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I was awoken at 5:30 am on the morning my father died from lung cancer. My mother had come into my room screaming, yelling in anguish at her husband’s fading. I ran to his room where the rattle from his remaining lung played like the noise of a child running his stick against his ribs. Suddenly, it stopped and there was silence. I ran to where his body lay on the single bed that spoke of a failing intimacy between my parents that illness alone did not enforce. Punching the place where I believed his heart to be, I screamed and wailed, begging him not to leave me, not to give up after all I had done to take care of him. But he was dead and nothing I could do would change that.

I made all the arrangements for his funeral.  My mother was incapable of making any decisions so it was left to me, at just 21, to make sure that everything went as he wished. Dad had always wanted Paul Robeson singing “A Tree” to be played at his funeral. He had worshipped at the altar of nature, saw his god in rocks and rivers and felt his blessings in the sun for almost all his life. I wasn’t allowed to bring in the record for the crematorium to use so hymns were sung instead.  Songs of someone else’s religion rang through the room whilst Dad fell to Mother Earth.

One day, two weeks or so after dad died, we came home from church. I was looking for answers, for reasons why life is taken away too soon, looking for something to replace the empty space where faith used to be. Missionaries had been at the church that day, entertaining us during the service with a guitar and tales of Africa.

Shortly after we got home the doorbell rang and we were treated to a personal visit from the missionaries. The young woman who had played guitar asked me if I believed that Jesus was the son of God.

“I’d like to believe,” I began, “but I just don’t know…”

“You can save your soul, you know. It’s too late for your dad, his soul is beyond redemption, but it’s not too late for you”

In tears, I ran to my room and left my mother to cope with God’s sales reps on her own. What kind of God would arbitrarily condemn a man’s soul to hell and then send one of his followers to tell this to his daughter, a young woman who was grieving and trying to look after her mother, to somehow take her father’s place?

This was the day I lost my religion.

I know that many of you reading this, committed Christians or not, will say that this young woman was wrong, that it was only one person’s interpretation of the bible and was not necessarily indicative of Christianity as a whole. And there you have it: one person’s interpretation.

Aren’t all religions just mankind’s attempt to explain the universe and their place in it? Their interpretations of what a group of MEN wrote down hundreds, if not thousands of years ago?

I totally respect the right of anyone to follow their God in whatsoever way they choose. In many ways I envy the comfort that belief and faith can bring. But for me, there is no one to rely upon but myself. I try to be nice to people and treat them as I would want to be treated not because I think it will get me into Heaven, but because it’s the right thing to do. If I screw up and hurt someone, I have no one to blame but myself and no apology to make other than to the person I have hurt. I have good friends who are religious and I am more thankful than they know that they can see me as an OK person, even though I don’t share their beliefs.

This is why I am an atheist.
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