This week passed the anniversary of the day I was baptized. I was baptized while I was a student at Wheaton, and it was a big, big deal to me. I saw it as more than a symbol. For those at Wheaton, I’ll just say that my thoughts on baptism were very heavily influenced by professors Gary Burge and Mark Husbands. I don’t remember much of the theological terminology.
Anyway, I regarded my baptism as the best day of my life. From that day on, whenever my faith failed, whenever I struggled or doubted, I remembered my baptism. It was like a jewel that would always be there, never tarnishing no matter what the state of my life or my faith. Every time I thought of it I was filled with a sense of goodness and peace that reached deep into me like a well. It was the core of me.
Of course, I no longer feel these things. I had to reach deep for these memories. In fact, one of the ways that I knew I was really becoming an atheist and not just ‘falling away’ from Christianity was when I realized that my baptism was no longer sacred to me. When I remembered it and realized that I no longer felt a sparkling core that was the essence of my identity. When I remembered it and it seemed like any other memory, like a memory of a wedding that I attended a long, long time ago.
At first, it felt like a loss. In addition to the loss of community and belonging and cultural identification that came with deconversion, there was also a deeply-felt loss of memory. I no longer had such a memory to depend on, to reach back to whenever I needed confirmation, strength, assurance of who I am.
The feeling that I had when I thought of my baptism as a Christian was similar to what I see in some Christians’ eyes of their love for God. It’s similar to what I witnessed in Francis Collins when he talked about Jesus, his voice and expression cradling something holy. Sometimes I have wondered why I have never seen anything similar in atheists. Why haven’t I met any non-Christians with that sense of peace and tenderness in their countenances?
But I’ve forgotten– I have seen it in atheists, but not when they were talking about atheism. I’ve seen such pure expression of love in the eyes of a friend talking about her beloved. The fierceness by which her entire being told of her love for the person standing next to her rivaled that of any Christian boasting their love for Jesus. I’ve seen passion and complete certainty in someone as he called for the protection of the earth and the raising up of the next generation to do good, tangible good in the world. The pillar of strength that I saw in him resembled the well of strength that the memory of my baptism gave me, and that was what inspired me to enter my current line of work.
Atheists have every measure of peace, love, reverence and conviction. They just direct it towards what is really worthy of being called holy. I don’t derive my worth as an atheist from a memory or from someone telling me it is so. My life is a continual making of myself into something, something that I think is special and worth remembering.