Sunday Open Thread: Tell Your Deconversion Story

Of all the essays I’ve written for Ebon Musings, one of my favorites is “Into the Clear Air“: a chronicle of the stages of deconversion, as told by people who were going through them.

What shines through from these testimonies again and again is the pure relief, the freedom experienced by people who left behind their oppressive, confining religious beliefs and found exhilaration and joy in finally taking control of their own lives. Closely intertwined with this feeling is a newly arisen sense of awe and wonder at life, an atheist spirituality that is rooted in the grandeur of the cosmos, the intricacy and diversity of nature, and the poignancy and fragility of our conscious existence. Many newly deconverted atheists have found out, to their amazement, that this feeling equals or surpasses anything to be found in religion.

As one of my favorite deconversion stories puts it:

“Due to my total change of world view I also had some very weird experiences that were not like anything I had expected. I was struck enormously by what I called ‘existential shock.’ I was completely amazed at the mere fact of existence. Not in a ‘wow that’s impressive’ manner but in a feeling that I only had religious words for. It was being struck by the amazing ‘sacrament’ of life – or the utter shock and opportunity of existence over its alternative. It was totally numinous and an almost disturbing feeling that existence is the case. I felt transformed, awed, excited – the whole world seemed more special than can ever be said. Life was far more poignant without Christianity than it had ever been with it. I was not expecting this to happen to me. I thought these experiences were what converted people to religion, not what you got when you left!”

I think testimonies like this are immensely helpful to our cause, demonstrating that atheism is a positive worldview in a more eloquent and compelling way than any merely academic argument ever could. That’s why I’ve collected as many as I could find for Ebon Musings, but we can always use more.

With that in mind, I’m creating this open thread for what I hope will become an ongoing post series, chronicling the stories of people who’ve broken free of religion and found happiness and fulfillment by becoming an atheist or humanist. If you have such a story, I invite you to tell it here. You can also e-mail me with your story, if you’re more comfortable with that. The best stories will ultimately be featured either here on Daylight Atheism or on Ebon Musings.

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

  • Anthroslug

    The full story is on my blog:, but here’s a shortened version:

    I was raised a Protestant Christian, though my family ceased attending church when I was around nine or ten. I remember the church we attended quite clearly – and can still find my way back to it when I visit my home town, despite the fact that I haven’t set foot in it in over twenty years. I remember praying when I went to bed, I remember my parents telling us stories from the Bible, and I remember that this all went unquestioned for me. I considered the existence of God to be so clearly self-evident that I didn’t understand how anyone could question it.

    When I was in my early teens, I had an experience in which I found myself wondering if I was truly being a good Christian. I began to read the Bible, and though I had not attend church regularly in years, I did begin going with a friend’s family from time-to-time. This was the time in my life when the fissures in the veneer of religion began to show themselves to me.

    For example: in the Garden of Eden story, we are informed that Adam and Eve have to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge in order to understand good and evil. We are also told that in eating from the tree, they have committed a tremendous sin. However, the notion of sin implies that one intends to do evil. If one does not know what evil is, one can not intend to do evil, therefore one can not sin. Now, many people will respond to this question by stating that God told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit from the tree, and therefore they knew it was wrong. However, God told them not to eat the fruit AND intentionally gave them no knowledge of good or evil, right or wrong, and therefore such a warning is meaningless because they could not have known it was wrong to disobey God because God had built them to not know what wrong was.

    So, the Bible itself caused me to start questioning Christianity. I also routinely saw Christians engaging in acts of abuse towards anyone who was different from the norm. The number of times that I saw eggs or water balloons being thrown from a car with a Fish ornament on its bumper while the driver and passengers yelled something along the lines of “FAGS!”, “MUSLIMS!”, “JEWS!” or some other such thing was truly astounding.

    So, it became obvious that the Bible was not an authority, as it was self-contradictory and didn’t stand up to scrutiny, and Christians were not inherently more moral than anyone else, which they should be if most of their claims are true.

    However, none of these things caused me to become disillusioned with religion in and of themselves, that was done by simply watching the world. The world did not fit the mold put forth in the Bible. Certainly this included scientific discoveries, but also events in the world at large. Watching the news, it was clear that violence in the Middle East was not building up towards a Biblical Armageddon, but was simply spiraling out of control. Famines struck millions of people, and prayer did nothing to aid them. Those who were clearly corrupt routinely got elected to political office, yet those who were honest and virtuous frequently received no reward. This was not the work of a just God, but it was also not the work of a world in the thralls of Satan – there was no method, and there was good in the world, and quite a lot of it, but it was just as likely to come from non-Christians as from Christians.

    Even more troubling, I began to apply logic to propositions. Certainly, many different logical arguments have been propped up to justify belief in God, but all of them had fatal flaws in the arguments themselves (many times the argument actually worked against itself when you started thinking about it), and so there was nothing there. I began to realize that I had no reason to believe.

    My Christian world view simply did not match the real world in any way shape or form, and slowly my belief began to fade away. It was slow and subtle enough, that I didn’t even notice that it was happening, but one day I realized that I no longer believed, and that I hadn’t for quite some time.

    At first I tried to deny it, and then I tried to reclaim my faith. I prayed, I consulted scripture, I tried to find my way back to God. And I was afraid, but not that I had lost God. I was afraid because I was convinced that the world wouldn’t make sense without God (I always managed to ignore that more rational part of me that would point at that world had made no sense with God), and I was afraid that I had become one of the damned.

