I'm also coming to terms with religion. After much soul-searching (and an unbelievable amount of Googling), I've realized quite a few things about myself.
I'm an atheist. There, I've said it. Doesn't mean I'm going straight to hell (not that I believe in hell). Doesn't mean I'm going to go and be a nasty person. It just means that I have no particular belief in a god.
I guess I should explain that before my parents start wondering where they went wrong. =)
I came from a Catholic grade school run by Benedictine nuns (they're really nice), and when I was growing up, I think I really believed in it. I attended mass. I took communion. I eagerly devoured stories of saints and miracles, and wondered if I'd ever be one of the beatas or witness a miracle.
Then again, I also believed in all sorts of strange things back then, like spirits and ghosts and cloud castles and stuff like that. Blame it on people trying to use the supernatural to scare little kids. (Note to self: Never ever do that to small kids.) In retrospect, it was sort of embarrassing. |)
I think I was losing bits of it already in the last part of grade school. I was never really one for retreats. Going to a nonsectarian high school forced me to reexamine many of my beliefs as well.
I was never too comfortable with the somewhat fundamentalist stance that many people took when it came to religion - "I am right, you are wrong. I will be saved, you are damned." You know, that sort of thing. It's a good thing my parents were pretty moderate and tried as much as possible to explain to a rather confused girl that not everyone thought that way. On the contrary, many people thought that all the different religions were just different ways to reach one God and one truth.
I think it all started with the afterlife. Haven't we all thought about death and life after death? While thinking about it, I realized that I didn't really believe in hell - no fire and brimstone, no eternal boredom or loneliness, no eternal punishment. It just didn't make sense to me, partly because I have a hard time thinking that anyone's absolutely and irrevocably evil, and partly because I didn't see how useful Hell would be as a deterrent.
So naturally I turned to thinking about purgatory. I never really did feel comfortable with the thought of indulgences or souls hanging around in limbo waiting for people to pray for them so that they can enter heaven. Didn't make sense to me.
What did that leave? Heaven. I was still a little okay with the idea of, well, a heaven with everyone in a perfect society. Utopia. That sort of thing, yes? So heaven remained, and for a while I was okay (although a little unorthodox).
Then a friend of ours died, and I found it strangely acceptable that his corpse was, well, rotting away in the ground, and that was it - finis. End of existence. No flying around in heaven. No disembodied spirits hanging around. No consciousness. No resurrection, no second chance, zip. I didn't need the idea of heaven to reassure me that everything was going to be all right, and besides - on what had I been basing my idea of heaven on? Just what I'd been taught? So that faded away, too.
One life. One chance. After this, that's it! Tough luck. Bye. =) No hanging around trying to influence others. No praying for intercession. What makes life worth living? Maybe the difference I can make in other people's lives - the great experiment that has yet to be performed.
Around this time I was also examining my beliefs about good and evil. I used to actually believe in a literal personification of evil, what with all of the stories told us, but I realized how that didn't really make sense. I've had the luck not to run into anyone I could really call evil, and that also means I don't quite understand it either. That's one of the TODOs I should probably get around to resolving. =)
So there's that - the realization that I'm an atheist. I don't believe in a god, or some higher power that watches us and loves us. Not that I'm saying that God doesn't exist - people can believe whatever they want. I'm just saying that for me, well, I don't strongly believe in that. I'll still go to church because my parents would like me to, and I'm still going to try to be a nice person because I like being a nice person.
Perhaps one day I'll emerge from the other side. Who knows? But I don't want to pretend to beliefs that I don't have. =) Nice to have things out in the open, yes?