I was raised in South Wales, and since moving to neighbouring England 17 years ago, I haven’t missed a Welsh rugby game. Whether it’s meant a long journey back home or arriving at the pub 3 hours before kick-off to secure a seat near the television, I will not miss a match. Why is this? It’s simple, I identify with this team and their fans as a Welshman. I see the Welsh rugby team as part of me, I always have. And so, if this is the only external reality I ever identify with, I will always have at least one role in the world – to support the Welsh rugby team.
What we identity with is important. Without an identity, how does a human being understand their role in the world? And when our role in this world becomes unclear, where then do we find our identity? How we identify has an intrinsic link with how we see our lives working upon this rock in the cosmos.
Those raised under the burden of religion will be able to relate with this on a more significant scale. Someone drilled to believe in an invisible magic man since birth, may see their religion as part of their identity, which will then have a direct effect on how they fit in with the world around them. Though this can easily become an unwanted burden for the believer, it can also be a great comfort to them. Indeed, a learned behaviour can quickly become a signpost to meaning when our role in the world becomes unclear. Religion often feels familiar to the believer, and this in and of itself can provide certainty during increasingly uncertain times.
At sixteen, and for the first time, I could not work out my role in the world. I hadn’t made the professional cut in football or rugby, my appetite for joining the marines had waned, and the young woman I wanted to ask out had made it abundantly clear that I had no chance. I remember sitting in Mr Powell’s class during a break time (Maybe this is why the aforementioned girl wasn’t interested in me) where I typed out on one of the early versions of Microsoft Word a sentence that will follow me to the grave – ‘I can’t just be alive, surely?’. My anxiety didn’t stem from a desire to stop being alive, absolutely not. I just didn’t like the idea of having no identity and invariably, no role in the world.
It was at this time that I found religion. Evangelical Christianity and I met like prom dates under twilight. The notion that not only could I have an identity, but that this identity could be rooted in an eternal god-man ever present in spirit, and always on my side, was irresistible. This god-manpromised to forgive me, speak to me and protect me. It was like my ego had been rescued from a desert by an ancient path to a water park with vending machines you only had to pray to for a refreshment.
I found a version of myself in Christianity that I was happy with. My books about the invisible god-man were soon getting published. My podcasts with Christian ‘celebs’ were topping the iTunes Charts. I was speaking to thousands of people at a time from pulpits across the UK and beyond. And during my journey of religion, I wouldn’t even engage with humanists, such was my conviction that Christianity was the only absolute existential truth.
For over a decade this religious endeavour dictated my social and professional life. I deemed things simply as ‘godly’ or ‘sinful’. King of Christian rhetoric, I didn’t even see the need to question the most fundamental of cornerstones – reason. Why would I? The invisible god-man had my back. The conveniently unseen, unmeasurable, unprovable trinityworked. It was easy to see my role in the world given that my identity was locked up in the cross of the christ.
The universe, unintentionally of course, saw to it that on a clear night, a question I should have asked more than a decade earlier, popped into my head: ‘Was this unending cosmos created simply as a canvas for humanity to discover and worship an invisible god-man?’
Before the rhetoric of christianity could fill my brain, I momentarily envisaged how my life would look without the certainty of the invisible god man in it. I shivered initially but continued to peer into the night lights regardless. I instantly began to face up to the fact that I knew nothing about the earth, the cosmos and the reality that surrounds us. All I knew was that my identity was in christ the unseen, and that everything else was the plan of the invisible god-man. It had been that simple for 13 years.
It took over a decade to build a faith that led me to national platforms, but it took just a second to realise that I might have got it all wrong. Keeping everything stealth, away from the church leaders I had been close friends with, I studied the historical evidence of the unseen christ, the facts of the Sapienstory and the wondrous universe. On reading expert insight into this ‘christ’ character, I learned that many leading academics and scholars conclude that the accounts of himwere merely memories of memories of memories of memories. I soon discovered many other crucial signposts that led me away from religion. The communities of the ‘christ’ character couldn’t write – they were illiterate. Memory and tradition were passed down orally. And yet despite the obvious problems with this form of documentation, I had decided to base my entire worldview on this. I had decided to pin my colours to the mast of myths and legends; memories four times removed.
Studying our Sapien path to our current standing taught me instantly that not only was the notion of ‘god’ man-made, we, the Sapien species, do not need this invisible magic man anymore. In fact, we’ve never needed him. We’ve never needed his homophobic, bigoted, historically inaccurate, unethical, aggressive, murderous, impatient, manipulative, power-obsessed bloodlust anywhere near our Sapien story. My studies led me to also believe that if a man called ‘Yeshua’ existed at all, he was a political agitator and nothing more. (Don’t get me wrong, we need political agitators.)
Five years ago, I called time on all my Christian responsibilities and withdrew from the church entirely. For the last five years I have been learning something that I wish I’d discovered in Mr Powell’s class during break time. Not only can we just be alive, but the fact that we get to be alive and conscious is far greater news than any religion can present to us. Your role in the world, like mine, is a human one – to move forward. That’s it, and it’s all it has to be. Burdens birthed from myths and legends are not beneficial to our collective forward motion, in fact, they’re killing us.
I am so thankful to have discovered the fabulous and grown up world of reason. We call this Humanism. I humbly encourage you to discover the vital works of Richard Dawkins and Richard Carrier. Whatever religion you are, your identity doesn’t need it. You don’t need it. You are cosmic matterwrapped in form, moving forward. And whoever you are, you do not need to allow the invisible magic god-man to steal one more second of your thoughts. Humankind created god. It is our responsibility then to continue the great global progress away from this medieval understanding and engage in reason, as millions do everyday.
If you need support leaving a religion, contact From Faith to Faithlessness or give me a holla on Twitter: @alexinboxes
*This article was an extract from Alex Willmott’s upcoming book ‘When I was a Christian’ due out in 2020.