Wonderful to read through, with similar experiences having played out in my own life. One divergence in our stories comes during the first stage:
I didn’t learn that atheism was ‘a thing’ until sometime in junior high or high school. Before that point, I had been raised in a family that wasn’t particularly religious while most of my classmates and teachers attended church at least twice a week. I hadn’t much faith or belief in a higher power because both of my first stepfathers had physically and verbally abused my mother and I, which of course led to the rejection that a higher power would allow us to suffer — would allow me to have scars on my feet at the age of 4 from walking across broken glass after my stepfather started throwing dishes at my mother.
The actual thought process didn’t fully express itself until I was a little older. It was definitely there, however; every time someone tried to get me involved with a church group, I felt a major disconnection between myself and everyone around me.
A year of college and I dropped the militant phase. I realized that whether or not a higher power existed, I was wasting my life being angry over the harmless ways other people were finding solid ground in their lives. Who was I to criticize them for finding that rock when I was flailing wildly? There was a point where everything clicked and I accepted that a higher power’s existence — or lack thereof — had zero impact or importance to my life but I had no right to try and deny that importance for others.
And like you, I think I got a little closer to being a non-asshole adult.
At least until ‘which pizza is the best pizza’ discussions occur…