I’m an atheist. So why can’t I shake God?

Despite being a content atheist for a decade, somehow God has found a way to stick around in my mind. Not the God of the Bible who created heaven and Earth — the God that lingers with me is harder to explain. The best way I can think to describe it is a character from a movie that I’ve seen over and over, or like the memory of my first friends. He’s not real, but he’s present.

The idea of God pesters me and makes me think maybe I’m not really as devout to my own beliefs as I’d like to think I am and would like to be. Maybe I’m still subconsciously afraid of hell and want to go to heaven when I die. It’s confusing and frustrating to feel the presence of something you don’t believe in. This is compounded by the fact that the God character most often shows up when I’m already frustrated.

“Why, God, why?” I ask myself when I’ve procrastinated before a deadline and am scrambling. When I experience mansplaining, I think, “I swear to God. …” And I don’t merely say these colloquially or as a joke. It’s more a force of habit, from having spent so much of my life believing that I could expect answers to these questions. Even though now I know that nobody is “up there” to reply, I can’t help but ask.

It’s of some comfort to me, though, to know that I’m not the only one who feels this way. Research that shows I’m not alone.