Open Thread: For Former Christians

I was asked to create this open thread in e-mail, and I’m doing so. From that e-mail:

I would like to have an open thread for people who have been Christians for a long time (preferably more than 10 years) and then decided it was not true to post their reasons for their decision. I think this may help me sort things out by weighing their reasons against my reasons and thinking the whole matter through.

I don’t know how many people there may be on this site who fit that description, but if there are any, please feel free to introduce yourselves. If you don’t fit that description, please stay out of this thread, at least initially. We’ll see how it goes.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Anonymous for now

    Mine is a pretty standard story. I have lived in a Christian home my whole life. I was never completely immersed in it, but I accepted it as true. I don’t think my family ever identified with a particular denomination – we’ve gone to Presbyterian, Evangelical, and Vineyard churches, in that order.

    I always felt that whenever I prayed, I wasn’t getting any response whatsoever. No voices, not even an emotional nudge. I figured there was something wrong with me. Over the course of high school, I became more and more depressed for a variety of reasons, and God was keeping to himself. I knew that if my parents had been members of a different religion, then I probably would be too. Eventually, I realized that I didn’t see a difference between Christianity and any other religion, as far as truth was concerned. The creation story didn’t stand up to scientific views of the origins of life, and the life and philosophy of Jesus didn’t really look all that great. In retrospect, I can see that during my last two years of high school, I had been living as if no god existed. Around my eighteenth birthday, I realized that I really had no reason to believe anymore. If God wanted me, he would have to give me some reason to justify my faith.

    No reason ever materialized, and over the months following my eighteenth birthday, I read a lot of the Ebon Musings Atheism Pages. Now I can’t imagine any other outlook. I got to college in September, and shortly after arriving, I joined the Campus Freethought Alliance. However, no one in my home town knows about my atheism, mostly because I think I know how my mother will react. She’s very sensitive and very devout, and I’d hate to throw her into depression. It’s got to be done, but I’m waiting until after Christmas in order to avoid interactions with extended family and general religious holiday awkwardness.

    I’m back at home for Thanksgiving, so I’ll be going to church tomorrow. Some of my best friends are there. This isn’t going to be easy, but at least now I have a support base at college.

  • http://www.skepchick.com writerdd

    I was a nominal Christian as a young child, was born again when I was about 9, and stayed that way until my late 20s. I was particularly devout, to the point of being fanatical, through most of my teens and 20s. Shortly before we got married, my husband and I moved to California. I had a job at a Bible College there. But we couldn’t find a church we liked. After a ridiculous service at one church we had thought we might like — they had one of those Christian body builder “ministries” come — when we got in the car to go home, my husband asked, “How about we don’t go to church for a while.” I laughed and said OK. The job also wasn’t working out, and I got a secular job instead. Around the same time I had been taking computer programming classes, and was introduced to Douglas Hofstadter’s book “Godel, Escher, Block” and from there became very interested in cognitive science and artificual intelligence. I read voraciously on topics I thought were totally techincal — I never would have allowed myself to read anything that I thought would weaken my faith. But these books ended up giving me a much clearer picture of the human mind than I’d ever had before, which had a deeper impact on my philosophy than I had expected. I also ended up reading about cosmology and evolution, and the universe grew so much in my mind, much bigger than anything the God I’d believed in could have created. In the end, I think I stopped believing because I saw that the universe, life, and even human conscious did not need the explanation of the creator. I also met a lot of wonderful people after moving to California who were not Christians. Before that I’d surrounded myself entirely by other born-again people since I was in high school. The new friends were no less generous and charitable than the Christians had been, and they were generally happier, guilt free, and more at peace than my Christian friends — who always seemed to be going through some kind of “wilderness” — had been.

    I never decided to stop being a Christian. One day, I just realized that I did not believe any more and that it would no longer be honest for me to say “yes” if someone asked me if I was a Christian. I’ve actually been much happier since I came to that realization.

  • Bechamel

    Hello whomever,
    I’m Steve. I was raised a fundamentalist Pentecostal, and remained so until about six years ago. The sect was a particularly odious one, preaching that all humanity deserved to be tortured eternally for being imperfect, but did not believe that salvation could be assured, so everyone walks a major tightrope trying not to piss God off. (Additionally, they don’t like to talk about certain topics, so just *what* they think pisses God off is unclear much of the time.) They also subscribe to biblical inerrancy, e.g., Eden, the Flood, Lot, Jericho, all of Jesus’ miracles, Revelation. No metaphor, just what did (and will) happen.

    Given that, I guess it was unsurprising that I was later diagnosed with clinical depression. Of course, they believe that obtaining professional help for such things is merely a sign of insufficient faith: God is the only source of happiness.

    At the time, I was trying to figure out what was going wrong, so I spent a lot of time in prayer. But, perhaps unlike most pray-ers, instead of asking specifically to be made happier, most of my supplications were for guidance and direction: “What should I do?” “How can I get closer to You?” Several years went by. The thought of God’s nonexistence never occurred to me; the whole time, I thought there must be something wrong with me, that I couldn’t detect any answers to my prayers.

    Some time later, I was diagnosed with cancer (Hodgkin’s disease). After an initial misdiagnosis allowed the tumor to grow unchecked for an additional five months, I was in really bad shape. I prayed, though I don’t think my heart was really in it. (Death was not looking at all unappealing to me at that point.) My family, however, was praying like the dickens. My mother in particular said that Satan was trying to bring me down, but God would prevail, additionally stating her firm belief that God would show me His power by healing me so fast that the doctors would be baffled by it.

    So, I was put on a very strong course of chemotherapy (which my nurse said would have killed someone her size). After a few painful months of that, I distinctly recall one meeting with the doctor: he said, looking at an x-ray, that the treatment was going quite well. Mom: “Better than you expected?” Doctor: “Very good, like I expected.” (emphasis definitely present in his voice)

    By this time, I had no idea what I believed. I couldn’t fathom either God’s existence or his nonexistence. Then, by sheer coincidence, I happened to befriend an atheist. I had no idea he was an atheist until we discovered our mutual enjoyment of informal debate. Naturally, the topic turned to the supernatural. He didn’t really have anything other than the basics (if God was the first cause, where did God come from; the argument from evil; etc.), but I couldn’t even find any responses to those that I liked.

    I had just gotten internet access for the first time around then, so I started to look there. Specifically, I had heard of a book called “The Case for Christ”, so I searched using that phrase. The third hit was an essay called The Case Against The Case For Christ. I don’t think I even got the whole way through it. A year earlier, I knew nothing of atheists outside of the church’s straw men. Now, for all intents and purposes, I was one.

    Then, I started reading more writings by atheists, and I was blown away by how much more correspondence to reality I saw, compared to the apologetic literature I was used to. After briefly looking at Unitarian-like groups and finding them lacking, I began to embrace the term “atheist”, and I guess the rest is history.

    Well, after all that, I guess I really don’t know what to say to someone in the middle of a process that may or may not bear any resemblance to my own. My deconversion was driven by events in my life directly contradicting Jesus’ words in the Bible (see Matthew 21:21-22). What was so obvious to me about other religions was also true of the one I grew up with. The only suggestion I have is to test your faith. The only reason holy books say not to put their deities to the test is because the writers know how miserably they’d fail. If there were a true religion, it’d tell people to test it every chance they got. Truth doesn’t fear investigation, only falsehoods do. Best of luck in your search.

  • http://www.de-conversion.com HeIsSailing

    My former Christianity was a product of the late 1960s, early 1970s Jesus Freak movement. I remained a Christian until the age of 42. I now see no reason to believe in God, much less the God of my former religion.

    Why? Rather than type out my de-testimony as some others here have beautifully done, let me just quote John 9:25, “One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.”

  • http://thechapel.wordpress.com the chaplain

    I was raised in a Christian family, a long line of ministers. I formally “accepted Jesus as my savior from sin” at age 16. At age 18, I went to a conservative Christian college, where I met my husband. After getting some additional education, we were ordained as evangelical ministers. Specifically, as officers in The Salvation Army. Following 11 years of ministry, we resigned so that I could get my Ph.D. When I entered graduate school 11 years ago, I was still pretty much an evangelical Christian but I had slightly liberal leanings in some areas.

    By the time I finished graduate school, I was a liberal Christian. I mostly just shared my views with my husband, and with my kids as appropriate. I knew that most other believers in The Salvation Army churches we attended would find my ideas perplexing, perhaps even heretical.

    In the past six years, my liberal views kept shifting until I had slipped into pretty much of a deist position. This past summer, I began reading some atheist literature and realized that atheism made much more sense than theism. I’m theoretically open to the possibility of deism, but such a god makes no difference in my life, so I’ve settled on atheism.

    I should add that last summer’s plunge into considering atheism was difficult. I had accepted a Christian worldview for my entire life. I knew no other way to think about life’s Big Questions. Once I got over the shock of de-converting, though, I was relieved psychologically, emotionally and intellectually. It’s pretty easy to slide from evangelicalism to liberalism, even to deism. It’s that last step, that letting go completely of all notions of God that can be tough. If you can endure it, though, it’s a worthwhile step to take.

    I no longer live life wondering if I’m measuring up to God’s standards. I don’t live life hoping for a better world after death. I live life to its fullest now, because it’s the only life that I’m certain I’ll have. I’m not going to waste it speculating on heaven or gods or hell. I’m going to enjoy it. Freedom is far better than the false security of faith.

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    I was born into a practicing Catholic family, became fairly devout in my teens, more devout in my early twenties and then deconverted at age 25. I have published a very long explanation of my reasons for leaving the church, but I will list the basic reasons here. Some of them relate specifically to Catholicism.

    1. Insufficiency of arguments for the faith. I had relied heavily on miracles to support my belief.
    2. Divine injustice. (original sin, eternal punishment, condemnation of disbelief, biblical atrocities)
    3. Divine imperfect benevolence. (intercessory prayer, arbitrary salvation)
    4. Implausibility
    5. Insufficiency of “faith” as a reason

    You can read the full article at my website: Why I Am No Longer A Catholic.

  • Craig

    Dear whoever it concerns,

    I was catholic for all my life until I got to high school. I was involved heavily, but that was just more going threw the motions. I had several reasons why I de-converted, one I thought if the story of Noahs ark wasn’t true than how much of the other parts of the bible could be true? I also became an existentialist which didn’t fit with the normal patterns of christianity. Another thing is i saw how fake people at my church were, and how much of it was just going threw the motions. I think the final straw for me was when my Aunt had Lymphatic cancer, and when I prayed it didn’t seem to do anything, what did do something was science. That is why I believe in god, because there is evidence for science while there is none for god.

  • nowoo

    When I was still a Christian I didn’t want to stop believing, but I was forced to reject the “truth” I was raised with when I realized it was just dogma that I’d been indoctrinated with.

    I was raised to believe that ancient Hebrew mythology and early Christian mythology were actually unique transcendent truth provided by a perfect supernatural divine eternal creator spirit from outside the universe. I continued to believe that for most of my life, and I resisted evidence that contradicts this view because of fear of losing the “truth” that my family and church considered important, as well as for other reasons like the built-in rewards and punishments that act as defense mechanisms for that belief system.

    Eventually, the errors, contradictions, immorality, and irrationality of my religion led me to question and examine its doctrines and scriptures more closely, and compare it to other religions and mythologies throughout history and the world. The similarities between so many mutually contradictory beliefs are striking. So many ridiculous creation myths, so many demigods with human mothers and deities for fathers, so many hero figures with miraculous births, narrow escapes into exile, triumphant returns, periods of teaching and lawgiving, betrayals, death on a hill, and often dying and rising again. So many incompatible holy books all considered divinely authored because the book itself claims to have a divine source. So many belief systems that resist logic or doubt by threatening anyone who stops believing them.

    I realized that there is no evidence of any supernatural forces in the universe or in human history. There is a great deal of evidence that early societies developed mythologies to explain their world and possibly to control large numbers of people. The more successful versions of those mythologies were passed down through the ages, picking up variations that made them even more persistent in people’s minds. Recently science has been very successful at explaining the aspects of life that seemed supernatural to early societies. Given that evidence, I decided that the intellectually honest thing to do is to accept reality as science reveals it, and abandon the supernatural beliefs based on nothing but tradition, fear, and bronze-age storytelling.

    I was a devout church-going Christian for almost 40 years, but I haven’t believed in a god for a couple of years now. I feel that becoming an atheist was one of the best things to happen in my life. I wish I’d come to this realization sooner. Myths may have comfort value for some people, but I prefer experiencing life and the natural world as it really is.

  • TheMightyThor

    I was a member of the Church of Christ for a large stretch of my adult life. Picture fundamentalism, then picture something to the right of that. I did not grow up in that religion; I was born in Mobile, Alabama, the heart of the Southern Baptist bible belt.

    Though exposed to church as a youngster–Sunday School occasionally, Easter, Christmas, and New year midnites MANDTORY, I came to the CoC as an adult, primarily as a boon to my fiancee, soon wife. That circumstance was important, because it was the source of neverending struggle for me. The Baptist tradition I had grown up in was such that it was understood that while our belief system was best, it was possible that other Christian pathways to God could lead one to salvation. The Church (of Christ) held no such understanding. To them, there was only ONE TRUE CHURCH andit was properly called the Church of Christ. Anyway, thru high school, I was on a mission to find out whether any religions held any truth ( I had been warned by an elder member of my mom’s church (AME), that those folks at that fancy prep school to which I had received a scholarship, would do all they could to get you to reject God, but “don’t you let ‘em!” I Did not tell him that he had nothing to fear on the God belief, but that whole Jesus story made no sense to me, and as DESPERATELY as I wanted to believe it, my logical mind could not wrap it self around it.

