(EDITOR'S NOTE: This editorial column originally appeared in The Flashlight, Mansfield University's campus newspaper.)
The day finally comes when you just know.
Mine was sometime during the summer. It was a moment of clarity; it all just clicked. It all made so much sense now, and I finally had the courage (and knowledge) to label myself.
I am an atheist. I guess I've known for quite some time now, but I never really put it all together. It feels so good to say, "atheist!" I feel liberated. I feel free. Free to make my own decisions, and not be judged by a "higher power." Free to explore the layers of science that are otherwise frowned upon by many theists. Free.
I would say I struggled with this decision for quite some time, but "struggled" is not quite the right word. It was always rather in the background; omnipresent. My mother raised me to find my own path. She never pushed me into any religion, which I appreciate.
My grandmother, however, is extremely religious. She once asked me, "Bryan, do you believe that Jesus died for our sins, and that if you accept him as your savior, you will go to Heaven when you die?"
"Yes," I said, not truly believing my own words. To this day, I do not have the heart to tell her what I believe, for I fear I'll break her heart.
I have, however, told a regular, older customer at the restaurant where I work. His name is Tony, and he is a great person. He used to stop in all of the time, and we would chat, if I was not busy. I've formed a very close friendship with this customer. We were one day talking about evolution, and I told him I don't believe in creationism.
He seemed OK with that. I took it a step further, and told him I don't believe in God either, or any gods for that matter. I suppose this was my first time "coming out" to someone.
His jaw dropped. He was without words. I can still remember the look on his face; the look of a man's heart breaking.
This news saddened him. He stayed around until the end of my shift, and we continued to talk. He talked of the importance of his "relationship with God." (I use these quotes not to imply sarcasm, but to stress his phrasing, for he does not care as much for "religion" as he does his "relationship with God.")
It saddened me as well, to see my words hurt someone I care about. He seemed tortured, but how can that be? I said "atheist" not "satanic cultist."
I left that night with a heavy heart. I haven't seen him around much anymore.
I decided to do a little research after this. According to my findings, I learned that I have no sense of morality; that I believe life is meaningless; that I am hateful of religious groups; that I am un-American; and that I cannot appreciate the awe of beautiful things in life, for all I see is "cold science, instead of miracles."
Of course, these things aren't true! I do not need a 2,000-year-old book to tell me how to act morally, especially one that has caused so much blood to be spilled. I have learned my morals, important morals, from great leaders in my life: my parents, my teachers, my friends and maybe even a fictional character or two along the way (Samwise Gamgee and Frankenstein's monster, to name a couple).
I suppose I shouldn't let others opinion of my beliefs worry me, because I know I'm a good person. And I'll continue to be good, even without the rules of any gods.
As George Bernard Shaw said, "All great truths begin as blasphemies." The earth moves around the sun. Women have human rights. It's not OK to own people. There is no God. I am atheist. I use my mind. I am free.
Mahosky is features editor of The Flashlight, the Mansfield University student newspaper.