    And then, one day, it dawned on me. I had no reason to be frightened, for there was no reason to assume in the existence of God. The world did make sense, but you had to take it for what it was and work from there, and not try to cram it into a little box called “Christianity” (or any other religion for that matter). More importantly, if I stopped praying and started working, the world could become better. I began giving to charities, I began working to comfort friends, I stopped dividing the world into the righteous and unrighteous, and simply looked at people as people. The religious often like to say that “everyone is equal before God,” and yet they also convince themselves that God will bring some to Heaven and banish others to Hell, meaning that clearly, not everyone is equal. However, without religion mucking up the works, everyone was equal in estimation, and what made the differences were our actions and intentions, not our alleged destinations. It was clear to me now that someone who serves other people and works for the betterment of the world was a good person regardless of their religious ties, and that someone who was abusive and destructive was a bad person regardless of their religious affiliation.

  • Keely

    I was raised Catholic. We were religious enough that my mother found it important to officially convert when she married my dad, and we went every Sunday, but my immediate family (NOT my entire extended family…there is some tension here) generally supports a much more liberal stance on many issues than the Catholic church expresses. Examples: my mother hates abortion, but if you manage to get her to discuss the topic she will tell you that she is pro-choice. She also is all for birth control. Obviously I wasn’t aware of the specifics of my families differences with official doctrine when I was little, but we also attended a parish with a particularly interesting priest (I believe the diocese would have called him difficult) and I was aware that sometimes when my parents were nodding in agreement, the grumpy old people were making disapproving noises.

    But anyhow, we weren’t super crazy into it, and so I didn’t mind the church thing that much. So it was boring, and even when I was really little some things didn’t sit well with me (I was probably in first grade when I went… okay, so God is like a teacher or a parent, he makes all the rules. And he says that someone has to be punished for people doing bad things, or he can’t forgive them, so he has to send his son to die, because he loves us. But wait… he makes the rules! Why can’t he just forgive us because he feels like it and he’s nice?) but I liked the music and what it really meant to me day to day was grace, bedtime prayers, and 1 hour a week. Big deal.

    However, the indoctrination in the Catholic Church ramps ups steadily as you age, regardless of how liberal or relaxed about faith your parents are. By late middle school, I was starting to get hit with some contradictions to the “jesus loves everybody and god is awesome!” message not just in my interpretations of bible stories, but in CCD (sunday school, except that they take away your weekday evenings for it). But my entire image of myself was wrapped up in being The Good Girl–good daughter, good student, good example to my siblings, good little catholic girl… so I genuinely tried to make things make sense, doing mental acrobatics to justify and explain everything.

    I probably would have eventually grown out of the whole Good Girl complex eventually, given up on the never-ending justifications, and become an agnostic or an atheist. But then we moved to Indiana.

    The church we went to out here was entirely different. The priest was more hard-line old-fashioned Catholic, like the priests at churches I had attended with other family members. More importantly, the youth group was far less focused on “lets hang out, have a good time, and learn to be good people, while we happen to develop a relationship with god and do some bible study now and again” and much more focused on cult-like indoctrination tactics. To be fair, it was the year of confirmation classes for me, which traditionally does involve lots of indoctrination fun, but this place was particularly bad. The youth leader was young, charismatic, and oh-so-concerned about the state of our souls. She quickly got the more vulnerable us (like people who had just moved halfway across the country and had no friends to speak of) addicted to a more potent kind of Catholic Guilt than we had previously been accustomed to. We were coming to “Life Nights” (the group was called LifeTeen) on the evils of Abortion, Suicide, Sex… etc, in which the horrors of these things were described in graphic detail (in the case of abortion, an hour long slide show of actual graphics was involved), and worse, we were claiming to ENJOY them. Yea, there was light hearted discussion at the end along with food, and sometimes we had socials nights, but there was nothing truly enjoyable about the group.

    The experience that really got me hooked was a weekend-long retreat with cult-like tactics on in full force. I mean, lets be honest, every religion started out as a cult, and when you get deep into any religion it really reverts to that. The retreat involved Eucharistic Adoration, which was several hours during which we kneeled and sang and prayed to Jesus in the form of the eucharist, by which I mean BREAD. We were told that if we asked and believed enough, the Holy Spirit would come and fill us up, and we would feel amazing love and comfort, a gift for our faith. Group leaders prayed over us. The head youth counselor prayed in tongues. I mean, if you walked into the room with no knowledge of catholicism, you would have immediately thought “what the fuck is wrong with these people??” People were so “overcome by the Holy Spirit” that they were falling down, sobbing hysterically, babbling incoherent prayers out loud as if they were the only ones in the room… and I was one of those people.

    I am still ashamed of it, the reaction that at the time I believed was a “religious experience.” I wasn’t loud about it, I didn’t fall down or scream, but I cried for a long time and physically shook for even longer. Yes, I had wanted it, but I wasn’t forcing it… it really was out of my control. I really thought I felt something.

    I try not to be ashamed of myself, because it is the people who designed a retreat specifically to exploit the weaknesses of everyone present to promote absolute belief and devotion to the One True God. Bad, unstable home life? God was infinitely reliable, he would always be there for you. Absent, unloving parents? God was your father, and his love was unconditional. Like me, did you feel lost and confused for some reason, like you didn’t belong? There will always be a home for you in the Catholic Church. Yes, I was a stupid teenager full of angst and self doubt and I let myself get wrapped up in a lie, but I was exploited and that was not my fault.

    Anyhow, I make that sound horrible, but the first few weeks after the retreat were the best I’d had in a long time. Ever meet a recently converted Christian, and they’re all happy and perky and want to tell you how amazing god is and how he changed their lives? Want to know the reason why they act like that? Because they’re HIGH. When you want to feel something bad enough, when powerful tools like rituals and crowds of believers help you out, you can trick your brain into feeling it, and the rush is amazing. Of course, its impossible to sustain, and most people only ever get it once, but it is nice.