    Right after High School, I had an epiphany while watching a totally unrelated movie, that JESUS WAS INDEED THE SON OF GOD AND THAT HE HAD COME TO SAVE MANKIND. It was this revelation (there were no voices or anything, just an overwhelming internal sense/conviction that I just “knew” it to be so. On the strength of this conviction , I was able to get together with my future wife. We were both convinced that it was God’s will that we be together–she had just prior to meeting me decided that despite all of her upbringing and preachments, she would be open to dating/marrying “outside the Church, while as to myself, had she met me a week before my epiphany, and told me of her intention to remain virginal until marriage, my conversation with her would not have gone past “Hi.” So, since all churches were valid in my view, and she could not join my church, I elected to join hers.

    She had three brothers who ministers in the Church and all of her family were members of this exceedingly small church group. Right away, there was trouble: I was told that I could not “join” “their” church, but that I had to be “added” to the “LORD’s Church” by means of baptism–this despite the fact that I told them that I had just been baptised (by immersion in water) in the Baptist church not more than a month ago. They told me that the church of “John the Baptist” was not the same as the Church of Christ and that I needed to become a member of the “body of Christ” to be saved. I should have known what I was in for then, but hey, I was in love and knew that God wanted us to be together, so if these folks wanted me to get wet again, I would do it for her. And so I did.

    Now, lest someone tries to trot out the “No True Scotsman” argument, (You were never REALLY a Christian), be advised. MY personality is such that I never half-step anything–I ALWAYS jump in with two feet! I figured that If I was not seeing things their way, there must have been something wrong with ME–most probably that, as they suggested, I had not “studied the word with an open heart, diligently seeking the truth”. I had to admit that I had not read the entire Bible–just most of the so-called “New Testament.” I just decided to follow their lead, become a member, attended sunday school,two sunday church services, Wed. bible class(which I lead occasionally seven years later), Brother’s business meetings (women were not allowed to attend or contribute to these meetings where the church’s business was conducted), Passing out tracts on Sat mornings and afternoon (these were similar to Chic Tracts, complete with dire warnings of fire and brimstone hell for sinners and false christians alike)

    Fast forward 18 years: After divorcing, and gaining the freedom from the obligation of attending that church, and after YEARS of NEVER receiving satisfactory answers to reasonable questions (“where did the other people whom Cain feared would kill him come from?” Why is it that there were two versions of creation? Why was it that the serpent was the only one who spoke the truth (they did NOT surely die in the day they ate the fruit, instead living some eight hundred or more years afterward–the did become god-like knowing the diff between good and evil? Why was god often referring to himself as “WE” and “US”? etc.), I decided to revisit the Bible, thinking that If their was any magic in it, I would become a true child of god after completely reading it. Instead, it had the opposite effect. Because the church focused on the New testament, I had never read a lot of the Old Testament apart from what was presented in sunday school and bible class. Oh, the horror!!! After reading about slavery (I’m a Black American Male), where god gave SPECIFIC instruction for the sale, perpetual ownership, and permission to beat the slave almost to death, I could no longer accept any of the book as being from god, but clearly as writings of men bound by that culture and that time with NO connection whatsoever with divinity. I also saw tht god behaved much like a third grader who had just been given a gun and a badge “you will RESPECT my authoriTIE” (kudos to SouthPark) Right bout then, I discovered on the internet a website called INTERNET INFIDELS and after months of reading there, I was able to face the fact, that I was no longer, merely agnostic, I could even call myself an ATHEIST without fear of god’s retribution.

    One unfortunate aspect of this liberating experience, though is the fact that the more I remember those christian days, the angrier I become–not at god, but at myself! My intellect refused to buy most of the non-sense, but despite the cognitive dissonance, I had true faith that I “would come to understand it better by and by!”

    Sorry for the length of this post, but when I started, I didn’t realize there was so much to the story!

    TheMightyThor

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    Here’s my story. I actually wrote this a while back (a year ago in July). It’s still true, of course, but the introduction is a bit dated:

    Agnostic Mom has been posting her deconversion story. It’s interesting – very. But she has been distracted from her blogging by other – real-life – concerns, and her last-but-one post mostly aimed her readers at other such stories put up recently on other blogs. I read through several last night (when the hotel’s router finally decided to behave itself and let me onto the Net again).

    Perhaps not surprisingly, the stories Agnostic Mom pointed us at were all Mormon deconversion stories. Now, despite the occasional Pat Begley cartoon I post, I’m not, and never was, Mormon, and perhaps that’s why I find them (the stories) fascinating but not familiar. Or not entirely familiar, at any rate.

    I do know a couple of Mormons. They don’t talk much about their religion. Oh, they talk a lot about being religious: going to church, Sunday school, classes, teaching, counseling, picnics, activities, etc etc etc. But they don’t talk about their religion. Oh, a story here or a comment there, but no doctrine.

    This gives these deconversions stories an exotic flavor. Rituals and oaths and complaints about the elders and the Prophet(s) – unfamiliar books of scripture and angels (or are they minor deities, demigods?) – The Book of Abraham – the angel Moroni – it’s all very strange and foreign. Some of it I remember from college days when I made the mistake of accepting a copy of the Book of Mormon from a missionary (I was curious, and it’s always better to own the book than borrow it, and if you can get it for free… Well, I didn’t buy it, but I paid for it. Those guys were harder to shake that the Children of God (granted I didn’t get a book from them) or the Hare Krishnas (I did from them… what can I say? I was curious.). The Mormons like to never stopped bothering me. My roommate was ready to commit murder, I fear… I need to extricate myself from this parenthesis. Pretend I did it gracefully.) Some of it, I repeat was a bit familiar, but I don’t remember it well. It was a long, long time ago.

    I do remember finding it historically implausible. Okay, not just implausible. Fantastic – as in “a fantasy”. It was chock full of anachronisms, and the whole plot line seemed very Victorian and wish-fulfilling and somehow inherently unbelievable. The Brigham Young story, now – what I knew of it back then – seemed almost noble: brave, persecuted people fleeing to a promised land. Eerily familiar, too, patterns of history repeating themselves right down to the ‘we deserve this place more than the folks already here because we’re the Chosen of God‘ rationale. But as for that, I reminded myself not to judge the actions of the past by the standards of the present. So Brigham Young, then, seemed admirable, if deluded.

    Joseph Smith, on the other hand, struck me as a real con artist – the L Ron Hubbard of his day I’d say now (back then, ol’ L Ron was just a writer). The whole golden tablets/Egyptian papyrus – miraculous translation story was, frankly, an obvious crock, even without taking into account just how spectacularly bad the ‘translation’ was. The fact that they were so demonstrably unfactual was just one more proof to me that, just because the early Mormons had suffered and died for their faith didn’t make it true. Or worth suffering for, let alone dying for, for that matter.

    So I just shrugged and wrote the whole thing off. (Along with Hare Krishnaism, by the way, the Children of God, and the I Ching, and the rest of the early 70s college ‘spiritual’ search…)

    Now, the above isn’t meant as an indictment of Mormon history or doctrine, nor as a smug ‘har, har, I’m so much cleverer than Agnostic Mom or Equality or the others.’ No, my point is a lot simpler, and a lot more personal, and not nearly so flattering.

    After all: I still thought of myself as a Christian.

    I went to church (Episcopal), I went to Sunday school, I read books, I wrote articles for the church paper, I was even on the Altar Guild for a while… I stayed in the church for another twelve years or so beyond college, and for most of that time I was pretty active.

    I kept reading about other religions, too (as well as a lot of other things, including astronomy and cosmology and biology). And there were things I liked about other religions, their stories or some of their attitudes towards God(s) or the world. But no matter how much I might find to like or even admire, I could still see quite clearly the foolishness of actually believing in them as truth (as opposed to accepting that they had some useful moral or lesson to teach, say). Icarus teaches us not to try to do more than our technology is able to support, but no man ever flew on wings of wax and feathers, whether too close to the sun or not, for example. Oh, maybe I wasn’t always drawing the lesson they wanted me to draw (all the better, right?) – Bloddeuwedd’s ‘betrayal’ of Llew Llaw Gyffes always spoke more to me of an essential flaw in men (their belief that they make a woman love them by command) than in women (their fickleness): after all, Blodeuwedd was never asked if she wanted to be married to Llew, was she? But even while arguing the philosophical point of the story I never actually believed in a word of it: no boy born of a virgin, incubated in a chest, cursed by his mother, married to and killed by a woman created for him out of flowers by his magician uncle, a woman transformed into an owl to never see the light of day again…

    It was just a story, as meaningful and at the same time as ridiculous as any other. As ridiculous as golden tablets buried in the American midwest by the descendants of Jews who had built a glorious but doomed civilization here, tablets translated by a guy using magic stones to hear angelic voices. Just a story, and in fact a more useful one because it didn’t pretend to be fact. Just ‘true’.

    And yet somehow… somehow… a world-wide flood that nobody noticed even when it supposedly wiped out their civilization (Egypt, anyone? China?) – a story that did claim to be fact – made it under my radar into the “useful moral lesson” category. I read Hebrew Iliad and other books that explained quite carefully how the whole construct was put together, and still I didn’t draw the parallels. After all, my church had already accepted that most of the early Bible was allegory and parable. We could believe in an old earth and evolution and an expanding universe because Genesis was a teaching story. The prodigal son wasn’t fact, nor the wise and foolish servants … and the same was true of the flood, the tower of Babel… heck, even Moses was probably an amalgam of several religious leaders combined to teach the lesson of God’s revelations to the Hebrews.

    But I still was supposed to believe in the ‘facts’ of the Bible. I was supposed to believe in the history of the Old Testament and the acts of Jesus and the Apostles. In the miracles. In the walking on water and healing of lepers and turning water into wine and bringing the dead to life (the centurion’s slave and the girl Tabitha)… In the Resurrection.

    It became hard – heck, it was hard even in college. But people obliged me with their explanations: the apostles thought he was walking on water; people shared the food they were hoarding; they had some other skin disease; they weren’t really dead, just unconscious; the groom’s family hadn’t in fact used up the good wine and Mary shamed them into it…

    The problem with that, though, is that once you start tearing down the miracles, you’re left with a big “So what, then?”

    And then you start looking at the whole thing. And you start seeing things that can’t be explained because they’re just impossible. Some are just ridiculous (try adding up the numbers of soldiers the little nation of Israel could muster in, say, Samuel (hint: it’ll be over a million fighting men). Some are unbelievably cruel (God moves David to take a census, then kills tens of thousands to throw the results off. WTF?) Some are almost sociopathic (God hardens Pharaoh’s heart in order to kill the Egyptians to prove he’s God?!) And some are just evil (kill everyone but the virgin girls and bring them home to rape – or worse, kill everyone, babies included). And slavery’s just fine and dandy, and … well, you know the list. And if you don’t, try checking here.

    And you find it hard to reconcile the psychopathic Yahweh with Jesus. But Jesus came from Yahweh, to fulfill his law. So they must be reconcilable, are in fact the same god.

    And then the Church itself…

    Well.

    So, eventually I am forced to admit it. If I weren’t a Christian, my attitude to those stories would be the same as my attitude towards Mormon stories, or Hindu, or pagan, or Hare Krishna, or whatever.

    I’ve got the proverbial log in my eye.

    Or I did. But now I see clearly.

    There was never any one watershed moment, one blinding light, one slap-myself-in-the-head epiphany (if I may use the word, which after all means merely “making clear”). Virtually everything I’ve seen or read or learned or done for the last twenty years upholds the new way of thinking, but I’m not absolutely sure when that new way arrived. It might well have come sooner if I’d been forced to choose between the facts of the universe and the “revealed inerrant word of god”, but my church already had abandoned the “revealed word” in favor of the facts a long time ago: as Thomas Aquinas told us, when the facts of God’s creation and your interpretation of God’s word clash, it’ll be your interpretation that’s off, not the facts.

    So it took a while to happen, and I’m not sure exactly when it did.

    I’m just glad it did.

  • Luke

    I haven’t taken the time to read the rest of the comments (though I certainly will soon), so I don’t know if my story is the same as the others, but…where to begin?

    My parents are missionaries at Youth With a Mission (YWAM), and my whole life I was raised up in with a very narrow POV. Now, lots have people have said “that must be it – you’re rebelling” but that is no where near the case.

    I remember very clearly the day that I “gave my life to the lord” and I was 8 at the time. I was always raised as a christian, but it was at that time that I realized that just because I was raised around christianity all my life, that does not make me a christian. So I dedicated my life to the Lord. From that moment on, I did everything in my power to make sure that I adhered and followed and served as I thought was best. In high school I helped lead our bible group, I went on numerous mission trips throughout that time, and even played lead guitar in a youth worship band. I practiced what I preached and as I am a knowledge nerd, and love knowing as much as I can about everything, I poured all that energy into studying the bible, apologetics, and also why my particular brand of christianity was the right one. I was devoted to say the least, and I knew what I was talking about (or so I thought)

    Being raised in the environment that I was, I was exposed to lots of Young Earth Creationism, and the idea of seeing the bible as the literal word of God. I was raised around the teachings of “Dr” Baugh and the Creation Science Museum. The school I went to until my 10th grade year was a YWAM school called “Christian Heritage School (CHS)” – and the senior field trip was generally a trip to Paluxy so that people could see this “museum” and view the hoax that is the human footprint in a dinosaur footprint.

    So there is the background – as to why I changed? Well in high school (after transfering to a public school) I finally was exposed to the theory of evolution and real biology. I fought hard against that, studying the “science” of creationism (which I found pretty much only amounts to arguments against evolution – not science by any means) and the one sided view of evolution touted by the likes of “Dr” Baugh (wonder why I went there first? ha!) I thought I proved my point, but I still had nagging questions which I chose to ignore….until college.

