I have always had an obsession with suffering and death. Or, more accurately, I have, from a young age, always been keenly aware that every day, around the world, people are suffering and dying. I don't know how this happened, as my parents have never left the U.S. and weren't the type to say "eat your vegetables because some kid in Africa is starving."
But the plight of those less fortunate than I was a constant force affecting my daily choices. I remember a conversation with a friend, around age 10, in which I explained that I felt a responsibility to live a good life (i.e., do good things) because I had been given privileges that so many of those suffering and dying people had not. I had rejected the Catholic religion, but decided that I could prove that someone could be a good person without God.
I am not a people-pleaser, so this choice to do good was supremely selfish and ultimately arrogant. I wanted to show off what a good person I was so that others could see how useless a god was and be impressed with me. There is a twisted irony that, in my pursuit of doing good - of attempting to demonstrate how humble, kind, generous, etc. I was - I was actually puffing my ego up and considering myself that much better than everyone else, especially those weak people who needed God.
My pride was compounded by the fact that most of my friends considered themselves Christians, yet their behaviors did not reflect Christian values. In high school, I never drank alcohol, and, even though I fooled around with my share of guys, I was staunchly specific that I would remain a virgin until my wedding night. So I often found myself the designated driver or save-my-girlfriend-from-rape at parties. I was impacted by all my 'Christian' friends who were getting plastered or having sex, all the while claiming faith in a God I was pretty sure did not approve of these acts, while I found it so easy to avoid such mistakes.
I graduated from high school certain that I was going to change the world with my resolute virtue and good deeds. But just a few months after I started college, my entire world was rocked.