    My high lasted a particularly long time (probably because I had such an intense interest in it not fading, as life had been shit pre-retreat), but it did end eventually. I spent the next two years expecting a little God-high to lift me out of any problems I ran into and being let down every time, while at the same time struggling to maintain faith in a suddenly very rigid beliefs that did not sit well with my intuitions OR what my parents had taught me. Piece by piece the faith fell away until I was left with a bit of residual guilt and a lot of resentment.

    I let myself describe myself as an atheist for the first time a little over a year ago, but I’d really been one for quite some time before that, though I was unprepared to admit it and let go. Its actually quite insane when people cling to their prison like that, but I suppose when something is that big a part of your life, it is hard not to get attached.

    Admitting my non-belief was incredibly freeing, because for the first time in my life I felt like what I believed in was rational and reasonable and natural. It was strange to give up the supports of dogma, but it is amazing how much more fun it is to think about life and the world when you aren’t trying to fit it into a pre-set set of beliefs.

    Under different conditions, I think my deconversion could have been a relatively painless intellectual one. Unfortunately, that just couldn’t happen after the experiences I had in church, so my deconversion was long and rough. And yea, I’m still pretty resentful and angry about it, though I’m trying not to be. Because really I got lucky… many of my catholic/religious friends have deconverted as well, at least as far as deism or agnosticism, if not flat out atheism. So things turned out alright in the end, I suppose.

    Longer version here.

  • Daniel

    I was never properly Christian to begin with. I was raised in a home where religion simply wasn’t an issue. My mother had an old Bible that she would read stories from. I also had a set of mythology books that covered the Greek and Norse myths. That the stories from The Bible were supposed to be true and the others were not was never properly emphasized, and that was that. I’m not even sure I remember when those stories were first presented to me as supposedly being true.

    However, when I was 12, some of my friends dragged me to church for the first time. Their father was one of those “Born Again” types, probably a recovering alcoholic or something. I kind of got sucked into it, being 12 and easily influenced and also being kind of a deep child looking for answers. That lasted all of a summer before I sort of rejected it as non-sense. I didn’t really identify as an atheist properly until I was in high school. I flirted with some eastern mystical stuff, but predominately was interested in the philosophy. I still like the ideas in Zen a lot, but obviously approach it with all disregard for any mysticism. Anyway, I don’t feel I ever “deconverted”, though I was raised in a vague sort of Christian environment. I am grateful my parents didn’t force any ideology on me. It could have easily happened considering I was raised in Indiana.

  • jonathan

    In my case, I was kind of seriously christian in my seriously christian household as a youth. As I got older and neared time to go to college, I strayed from this path. Not really, mostly I got lazy and didn’t really care. Getting confirmed was a formality for me, and I did it because I was “supposed to”.

    In college, I continued my deviation, and I was happy and nothing went wrong. In this era, I guess I would have been agnostic, as I did believe there was a god, and I thought christianity (as I knew it) was at the least a pretty decent reflection of him.

    Then, I got serious about christianity again. Jesus was REAL, and I was excited! He really lived and died and rose! And I was lucky to understand that! So I lived for a few years as the christians do, and of my own volition. Please note however, that I have never believed in creationism and took the approach that god worked his magic in evolution to create people like myself.

    At one point, for whatever reason, I randomly ended up thinking about how if god is omniscient and omnipotent and omnipresent, he controls everything…. If god is real, something cannot possibly happen that he does not know about. God cannot really “do” things, because what he knows “is”. More importantly, I cannot really “do” things, because if I were to do something god didn’t really expect, well, the whole thing falls apart.

    To be omniscient, you must know everything that will ever happen, and… if you know the full results of every action, including those of your own, how can you even draw a line between controlling everything and controlling absolutely nothing? For an omniscient being to take any action at all (particularly at a time early enough to call “creation”), he is essentially laying out all of the universe for all time. God clearly didn’t control nothing, right? I thought that surely, he must do something, so our lives must be like movies that we watch and experience in very personal ways.

    What does prayer even mean with this understanding of the universe? God makes me pray for things that may or may not happen. It seemed to me the singular purpose of prayer was not to get stuff, but to feel more in control and like God and I interact, when clearly it is a one way street.

    At the time, I thought this was “interesting”.

    As time passed, I observed the world around me, wars, poverty, starvation, bad things happening to good people, people praising god that their chemotherapy cured their cancer, widows praising god for taking their husbands home… I came to realize that I was worshipping a cruel god. At church, I would hear people how sad it is that people die that having never even heard the name “Jesus”. Yes, that is sad, and it’s all God’s orchestration. I guess God decided he didn’t like those people before they were even born. Being omniscient, he could totally imagine what those pricks would have been like in heaven and he was AGAINST IT. Yes, God is cruel.

    This dissatisfaction culminated with the sudden and unnatural death of my dog. God had done it again! Shortly after that, I concluded that I wasn’t gunna fool this so called god with my “worship” and veiled frustration. How can an omniscient being be so cruel and illogical? Doesn’t knowing things lead to understanding, compassion, and empathy? A god that knows a person has never even heard of Jesus, much less believe in him, should understand that lack of belief, as it is perfectly logical. But my religion taught that that person experiences excruciating pain in the fiery pits of hell for all of eternity. The actions of a Just, Loving, All-Powerful, All-Knowing God. It didn’t add up, so I wanted to stop believing it. Deep down, I would say that I have not believed it for a while, but it took a while for me to accept that this was an okay thing for me to not believe in.