    It wasn’t until I went to college and took some more science classes that I was forced to own up to the idea that the earth wasn’t as young as I thought, and that all these people that I had listened to all my life were either 1.) ignorant and easily misled, choosing to hold onto anything that might justify their beliefs whatever the consequences or 2.) they had flat out lied to me. Either option I didn’t like, and shortly after I accepted that yes, what I had grown up believing on evolution and most science was wrong. It wasn’t much longer that I had to very closely examine everything else I believed.

    It is amazing how stepping outside of your comfort zone and examining what you believe with an open mind can bring to light things that you wonder how you ever missed

    Satan – really, does that even make sense? God’s most magnificent angel, someone who had stood in god’s presence, and knew better than anyone how powerful god was, thinking he was better than god and believing he could win in a war against him? How about Job? – Didn’t jesus say in the new testament that “Thou shalt not test the Lord thy God” – The whole book of Job is about a test, a wager. How about the whole friggin character of god found in the Old Testament vs. the character of god found in the New Testament – the angry, unforgiving, genocidal god vs. the turn the other cheek god… Or how about the idea of being a “sheep”? How could any being such as god want his people to be compared to sheep – an animal that will blindly follow – could a powerful intelligent being really want followers this blind??? I have “common sense” arguements coming out the wazoo after taking an objective look at what I believe!!

    All that said, it was simply a matter of looking into other religions, and asking myself a serious question: “If there is no tangible, verifiable evidence of any sort of creator, should I believe in one? If I can’t answer exactly how the earth was formed, or where everything came from, should I fill this void in with some supernatural explaination or be content with ‘I don’t know.”

    It was a scary change, but one that I am infinately more comfortable with now (7 years later – I made this decision at 19) than before. I am extremely content with the idea that I won’t live forever (if you’re dead, how can you care? ha!), or the idea that this is all there is (it has infact led me to do my best to live life to the fullest, and even to justify my moral code and why, other than “god says so”, I shouldn’t go on a killing spree or steal for a living!).

    If there was to be a god out there that is intelligent and supreme, I cannot fathom that he would be happier with a person who blindly followed him, wasting what in that case would be “god given” abilities of reason and objectivity, compared with someone who searched and found no tangible evidence of his existence using the abilities that god would have given them. (that is of course presupposing that there is a god).

    That said – faith is to me one of the most ludicrous ideas I have come across – why would god ever want someone to follow him blindly without question and without evidence? It simply does not make any sense.

    Wow – sorry, that was long and indepth, and even off topic. Nor is it very well put together grammatically. I hope all those things can be forgiven, as I am in a rush now have people arriving to do some serious drinking….hooray for holidays! ha!

    -Luke

  • Lezard

    So this isn’t my whole story, but a significant part of it: it turns out that I read 1984 at about the same time as my Catholic confirmation. Several times during the confirmation “classes” and retreats (and also in Catholic mass), I thought to myself things along the lines of “wow, this is really how I’d design things if I wanted to brainwash people”.

    I still went through confirmation truly believing, but I found that the more I learned about my faith, the less there was to be proud of, and the more there was to be horrified of. I probably considered myself agnostic about a year later, and have considered myself atheist for about two years. If I had to pick a specific point where I started to think of myself as atheist, I’d say after reading Douglas Adams’ “A Salmon of Doubt”.

  • Bill1324

    My background is based in the churches of Christ, a conservative Christian denomination heavily weighted in the Southern United States. It belongs to the “Restoration Movement” or “Stone-Campbell” group of denominations and has its earliest roots in the Presbyterian and Baptist churches. I was raised to be a “second mile” believer as the son of an elder (bishop or pastor). We went to church services every time the doors were open and only a serious illness was an acceptable excuse for missing any event sponsored, including socials and recreational activities. We were taught the Bible from an early age – we memorized key passages, noteworthy chapters, genealogies and trivia. I was baptized at 12, and re-baptized at 16 out of concerns that I might not have understood what I was doing at such a young age. I led worship, preached on the “teen nights”, knocked doors, had Bible studies with my friends and was the mainstay of my youth group. I attended church camp and eventually taught Bible and served as a counselor there for a number of years.

    Although I considered being a preacher for many years, by the time I graduated I had decided to pursue a “vocational ministry”; e.g., to go to a Christian college and prepare myself to evangelize while supporting myself. Again, in college I was a mainstay of the “good kids”, leading worships and nightly devotionals, Bible studies and taking every advanced Bible course I could work in around the requirements of my degree. I can count on one hand the number of times I missed daily chapel. At one point a group of like-minded friends and I had a desire to hold our own worship services in a smaller group in order to share a more intimate form of worship – but to avoid offending anyone, we held them an hour before worship times and then attended the regular services afterward. I was married soon after college to a “good Christian girl”, and we were both heavily involved in our local congregations. I began spending a lot of time on Internet message boards and newsgroups, witnessing to others on the newsgroups, answering questions and engaging in debate with unbelievers. I published a number of apologetic web pages that gained some notoriety, and was asked to be a guest on a conservative Christian radio show in California, where I answered questions and debated unbelievers.

    I wholeheartedly embraced the doctrine and practice of the church of Christ. My divergence from the churches of Christ actually came as a result of my attempt to better defend its doctrines. I had no major crises of faith, because I was living as a “good Christian”. Like most members, I didn’t spend a lot of time in evangelism initially, so I was never given an alternate possibility to many of the credos I had been taught all my life. When I did begin evangelizing, I tended to witness to people who had little exposure to the Bible and a lack of investment in the doctrines of their denomination. I didn’t spend time questioning methods or reasoning because it was presented as pure common sense; the natural outcome of logical reasoning. Our teaching consisted heavily of defeating “denominational doctrines”, so there was no encouragement to question my own. “The Truth” was laid out for me clearly, in outline form and with expected objections already addressed and finalized. It was a convincing presentation, and I never hesitated in my belief that I was in possession of the transmitted will of God.

    That changed when I began to get even more serious about my Christianity and decided it was time for me to take the gospel to the “lost” in a more aggressive environment than the “friendship evangelism” I had long practiced. I found very quickly that there were a host of others, equally indoctrinated in their own creeds, equally fluent in the Bible and just as convinced of their own validity. And disturbingly enough, with arguments that were as convincing as my own.

    It caused me to do some real reflection, engage in years of denial and eventually ended in a serious bout of study. It helped me learn the history of my denomination, the stated intents of its leaders. It caused me to examine the way I looked at scripture. And the interaction with other faith communities helped me to see the way my own operated. It wasn’t an easy task, and the conclusion wasn’t any easier to bear. I weighed my faith system in the balances, and it was found wanting.

    When I came to a point of divesting myself of my theological history and embracing the mainstream of evangelical Christianity, a new concern rose. If I was wrong about my denomination, might I also be wrong about Christianity as a whole? The research and meditation began again, and the same problems arose. There were the same appeals to authorities that the other side did not consider valid. The same duplicity in application of hermeneutic principles. The same inconsistencies, the same flawed logic. I pondered deeply over the apparent lack of direction in the New Testament scriptures to believers, the stark contrasts to the Old Testament, the inconsistencies, inaccuracies and dubious interpretations.

    My loss of faith in Christianity was the end result of this effort. It was not casually or even easily accepted. I spent many years in an effort to disprove what I’d discovered and many more years in abject denial. I spent hours in agonized prayer and meditation with a desperate plea to have my faith restored. At more than one point I reinvested myself in a number of pro-Christian books and materials in an effort to purge doubt from my mind. I reinvested myself in people of faith and in acts of service. I put my queries before hundreds of committed Christians in an effort to find the missing key; the solution to my faith dilemma. But my faith did not appear to be salvageable.

    I stand by my conclusions on the basis of four simple principles: a) There is no evidence for the existence of the supernatural b) the Bible does not appear to be an inspired document c) the nature of the Christian God is contradictory and nonsensical and d) Christianity simply makes more sense as an evolved belief system than it does as a divine revelation

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Hello All,

    Thank you Ebonmuse for opening the thread and thank you to all the responders. I can relate to several things which have been posted. If you are a latecomer, please contribute your story too, I will continue to read.

    Here is another question for the group:

    Did you have any “religious experiences”? For example: strong emotional experiences, “speaking in tongues”, altered states of consciousness.

    Thanks again,

    Matt

  • http://thegreenbelt.blogspot.com The Ridger

    My church didn’t go in much for that sort of thing. I remember when I was in Berlin, in the army, we had an RAF chaplain from the Church of England come down to do services for us few Episcopalians so we weren’t stuck with the “hymn sandwich” of the General Protestant service at the base, and someone asked if he’d preach on such things. He didn’t want to, because they weren’t in the tradition of the Church and were mostly “politics and wishful thinking”.

    However, I do still remember being confirmed. The bishop wasn’t tall or imposing, but he was a presence, especially fully robed, and he had a way of saying the words of the confirmation that resonated. I can still hear him saying, with his hand on my head, “unTIL she COME… UNTO … Thy everLASTing KINGdom!” I felt something then, something I thought of as Christ for a long time.

    Now? I expect it was theater, nerves, adolescence, and expectation. It certainly didn’t last, and it never recurred. But I’ve felt much the same thing in distinctly secular surroundings.

  • Way Moby Girl

    I was raised by my mother, who is a very devout Christian. She went to a Baptist church for a long time, and now goes to a Methodist church. When I was about 7 my parents divorced, and since my mother doesn’t drive, we weren’t able to go to church regularly, which she blames for my lack of faith. Could be–I have 3 siblings that are quite a bit older than me that were raised going to church and who are all still Christians. Maybe not getting immersed in that brainwashing process as a child helped me. Anyway, I was raised being taught the fundamentals of Christianity by my mom, all the bible stories and standard stuff. About my sophomore year in high school, I started questioning a lot of it. Particularly prayer–if God knows everything, why do we need to pray? If he loves everyone the same, what is the point of praying for others or asking them to pray for us? (My mom is big on prayer and prayer lists.) I started to look into other religions. It didn’t really occur to me at that time that religion as a whole was wrong, I just felt like I needed to find the right one. It was many years of research and inner search before I realized that all religions have some beliefs and practices that make sense, but they are all based on a pretty silly premise, and that belief in a higher power isn’t really necessary for life to make sense–actually, things start making a lot more sense when you stop clinging to mythology.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Just in case I didn’t make it clear, Matt R is the one who asked me to open this thread. I’m very pleasantly surprised by the number and depth of responses so far. If you have your own story to contribute and haven’t yet posted, please do.

  • Robert Madewell

    My father is an evangelical free pastor. I was raised very conservative and fundamentalist. I had creationism shoved down my throat. I even studied to be a minister. I am now 39 years old and have claimed to be atheist for only a year now. I do not think that I made the decision to be an atheist. You either believe or you don’t. It took alot of inward reflection on my part to realize that I just didn’t buy it anymore. I really did not believe, no matter how I tried. Man, did I try! I really did try to believe. I started going to a local “full-gospel” church. Never missed a sunday. I played the guitar for them. I listened to the sermons. I even talked to my pastors about my disbelief. They gave me a modified version of Pascal’s wager. There were no satisfactory answers. So recently, I decided to not fool myself anymore. Now I claim to be a “conservative atheist”. Like I said, there really was no decision to become an atheist. I just started calling my belief system what it really is. I don’t think anyone can just decide to believe or not to believe. If I could do that, I would still be a christian.

    Matt R, I never could get into “speaking in tongues”. I never felt sincere about. It always felt fake when I tried it.

  • Stargazer

    I was raised in a moderately religious Lutheran home. My mom was not very religious, but my dad was, as was his entire family, who lived nearby, so going to church every Sunday was a big deal. To make things even more interesting, when I started school, my parents wanted me in private school, but the only one in town was a Catholic school, so I got a Catholic religious education and Mass during the week, and a Lutheran Sunday school and church on the weekends. This massive amount of religious instruction did not serve to indoctrinate me, however; instead, it opened my eyes to the many contradictions between religions that claim to follow the same holy text and believe in the same God and Savior. My parents were always pushing me to question my religion teachers in school about why Catholic beliefs were different than Lutheran beliefs, which told me that neither side had the right story. I decided very early on that organized religions were all kind of silly, seeing as they all claimed to have the right answers but none of them could agree on anything as simple as (at least in the Christian ones) whether the bread and wine at communion actually turned into Jesus’s body and blood, whether it was symbolic, or whether it did only after it was ingested. However, it was a much more difficult thing to give up a strong belief in God.

    My interest in religion spiked a bit in high school when I became friends with some kids who went to the local Baptist church. After growing up in a very moderate religion, I was overwhelmed by the passion and energy I saw in their church services – the rock-style music, the fervent prayers, the exhortations to come to Jesus and be saved. However, I never really understood the “born-again” thing. I had always felt that being raised a Christian and believing in God was enough, and try as I might, I couldn’t ever feel Jesus speaking to me in my life the way that my friends said he should if I was truly “saved.” I began to ask myself if any of my prayers to God had ever really been answered, if I ever really felt comforted by the thought of God’s presence in my life, and the answer always came out “No.”

    Around that time, I also began to question the idea of Hell and eternal punishment. As a child, the concept of Hell had always been watered down for me, and I had truly thought that only the really, really bad people, like murders and Hitler, ever went to Hell. But as I got older, I began to realize that Christians were supposed to believe that anyone who wasn’t a Christian, whether they were a good person or not, went to Hell. I had friends and family members who weren’t Christian die, and one of my friends once told me that he had resigned himself to going to Hell because he wasn’t about to believe in something just to escape eternal punishment. These things devastated me, because I couldn’t imagine enjoying any kind of eternal afterlife if I couldn’t be with the people I cared about, especially since they would be burning in a lake of fire right below my feet.

