I don’t believe in God.
I used to be afraid to advertise that belief, but not since I’ve come to college.
Mercer University, despite its conservative history, consists of a open-minded community of people.
In a similar way that my LGBT friends came out upon coming to Mercer, now I can openly be myself.
The parallels between a closeted atheist and a closeted homosexual are uncanny. I didn’t choose to be this way.
It’s been 10 years since I realized God doesn’t exist and I kept my belief a secret for 10 years.
However, at Mercer University you can build a new identity for yourself. The stigma of being different that I perceived at home has melted away. The emptiness left by God has been replaced with a diverse group of friends and schoolwork.
Despite my mother’s best intentions, I never felt God’s presence when I was little. Still, I prayed. When my grandfather was hospitalized, I prayed for his health. I understood the selfishness of my prayers and I didn’t expect a direct response. But I expected some sort of a response.
My prayers were not simply being ignored, they were not being received because there was no receiver. The thought terrified me. I blocked it from my mind.
I still went to church, but more for the community of friends than the lessons. Determining the existence of God wasn’t a priority.
I kept my uncertainty about God a secret because I knew my acceptance in the church was conditional on sharing the same belief system.
It didn’t matter that I enjoyed helping those in need or going on youth group service trips. I felt that I couldn’t be Christian-like without believing in Christ. I kept my mouth shut and played along.
My faith came back to the forefront when I was 13 years old. My father passed away from a lengthy battle with cancer.
Friends from church and school would say, “Now he’s watching over you.” As comforting as that sounds, I couldn’t believe in it. Any of it. God. Heaven. Hell. It didn’t exist. Dad didn’t exist, not anymore.
Again came the waves of vertigo, but you can’t change your mind just because it makes you hurt.
All through high school, if someone asked me what religion I was, I would just say “Lutheran” because it’s what I knew.
I even went to church in high school for awhile. I worked as a Vacation Bible School counselor during the summers. I helped the church children explore their faith.
I always feared what would happen if someone found out my secret.
Would I be ostracized from my group of friends? My family? My then-girlfriend is a fairly devout Christian. I had every intention of marrying her had college not interfered.
I would have lived the rest of my life pretending to believe in God and been thankful.
I knew if I told her, our relationship would be over. I didn’t think love could transcend faith. My secret was my burden to bear alone.
Some time after we broke up and a few crushes later, I was ready to start dating again.
It sneaked up on me. Say it worked out and we dated for a few months. At what point in a relationship do you have the talk about religion? That’s what I was afraid of.
Say I did tell her. In her place, I would feel betrayed. Lied to. Taken advantage of. It would be a slap in the face.
From now on, it’s public. I’m comfortable with telling all of my friends at Mercer I don’t believe in God. I’m still me. I’m a strange guy who likes photography, cycling, climbing trees and even ballroom dancing on occasion. I just happen to not believe in God.
I’m OK with identifying as an Atheist. Mercer has allowed me to embrace who I am.
For your sake, I hope Mercer has helped you, too.