    Also, for a time, I pondered a few other religions but decided they were silly.

  • Luke

    My deconversion story, as posted here:

    Ah, the life of a pastor’s kid!

    I grew up in Cambridge, Minnesota – a town of 5,000 people and 22 Christian churches (at the time). My father was (and still is) pastor of a small, non-denominational church. My mother volunteered to support overseas missionaries around the world.

    I went to church, Bible study, and other church functions every week. I prayed often and earnestly. For 12 years I attended a Christian school that taught Bible classes and creation science. I played in worship bands and maintained the church’s technology. As a teenager I made trips to China and England to tell the atheists over there about Jesus.

    I felt the presence of God. Sometimes I would tingle and sweat with the Holy Spirit. Other times I felt led by Him to give money to a certain cause, or to pay someone a specific compliment, or to walk to the cross at the front of my church and bow before it during a worship service.

    At age 19 I got depressed, probably because I did nothing but work at Wal-Mart, download music, and watch internet porn. But one day I saw a leaf twirling in the wind and it was so beautiful – like the twirling plastic bag in the movie American Beauty. I had an epiphany. I realized that everything in nature was a gift from God to me. Grass, lakes, trees, sunsets – all these were gifts of beauty from my Savior to me. I thought of this every time I saw something beautiful, and God lifted me out of my depression.

    I read Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, a manual for how to fall in love with God so that following his ways is not a burden, but a natural and painless product of loving God. My dad and I read lots of this Christian self-help stuff. We shared our latest discoveries with each other and debated theology.

    I moved to Minneapolis for college and was attracted to a Christian group led by Mark van Steenwyk. Mark’s small group of well-educated Jesus-followers were postmodern, “missional” Christians: they thought loving and serving others in the way of Jesus was more important than doctrinal truth. That resonated with me, and we lived it out with the poor immigrants of Minneapolis.

    The seeds of doubt
    By this time I had little interest in church structure or petty doctrinal disputes. I just wanted to be like Jesus. So I decided I should try to find out who Jesus actually was. I began to study the Historical Jesus.

    What I learned, even when reading Christian scholars, shocked me. The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ death, by non-eyewitnesses. They are riddled with contradictions, legends, and known lies. Jesus and Paul disagreed on many core issues. And how could I accept the miracle claims about Jesus when I outright rejected other ancient miracle claims as superstitious nonsense?

    These revelations scared me. It was not what I had wanted to learn. But now I had to know the truth. I studied the Historical Jesus, the history of Christianity, the Bible, theology, and the philosophy of religion. Almost everything I read – even the books written by conservative Christians – gave me more reason to doubt, not less.

    I started to panic. I felt like my best friend – my source of purpose and happiness and comfort – was dying. And worse, I was killing him. If only I could have faith! If only I could unlearn all these things and just believe. I cried out with the words from Mark 9:24, “Lord, help my unbelief!”

    But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t force myself to believe what I knew wasn’t true. On January 11, 2008, I whispered to myself: “There is no God.”

    The next day I emailed my buddy Mark:

    I didn’t want to bother you, but I’m lost and despairing and I could really use your help, if you can give it.

    I made a historical study of Jesus, which led me to a study of the Bible, historical and philosophical arguments for and against God, atheist arguments, etc. It has destroyed my faith. I think there is almost certainly not a God…

    I’m fucking miserable… I told my parents and they sobbed for 30 minutes. Can you help me?

    As always, Mark responded with love and honesty. But he didn’t give me any reasons to believe. He said he believed mostly for the “aesthetics of belief” and his “somewhat mystical experiences of Christ.” He wrote, “In a way, I am a Christian because I want to be one, and the logic flows from there.”

    I also wrote a defiant email to an atheist radio show host to whom I’d been listening, Matt Dillahunty:

    I was coming from a lifetime high of surrendering… my life to Jesus, releasing myself from all cares and worries, and filling myself and others with love. Then I began an investigation of the historical Jesus… and since then I’ve been absolutely miserable. I do not think I am strong enough to be an atheist. Or brave enough. I have a broken leg, and my life is much better with a crutch… I’m going to seek genuine experience with God, to commune with God, and to reinforce my faith. I am going to avoid solid atheist arguments, because they are too compelling and cause for despair. I do not WANT to live in an empty, cold, ultimately purposeless universe in which I am worthless and inherently alone.

    I hope that I find a real, true God in my journey of blind faith. I do not need to convince you of that God, since you seem satisfied as an atheist. But I need to convince myself of that God.

    Matt responded to my every sentence with care, understanding, and reason. But I still tried to hang onto my faith. For a while I read nothing but Christian authors. Even the smartest ones just made lots of noise about “the mystery of God.” They used big words so that it sounded like they were saying something precise and convincing.

    My dad told me I had been led astray because I was arrogant to think I could get to truth by studying. Humbled and encouraged, I started a new quest to find God. I wrote on my blog:

    I’ve been humbled. I was “doing discipleship” in my own strength, because I thought I was smart enough and disciplined enough. [Now] having surrendered my prideful and independent ways to him, I can see how my weakness is God’s strength.

    I’ve repented. I was deceived because I did not let the Spirit lead me into truth. Now I ask for God’s guidance in all quests for knowledge and wisdom.

    I feel like I’ve been born again, again.

    It didn’t last. Every time I reached out for some reason – any reason – to believe, God simply wasn’t there. I tried to believe despite the evidence, but I couldn’t believe a lie. Not anymore.

