Thank God I’m an Atheist: COVID-19 Edition

Grete Rachel Howland
5 min readMay 21, 2020


Photo by NASA on Unsplash

I spend a lot of time thinking about the years I spent all-in with evangelical Christianity, mostly because I spend a lot of time writing about them. Often, my focus is on my personal history and how the messages I received shaped me, both then and now. There are a lot of emotions that come along with this kind of autobiographical excavation, including anger at what was ingrained in me before I even had a chance to decide whether I personally believed it, and shame at having stuck with such ludicrous and harmful tenets for so long.

Every once in a while, though, my focus shifts to the present, and I’m struck with a more positive feeling: gratitude. Every once in a while a situation comes along that highlights for me how far I’ve come, and I’m overwhelmed with thankfulness that I’m no longer facing life shackled by the Christianity with which I was raised. Today, that situation is COVID-19, and as I spend my ninth weekend in a row sitting at home steeped in the weird paradox of feeling like I’m wasting my life by not going out and also knowing that I’m doing what I should for the community, I am incredibly grateful to be an atheist.

I know for a fact, because it’s happened to me more times than I can count in far less tragic situations, that were I still a believer in this historical moment, I would be overwhelmed with anxiety over the lack of divine intervention. I would be praying constantly, desperately, and I would look around me and see exactly what I see now: some leaders making good decisions, some leaders making terrible ones, citizens acting both altruistically and selfishly, and the virus taking its course accordingly. What I would not see, I believe, is some big miracle, and I would be distressed, worried sick over trying to figure out what God needed to hear in order to do something about this crisis.

Were I still a believer in this moment, I would be caught up in the addictively dramatic cycle of trying to negotiate with a God I understood to be all-loving, all-powerful, and all-personal but also often distant and, seemingly, inactive. I would be pleading for relief — not just for me but for the world — using the leverage of the fervency of my desire for it, because I was taught, implicitly if not explicitly, that the passion with which one prays has an affect on the likelihood that God will answer that prayer. I would also be ignoring my own better judgment regarding the logical conclusions of such a premise.

But I’m not doing any of those things, because I no longer believe in God.

Rather, I’m simply here, at home, under no illusion that I have the responsibility let alone potential to get the Lord of everything to save the people he supposedly adores. I’m here looking for ways to help where I can, learning to be patient in ways I’ve not had a chance to practice before, and peaceful (relatively speaking) in the knowledge that there is no ultimate moral orientation to the universe over which I need be concerned.

That’s not to say I’m having a great time in lockdown. Far from it. But my worldview no longer demands that I ask “Why?” about every miserable moment: Why would an all-loving and all-powerful God let this happen? Why are we being punished? Why is God not answering our prayers? My belief system no longer tells me that hardship should not be, that there is some metaphysical injustice occurring. Without God, life is, to a certain, extent absurd, and I like it that way. When there’s no cosmic father to cry out to, to ask for help from, then we must turn inward, and to each other. Thank God (so to speak), because I find myself and my fellow humans to be a far more convincing and comforting reality than an omnipotent being who has to be begged to save His own children.

It’s also not to say that there’s no injustice. Certainly there is. But I no longer have a sense that there’s something wrong with this world because sad or unfair things happen, which is a perspective that caused me a lot of grief when I was in the middle of it. On the contrary, now that I’m free of the burden of needing to fit everything that happens into a narrative of “should”, I am able to accept things for what they are without clinging to the idea that this world was meant to be different. It wasn’t meant to be anything — it just is. And, for the most part, we’re just doing the best with what we got. There is no one coming to save us. There will be no eternal judgment when we’re done. There is only now. There is only the unfolding, and hopefully, if we’re lucky, there is growth.

Some people are freaked out by the idea that there’s no point to all this, that our individual lives (and even the existence of our species) are barely a blip in a huge, conscienceless cosmos that has no inherent meaning or central intention. I can understand that. I’d have thought I would be too, back when I believed I needed God to get by. I would also have said that without God, there is no reason for a person to want to do good in the world. Well, I was wrong. Rather, I find such calm without that moody, judgmental deity in my mind all the time, and a great deal of power in myself now that I’ve let go of the obligation to worship an unseen (and almost always coded male) force. In other words, I feel free.

Free — even though I am not able to physically embrace all the people I love right now, or enjoy the city and the coast and the mountains as often as I usually would, and even though I’m stuck in a country with criminally negligent leadership and am bearing witness to a huge amount of grief, my mind and heart are unrestrained. And so I am thankful to be an atheist now. I’m thankful that those who find comfort in God have it if they want it, and I’m thankful, so thankful, that I was able to realize that it was doing me more harm than good and let it go. My options for coping were so limited by Christianity. Now, in this moment, unrestrained by that narrow perspective, I see how resilient and capable I really am. I guess there’s nothing like a global pandemic to highlight how far you’ve come.

Originally published at on May 21, 2020.



Grete Rachel Howland

Reflections on growing up in Evangelical Christianity and finding freedom on the other side of belief.