Many believers regard atheism as a doomed, nihilistic project which misses out on the sense of freedom afforded by worshiping God.
Even though I was a Christian for many years, I can’t say I ever really felt free. There was always that feeling, sometimes tucked away in the subconscious, that my actions were being watched and assessed by an ever wakeful, ever vigilant God. Don’t get me wrong: I never felt that I was being subjected to some sort of Big Brother surveillance, because I believed that God was good and wanted the best for me. But there was still that element of tension that comes from believing that one’s every move is being monitored.
True freedom, then, only came to me when I realized there was no Watcher. There was no invisible camera tracking and recording my every move. I could finally experience a true sense of internal privacy.
The second freedom I encountered was the letting go of apologetics. I no longer had to strain to seek compatibility between my beliefs and my growing understanding of science. I could face the natural world with honesty, and stop coming up with reasons why it should be ignored or reshaped.
The third freedom I discovered was the ability to set my own course through life: to decide my own purpose. Many young people remember clearly the exhilarating feeling of being handed their first set of car keys, of getting behind the wheel, and thinking to themselves, “now I can go wherever I wish”. Atheism made me feel that way again. Instead of being destined to fulfill someone else’s purpose (and having to do so without even knowing for sure what that purpose was), I could plot my life’s course as I wished.
I know that some believers see this as arrogant. How can atheists be so full of themselves that they think they can chart their own course through life, rather than being obedient to the will of their creator? Yet this claim to independence is nothing more than the freedom of autonomy which every slave in history has yearned for, and which all people are entitled to.
Christians are slaves of God. This is not an incendiary remark of my own devising: it is written in the Bible.
So, while I look back on my years as a Christian with much fondness, I can find no freedom in those days that matches what I currently feel. In some ways, I think of my deconversion from religion as a lucky escape. Like a person with blinders who is unaware of his handicap, I caught a small, unintended peak of the bright outside world. I slowly tore away at the impediment – and freedom is what I found.