    No matter how much I missed him, I couldn’t bring Jesus back to life.
    I don’t recall how it happened, but eventually I found out that I could be more happy and moral without God than I ever was with him. I “came out” as an atheist to my family, friends, and church. They were surprised, but they still loved me. They were much more concerned when two elders of my church decided they were Catholic. I bonded with them briefly because the three of us were suddenly outcasts.

    I had stubbornly resisted my deconversion, but these days I am excited to accept reality, no matter what it is. I remember when I finally realized the problems inherent to my precious Libertarianism. I was not dismayed or resistant; I was thrilled.

    This comfort with truth unleashed my curiosity about Christianity and religion in full force. In my studies I uncovered lots of false facts and dishonest arguments from Christians and atheists. Each discovery only deepened my hunger for knowledge, but also my realization that humans know very little, and with little certainty.
    Looking back
    Looking back, I feel lucky that I left God for purely rational reasons instead of emotional ones. Indeed, all my emotions were pushing the other way.

    But that’s probably not the norm. I bet most atheists today have lost their faith for irrational, emotional reasons – or else they were raised as atheists. When I went to the premiere of Bill Maher’s Religulous – one of the few blatantly atheist films released in America – almost the entire crowd was gay. I remember thinking they were probably atheists because the church rejected them, not because they knew the logical fallacies of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.

    In many ways I regret my Christian upbringing. So much time and energy wasted on an invisible friend. So many bad lessons about morality, thinking, and sex. So much needless guilt.

    But mostly I’m glad this is my story. Now I know what it’s like to be a true believer. I know what it’s like to fall in love with God and serve him with all my heart. I know what’s it like to experience his presence.

    I know what it’s like to isolate one part of my life from reason or evidence, and I know what it’s like to think that is a virtue. I know what it’s like to earnestly seek the truth but still be totally deluded.

    I know what it’s like to think that what I believe, or what my loving pastor says, or what my ancient book says, is more true than what reason and evidence say. I know what it’s like to think faith is a strength, not a gullible weakness.

    I know what it’s like to be confused by the Trinity, the failure of prayers, or Biblical contradictions but to genuinely embrace them as the mystery of God. I know what it’s like to believe God is so far beyond human reason that we can’t understand him, but at the same time to fiercely believe I know the details of how he wants us to behave.

    That was my experience for 22 years, and I am grateful for it. Now I can approach believers with true understanding.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    My “deconversion” is not so dramatic as some others, because I was never in so deep as some of you. It was the painless, intellectual deconversion that Keely wished for.

    I was raised Catholic; my mother converted to Catholicism when she married my father. I attended Catholic schools grades 1-12. This was in a midwestern small town in the age before Teh Intertubes, and I never really questioned anything about religion. I was a good little boy. Fortunately my church was fairly mainstream, and they never did anything wacky like speaking in tongues (which I believe in uncommon for Catholics). Also fortunately, I was never sexually abused by any clergy.

    I remember in marriage and sexuality class, the priest/instructor assigned the Vatican’s encyclical on birth control to read. Even then I was able to see that it was a poorly made argument. As I recall, it said that if the use of birth control allowed for sex without the possibility of children, then some men might use their wives as sex objects, therefore no one should use birth control. That is like saying that some people might have auto accidents, therefore no one should be allowed to drive a car. I had the impression that the instructor did not agree with the Vatican’s stance on these issues, and that I allowing me to see the weakness of the argument was his intent. Yay for him. That was probably the first time I questioned any point of Catholic doctrine.

    When I got to college, I attended mass regularly at the Catholic student center. I recall a discussion with the priest in charge, who said that underclassmen might need the supportive environment of the center, but that he expected people to grow out if it by the time they graduated. I thought that was very odd. I wonder how deep his belief was.

    In my second year of college, as I was taking both biochemistry and New Testament origins, and I began to have serious doubts about Catholic doctrine, and eventually about the existence of God. I decided to make no sudden moves, and gave myself a year to work it out. By the end of the school year I was comfortable with my atheism. It was fairly painless, I guess I was fortunate to not have a background in which I was brainwashed to believe that my entire moral structure and self-worth were bound up in my religious beliefs.

    The following summer, my non-faith was tested. I dated a Catholic girl, and when I told her about my lack of belief (she had noticed my flagging attendence at the Catholic student center, and asked) she told me she would prefer to date believers. My non-faith did not waiver.

    Having gone with the “no sudden moves” strategy, it was only several years later when I changed my stance on abortion (or reproductive choice, if you prefer). I had accepted the Church’s stance because it was handed to me, and only after working up a response for an early network discussion did I change my position. I edited that piece several times before I posted it.

    Things remembered in retrospect:

    I remember once, college age, being in a car with my mother and sister. My sister and I were comparing the Catholic church to cults, and my mother broke out in tears. I knew then that I could never tell her about my atheism, and I never did. She did a while ago.

    In high school, I took a class on Black and Indian literature. It included numerous creation stories, mostly native American. This was a small dose of cultural relativism that would contribute later to putting Christianity in its proper context.

    I remember in college, during my year of decision, having a discussion with dorm mates. I had reached the point of rejecting “organized religion,” but still felt there might be some sort of God. A helpful, gentle comment helped me see that this was wishful thinking, and assisted me in getting over the last barriers. I have sometimes thought of tracking down the commenter, in order to thank him, but he had such a common name that it is probably hopeless.

    I found out from an aunt that my maternal grandmother was probably an atheist. That was a nice touch, that let me feel I had not strayed so far from my family roots. Besides, several of my sibs have also become nonbelievers, and thankfully none of the remainder are the obnoxious Bible-thumping types.

