Even though I was feeling decent about myself by the time Nikki and I broke up, I still found myself in a somewhat precarious position as far as the future was concerned. At that time, I had a shit job. Like the kind that doesn't require you to graduate high school to get. My degree turned out to be only slightly better than useless. It was a video game design degree that I ended up getting because I, as a very young person who had found his "soul mate," followed Samantha to her college of choice and selected a program that interested me somewhat. I liked video games. Still do. It wasn't until I was just about done with the degree that I realized I was not cut out for the business of making video games. Also, I specialized in writing for games which, as it turns out, isn't so much a job that people get paid to do. At least, not very often. And those who do generally have a few published novels.
Anyway, I began to fear I'd be trapped in my horrible little failure-job forever. When you go through something like that, you get philosophical. Well, maybe you don't. I get philosophical. The job, which, by the way, was delivering pizzas, required me to be in my car for long stretches of time doing nothing in particular. Just driving around. So I started listening to a lot of audiobooks and, eventually, podcasts.
This is, I'm sad to say, where the skeptic you know today was born. It must be anti-climactic, but the fact is that I considered myself a de facto atheist before Nikki and I broke up, and I read [i]The God Delusion[/i] and became a much stronger atheist. [i]The God Delusion[/i] didn't go far enough for me, though, so I moved on to the other Horsemen, and then into the podcasting world with The Non-Prophets, Point of Inquiry, Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, Skeptoid. Very quickly, I learned how logic works. I learned the fallacies. I learned the science behind the claims. Over time, I picked up more sophisticated podcasts, delving further into philosophical and theological questions: The Atheist Experience (by the same people as Non-Prophets, but it's a call-in show that tends to lead to some pretty esoteric topics), Apologia (debates being theists and atheists on dozens of specifics topics that each worldview might inform), and, most recently, Reasonable Doubts (a very sophisticated exercise in the psychology of belief, counter-apologetics, and Biblical fact-checking, while still being entertaining). I jumped into classics, like Russell, Hume and Lucretius.
So there's my secret laid bare. I'm no genius. I figured out the problem of evil for myself in high school, but wouldn't have known what to do with the Transcendental Argument even today without the aid of the giants who came before me, and the giants who came before them. I listened to both sides and picked what I perceive as the winner. Religion has done me no great harm, but I think it is harmful. I remember the fear I had when I thought God would kill me as a child, or the distant but present worry of Hell until I finally dismissed that notion in college.
There will be those who claim that my heart's always been closed to God, but to make that claim is to suggest something very insidious about God. When I was a child, I sincerely believed. I wanted God and Jesus to be real. But every time I prayed, I always knew I was talking to myself. There was no other voice. I was given no revelation, no experience, nothing beyond what I forced on my own. My entire experience with Christianity could be reasonably compared to my experience accepting Jesus into my heart - I imagined it happening, and I knew at the time I was imagining it, but assumed that this utter lack of communication on God's part was how it was supposed to be. After all, the adults all seem to believe it. They're always right.
But to make the claim that I never opened my heart to God is to claim not only that God elected not to reveal himself to me in any way that I would describe (even at the age of seven) as meaningful, but that he specifically made me (or allowed me to be made) in such a way that I would be closed to him, and thus condemned to Hell, from birth.
I have no doubt that the shallowness I experienced of sitting in silence and having a conversation with my own inner monologue, combined with the clear assumption of belief on the part of, as far as I could see, every person in my immediate environment, led to me questioning even in elementary school. If God existed, and had responded in any way that could be construed as even slightly inspirational, I expect I would be a very different person today. I would never have questioned its existence.
But I can't say I learned nothing from prayer and seeking God. The silence of all but my own inner monologue taught me that, within my own head, I am truly, utterly alone. And when I leave the company of others, there is nothing that comes with me. Solitude is a fact of life. And it does offer its own peace.
The most spiritual (though I hate that word) experiences of my life have been spent in contemplation of solitude and insignificance. When the Sun goes down, go outside and stare into the night sky for an hour.