    When I got to college, I stopped going to church altogether, and I met a lot of people who hadn’t been raised in religious homes. We often had rousing discussions about the problems with religion and the existence of God, and I could slowly feel my need to believe in God slipping away. The final nail in the coffin was when I watched Richard Dawkins’ documentary “The Root of All Evil.” His explanation about how amazingly complex the world is, and how the idea of a creator diminishes the majesty of it all, juxtaposed with the reality of religions today, was the final confirmation I needed to cast off my belief in God. I have since come to view the concept of an all-powerful being in a scientific manner: I am not going to say for certain that one doesn’t exist, but I believe that there is insufficient evidence to regard it as any sort of driving force in the creation of our world or in the maintainence of the universe. And it really was all that religious instruction that made it possible, because their many contradictions made me realize that God could not be the type of being that they said he was, otherwise, why would all the contradictions exist in the first place? The chance to finally have an answer, to finally be able to say that all the problems with religion arise because they were created by humans, and to finally be able to look at the world for the random and uncontrollable place that it really is, lifted a great weight off my shoulders, and I have been a happier and more secure person ever since.

    I just want to take a moment to thank both Ebonmuse and Matt R. for making this thread possible. This website has been a great help to me throughout my deconversion, and finally having a chance to tell my story has made me feel a lot better about the decisions I have made. I still have not been able to tell my family about my atheism, mainly because I am afraid of what they will say, but every day that I visit this site and read the great articles and discussions, I gain a little more confidence that I will know what to say and exactly how to say it when the time comes. Thanks again, and thanks for letting me ramble.

  • Karen

    I was a conservative evangelical for 30 years, from the time I accepted Jesus in a Presbyterian Sunday school class in third grade until I began re-examining everything in my life in my late 30s. I attended a bunch of churches, including Calvary Chapel, Bob Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral, Chuck Swindoll’s EV Free church and several other non-denominational institutions. All of them focused on literal interpretation of the bible and many of them emphasized End Times theology (the belief that the rapture of the saints and Jesus’ Second Coming is imminent).

    My deconversion was birthed in a midlife emotional crisis, but it outlasted that and eventually became an intellectual dilemma that lasted 5-6 years. As I researched, it became clearer and clearer to me that everything I’d been taught about religion, and accepted without question, was probably bogus. What kept me clinging to Christianity was those “spiritual experiences” that were mentioned: I had had several instances where I felt that god answered my prayers, filled me with the holy spirit and even given me a “miracle.”

    For several years I could not get past those experiences, which seemed to be “proof” of god working in my life. Two things changed my mind:

    1) I watched The God Who Wasn’t There and heard someone (Richard Carrier?) mention that if unverifiable spiritual experiences are true, all religions must be considered equally true. That’s because people from various religious backgrounds (Muslim, Jew, Hindu, etc) all claim to have had spiritual experiences. This really struck me, because I’d never considered it before. Why should MY spiritual experiences be “more true” than a sincere, believing Hindu? Could I be so arrogant as to conclude that only spiritual experiences involving Jesus were valid – and other spiritual experiences were actually encounters with Satan and his demons? No, after some weeks of struggle, I concluded I could not be that arrogant. Religion was either all true, or none of it true.

    2) I re-examined each spiritual experience I could remember specifically. There were plenty of “god-incidences” (i.e., I prayed for light traffic on the freeway and there were few cars on the road) but I realized that most of them could easily be ascribed to coincidence and confirmation bias. Over 30 years there were surprisingly few specific incidents that I didn’t feel I could explain in this manner. A couple were very dark, desperate times in my life when I cried out in prayer and felt comforted and peaceful afterwards. I even felt that god spoke to me personally, though I never heard an audible voice. Then my therapist at the time told me about something called “self-talk.” I realized that the calming effect of prayer could easily be this phenomenon, and that my subconscious was possibly supplying the “voice of god” in my head.

    I decided to put this theory to the test. On several occasions over a month or two, I prayed sincerely, asking god to speak to me unambiguously and clear up my confusion. I deliberately tried to keep my own subconscious mind quiet, so I wouldn’t be inadvertently supplying the “answers from god” myself. On each of these occasions, I got no response from god. Sadly, I eventually concluded that I’d been talking to myself, calming myself down, all those years.

    While deconversion is difficult and heartwrenching, it’s also freeing. The “sad” news about solving my own problems was also incredibly liberating! I had the power to overcome those “dark nights of the soul” inside of me all along. That’s empowering, and much of the joy that comes with throwing off the blinders of religion is similar. Good luck to you.

  • OMGF

    I’ve previously posted my story on this site, so I’ll simply link it.

  • jack

    Matt R,

    Did you have any “religious experiences”? For example: strong emotional experiences, “speaking in tongues”, altered states of consciousness.

    Yes I have, twice. Ironically, both of my “religious experiences” happened decades after my deconversion, and did not in the least affect my lack of belief in God. I am a neurobiologist by training, and I have reason to think that such experiences are completely natural phenomena of the brain, not the supernatural phenomena they seem to be. (Shameless plug: I’m writing a book on this subject, which, if I can get a publisher to take it seriously, might with some luck be in print about a year from now.)

    I think most devout religious believers come to their beliefs for emotional, not logical reasons. It often starts as indoctrination in childhood, but, even without that, some people feel an emotional need in adolescence or adulthood that belief in God seems to satisfy. These emotions are the substance of what most people describe as “religious experience”. What most interests me are what those emotions are and where they come from. My book is not the first attempt to answer those questions. If you can’t wait for mine, I recommend M.D. Faber’s “The Psychological Roots of Religious Belief” and Lee Kirkpatrick’s “Attachment, evolution, and the psychology of religion”. I think I have something interesting to add to their ideas, but theirs are in print :)

    I posted part of my own deconversion story in another thread. At the risk of some redundancy, I’ll expand on it here.

    My mother was Catholic, my father protestant. My mother took my 3 siblings to the Catholic church, while my father took me to his church. Their thinking was this: for my mom to be a good Catholic in a mixed marriage, she had to raise all the kids as Catholics. But to spare my dad from having to go to his church alone, they would bend that rule and let him have one kid to raise as a protestant (me).

    As a child, I probably felt closest to my dad when we were going to or from church together, since I had his undivided attention then. I admired him greatly and believed everything he told me.

    In high school I started to realize that there were other religions in the world, that they were, for the most part, mutually contradictory, and that they could not all possibly be true. The concept of an omniscient, omnipotent and all-loving God seemed in stark conflict with reality as I saw it, mainly because of all the meaningless suffering in the world.

    When I was almost 16, I had ceased to believe Christianity was true. I was not quite an atheist yet, although within another year I would be. I felt that my church attendance was an act of dishonesty and hypocrisy, a feeling I now attribute, ironically, to the example my father set as a man of integrity. With some trepidation I decided to tell my parents I would not be going to church anymore.

    My trepidation was justified. They told me I was too young to make that decision, and that they would force me to go to church. I told them that they would have to chain me to the pew. They insulted my intelligence, and it became ugly and stressful for all concerned. They never kicked me out of the house, though, and aside from our conflict over religion, they were good and decent parents. Eventually we reached a state of peaceful coexistence by just avoiding the subject. At his most magnanimous, my dad even went so far as to say, “you gave Christianity a fair chance, but it just didn’t work for you.”

    My atheism has been a sore spot between me and my parents ever since. They never really accepted it, and have become less magnanimous about it as they approach senility (as I discuss in the other thread).

    But aside from that unpleasantness, my life without belief has been gloriously better than it was before my deconversion. I was always interested in science, even as a believing child. Now I embrace it fully as my complete world view. Science opens up marvelous vistas of beauty and wonder that the devout avoid, deny or distort in their desperate efforts to protect their cherished beliefs from the relentless erosion caused by reason and evidence. It is truly sad just how much of the natural world they are missing or fail to appreciate.

    I could go on and on about the joys of atheism, but you can read that in the other posts here and in Ebon’s collection of links to deconversion stories under EbonMusings.org. Of course, it is not all peaches and cream. You must adjust to the idea of there being no god who loves and protects you. But neither must you tremble in fear of him, struggling to guess what it is he expects of you, wondering what sin you committed to deserve the bad things that happen to you, crying out in despair for your prayers to be answered when they usually seem to be ignored.

    Best of all, you get to live your life in honesty and integrity.

  • Luke

    Matt, thanks for the idea of this post, and Ebon, thanks for allowing it – I’m glad to have been able to contribute.

    As to an answer to your second question, absolutely Matt. While having never spoken in tongues, I felt I was ‘filled with the spirit’ at many times (my parents attended an Assembley of God church for a short while – one of the tenets being that you have to speak in tongues to show you were baptized in the spirit – an odd belief since Paul (I think it was) said that not everyone would recieve a specific “gift” and that you shouldn’t speak in tongues if there is not an “interpreter” present since it is pointless if you can’t be understood….sorry, another tangent!)

    Looking back I often think about the situations I was in surrounding those feelings. More often then not, they were situations in which there was alot of emotion and possibly even semi-hypnotic states. For example, when I felt I was being moved by the spirit, it was more often than not during a worship service for example, a situation where the lights are maybe a little bit lower, you are closing your eyes and focusing on the music which is designed to bring up certain emotions. I have found I can mimic those states by putting in an “emotional” song that is secular or a song that has lots of emotional memories attached to it (the song I listened to with a girlfriend or one I listened to driving back from my grandfathers funeral or a friends funeral for example – in case you can’t tell, I love good music and it holds a strong place in my life) and then closing my eyes and singing along to the music, trying to focus on the music like I did when I was worshipping and viola, pretty much the EXACT same feelings! – Pick any Counting Crows song from “August and Everything After” to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

    I distinctly remember the moment when I started to question people who have had these experiences and my own experiences also. As I stated in my previous post, my parents worked with Youth With a Mission, and I went on multiple “teen” ministry trips. These month long trips had two weeks of “training” and “evangelizing” to the actual students, followed by a week or two of a mission trip to somewhere like Mexico or places in the U.S.

    In one of these, the speaker (who also happened to be a close personal friend of my parents, and his son and I were best friends growing up) spoke on the “Suffering of Christ” – about an hour long, well prepared speech on the suffering that Jesus had gone through on the cross. It is amazing, looking back now, how well that speech was crafted. I don’t think it was purposely made to put most of the students in a semi-hypnotic state, but I can see how it definately had that effect. The lights in the room were generally low, and the way that he spoke, the rising and falling of his voice at key points in his speech, where he added emphasis and where he put moments of silence after key points (the spear piercing his side) – you could almost feel as if you were there, watching it all unfold!

    It was after this that he invited people to come to the front so he could pray for you to be baptized in the spirit – this usually involved people lining up at the front (if you didn’t go up there, you felt almost like an outsider), and him praying quietly for you. The whole atmosphere was very peaceful, when he prayed he “spoke in tongues”, but he wasn’t shouting or screaming like you see many tv preachers do, it was more private and intimate on an individual basis, and he moved to each individual person, putting his hands on their head (and sometimes whispering in their ear) and eventually, they would fall backwards, appearing to be in a state of almost pure ecstasy.

    Well he eventually got to me and at that point I had told myself over and over that I would not fall down on my own, that it wouldn’t be an act, that if I was baptized in the spirit the spirit would make me fall over. After a good five minutes of him praying for me and speaking in tongues for me, I still was standing and then he leaned in and whispered, just loud enough for me… “Luke, just relax and fall backwards, and feel his presence wash over you…” Well I fell back, but I wound up spending the whole time fighting with my natural inclination to question and examine what just happened, and wanting to actually feel something and trying my damndest to “let the spirit wash over me” like he said (but never happened). While I didn’t “deconvert” till much later, that moment had a profound effect on how I looked at spiritual experiences. I felt entirely betrayed that night, even more so because this was a close family friend.

    I also remember watching a documentary on “faith healing” where they followed the likes of Benny Hinn and other “televangelist” faith healers, and how the whole services were designed to put people into these semi-hypnotic states. When someone with back problems comes to the stage or someone on crutches, their mind basically overpowers their body and while their body is sending the signals of pain, your mind is blocking these signals – which is NOT good.

    I remember one of the stories about someone who was “healed” only to die later because of the toll their body took when they were being told to “stand up” and do this or that by the faith healer – their body was in pain and they would have never been able to do this naturally, but because their mind was blocking the signals of pain in this semi-hypnotic state they were able to stand up and walk around. They DIED because they were “healed” and paraded around all to make this charlatan look better!! One of the worst parts about this sort of thing? The faith healers don’t care!!! They don’t follow up with people they have healed (as the documentary did – it is one of the HBO documentaries that they used to have so often, I wish I could remember the name, I would be happy to do some research if someone would like me to find out exactly)! They swindle people out of their money, trick them and then move on! I some times expect to hear “do you want fries with that” as they fill peoples “orders” and then move them out the door only to forget about them or not care what happens to these poor folks they have swindled. (I’m fairly emotional about this “faith healer” subject in case you can’t tell! As a side note – I don’t equate these fakes with christianity but am merely using this as example of the power of the mind)

    All that said, I gotta run, sorry it is so long, just remember one thing:

    The mind is an awsome and amazing thing, and what it can make you believe in certain situations compared with what is actually real…well it is outstanding, and sometimes scary! If intelligent people can genuinely believe that things are happening that are not and people are there that are not (schizophrenia a la the brilliant John Forbes Nash) can the mind not lead someone into thinking they had some sort of genuine religious experience?

    -Luke

  • http://verwide.net/blog/ Moody834

    Not surprisingly, I see a lot of my own story in those posted above. When the scales are lifted from one’s eyes, only willful self-delusion will keep one blind. For a long time, I tried to keep my eyes close.