    Mostly I kept my non-belief to myself, until the last 9 years or so of Bush-Rove faith-based government and 9-11 and Richard Dawkins, etc. I now attend a local atheist meetup group regularly.

    Yay for Teh Intertubes. These days, small town children with doubts can find out things that were unavailable during my childhood. If they can get themselves to the point of asking questions, the answers are out there.

  • Leum

    My family (with two exceptions) are all somewhere between atheist and culturally Jewish (I don’t think of them as fake Jews, they believe very strongly in Judaism, it’s just that the theistic aspect isn’t as important to them as the fact that they’re ancestors were also Jewish and that the rituals and mitzvah are spiritually uplifting).

    So I grew up with very little religious influence until elementary school. That’s when my two best friends told me about God (Christian) and Hell. I am, I believe, wired for religious belief, and both God and Hell fit perfectly into mental niches. I spent the next one or two years of my life terrified of Hell (e.g. I learned how to lucid dream to avoid nightmares about burning). When I was in third or fourth grade I concluded that Hell was too horrible to have been made my a good God, so I stopped believing in it intellectually. I still believed, and still believe, in Hell on an emotional level.

    After that I spent the next ten years sliding into deism. I wouldn’t have called it that, but it’s essentially what I was. I believed in God because I couldn’t imagine something coming from nothing and because the phrase “God exists” was self-evident to me. I could have no more imagined God’s non-existence than by parents’.

    Then I stumbled, quite accidentally, on the writings of Robert G. Ingersoll. His work lead me to conclude that the Bible was not even divinely guided, and that the arguments for God did not stack up. I think the most important aspect of his work was that a strong sense of right and wrong, of morality, of compassion echoed throughout his writing. It said that non-belief was safe, possible, and sane. It said that any argument I had for God had to be good; self-evidence and intuition were not enough.

    I now, for the most part, no longer believe in God. As I said, my brain seems wired for belief, so I sometimes look around and think “there must be a god! The world’s just too wonderful for there not to be!” or “oh no, I’m going to Hell” but I recognize these for what they are, and move on.

  • Alex Emerson

    I read the Bible.

  • Jeffrey

    My story appears here, along with plenty of others.

  • 386sx

    My deconversion began when I saw how my parents acted when I asked them if Santa was a made up story or not. That planted the seed. And then later all the religion stuff didn’t make sense and a lot of it just sounded really stupid. It especially didn’t make sense that a god would act like a complete idiot all the time.

  • 386sx

    I remember once when I made a point about a bible verse to someone, and I thought for sure I had them. (I don’t remember exactly the verse.) Then to my utter shock and dismay, they told me…

    …yep that’s right…

    … I was using the wrong translation of the bible.

    That’s when I knew people would go to ridiculous lengths. LOL. That was quite a shocker at the time!

  • fancyplants

    From my original blog post here.

    My story is pretty tame compared to the journeys expressed by the other posters so far, although this topic is one that has encouraged me to look back on an aspect of my past life that I had forgotten about.

    I grew up in England, which was/is much more secular than the US, and so I was fortunate to be raised by parents/grandparents who were mostly non-believers themselves, though didn’t label themselves as such, (they had some religious artefacts remaining – my mother would say ‘don’t take the Lord’s name in vain’ whenever I would say ‘oh god’ or something, almost as a knee-jerk reaction). By and large, faith played little part in my early formative years.

    What little I did have, was found at school and Friday/weekend cub-scouts and reached a peak just before my teens. Prayers and hymns in morning assembly, going to church most Sundays around the age of 10-12 as part of a community gathering, and so on. One cold winters’ day, as I was stood outside church waiting to go in, I looked around. I saw the cars on the nearby road driving past without their passengers giving so much as a glance towards the church in respect, and at the rows of terraced houses flanking the perimeter of the church grounds, many with their lights on and snapshot views of their owners keeping warm inside, watching telly instead of coming out to worship.

    I initially thought that they were in the wrong, choosing their selfish comfort over what was becoming a weekly pilgrimage of sorts for me; something that was just done. In the days after, my thoughts focused a little more on the subject. I hadn’t really separated out the religious aspects of my life from the other things going on, and realised that I was just going to church, and praying and singing hymns at my school without really taking the time to think about what it was people were telling me and getting me to accept without question.

    So in private moments I would try to make sense of the situation, and one day just stood in that same place outside church, and asked God to give me a sign that he existed. If a sign of unmistakable clarity showed itself, I would continue with my faith and attempt to strengthen it. If one didn’t, I would assume for the moment that God did not exist and I would remain of that mind until I saw evidence for myself to the contrary. Five minutes passed, and I dared myself a little further: I said in a quiet but determined voice to the sky: ‘God, I don’t think you exist. Prove me wrong and show me that you do.’

    And that was the basis for my non-belief. No answer or revelation (or lightening bolt) came, and that gave me the clarity to start dealing with life in a less complicated manner. I began miming to the hymns instead of singing them, I went to church but looked at the people there as receiving emotional comfort from within, not spiritual guidance from without. As I got older and more aware that different religions and faiths and cults existed, I found that looking at them from a psychological viewpoint was far more enlightening – mixtures of traditional habits not easily shaken, a human desire to align oneself with a group for comfort, a need to feel ‘in the right’ and all the peer pressure that glued it together was more believable for me than any notion of a ‘Loving God’, especially when you bring into the equation all the ugliness in the world that he supposedly produced, together with all that smiting he likes so much to do.

