In grade 7 my friend David and I had a clandestine conversation about religion in the school library one afternoon. After some diplomatically chosen lines of discussion I realized that I was not alone in thinking that all this talk about God and heaven seemed quite silly. A huge weight was lifted off my chest as I was finally able to talk openly with someone who shared my skepticism. I guess coming out must feel a little like that. I went home thinking that I had just made a new best friend with whom I could be open and honest.
The next time we were in school together David seemed to avoid me all day long. He seemed estranged and nervous when I finally caught up with him. Standing across from me, the first words out of his mouth were something to the effect of "you're wrong you know, Jesus Christ died for our sins". Awestruck, I stood in silence and listened, feeling like that woman in the last scene of that new movie I had just viewed, when she calls out to Donald Sutherland's character only to find that her last friend and only lifeline has become "one of them".
Disappointed and crushed, I politely mumbled something and walked away. We were never really friends after that. By the time I had made it to high school I threw off any pretense of diplomacy and started a campaign to promote Atheism to anyone who would listen. Being fully out, I wasn't shy about it and my zealot's drive to convert carried through into University. My naive faith in progress lead me to believe that people would eventually see the truth if it was persuasively laid bare and that our societies at large would eventually shrug off these ancient superstitions and become more and more atheistic.
I've had a hard time reconciling this expectation with what has been seemingly happening over the last decade or so. Judging by the triumphs of the Religious Right in America, the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism, and the ever deepening quagmire of the religious dispute between the Jews in Israel and the Arabs around them, we don't seem to be progressing at all or one has to go further and throw out the notion of progress altogether.
I've been largely in exile from this conversation for more than a decade, wandering the desert, waiting for a sign.