In August of 2009, my then-husband and I drove out to Washington state with our two little boys. To pass the time, my husband had bought an audiobook, The God Delusion. To provide a bit of context, here's a brief outline of my religious life up to that point:
Birth -- 2002: Faithful Mormon
2002: Excommunicated for fornication (married the man I fornicated with)
2003: First attempt at returning to the Church
Lasted a few months, but in the end just didn't feel right
Tried a few unimpressive Protestant churches
Pregnancy with first child makes questions about God feel more urgent
2004: Complications at birth and scary-as-hell emergency c-section that I take as a sign from God that he wants me to return to the One True Church. So I do with new determination to be humble and make it work, for the sake of my child. Cognitive dissonance increases to intolerable levels.
2005: I leave the LDS Church for good, more or less set all religion aside for a while.
2006 -- 2009: Still have nagging feelings that there's gotta be something more to life than just what meets the eye. Dabble in a few more Protestant churches, discover ideas about the sacred feminine and feminist spirituality, really get into yoga and meditation during second pregnancy (2007-2008), become disenchanted with organized religion, determined to forge my own path, a lot of dabbling, no real consistency, nothing fully satisfying, a persistent unease and yearning for an unnameable Something.
"I've heard about this book, been wanting to read it for a while," my husband said. All my spiritual exploring and dabbling over the previous few years had been done solo. My husband completely lost all interest in any religion or spirituality when we left the Church. He started listening on headphones before I did and was enthusiastic. "I think you'd actually really like this," he said.
I listened to bits and pieces of it throughout the trip and found I liked and agreed with most of what Dawkins had to say. When he described pantheism as a reverence for nature, the belief that God is all of nature and the universe, I thought, Yeah, that's exactly what I believe. (Not sure where I'd say my beliefs are these days, but that was a good description of where I was at the time.) Then he said that pantheism was merely sexed up atheism. So I figured I was at least leaning more toward the atheist side of things. (Though I now have a problem with lumping pantheists in with atheists. As a friend pointed out, "No one made Dawkins the Grand Pope of pantheism. Let the pantheists speak for themselves.")
When we got home, I listened to the rest of the book. So much of what he said resonated with conclusions I had already drawn myself: the danger of taking things too literally, basing policy and science on religious beliefs; denying evolution; the abusive nature of teaching kids to be afraid of God; the intrusiveness of imposing religious beliefs into other people's lives; the way atheists and non-religious people have been looked down upon, feared and marginalized. I could see clearly that not believing in God was a perfectly legitimate conclusion to come to and did not make one a demon.
I was listening to the book while washing dishes a few days after returning from our trip. The doorbell rang. I opened the door to a smiling man in a white shirt and tie. I would have thought he was a Mormon missionary except he was alone. "Good morning, ma'am! We're out in the neighborhood sharing a verse from the Bible with folks today."
"Oh, no thank you," I said.
"Oh, okay. Can I ask why?"
"We're atheists." He literally jumped off my front step. I couldn't help chuckling as I shut the door.
But I was troubled. The words out of my mouth were a surprise. I had not planned to say them.
And I winced a little to hear it.