    I was born as a human being and then raised as a Roman Catholic. My church was a college town church in the ’70s; we had no choir, we had long-haired young folks singing folk for “God”. There was no reason for me not to take at face value what my parents taught me. The people were friendly, the lessons all about love — “God’s” toward us, our toward “God”, ours for everyone, … you get the picture. Catechism was pretty much a free-form affair, or so I remember it now, all these decades later. When the very friendly caretaker of the church grounds died (I had to have been around seven years old), I went to his funeral, saw him in his casket, mourned his death. He looked peaceful in his casket; a man of “God” gone “home”. I saw everything through the lenses of my religion. And yet…

    As I got older, I started to ask all the questions you’d expect a kid to ask. E.g., “If God is all-loving and all-forgiving, why does He allow evil?” More often than not, there was no good answer. Often, the answer was basically that “God works in mysterious ways”. Now, as a kid I certainly had a high IQ (fwiw). I read at a college level when I was in the third grade of elementary school. I grew up with books. So, I started to seriously wonder why it was that the adults could not give me direct answers to my innocent queries. My faith began to feel less secure. I asked “God” for personal signs, but they never seemed to manifest. I was told to take on faith — to “just believe” — the story of Doubting Thomas; to take it as a proxy for my own experience. My credulousness was expected. But as I began to approach adolescence, my questions became more pointed, my skeptical mindset more obvious. My father revealed himself to be more a Catholic out of sentimentality than belief; in truth, he seemed a disheartened agnostic to me. My mother, who converted from her Seventh Day Adventist faith to my father’s, just wanted to have peace in her home, and she thought religion was needed for that. My father avoided or repulsed conversations with me when the topic of theology/religion/faith came up. My mother tried to woo me with more and more vague metaphysical answers that failed to move me. At some point, I stopped going to church.

    And then my father enrolled me in a Roman Catholic High School for boys. Let me make something clear at this point: 1) I was a highly sensitive child with undiagnosed ADD (not ADHD), 2) I was very smart but unsocialized due to a shyness that had been developing over the years, 3) I was slight in build and effectively girlish in temperament. So, the boys were cruel to me. And the priests were cruel to me (as to other ‘queer’ boys). When the abuse got bad enough, I went to the principal of the school, who happened to be the priest at my parents’ church. I laid out the facts, told him what was happening, told him about my lying on the floor with horrid stomach cramps every morning because I feared the other kids and my teachers. I was sobbing, breaking down (quite literally, I was having a nervous breakdown), filled with pain and in dire need of some understanding, some kindness, some of “God’s” love. After I had said my piece, the priest leaned forward, actually steepled his fingers, and asked rhetorically, “Have you ever thought that maybe God is punishing you for your sins?”.

    Years passed. Bad things happened. For a long time, I did in fact believe that “God” was real, and “He” was cruel, spiteful, hateful, jealous, and a bully. Sometimes I believed that I must be evil or too flawed for “God”; I thought it was my fault that I was so miserable.

    As time passed, I got into all manner of alternative woo-woo stuff. Some of it, however flawed, began to answer old questions for me. My education began to fill itself out, and I learned more and more about the questionable history of the Bible, the roots of the Christ figure (Dionysus, Adonis, etc.), the way the Church had spread out and conquered by force. And the more I learned, the more I saw clearly that there was only one thing behind it all: humankind; not “God”. Wherever I looked, I saw the face of humanity, of human beings, limited in time and space, locked into their epochs and ineluctable limitations. Wherever the light of science, of technology, of discovery, of growth penetrated — there was where the ignorance and superstition was scattered and shown for what it was.

    One day it became a simple fact for me: there is no “God”; nor “gods”, “spirits”, “ghosts”, “demons”, etc. The world is a breathtakingly beautiful place as it is, even as it can be a devastatingly uncaring place. The love I have now in my life is real, messy, genuine, a work-in-process, irreplaceable and special in every way. My life is flawed and difficult to deal with at times. It is a human life. I value it. I value the lives of others. How could I not, when I know what mine is worth? Without “God”, without the sometimes clever, sometimes foolish interpretations of “God’s Word”, I have become a far more ethically conscious person, and wholly responsible for my choices in a way completely distinct from those who feel the final arbiter and maintainer of justice and morality laid out “His” rules in this or that so-called “holy text” — typically with all manner of faulty logic, questionable history, dubious quality, and all-too-human myopia.

    What is beautiful in religion is human, what is wrong with religion is human, what is true and false in religion is, in the end, human.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    They don’t follow up with people they have healed (as the documentary did – it is one of the HBO documentaries that they used to have so often, I wish I could remember the name, I would be happy to do some research if someone would like me to find out exactly)!

    Luke, I believe the documentary you’re referring to is “A Question of Miracles”, which I mentioned in my post on faith healing.

  • RRM

    I barely remember going to church as a family before my parents divorced. After that, my Dad was Methodist, my Mom (and her husband) were Baptist. I went to a Baptist private school for several years–with regular chapel services during school hours–including regular doses of Vacation Bible School in the summer.

    I spent most of my childhood with a vague religious fear that I was doomed to spend eternity suffering in Hell because I had never experienced any sort of religious feeling at all–no presence of God in my heart, no guidance, no love, no nothing.

    Being good at school in general and science in particular, I never doubted evolution or astronomy or cosmology, despite contradictions with the literal word of the Bible. Once the contradictions became apparent as such, I took the Bible stories more as metaphors. “Seven days” was the 4+ billion year age of the solar system; God “created” man by subtly guiding evolution; etc.

    I asked God to enter my heart and save my soul several times, but nothing noticeable ever happened, and I never had the conviction that I had actually been saved, touched by God, or anything else.

    At about 10, my Mom took me aside one day and told me she didn’t believe in God, and asked my if I did. I was shocked and horrified, but I said, “yes.” She then said that she did, too, but she was just testing me, because my step-father thought maybe I didn’t. I’m not sure what he would have done to me if I’d said, “no.” I think it would have been very bad, though, because he exemplified the worst of Christian hypocrisy–he had a bad case of holier-than-thou, was convinced he was saved no matter what he did, and sang extra loudly on Sunday; he was also mean-spirited, cruel, petty, abusive, unfair, and generally a good example of “evil.”

    I stopped going to church because of the hypocrisy–too many mean, judgmental old men who were bad 6 days a week going to church to be “good” and make up for it on the seventh. I probably still believed in God, and Jesus, in that not-so-superstitious non-Catholic way.

    High school, college, real life.. I mostly didn’t think about religion. When I did, Pascal’s Wager almost made sense to me, but only if you were desperate or stupid, because an omniscient deity seemed unlikely to find your schemingly calculated “belief” sincere enough to let you into heaven.

    After that I was a generally skeptical apatheist–I generally didn’t care about religion or spend much time thinking about it. I still had bouts of irrational, emotional fear–the threat of Hell, inculcated in a child, is a very powerful thing (and should probably count as child abuse). And the sheer volume of effort, pain, and suffering in the name of religion and “truth”-seeking made me feel (or at least want to feel) that there ought to be something to it.

    Over the last couple of years, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, James Randi, Dan Barker, and Penn & Teller have given me the moral courage to upgrade my apatheism and make my atheism explicit, at least to myself. I’ve also encouraged my children’s natural skepticism, gotten them to realize that the idea of gods is on par with the idea of Santa Claus. Though I’ve warned them never to discuss religion with anyone else–the lesson of my step-father’s attitudes has never left me.

    I can’t come out to my family, because–after my initial bout of militant anger–I’ve settled back into my skeptical apatheism and I fear ruining my relationships with my family (or even inducing a heart attack or two) too much to risk it.

    I won’t deny my skepticism (I prefer to avoid the term “atheist” with believers just because of the negative connotations it carries), but I don’t bring it up in my personal life unless I have to.

    Reading Daylight Atheism, Dangerous Intersection, Randi’s weekly SWIFT newsletter, and watching Penn & Teller’s Bullshit, DVDs of previous years’ Amaz!ng Meetings, The God Who Wasn’t There, and finding random other videos and blogs on the web, I’ve become very comfortable in my non-belief.

    I still will admit to this tiny, irrational voice in my head saying, “You aren’t wrong, but if you are, and there is a Hell, and you go there, it’s going to suck for a very long time.” I know it isn’t true, with the same level of conviction that I know that the Four-Color map theorem is true, the heliocentric model of the solar system is true, and that bubble sort is O(n^2), but it nags at me–less and less every year, though. I’m glad that my kids won’t have to expend even the slightest effort to ignore a stupid voice like that.

  • Petrucio

    I was raised as a Luteran, but my mother has catholic but actually called herself a Spiritist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritism – pretty big here in Brazil, largest proportion and number of followers in the word)

    In a sense, all this religion around me probably hasted my skepticism. At about 16, I was a believer, but I felt I knew little about that which I should believe. Moses, Jesus, God, Abraham, Noah. I always had thirst for knowledge, and there were a lot of names and I thought I should know more about them, so the logical step would be to read the bible.

    It was a painfull and slow reading, I didn’t like the style of writing at all, but I pushed on. The first few books where more than enough to show me that this book was written by humans, and with no divine guidance whatsoever, and thus was irrelevant to my search for more knowledge of god.

    With that splinter in my head, I then realized that the organized religions apparently did more harm then good (Inquisition, anti-Condom, Cruzades, Galilei and all that) so if there was a god, it probably would not want to be seen with these guys, so I considered organized religion irrelevant too. But I was still a believer.

    I then obvioully stopped going to church. My parents were OK with it, since the reasons I gave them seemed inescapable, and I probably knew more about the Bible and their religion then themselves. But I still believed in a god. I was a deist. But this was before the internet, and I didn’t even know such a word existed.

    I then studied Electronics, and then Computer Science. My hunger for knowledge and my access to the internet showed me that Science gave us answers that not only seemed much more plausible, they were more beautifull than the best tales of the most creative mind could ever think off. I was an agnostic.
    (On this subject, I recommend you watch Cosmos, Carl Sagan, 1980)

    I realized that one day people thought a lighting strike was god’s wrath, but only because they didn’t know what it was. It than became obvious that the questions of the universe, life, and everything, did not need a god to be answered. The fact that we don’t yet know the answers to some of these questions was what held my belief in a god for so long. But like lighting, I figured that just because we don’t know them, doesn’t mean the answer was god.

    The answer could be 42. I then realized that 42 and god had about the same amount of probability of beeing true. I was an atheist.

  • Luke

    Luke, I believe the documentary you’re referring to is “A Question of Miracles”, which I mentioned in my post on faith healing.

    Yep, that is exactly it. Good post by the way (I’m still new to the site, so I am still browsing and reading your articles, but I am enjoying it immensely!)

    Thanks for the information!

  • Petrucio

    About religious experiences, I had 2 very intense “supernatural” experiences.

    The first happened when I was a believer. A maid was working at the appartment and tryed to jump off the balcony, but passed out and collaped with half her body inside and half outside. I was alone at home, and dragged her in, and called the neighboors for help.

    When she woke up, she wanted to jump out the window, and talked with an almost male voice and had a lot of strenght. Scary stuff.

    We then learned she had been drinking and drugging the night before. I think that experience came just from the drugs and her head, not anything demonic or supernatural.

    The other “supernatural” experience was a sleep paralisys (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_paralysis). Luckylly, by my curiosity, I already knew what it was before it happened; when I woke up, I could see the room and I knew I was fully awake, but could not move a muscle, and I saw a zombie on top of my chest, looking at me.

    This is one of the most scary situations you can find yourself in. Luckylly for me again, I like to be scared by stuff I know to be false (horror movies and stuff), so I just stood there and tryed to enjoy my hallucination, but even then it got too scary and I tryed to break it.

    But if you don’t know what that is and are religious (and maybe even if you aren’t), that experience would surelly be marked on you as evidence of “something else”. But it’s simply a usefull function we evolved to avoid hurting ourselves in our sleep, that sometimes fails to shutdown on awakening.

  • http://salemmassblog.blogspot.com/ David Moisan

    I haven’t been a very active atheist recently, but I remembered one of my old posts from alt.atheism that sums up how and why I became an atheist. It’s a response to a question I used to get a lot about bad things happening to non-believers. I’m an ex-Catholic and have been an atheist for over 12 years.

    **************************************************************************­**
    >#187. How do you answer theists who say, “Someday something
    >bad will happen to you and you’ll find/pray to God.”?
    >**************************************************************************­**

    I suggested this question to Michele because I have a born-again
    relative who seems to be fond of this question. He’s never asked me
    this *directly*, but I’ve often heard him and his spouse talking about
    non-churchgoers, saying things like “They don’t really follow God.
    Someday, something bad will happen and they’ll *have* to pray!” That
    old phrase about small minds discussing people comes to mind here.

    I have had Bad Experiences in my life. I lost three of my family
    members, my mom, my sister and my brother-in-law, in the space of 7
    years, one to a long illness, two to cancer. I was inconsolable.
    None of the usual Christian bromides (“She’s in a better place!”, “God
    does this for a reason.”) helped at all. I attribute my clinical
    depression in part to those events.

    A month before Mom died, she contracted a hip infection and was in
    excrucriating pain. I learned a new definition of bravery: Imagine
    going up to the door of the ward and hearing someone moaning in pain.
    It’s Mom. Bravery is taking a deep breath and going in regardless.

    During the three years my Mom was sick, I went to the hospital often
    every day, and there were lots of times like that one when I was
    really scared, talking to my Mom one moment, then taking the trip into
    Boston to find her sick in intensive care.

    I lost any faith I ever had in God. The whole time, I wished real
    hard for my mom to recover, but it didn’t happen. I was devastated.

    I realized then that when some theists say, “Pray to God when you face
    illness”, the corollaries are, “If you’re sick, you or your family
    didn’t pray enough!” or “God is giving you that sickness to teach you
    a lesson!”