    For several years, this was how it was: generally not believing but not thinking about it too much, until about four years ago when I moved to a neighbouring town that were a little more serious when it came to conviction. As I spent my non-working days getting my new house together (it needed a lot of work) I would have my front door approached by Creationists, Jehovas’ Witnesses and Alpha people. Each would start with some general question about the evils in the world to get you onside, followed by various unsubstantiated claims about how a life of faith would sort it all out. I wanted to say ‘you’re wrong, because…’ but I didn’t have any argumentative knowledge to back it up.

    So I started to look deeper. I wanted to make sure that I was objective in my search; after all, I had based my non-belief so far on a snotty question fired into the air on a cold winter day many years previous. I found sites online, both faith-based and atheist/humanist, and slowly got myself a more proper understanding of what it meant to be a Christian, Muslim, Creationist, Atheist, Humanist, etc. Wherever I looked, the religious side of things seemed to be propped up on assumptions and half-truths, and while I can’t say I understood the minutiae of the the opposite arguments, being often waist deep in scientific understanding, they definitely made a lot more sense and helped solidify my view. They certainly struck me as more plausible than the religious sorts, who would often turn back to the bible or some other holy book whenever they were posed a question they had no answer for.

    And this is how it is now for me. There was no evangelical bullying or peer-pressure (for which I consider myself extremely fortunate), no coercion to rebel against, just a slow realisation, often from a spectators point of view on other countries and cultures, that faith is a human invention. The term ‘Man made God in his own image’ rang truest of all the things I have seen and heard.

    I consider myself an atheist-agnostic – I am comfortable with my disbelief, but there are still things that have a big question mark for them – such as what triggered the big bang, what caused the first spark of life, and what exists outside the boundaries of the universe, but in the absence of an answer, I just stick a large question mark in its place (it could be the work of some being that may fill the description of ‘God’ but I will assume the default option that it isn’t for now). I hope that some day in my lifetime, we can learn enough to perhaps replace some of those question marks with answers.

  • atimetorend

    I progressively struggled more and more to believe the magical supernatural parts, and it became easier to just let those beliefs go and hold on to things I knew were true, like the value of community, the value of confessing struggles to your friends, loving people, laying down your life for others, etc. All the while inwardly not believing the supernatural part. The conservative christian church doesn’t have a lot of room for that kind of “faith” though, and I found myself pressed more and more as far as the confessions of faith that are expected in “normal” everyday christianity. Like, “I believe Jesus died and rose again,” or, “yes, I believe that Satan can control people,” or believing in the “power of prayer.” I would casually give ascent (right word?) to those beliefs, because it was a lot easier than confronting unbelief to my family and friends. At some point it all became too much, it just wasn’t worth it to go on ascribing to the crazy beliefs (which also on the side include conservative family values, young earth creation, voting republican; things I never ascribed to), and I faced the relational stresses rather than continue with the intellectual dishonesty. As many others will attest, it is a wonderful liberation of the mind to step back into the rational thinking world. The belief part finally came off like a band aid, a sudden and brief pain, though the relational struggles require a lot more untangling for me.

  • Mr.Pendent

    This is being cross-posted at my blog. Pardon my coarse language:

    We were never super-religious in my household. The church we occasionally attended apparently held some Southern-Baptists leanings (such as frowning on dancing), but I didn’t even know this until I was 18 because my parents thought that such ideas were silliness and so didn’t even give them lip service. We often prayed before meals, and in high school I even was part of a youth group, to the point of almost leading (“teaching”) it. That was when my first atheist occurance came up: I had a job on the weekends, and the youth group leader said, “I don’t know how I feel about you working on Sunday.” I think he might have just been thinking out loud, but my immediate (although unvoiced) reaction was, “Who the hell are you to feel any way about me working on any day? What business is it of yours?”

    My feelings sort of wavered for the next few years as I studied ecology and biology, but I never felt that religion and science were necessarily mutually exclusive, just unrelated–I guess like science and cinema.

    The final, “I am an atheist” moment came years later, when I began to date a woman whom, I found out, had been molested for years as a child and now suffered from PTSD. After seeing a few of her “memory” episodes–including more than once seeing her pupils actually shrink, like Wile E Coyote about to get squashed by a boulder–I seriously began to ask what the fuck kind of deity would allow this happen?

    I came to Epicurus’ ideas in my own language, deciding that there were three possibilities: 1) God could not stop this from occurring; 2) God did not want to stop this from occurring; 3) There was no God. The first one meant “God” was inconsequential. The second meant that this “God” was not someone to be worshiped, but an evil force to be actively opposed. The third seemed the most likely: God did not exist, and (some) people were evil fucks. And when I examined the world from this framework, things started making a whole lot more sense. I have been an active atheist ever since.

  • Sam

    My story is pretty simple. Raised Roman Catholic, but, like most Catholics, went to church on and off. In Alabama, being Catholic was nearly as socially reprehensible as being gay or atheist, and I got a lot of crap for “worshipping Mary” and other nonsense. I realized that many local Protestant church leaders really knew nothing and held no qualifications. So I attended masses, avoided Sunday school (chose boredom over the creepy instructors), and took communion classes.

    I started questioning in high school. This is lame, but Internet forums played a big part in this. I had never read good arguments for or against a god, and the ones against made much more sense to me even then. Uncomfortable with my feelings, I decided I was agnostic. (around this time my family fell out of church mostly due to my parents’ work obligations)

    I remember I would try to discuss religion with people at school, but they would quickly shut down to any debate. They just never thought to question what they were taught at church, even if (especially if) they didn’t understand it.

    Towards the end of high school I decided I was fooling myself by claiming agnosticism. I realized that my head and my gut did not believe in god, and there was no shame in admitting it.

