiction" novel, and it required a lot of research from me. So I dove into science, and I started teaching myself things. Learning, philosophy, and writing were all that I had. I was in the middle of college, I couldn't hold down a job because my depression made it difficult for me to even relate to other people, and the periods when I came out of the depression and experienced hypomania weren't long enough for me to do anything more than produce a novel or so out of them - a month or so of hypomania and feeling normal with the rest of the year being depressed to varying degrees was the normal story.

You'll hear stories of students who get so stressed out in college that they break down and can't handle it. I'll believe it - this happened to me later. However, over the course of the 4 years, I was never once really challenged. Because I had nothing besides learning and knowledge, and a quest to learn as much as I could so I could be accurate when I write, I was able to work around my ADHD and cyclothymia. I was able to rise above it, and I found myself at home in the classroom. Granted the periods of depression still caught up with me, and it made it difficult to really interact with people, but you learn to wear a mask.

I was agnostic for much of my depressed life. I knew the difference - I would actually whiplash between agnosticism and deism, because I never believed in the Abrahamic concept of God. It wasn't until I started to debate one of my friends, who actually was an atheist - and started reading a couple of atheist blogs, that I learned about the atheistic position. I even tried to debate in favor of the existence of a God, but I learned that was far harder than it seemed (because it's impossible). I had questions about God and the afterlife that couldn't be answered.

About this time, sometime around 2006/7, I started working on another novel. I hadn't abandoned Lemuria, but I was leaving it alone for a while. This was the slow rise from the pit of depression, and to mark it, I started working on The Blue Pimpernel. At the time, it was called the Scarlet Pimpernel, as homage to the original Scarlet Pimpernel. The protagonist was a young, 16 year old girl, and she becomes a hero and something far larger than she is over the course of the novel.

The protagonist, I've come to realize, is very much an author avatar. Very, very much so. She's an unconscious author avatar, though, so a lot of my negative traits made it in unchanged.

The protagonist lost her parents at 16. One scene that stands out to me in the first draft is after she nearly looses her life, and she has a dream about her mother. She asks her mother what it's like in Heaven, and her mother replies: "It's not heaven without you."

I'll automatically type. It's the only way I can keep up, when I'm moving at 100 some words a minute. I can't stop to think, otherwise I'll throw everything off. So that came out of nowhere, and I did stop, and I had to search for where that came from.

Ironic, isn't it? It was questions of Heaven, not Hell, that lead me on the eventual path to disbelief.

What was Heaven like for a parent who had died while their child was so young? They would get to watch their child grow up, and suffer through all the trials and tribulations, without being able to run beside your child when they fell, or lift them up and kiss them and tell them it was alright when they hurt themselves. Seriously - this is Heaven? To anyone that had kids, this would be nothing short of the definition of Hell.

This, along with continued reading of atheist blogs, and the development of my deism into outright agnosticism was one of things that set me on the way to being an atheist.

It wasn't until I started doing my student teaching, though, that it all came to a head.

I know my cooperating teacher, I'm still in contact with her regularly. To put in perspective what ended up happening, she has OCD. I have ADHD. They did not mix. I'm aware that ADHD and OCD can occur as comoribidy, but as far as two separate entities are concerned, they certainly didn't here. I lost papers, I didn't record grades right, I didn't plan out the lessons properly and I couldn't sleep so I was tired in the morning. I had people beating down on me from all directions, from my parents because I couldn't give them a solid time when I'd be there to my cooperating teacher because I would royally cock things up. It started off bad, it got worse, and then it all came apart that November. I totally broke down. Things fell apart, the depression came back, and for the first time ever I contemplated actually committing suicide, as oppose to just idealizing it like I had before. Having a mental illness of her own, my cooperating teacher was able to inspire me to get help; the college worked with me, and I was able to get a little time off to start seeing a psychotherapist before I was thrown right back in, after maybe a week off. I was in control of the class by the end of December. While it was rough going, I managed. Not only did I manage, but I came to overcome.

I officially announced my atheism to my second hour class of seniors in February of that year. And they supported me, and it inspired even a few of them to announce they were atheists as well (I'd like to believe it, and somewhere I still like to think that by learning I was an open atheist, I was able to help the students develop some kind of tolerance. I wasn't treated any differently after, so something good happened). At the time, I wasn't even sure if I was an atheist. However, having announced it to my seniors, and having accepted the possibility that there wasn't a God, I felt a weight lifted from me. See, that whole time I was depressed and suffering from bipolar disorder, I held firmly to the hope that there was some kind of firm justice, to make the way that I was feeling justified at the end. It wasn't until I realized that I could actually get help, because the way I was feeling wasn't normal, that I realized I didn't need that kind of hope. Because I'd found hope in myself, I didn't need it in something that I couldn't see.

I graduated from college later that year, but only after attending the graduation of my senior class. I felt like I at least owed them that, because really, they gave me a lot. I still remember driving home from their graduation feeling more proud there than I did when I graduated. When I graduated, it was tedious, drawn out, and I just wanted it over. Theirs, though... I guess that's because I don't remember my own graduation, so it was like forming new memories of my own.

My climb from the pit that I fell into after I graduated now complete, I was able to more clearly focus. I went back and I got a job at the college that I graduated from, as one of their writing tutors. It's a good job. I accepted my atheism, and the hope that it brings me. I studied science and eventually adopted skepticism - it makes the universe very exciting, this whole business of not knowing and learning. I realized that I didn't need a faith in God, but for some reason, my rising optimism, and the fact that I work with people on a daily basis, helped me feel like humanity as worth putting my faith into. I became a humanist. It wasn't until 2011, around February of this year, that I discovered Eclipse Phase and made the leap from humanist to transhumanist, embracing the positivity and hope of the future and techno-progressivism. With transhumanism and techno-progressivism as my guiding principles, I was able to accept that I'm GQ, and that I'm alright with it. This all stems from the cool February day when I announced to my seniors that yes, I am an atheist.

I owe a lot to this fictitious God entity, however. See, it was through that God that I had hope when I didn't have any - when I had almost nothing left to live for. It was able to explore those concepts, I was able to justify how I felt with the idea that there was a purpose and a reason for it. I'm not bitter about that at all; I would've liked to have gotten help sooner, but nobody around me believed me, so I clung to the only thing I could. Despite the face of ever mounting evidence against it, it took me feeling better before I could leave it behind it for good.

I'm happier now than I can ever remember myself being. I'm still worried that there might be times when I'm relapsing into bipolar - I know that bipolar has a huge relapse percentage, and I'm concerned that I've only been successful in treating the ADHD and that the bipolar is in fact separate from the ADHD, contrary of the original diagnosis. But so far, I've been able to dodge that bullet.

So why am I an atheist? Because of the evidence; because of the facts against believing?

Well, yeah, there's that, but most importantly, I'm an atheist because I'm happy.

I'm happy with the world, I love the world and I love life, and I cling to every moment that I can and attempt to enjoy it. I know what it's like to feel absolutely no joy. I know what it's like to be in a bottomless pit, staring out and angrily cursing a world that's better off than you are, because you have nothing else. Clinging to a false belief because it brings you comfort - I know what these things feel like. They're not fun. I'm an atheist because I was able to leave them all behind and find satisfaction on my own.

This is why I'm an atheist, a humanist, and a transhumanist. This is why I write this blog. This is why I'm writing this right now.

I have a lot of life I still need to catch up with. But that's okay; I've got all the time in the world, and if my philosophy is right, I may have all time, period.

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