    My mom cared for over 400 foster children. She was the kindest, most
    patient (and yet most feisty) person I’ve ever known.

    NO WAY IN HELL can I believe in a cosmology that claims she got sick
    and died because she didn’t worship a God deeply enough. (Making
    matters worse, she was a Catholic, and we know what born-agains think
    of them!)

    The best times of her life are not in eternity, not in Heaven, but in
    the times she spent raising me, my brother and the 398 other foster
    children in her care. The best times were Mom spending time with her
    only daughter (my foster-sister, also deceased), who was close enough
    to be her sister. The best times were the years I spent with Mom when
    I was “grown-up”, being a *friend* to her in addition to being a son.

    They aren’t here.

    So what would I say to a theist?

    I can only say this: “I don’t know what I would do if I got seriously
    ill. But I *do* know that I will do the right thing for me when that
    happen, and it will not include prayer. If you’re going to wish me
    harm for not following God, I suggest looking in the mirror to locate
    the sinner.”

  • wwyoud

    Interesting to read of so many former fundamentalists’ stories! Mine isn’t nearly so exciting. My parents were Presbyterian when they met, but because my father was divorced,the church refused to marry them. They weren’t fundies before that, but afterward they were more concerned about the church community than the actual dogma. They joined a Southern Baptist church, and I was raised in that denomination.

    Church was just church; no one got worked up over the scriptures except the preacher, and no one bothered to read anything beyond what the Sunday School lessons or preacher asked us to; we took the offered analysis at face value, and there was never a real different opinion available – people attended a variety of protestant churches, but usually because of personal or political differences among members, not so much because of the dogma. As far as I know, I think we all agreed on the major, and most of the minor, views of the bible.

    About the time I turned 13, we got a new youth minister who later became our church preacher; a nice young man who spoke of the love of Jesus and how to apply that to our lives. I felt called to be baptized at 13 and was happily active in the church, but never with the fire of fundie. The preacher went to the Seminary school for his degree and was gone for a little over two years. He came back to guest-preach one day; it was all hellfire and brimstone, we deserve hell but if you believe…!! Well, needless to say I was crushed, and quickly pulled away from the church. I think my parents figured it was just a phase; I still went on Sunday mornings, half-hoping for something to hit me, but no good.

    Since then, I’ve looked everywhere – other protestant versions, catholic, wiccan, native american, generic new age with the crystals and all – finally landing on buddhism. Now, I call myself an apathetic agnostic, only because it’s hard to disprove something if you can’t get outside the fishbowl to observe. And I just don’t care if there is a god or not; it doesn’t affect my life either way.

  • http://thestoneoftear.blogspot.com Callandor

    Not much of a story for me.

    I was raised Catholic, though to such a watered down degree that I thought I was a Lutheran up until 2 years ago. Basically, I was required to go to church on mostly the big two days: Easter and Christmas. Other than that, it was roughly 3 years of gradually less and less intermittent going except for those days which were really just forced occasions to go. That’s what church was to me anyway: an occasion where I was forced to sit in a boring place and tune out.

    The “big moment” came really when my mom was driving us all to a store for Christmas shopping. I was 8 or 9, and the conversation turned to what I wanted to get. I said that “I hope Santa gets me _____.” My brother then said to the effect, “I hope mom can afford that.” My mom tried to shush him, but it a quick collapse. Easy implication: mom buys the gifts, and there’s no Santa. If there’s no Santa, there’s no god.

    Hardly the most compelling argument (again, 8 or 9 here!), but it attacks the main cause for religious belief all the same: faith. Faith is completely useless and just wishful thinking gone haywire.

    I’d consider myself an atheist long before that, really, since I was never truly a Christian at any point (at most some deistic “ok, god is out there somewhere, what’s for dinner?” type of way), but it really was a quick collapse of whatever was there to atheism.

  • Simeon Kee

    My personal story of deconversion from Christian fundamentalism is mirrored by many others here. It was basically an intellectual journey that was ignited by a deeply emotional betrayal from a “man of God” that was very close to me.

    That was about five years ago and upon reflection, things had started to fall apart before they had gained emotional poignancy. But I had buried them in the cause of maintaining cognitive consonance as I am sure many believers do daily. What follows are the relevant portions to a public forum of an undelivered letter that I have penned to give to family members who might need a detailed description:

    “As the general facts that are available and known pertaining to my teen and preteen years will show [7 years], I was a sincere believer in the religion of Christianity, or more specifically the fundamentalist, literal Bible brand of Christianity that is most prevalent in Appalachia.

    The first doubts reached my mind when I was seventeen and at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes adventure camp that was [my local church’s] gift to me. The fakeness of these “spiritual leaders” was apparent to me from our first prayer meeting. It seemed ridiculous and silly to me to “pray” for something as meaningless as performance in a sport. Like the Almighty Creator of the Universe cares about Joe Blow’s free-throw percentage – give me a break.

    I buried these doubts and went on in my apparent walk with Christ. At nineteen or so, I started to realize the functional nature that supernatural concepts served. I realized that all forms of afterlife beliefs were construed to 1) satisfy basic animal survival instinct and 2) in negative versions of an afterlife, to satisfy human ethical cravings for justice.

    Again, I buried these doubts and went on for about another year. Sometime, when I was about twenty, I had a spiritual crisis for I realized that using the definition of Christianity that I was raised on, or more accurately indoctrinated with, I was not “right with God.” I tackled the situation from an intellectual standpoint with as much ferocity as I could muster. I was going to decide once and for all the truth of Christianity.

    My reasoning was that since my quest for God was sincere, He would lead me to the truth. First stop on the library list: evolution and creation.

    I read books from both camps with an open mind, but slowly and surely, the more reasoned, rational, and evidential arguments offered by evolutionary science won.

    For as long as I can remember, I have always been a keen judge of a person’s intelligence, and as much as I wanted to believe in a literal creation that the Bible told me of, all the authors that wrote on such matters revealed themselves to me as less intelligent and more illogical than the authors of mainstream science who wrote of evolution.

    […]

    Some people have brought it to my attention that they think answered prayers are “proof” of God’s existence; ergo meaning that the particular god of their religious tradition is real and the truth.

    Years ago when I was a born again believer, I prayed constantly and consistently. At times I would pray before a hard test, before an anxiety producing situation, or I would offer a small utterance to God when my truck would not start – the normal kind of things that prayers are spoken and thought for. There were many times that I was certain that I had made that A on a test because God had helped me focus, or that I didn’t falter speaking in front of class because He had helped me, or that my truck only started because of some small invisible divine spark. That’s proof enough isn’t it? Surely God exists because God helped me through these things, right?

    Obviously now as an atheist I do not pray and the difference is nil. What accounts for this? Why do so many people think God is a telepath? Why did I think God heard and answered my prayers?

    As I realize now, and as many atheist authors have pointed out, prayer is an overt manifestation of human beings’ persistent perceptual bias of selective observation. We “count the hits and ignore the misses.” Psychological literature calls it “confirmation bias.”

    When I was a Christian, when good things would happen that I had prayed for and wanted, I classified that as an answered prayer. When things didn’t happen the way that I wanted and had asked God about, well, that must just be His will or He is testing me.

    What I know now is that I was merely misperceiving purely random and natural events. Both good things and bad things happen to me now as an atheist at exactly the same rate as they happened to me as a born-again. Prayer was (and is) simply an illusory perceptual lens with which to view events.

    [...]

    These things being said, I do understand the psychological roots of the prayer motivation. There are things as biological creatures that we simply cannot control. Prayer is the attempt to control events and circumstances that are otherwise out of our hands.

    When someone says to me that they will pray for my safety or that they will pray for my happiness, etc, I really do appreciate their motivation. The fact that prayer is empirically vacuous and demonstrably ineffective in no way demeans the sincere motivation of the person that believes in and offers the prayer. That person, although they couch the wish in superfluous language, still actually means well and I sincerely do appreciate such sentiment, although I harbor no delusions as to the effectiveness.

  • Ruana

    It was history, really.

    I was raised in a Christian household, and took for granted that what I was taught on most Sundays was true. However, from quite early on I loved reading the myths and legends of other cultures, and after a while it occurred to me that there were (or had been) people who believed in Ra, Odin and Jupiter just as sincerely as I believed in the Christian God, and for much the same reasons. So, when I was in my mid-teens, I resolved to take a step back from the religion with which I’d been brought up, and see whether there was any objective reason to believe in the Christian God. Nothing presented itself; and it seemed to me that, if he really did exist, he’d have done something to prevent this sheep leaving the fold.

    The final nail in the coffin came with my degree-level historical studies, which showed me that the Christianity I’d believed in was the outcome of two thousand years of factionalism and theological hair-splitting. I learned about some of the doctrinal disputes in its early history, and the compromises made with paganism in order to fit in. And learning about the Reformation, I was struck by the complete absence of any real way of finally resolving the disputes short of God appearing in person. I could not fathom how a loving deity would allow such slaughter in its name.

    Since becoming an atheist, I’ve done more reading about how a savage tribal deity became the compassionate being I grew up praying to, and it’s cemented my decision.

    The church didn’t go in for Young Earth Creationism, so the evolution debate was never an issue.

  • http://iammine1.blogspot.com I Am Mine

    I grew up in a Catholic family with a devout born again mother. I went to church every week and after a summer Bible camp I attended in 7th grade, considered myself born-again.

    After college, I became fascinated with astronomy, primarily with the discoveries of new planets. As a hobby, I started studying the universe, black holes, supernovas, etc. Then intelligent design and creationism started rearing it’s ugly head. At the time, I unknowingly was in the “Old Earth Creationism” camp, thinking that the universe was set into motion by God at the Big Bang.

    I wanted to clarify to myself what I believed about the creation of the universe, so I read the Bible, and read more science. It’s then that I realized what a piece of junk the Bible is. I also learned that everything I though I knew about my faith was completely wrong.

    I seemed to be hit with this revelation from several other angles at the same time.

  • andrea

    I’m first wondering how many of the people who were Christians for 10+ years will be summarily ignored by the person requesting this thread for not being “real” Christians. Oh well, here’s to hoping for a honest inquiry.

    I was raised Presbyterian in a nice rural church. Taught Bible School, sang in the choir, nearly caught myself on fire lighting the advent wreath , my folks were in charge of the youth group for a while, etc. Watched my church disintergrate when one women said that God had told her, in her garden, that a new church was needed. The old one was perfectly fine. The church promptly split into factions. I, being in my early teens, wondered what God was doing this for because my parents were caught in the middle. My parents because they were self-employed and did work for everyone in the community so they couldn’t take sides even though evryone wanted them to. I resisted going to church since it was so unpleasant. I ended up reading the entire bible, mostly becasue my father told me that he didn’t think I could, even though I’ve read most everything else in the house, including the World Book set. It also seemed like a good idea because maybe I would understand what was happending at church better. Do you know that actually reading the Bible is one of the most common reasons I’ve found for people becoming atheists? I read about the genocide, about the unbelievable stupidity and cruelty of drowning everyone, I saw all of the contradictions, more divine stupidity illustrated in the story about Babel and Sodom and Gomorrah, the misogyny of the bible and the hatred shown toward those who don’t agree with believers, etc. This combined with the actions of God and “good Christians” in regards to my church, made me realize that it is all garbage. I prayed and prayed for God to help me to understand but only silence answered. In my 20s I did try other religions, but they are all the same, all talk and no evidence.

  • mackrelmint

    Hi Matt, it’s hard to concisely list all the reasons I had for deconverting when each one could take up pages and pages, as Ebon has so aptly shown. My story here is longer than I’d like for a comment but shorter than necessary to really describe what I experienced. Please feel free to ask for elaboration regarding my spiritual experiences if you like.

    I was “born again” as a child of about 7 or 8 years old (with occasional reconversions, just in case it didn’t stick the first time) and I grew up to be an enthusiastic Christian who had been raised in a Christian home by devout parents (who also founded and pastored our church, which was nondenominational with a Pentecostal-type flare).

    I did have spiritual experiences, most of which were invariably tied to highly emotional states of mind and I realize now, that they were also tied to my desire for love and acceptance at a time when I had no close friends and had had a particularly painful high school experience that stuck with me for years afterwards. As described by other posters already here, these spiritual experiences were also often in church meetings involving a particular style of preaching, usually spoken with quiet intensity that usually addressed something that I felt I was struggling with personally (usually not feeling close enough to God, or wanting to feel his presence or needing his direction, etc), or during worship time when I actively (and sometimes literally) cried out to God for his love, comfort, direction, and also to praise him for all the wonderful qualities I believed he had as the Bible instructed me to do.
    I spoke in tongues, sometimes imagined I’d felt God’s presence, fell down during laying on of hands (this was always either an active decision or helped with a little push to the forehead), believed I had accurate “words of knowledge” from God occasionally when praying for others and even believed that I’d been healed (a week after being prayed for and for a condition that I learned a decade later, often resolves itself suddenly, no prayer required). A few times I had perfect strangers pray for me about very specific things that they couldn’t have known about me, but looking back now, I know they were actually pretty common problems for someone my age and I also ignored the (wrong) “words of knowledge” given by other people also purporting to have heard from God about me.

    Still a devout Christian, I began an undergraduate degree in biology in my early twenties and at about the same time my older brother, who had also been a devout Christian, began to question his own faith. I had to ask him to stop telling me about everything that he was learning as I didn’t know how to respond and had no explanation or justification but knowing that he had found reason to disbelieve woke me up a bit. Years later in my late twenties, in spite of knowing that my brother’s faith had been so shaken by his questioning of it, I was finally ready to consider that as I faithful Christian, I should be able to answer such questions. I thought it only right that if the Bible was true and God and Christ were indeed who I’d been taught to believe they were, that these beliefs should stand up and be shown to be true.

