Wow. We have a lot in common. I was raised Catholic, was very devoutly religious, an altar boy, a boy scout, and went to mass every Sunday. My religious views didn't change all at once. I stopped going to mass for several reasons when I was 16-17-years-old. The first was that I read this book called "Conversations with God." It was promising that I could talk to the almighty, have full conversations with him. That I would receive wisdom and understanding that would guide me through turmoil and difficult decisions. I never did. For the first time in my life, I questioned why God had never talked to me. I thought I heard God's voice, but it was in my own voice, not his. I just assumed that was God. But what does his voice sound like? I felt so alone and afraid at that age, that I could do anything. And I acted about as far away from the tenets of the religion as I possibly could get.
My father was gay. He was a seminarian and left the priesthood struggling with his sexuality. Being that this was the 1970s, he went to a psychiatrist who said it was "Delayed adolescence" or some nonsense and told him to get married. A trained professional and all.
So, he did. And when he turned 42, he came out to my mother after struggling his entire marriage with the issue (12 years, 2 kids). He wasn't great to us after the divorce. He was in prison for a DUI (a year) and just left us kids for 3 1/2 years. I never forgave him, even when he came back, a move that I regret as he's been dead for 7 years. Anyway, all of that backstory is to tell you that my Dad was an atheist and a gay man. Because I hated him, I would change any behavior that I exhibited that remotely resembled my father. I hated him that much. And so as I struggled with my sexuality (Pansexual, accepted it when I was 10, talked out of it by the age of 12, ardently anti-gay at 16-18, mellowed considerably in 18-23 (that's when Dad died). Finally came to grips with it at age 24) and my political beliefs (Conservative to Liberal), I was always in competition with my father. We shared too much in common.
After Dad died, there wasn't that negative force. I tried to get to know myself better, what I liked and didn't, what I valued about life, and I learned a lot in the 5 years after his death. One thing: I tried to be a writer, reading voraciously, writing all day long, and I discovered I didn't have the talent to do so. I wasn't going to be happy. I came to grips with a lot of my adolescence and how I had treated people with my morality--my standards--instead of seeing them as human beings with lives and people who make mistakes. Forgiveness came, and I slowly started to ask myself what I really thought about the world--politics, social issues or our day, etc.
By this time, I was atheist and I never looked back. I am convinced that we created God, not the other way around. It's too perfect. You point to the sky and say "I didn't say that, God did" to get people to follow the rules. There's a perfect justice system in almost every religion where bad people are punished, and the good inherit paradise. There is no evidence one way or another for God to exist, and it sounds like a fairy tale to me. I think we should let people believe what they want to believe. If it keeps them sober or keeps them strong through difficult times, more power to them for believing in religion. But don't call me immoral for not being in your religion. Don't kill people because they don't meet your individual standard of what you think God said to do. That's just how I feel. If anyone disagrees, I will shake their hand, and move on. They are still my brother or my sister, but I won't be lectured when I got enough of that when I was growing up.
The Iraq War has a lot to do with why I am not a Republican anymore. I don't trust the hawks in that party to not do the same thing with Iran or Pakistan or China or Russia in the future. I don't like war, I've been touched by it in my family, and it chills my bones thinking that I supported a man that put Americans and Iraqis at risk for no reason. That's the most evil thing, in my book, you can do with that office (well, that's been done, genocide is worse). The other, is that being pansexual (considered evil) and atheist (considered evil) and valuing the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, even where money is concerned, and valuing all Americans, not some, I find it detestable some of the things said, and the way they govern, by the most outrageous members of the Republican Party. I simply don't agree that we don't need roads, or schools, or police, or social safety nets, and those things cost money. I believe in the infrastructure of society, and that's not a radical view. I also believe in civil liberties. And if there were two parties that believed those things, I would choose between them, but right now, the right is too full of businessmen that will cheat the middle class and rob our society (present and future) to do it. This anti-intellectualism that runs through the party is another thing I cannot tolerate. I was taught to reach for the stars, not belittle anyone who is different (or smarter) than I am.
So have I changed? I don't think so. I think I accept less of what someone tells me to do and try to find the answers myself, be committed to the truth, even if it hurts. That's new. But the personality, the sense of humor, the compassion for others (that I used to fight), all were just let out of the bag. Did I really change, I don't think so. I became more honest.