Justin received $350 from FFRF for his essay.
I was born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Up until about age 18, I was so sure of my “knowledge” that the church was true that I was willing to dedicate two years, unpaid, to telling people in Brazil about my church.
Fast-forward a few years, and now I’m proud to say that I am an atheist.
My little sister was born with a congenital heart defect known as “single ventricle double outlet hypoplastic left heart.” It basically means that she had a hole in her heart. We did not know about this until she was about 8, which is eight years later than doctors usually discover it.
Before she turned 16, she had undergone about eight open-heart surgeries. All of them made it a little better each time, up until Aug. 14, 2010, when she died due to complications from what was her last surgery.
My “faith” had never actually been tested. I had lived a semi-charmed life. This was the worst day of my life.
What was so shocking to me at the time was how sure we were that she was going to get better. She was in one of the greatest children’s hospitals in the world, being treated by some of the most skilled cardiac surgeons.
My dad and I had given her several “priesthood blessings,” which were supposed to make her recover. A priesthood blessing is a Mormon ritual consisting of little more than dabbing “sacred” olive oil on top of a person’s head and saying a prayer. But she never got better.
I cannot accurately describe how painful and earth-shattering it is to lose a younger sibling at age 15. It feels like having your heart ripped out and your head smashed into the ground. She should have gotten better and gone on to live a full, happy life. She’d even received a “patriarchal blessing” (a blessing bestowed by a man who has likely never met you but talks to God and predicts your future).
“If there really is a God, there are only two explanations for this,” I thought. “Either he could not have saved her, which would mean that he is not all-powerful, or he did not want to save her, which means he is a bastard.”
My extended family all had things to say that were meant to console and comfort. Things like “Oh, it’s all in God’s plan!” and “She is in a better place now.”
Bullshit. There is no God, there is no plan, and the place that she is in is a cemetery in Utah. I know these things now, because I took her death as an opportunity to think critically about what I believed.
I was in Army Advanced Individual Training when all of this happened, far away from my family and the rules they enforced when I lived in their house. I stopped going to church. I stopped praying and reading the scriptures. I even started questioning why God could have let this happen.
A few months later, I was deployed to Afghanistan, which meant that I was unable to serve a mission for the church. While I was there, I met a colonel who used to be a Mormon. He changed his mind about religion after reading a book called The God Delusion by a certain Richard Dawkins and suggested that I do the same.
I read the book, and it flipped virtually everything I thought I knew upside down. I read 11 more books in the next few months that taught me about evolution, the truth about religion and why blind faith and churches are one of the great plagues on Earth.
When I got home, I was eager to tell my parents about my new beliefs, and as you could imagine, they took it quite well. Just kidding! It was a huge blow for them, and they essentially think I’m a wayward, stupid person who is wrong about everything. (Ironic, isn’t it?)
They still love me, I’m sure, but things just aren’t the same. Maybe it’s a good thing. For whatever reason, after my sister died, their faith somehow got stronger. Their 15-year-old daughter dying made them question God even less. They say that it is “proof” that God loves them because he let her live for 15 years.
I cannot understand them, although I surely have tried. It is my belief that there is no God, that we evolved from a common ancestor of modern apes and that Mormonism, along with every other religion, is bogus.
Justin Moss, 21, Provo, Utah, is majoring in biology at Pierce College, Lakewood, Wash. He’s interested in a career in medicine.