    With the objective of strengthening my faith, I allowed myself to ask questions I’d never asked before and to warily include evidence from secular sources. I realized how biased and false most of the things I’d believed about the world as told by creationists were and I finally allowed myself to look at the evidence. I learned that evolution is astoundingly supported by evidence from all over the world in multiple fields of study, that evidence overwhelmingly shows that the earth is extremely old and that there was and never could have been a global flood as described in the Genesis account.

    I also began to read the Bible more than I ever had before and began to see many internal errors and inconsistencies for the first time and I began to realize why believers and apologists often responded to many questions not with satisfactory answers but by implying that the questioner’s faith was lacking and thus deflecting from an answer to accusing the questioner. It sunk in for the first time that my heretofore loving God, as described by his actions in the Bible, was in fact, malicious, vindictive, angry, jealous, deceptive and genocidal. The evidence for Christ’s existence was tenuous, and as told in the Bible, contrived. As a woman, I also was hurt by the realization, that the God of the Bible unfairly values men over women and I recognized the influence and effect of such beliefs in the church and society today. (I’d never considered myself a feminist until about then.)

    When my mother acknowledged she’d made a few choice reinterpretations of Paul’s writing about women’s roles in the church and in marriage and my father changed his answer to a question (with geological evidence) about the Genesis flood with the admission that maybe it didn’t cover the entire globe, it reinforced how much of Christianity is just picking and choosing the bits that are convenient while ignoring all that are not.

    At the beginning, I could feel myself losing faith and I fought it. I fought it with all the effort I could muster. I prayed for God to show evidence of himself unequivocally somehow. I told him my doubts and explained my confusion. If he truly was the God that I had been taught to believe in, surely he knew how close I was to losing faith in him. It should have been a simple thing to do for an omnipotent God. There was no explanation and no sign from him, and the evidence against all that I’d believed kept mounting.

    Then a friend lost his new wife to a sudden illness, leaving him alone with their newborn child. We’d all prayed for her healing and God had done nothing to help. Shortly after her death, I watched the movie Alive, and finally had to give up my belief in an all-loving and all powerful God after watching people crying out to God for saving from a plane wreck only to be buried in an avalanche. God didn’t help those who cried out to him.

    I realized that we alone are responsible for our lives and the choices we make and that sometimes bad things happen, and that’s just how life (or death) is. I can feel overwhelmed at the beauty of the natural world and not need to thank God for it or say that it must be a religious experience. I know that evidence exists to show how the world’s religions are human constructs and am content in the knowledge that although we may not know exactly how the universe and life came to be, it is certainly not as imagined by the writers of religious texts, the Bible included.

    I consider myself an agnostic some days and as an atheist other days, although I still involuntarily wince at the term. Simply saying I’m a “free-thinker” is enough and far more meaningful to me. I can still “speak in tongues” if I try and that’s okay, as I understand that glossolalia is common to many religions around the world and is easily explained by those who study human behaviour and psychology. That I can still do this doesn’t bother me, and I think it is simply evidence of a behaviour practised repeatedly until it became habitual, without any spiritual connotations.

    My de-conversion process was long, difficult and emotionally draining. For a few years I was angry at having been so deceived and made to feel so guilty all the time but I’m not anymore. I finally feel happy, normal and sane. Realizing that no one is spending eternity in heaven or hell has been incredibly freeing and I value the lives of others in this world, and my own, more than ever before.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Matt R, who asked me to open this thread, is an intelligent and honest person. I trust that he wouldn’t have asked me to do this if he didn’t intend to give serious consideration to the responses.

  • Matt R.

    Hello All,

    I am still here and still reading and really glad to have all the responses. I have not replied much because I have been busy at work, but if anyone hasn’t posted yet, please do. It helps a ton.

    Andrea,

    Don’t worry. I wouldn’t have asked for the thread if I didn’t want to know the truth.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Becky

    My christian story is just about the same as many posted here. The bottom line is I was born into it. That decision was made for me before the doctor slapped my bottom. My political and social views were also taught to me by the parents I had, just like 90% of the worlds population. One day I suddenly realised that none of us should hate someone due to what they believe. No one wants to even entertain the thought that their parents and relatives of the past could be wrong. We are taught to be proud of our heritage and religions, even though most of us really don’t know why we believe what we do other than it must be right if our parents said so.

    I always had many problems with the bible and maybe I was one of the few in my church and family who actually read the thing. By the time I was in my late teens I could no longer tolerate the OT and the hateful god who cared not one whit about anyone but the ‘chosen’. I knew if I had lived in those days, I would have been the target of Yahweh and also everyone I loved. That was not a pretty picture seeing the vicious methods this god commanded to be used against anyone in the path of the hebrews.

    Still, I continued on because I was really afraid to voice what I thought. By the time I was in my thirties with two sons, I began to feel the same loathing for the Apostle Paul. That was one hateful arrogant dweeb who preached a completely different doctrine and no one seemed to ever notice.

    I began in earnest to take a look at secular works on the subject and I must say, I was blown away with the seemingly endless supply of information! I began with The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine and I haven’t stopped researching yet. I will continue on until the day I die. I am now in my forties and how I wish I had made this decision years ago. I think I consider myself more of a Deist. I do not believe the creator meddles in our lives and does not require or demand our pathetic forced worship. Any force capable of creating this universe would hardly be petty enough to constantly scream “love me, worship me”.

    This is just my opinion, but perhaps we are living our own judgement, if you want to call it that. I believe the only thing ever expected or hoped for from us is that we would treat one another with respect and compassion. I think it is our duty to protect and care for this planet we are on. I do not believe in a heaven nor hell, but maybe there is a realm we know nothing about or maybe we keep coming back here until we get it right. Who knows???

    Maybe this planet if for those who haven’t evolved to a level of not needing a security blanket god, or those who think it proper to hate and kill in the name of their god. If that should be the case, I won’t be here the next go-around! I have learned my lesson this time. lol

  • Matt R.

    Becky,

    Maybe this planet if for those who haven’t evolved to a level of not needing a security blanket god, or those who think it proper to hate and kill in the name of their god. If that should be the case, I won’t be here the next go-around! I have learned my lesson this time. lol

    What an interesting idea!

    Thanks,

    Matt

  • Goyo

    Matt: Here’s my two cents worth. I also was raised in a Southern Baptist home, saved as a teenager, backslid into atheism while in college, then, after having my first child, returning to the church with a new fervor. This was during the time of Hal Lindsey, so I was really into studying Revelation with an expectation of the imminent return of Jesus. Remember, this was during the 70′s, thirty years ago. I studied the Bible, became a sunday school teacher, and started studying all the various theories of salvation. He delayed his return, of course. The baptist church soon grew boring and I switched to a pentecostal church. Ah, this was the answer. It was as good as doing drugs. I experienced tongues, crazy worship services, hypnotic trance-like prayer, etc…
    After awhile I realized that all this belief of god working everyday in mine and my friends lives was a lie, because I was having the same problems that everyone else was having, and that other people, whether buddhist, christian, muslim, whatever, had similar circumstances. There was no magic power that was working for me nor anyone else. So our favorite verse was, “the rain falls on the just and the unjust”. In other words, there really is no difference in anyone’s life, it’s just life.
    The big breakthrough in my life was when I read Carl Sagan’s book, Cosmos. It spoke to me of reason, and when he talked about the mythological belief that we are basically puppets controlled by deities from above, he spoke to me. I realized that was me. I immediately declared my atheism, and felt a freedom that I hadn’t felt before.
    People ask for proof that there is no god. For me, the proof is that there is no difference in anyone’s life anywhere. We all experience good, bad, suffering, birth, death. Life goes on, and we either adapt to it, or we die.
    It doesn’t matter what your choice of deity is, you’re going to have the same type of life that I, an atheist, have. I quit praying five years ago, and nothing has changed. I didn’t fall into evil habits, or experience less good or bad than you probably have.
    Now, I look forward to the advance of science and technology to better my life, not god. And no, god is not imparting knowledge to the scientists, so they can do this. It has come through thousands of years of research and experimentation to gain this knowledge, usually in spite of religion.
    Anyway, keep searching. Truth will come.
    Best wishes, Goyo.

  • John Kinney

    I grew up in a Congregational Christian church through my teenage years and was encouraged by the minister to investigate other religions and Christian denominations. He was a devout Christian, a minor theologian, and almost certainly expected my quest to lead me to a stronger faith in Christianity. Instead, the more I studied and researched, the more I visited in churches and other religious gatherings, the more I came to understand that the factual substance of all of them was thin to the point of meaninglessness. They all seem to boil down to unprovable assumptions that typically contradicted the unprovable assumptions of other religions. Everyone claimed to know the Truth, yet too often the religionist truth contradicted observable reality. The fundamentalist Christians berated the notion of evolution, yet I could look out my back door and see evolution in action. It seemed to me that religions required a sort of compulsory ignorance of many provable facts and understandings.

    Over the years, I developed a personal sort of philosophy — not based on faith, but rather based in my confidence that something that was provable was more likely to be true than something that was not. I stripped out those elements of religion that seemed to be based merely on human wishfulness — belief in a supernatural being that was some sort of father figure or other human caricature, life after death, existence of mystical souls and of supernatural beings in general. I stripped out the contradictions — deities who were all-seeing and all-powerful manifestations of love and peace who nevertheless did nothing about hateful and violent human behavior, the belief of infallibility that each religion seemed to hold with respect to the others.

    Eventually, I concluded that there was nothing in any religion that could be proved to exist outside the human mind — that contrary to most creation myths of gods creating human beings, the human beings instead created their gods as required by their human needs and as sculpted by their human understandings. I could find no evidence of the intervention of deities in the workings of the universe or in human affairs. The ways of the gods were not only mysterious, they were downright unbelievable.

    Along the way, when I was in my late 20s, chance put me in the path of my minister of a decade before. He invited me to his house for dinner and afterward inquired about my religious quest. When I explained that it had led me to a sort of atheist humanism, he was shocked and began challenging me on my beliefs. As I answered his questions and asked my own, the intensity of the dialog grew to the point that it consumed us both. Sometime around dawn the next morning, I found myself embracing this man on his backyard deck, both of us in tears. His wife had thoughtfully called my wife about midnight to explain where I was and what was happening.

    During that long night, over and over, I had answers to his questions and he had no answers to mine, at least not without retreating into the blind sanctuary of faith. Later, he wrote my mother about the encounter, and commented, “I have met a man with a faith much greater than my own, your son, and he is not a Christian.”

    He never did understand that the weakness of his beliefs was a necessity of faith that I did not have and did not need. My faith was not greater than his, rather the crux was that I had no faith as he understood it. I had taken bits of information, researched, tested, and developed a confidence in the accuracy of my understandings that was in itself sufficient. I did not need faith. My philosophy was intertwined with a fabric of provable understandings and plausible consequential conjectures.

    All religions are weak in this regard. At some point they must diverge from truth because they include elements that cannot be proven to be true. These elements must be taken on faith and therefore fail the test of truth. Faith by definition cannot be infallible, since there is nothing inherent in faith that links to reality or truth.

    At any rate, that long intense night nearly 40 years ago with my Christian friend and mentor was a rite of passage that forever freed me from the clutches of religionist thinking. I don’t think he ever understood what a gift he had given to me.

  • Tomas S

    I was a knock-on-the-door Fundie type for about seven years (not ten) – from the end of High School till just before I got married, does that count?

    One reaction I often get is shock that I have gone from “one extreme to the other.” I don’t see it that way. Either the Bible is true or it isn’t. Becoming an Atheist was like flicking a switch. There was never any period of being a liberal Christian or a non-Christian theist.

    I was in one of those churches which teaches “eternal security”, so if you fall away, you probably were never saved to begin with. If anybody had told me I wasn’t saved, that would have been news to me.

    I “deconverted” shortly after meeting my dream date. It feels funny to say this after all these years, but she was so inspiring to me. She helped me to keep getting closer to God. I sensed that she wanted to have the same kind of Walk with Jesus that I did — only she was Catholic, and in the end, that was the one thing which kept us from getting married. Why is it (I asked myself) that when I finally find the girl whose belief moves me so much, that it’s exactly this belief which makes things impossible.

    I think it would be fair to say that by that time I was ready to become an Atheist – I’d never gotten past the whole Adam/Noah bits – and this broken engagement was just the trigger. I think I’d stuck my neck out so far, that I couldn’t have admitted to anybody (even myself) that I was wrong… not without something to push me over the edge.

    Come to think about it, I still considered myself a believer when I started dating my wife, although she wasn’t really a believer. One of my friends confronted me about her suggesting that I was enjoying the benefits of “sin for a season”. I’m glad to say that this season has lasted 15 years so far, and is still going strong.

  • Matt R.

    Goyo,

    I quit praying five years ago, and nothing has changed. I didn’t fall into evil habits, or experience less good or bad than you probably have.

    I have quit praying and reading the bible for some months now and really have not noticed a very big difference, I think. Of course sometimes I do not notice subtle changes in myself because of my perspective. I guess I just have to trust myself.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Matt R.

    Hello All,

    Again, thank you for your responses. I have another question:

    Have you noticed any changes in your personality or mood since deconverting?

    Thanks,

    matt

  • Tomas S

    Matt asked Have you noticed any changes in your personality or mood since deconverting?

    First, a P.S. to my last post. I used to say that when I asked Jesus to come into my heart, things just made more sense, When I was finally able to recognize that Jesus doesn’t exist, everything made even more sense.

    A few years after I “deconverted” (I don’t like that term), I started learning Esperanto, which is a language, not a religion. A few people (myself included) have noticed that Esperanto has taken a similar place in my life that my belief in God took before. I think this is simply an aspect of my personality. So in answer to your question, I notice my personality staying the same.

    I’ll point out here that the difference between being a “Bible believer” and being an “Esperanto speaker” is that I don’t believe that people will go to hell for not speaking Esperanto. If someone isn’t interested in Esperanto, I can let it go and keep looking for like-minded people might be… and I’ve never knocked on doors to preech Esperanto.

    When I stopped believing, I was a little ashamed that I’d spent seven years as a believer — reading the Bible more than my school books, writing letters of thumpitude to my family members — and that I had to admit that I was wrong. My t-shirts and other goodies went into deep storage, as did certain ways of thinking. I’ve gotten to the point where I can wear my JESUS shirt around the house, or even in the yard. Sometimes the certain ways of thinking come out too.

    Here’s an example of that. My involvement in the language Esperanto led me to contact the local center for the Baha’i Faith. I’ve been invited there a few times to talk. In the course of preparing a few presentations about Esperanto for local Baha’i, I have read just about every Baha’i document I can find about a universal language. The proplem is that when I tried to look at Baha’i scripture, I had two ways of looking at them. Not only could I look at it as an Atheist, but I could also dig out my old Fundie way of thinking. Neither one was the “right” way, if I wanted to see the subject from my audience’s point of view.

    (My way around this was simply to disclose up front this problem I was having, and apologize in advance if it sounds like I’m trying to tell them based on their scriptures what they are supposed to beleive.)

    As for the second part of your question — changes in mood. Probably not, although it’s a great load off to finally see that it’s not your fault if people around you don’t accept Jesus. That’s kind of helped my mood a bit. :-)

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    FYI, I also suggest the blog Coming Out Godless, where more stories are collected.

  • Matt

    Hello. I was raised Catholic, but never felt like I fit in. When I went off to college in Boston, I was a lost soul, and I found comfort in Christian fellowship groups at college. I had a sense of belonging that I attributed to Christianity, and so I was baptized. My “handlers” at the Christian fellowship group were seminary students, so off I went to seminary, where I got a degree in theology. But I wasn’t like the other seminary students — while they were debating the finer points of Calvinism vs. Arminianism in the cafeteria, I was pondering how Adam and Eve fit within an evolutionary universe. For some reason — I’m not so sure why — I was able to rise above the very parochial world of the seminary and ask bigger questions. A few things helped me (in no particular order): Dennett’s idea of having faith in faith, Dawkins’ notion that the world looks exactly as it should if the universe was not created or designed, and Bishop Spong’s series of spankings to theistic literalists. Over a period of 7-8 years, I shed more and more of my religious clothing until I was able to stand, proud and metaphysically naked, an atheist. Now I feel free to look at the world dispassionately and rationally. Still, for me atheism is not what defines me – I’m just a writer, husband, father and son who happens not to believe in, as Dawkins puts it, one more god beyond Thor and Zeus. Advice, though: Don’t have a chip on your shoulder as an atheist, but develop a secular spirtuality that puts the bogus variety to shame.

  • TheMightyThor

    Matt,

    Verily I am offended by thine lack of belief in me. Rest assured, Thou shalt receive a visit from me in thy dreams, wherein I shall smite thee. Consider thyself fortunate that I can not smite the in the “real” world ( I have an agreement with all of my fellow gods not to intervene in material reality; that would leave physical evidence and RUIN our whole divine hiddenness cover. We had to b*tch slap that Jesus fellow once ’cause he almost kilt everything for all of us. BTW, this is how we talk to each other. We use thee’s and thou’s when we need to impress you mortals).

    At any rate, thou shalt keepeth thine unbelief to thyself, lest thou infect other mortals with that vile ignorance. Remember that “Fear is the beginning of wisdom.”

    TheMightyThor has spoken!

  • Tomas S

    Luke wrote

    Satan – really, does that even make sense? God’s most magnificent angel, someone who had stood in god’s presence, and knew better than anyone how powerful god was, thinking he was better than god and believing he could win in a war against him?

    I recently finished reading The Long War Against God (which was largely disappointing) and the author rhetorically asked this question. I mentioned this to my carpool buddy slash new best friend, who is a believer, and he agreed that this was a profound question. He agreed that Morris’s answer in the book was disappointing. The answer? Satan believes in evolution.

    I mention this partially to share something I find funny, but at the same time, think it’ important to keep in mind that just because something doesn’t make sense to us, that there isn’t a plausible answer. A lot (but not all) of atheist material I find on-line pokes fun at Christianity, but really pokes fun at their own lack of understanding of both sides of the argument. (e.g. there is a list of “funny” Bible verses on a skeptics page which includes “for a wife he kept sheep” – under “sex” (as if he’s sleeping with sheep) but realy should have been under “treatment of women” because he was buying a woman with his work.)

  • Becky

    Matt posted:(Hello All,

    Again, thank you for your responses. I have another question:

    Have you noticed any changes in your personality or mood since deconverting?

    Thanks)

    All the changes in my life since my coming out from religion have been positive. I no longer feel like a square peg being pounded into a round hole. I no longer have to try to explain the unexplainable scriptures. I no longer have to try and ‘love’ a deity that is so cruel and heartless that no one could really ever love. When one is forced to love on the threat of eternal torment, that is NOT love. It is fear in the cruelest form. I am now free to read and research without someone heaping guilt on me. If there is a god, he would delight in his creation being curious to find out all the truth. He would have nothing to hide. I no longer fear death. Thomas Paine made a very simple statement concerning his thoughts on death and any possible afterlife that has stayed with me since the moment I read it. He said if there is a Creator, he is just and will deal with us as he sees fit. That is good enough for me. Life was meant to be lived here and now. We work hard for what we have and we should be free to enjoy the fruit of our labor, not wait on empty promises in the here-after. I have lived my life the best I could and have never had a desire to hurt another person. I am honest and I am peaceful. If there is nothing beyond this life, I have still lived my life to share my love and leave behind whatever good I have to leave. Being free of the bondage of superstition and hoping to help others be free is my fondest hope.

  • Eric

    birth thru age 10 – Raised in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist household. Went to church twice a week. Sunday (both Sunday school and the big congregation) and a Monday Bible Drill. Declared my life to Jesus at 10.
    age 10 thru age 14 – Began going to Wednesday youth group instead of monday Bible drill (getting too old for it). Baptized at 14, though even that ritual seemed silly to me at the time. Was already beginning to feel some doubt intuitively, but could not express it. Besides, I was still afraid of Hell.
    age 14 thru age 16 – Became more familiar with evolutionary theory and its plausibility. Also began reading Henry David Thoreau. Published a high school newspaper article talking about how the musical and lyrical quality of popular Christian Music left much to be desired. Was called the AntiChrist for two weeks and was largely ignored. Was also preached about in MANY congregations the sunday after the paper came out. My own Thoreau-inspired self-reliance made me weary of this huge groupthink.
    age 16 – with evolutionary theory answering to me the origin of life and with my disenchantment from the previous newspaper incident, i reject Christ. I tell nobody.
    age 18 – publicly declare my Atheism

  • Bechamel

    Have you noticed any changes in your personality or mood since deconverting?

    (My apologies for the clunky wording of what follows. Hopefully it’s still easily readable.)

    As I noted in my original comment (third from the top), I’ve had depression for about ten years (a time period which includes my deconversion and a few years before and after). However, I’ve just recently started treatment for it, so while my moods back then were screwed up (bleak and bleaker), there might be something of value to gain from comparing them to each other.

    The biggest thing I remember was the fear of Hell slipping away bit by bit as I read more and more, and the whole Christianity thing just seemed less and less likely. For me, this was a huge thing. I developed very quickly as a child, and asked Jesus into my heart at the age of three. And yes, I was pretty much aware of what I was doing at the time. That said, like several others, I was never really sure that it stuck, so I re-asked Jesus into my heart probably about once a month, primarily because I was so afraid of Hell. Losing that fear, as long and drawn-out a process as it was, was probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

    At the same time, a lot of other things seemed to fall into place: why I had to disagree with my science teachers about something really major, why there are so many different religions and so many sects within them, why I couldn’t figure out whether masturbation was okay or if it’d send me to fry for eternity, why the bible clearly and falsely says that anything you’ll receive anything you believingly ask for in prayer, and dozens of other things that I couldn’t figure out about the world.

    The feeling was like the one you get after finishing a really hard puzzle, only it happened almost every time I figured something else out. So, on a daily basis for a while. Add in several generous dashes of “it all makes sense now”, and it was a really great feeling. Unfortunately, it combined with thoughts like, “Was I wasting my life all these years?” and “How could I have been so wrong about something so major and so important? What other foundations of my life are completely false?”

    So, while I can’t say that it was all a bed of roses, I can say that during the deconversion, my depression was easier to handle, and it remained that way for about four years thereafter. There were definitely no lingering negative effects.

    As for personality, there was no immediate change. I do think, though, that having had that particular experience, and having viewed the world from two very, very different perspectives, has helped me to look at things from different angles, and see where people are coming from. So I’d like to think that it’s helped me be more empathetic, but that might be a stretch. Probably no significant change in personality, although it did remove the guilt that religion had ingrained in me for being myself.

    My best wishes go out to you, Matt. I don’t know anything about you other than your comments here, but I have the utmost respect for you and what you’re doing. You’re smarter than you realize. Keep doing what you’re doing, and I have every reason to believe it will work out quite well for you.

    Peace,
    Steve

  • Erik

    My own story involves little great passion, frantic searches or desperate denial. My journey from failed believer to accomplished non-believer was a pretty uneventful process of maturation over several years. With a few crucial turning points.

    I grew up with fairly liberal, moderate parents. I attended sunday school and later the scout movement of our protestant missionary church. I have to say that it was mostly to please my parents, I would have gladly stayed at home. My parents never pushed me to accept their religion or to be baptised (Although they made me sit through years of boring sunday school). I went to church with my parents but really only out of loyalty to them.

    I had always been told that if you truly believed and had accepted Jesus, you would feel a whole number of good things. If you was born again you would know it. Since I could never find these feelings in me I reasoned that I didn’t belive enough, and I felt a bit guilty and sad about this.

    It was my desire to come closer to god that first got me to question the religion I grew up in. In my early teens I decided to read the whole new testament. I got through most of it without finding anything that really made me think about it. The only thing I can remember is having some vauge wonderings about the concept of sin, but I pretty much trundled through it without stopping to think.

    But then I read revelations and couldn’t get my head around it. This didn’t seem like the god I had been told about. Indeed, when I some years later had another bout of wanting to believe, I started ro read the old testament and found the same deeply troubling god. Not wanting to believe in such a cruel and petty god I pretty much rejected the whole old testament and most of the new.

    Sometime later I examined my beliefs again and found myself unable to believe in jesus/god and effectively came to the conclusion that if god wanted me he had to convince me himself, because I couldn’t. I continued to go to the scout meetings but was never very active.

    My first encounter with atheism was in gymnasium (~college) when I read Douglas Adams’ The Salmon Of Doubt. I didn’t like it. What was left of my christian indoctrination revolted. I felt uneasy about it but came through by essentially pushing the whole matter to the side and refusing to engage with it.

    The next time was about two years ago when I watched Penn and Teller thrash the bible. By this time I studied at university and only went to church to meet my aunt (who is a cool aunt and well worth keeping in touch with. Any relative who reads the Smurfs to you when you are small is a cool relative).

    It was 2 months ago that I bought The God Delusion on a whim and found myself to clearly qualify to call myself an atheist. Over the course of a decade I had gone from unthinking acceptance of dogma to scientific critical thinking without really making any consious decision. It is probably thanks to my ongoing education in science that my religious beliefs (feeble from the beginning) eroded away.

    Well, there you go. Its a lot of words with very little substance but then again so is the bible.:) It is quite ironic that I have taken more interest in what I believe in the past two months than I have done my entire life before now.

  • Falco

    I was raised Christian and spent nearly 15 years of my life following Christianity. I was the kind of kid who was always asking questions, but I guess at the time the answers I was getting were satisfactory — in any case, I thought I deeply believed although I now realise how superficial my belief was. When I was 15, my church split in half over the gay marriage debate (this was a few years before it was legalised). My family was on the side against it, but a slight majority had been for it, and it made me wonder what made my parents’ side right when so many people thought they were wrong. What really hit me was how this tight community I’d been a part of could suddenly break off like that — the fact that both sides were so evenly split made it clear that the Bible had no answer to this, something neither side was willing to admit. It made me wonder how much of what I thought I believed had been arbitrarily decided just like this.

    It wasn’t long after that that I realised I couldn’t truthfully call myself a Christian anymore, although I didn’t know what exactly I was. I told my family how I felt, but they didn’t seem to take it seriously, thinking I’d inevitably end up back in Christianity after I got over this phase. To this day, I think they still believe that. Anyway, I spent the next few years trying to avoid religion altogether, but I still had the same questions about the meaning of life and so on that I’d had before, it’s just that now I couldn’t even pretend I had answers. After I moved out I decided to Find Religion, which was a dismal failure (tried to be a Druid at one point, but while I could get into the whole tree-hugging thing I just couldn’t bring myself to believe in magic… tried Christianity again, it worked about as well as the first time).

    These days I’ve realised that the idea of converting someone is ridiculous. If I could make myself believe in gods or magic, I might do it. The idea of a cold, uncaring universe isn’t a comforting one and I can understand why people turn to religion… I just don’t understand *how* they do it. The world isn’t LIKE that. All you have to do is look around. Prayers don’t get answered in real life. Bad things happen to good people… and to bad people. Science blatantly contradicts what’s in the Bible, and if even one line of the Bible is untrue, all the rest is up for question. There are incredible, amazing things out there, and there are horrible things too, and all of them can be explained without having to resort to a god. So I don’t believe in a god because I can’t.


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