  • rabbitambulance

    I don’t really have a deconversion story.
    I grew up in a small, very catholic town; nuns ran my kindergarden, and until I was about eleven, I had two hours of indoctrination each week, with those same nuns. But I can’t remember a time in my life where what I heard from those nuns had any more truth than the greek and norse myths I liked to read.
    And then, when I discovered the atheo-blogo-sphere, it was like a light went on in my head. “So that’s what I am!” shot through my head.

  • stillwaters

    I asked the right (wrong?) questions, like “How do we know that the things that happened in the bible are true?”

    When I received answers like, “You just have to believe”, my immediate response was, “And what if you don’t believe? Are the stories then false?”

    I was well on my way out of living in fantasy.

    I would like to add that I came to disbelief entirely on my own. At the time, I had never (at least to my knowledge) met an atheist, nor had I heard or read any atheist arguments. I became an atheist through my own questioning, thinking, and observing. I questioned church doctrine. I thought about the insufficient answers I received. And I observed absolutely nothing from a “supreme” being.

    I am quite proud of myself for this accomplishment. Although, it felt very lonely for a very long time. And then the internet came into existence, and I found another 30 million others like myself. Hello, everyone! It’s so nice to meet you.

  • KShep

    Like others here, I didn’t have an atheist “aha” moment. It came gradually. Growing up, my southern protestant mother and non-practicing catholic father refused to send my brother and I to any church (something I’m forever grateful for). I think it was more from my mother, whose growing up years were marked with a lot of violence, poverty, and even a divorce (her father went out for a pack of cigarettes and never returned, leaving behind a housewife and 4 kids—In 1950). She was, and still is, a true believer, but hasn’t attended a church service in at least 44 years. She will very pointedly address the many discrepancies found in religious doctrine, and I feel she didn’t want my brother and I to have to go through all the inner turmoil she did. Listening to her, you often will come away feeling you’ve just been lectured by an atheist. But she isn’t.

    Anyway, by my late teens, I had already decided that one of the worst things society had ever devised was organized religion. I remember seeing a bumper sticker that read: “I like god—it’s his fan club I can’t stand!” and thinking that it described my thoughts perfectly.

    In my 20′s, I saw all kinds of things in society that didn’t add up—the anti abortion crowd using obvious lies to advance their cause (seeing photos in Life Magazine of a priest carrying around a stillborn fetus he had stolen from a hospital. He claimed it was an aborted child), the catholic priest abuse scandal (which came to my knowledge as early as 1980, long before the HUGE explosion of publicity in the ’90′s), a friend’s girlfriend who was kicked out of her house and “officially disowned” by her beloved father because he thought she was “living in sin” (I wondered how a man could so easily cut off his own flesh and blood over a dispute about religious teaching), and others like these that shaped my thoughts about religion.

    Then I got married, at age 29, and became a step-dad to two beautiful little girls. Being a parent means looking at things from every possible angle when dealing with the day-to-day responsibilities of child rearing, and I began to see how religion tilts the world against girls. It angered me to no end, and further shaped my thoughts against religion.

    I never called myself an atheist until a few years ago, when my now college-attending (step)daughter took an introductory religion course, and fell in love with the subject enough to change her major to religion. She and I had many, many discussions about religion after that, and I learned much about the actual nuts and bolts of religion from her. It was also about this time that I discovered this wonderful blog and others like it, and the things I learned here found their way into our discussions. There came a time, for the both of us (she was first), that there was simply no other option but to call ourselves atheists. I now have no problem calling myself an atheist (nor does my daughter), although I’m careful about who I’m talking to at the moment. Some people are not comfortable being around a godless heathen.

    It’s been said here and at many other atheist hangouts that the best case for atheism can be found in the bible, and I can’t agree more. Educating myself about religion was the final nail in the coffin.

  • Polly

    I am quite proud of myself for this accomplishment.

    Ditto. Breaking myself out of the spell is on my top 5 list of things I’m most proud of. Because, no one else could have done it for me and because whole industries are devoted to counteracting the journey out. I implicitly gave the finger to every authority figure in the universe. Now I do it explicitly.

    I started out wanting to learn more about the Bible – which I had read multiple times since childhood. I read some stuff by Jack Chick about how the KJV is the only true version. That really spooked me. So, I started to read Richard E Friedman’s “Who Wrote the Bible.” Not only was it a great intro to JPED theory, but he really connected the dots for me regarding who wrote what and what their angles could have been. It clicked from there intellectually. It was as if scales fell from my eyes. Of couse, I had already come to suspect the Earth and life on it couldn’t be 6,000 year old. So many other nagging questions too numerous to list had also, once again, come to the forefront of my mind and this time I wasn’t content to merely send them scurrying back to the dark corners of my mind. It’s kind of a blur now, but I was also skimming through an online version of Common Sense by Thomas Paine around that time. The ideas about the difference between faith in experience and hearsay-faith really affected me. The Bible contradictions he listed were also pretty darn strong and not as easily rebutted as some other contradictions.

    The emotional barrier was removed right around this time by tragedy that I won’t get into. Suffice it to say, the evidence of a Holy Spirit was sorely lacking in someone who boasts, to this day, of spending 2-3 hours every day in deep Bible study and parayer. Meanwhile, the purported “love of Christ” I’m always hearing about was pouring out of heathens.** That removed the one and only remaining claim I had to divine activity,

    “Well, maybe god doesn’t heal people, prevent disasters, or do anything substantive to guide people to the one true religion but he, by his Holy Spirit, works in the hearts of people so that those who act as his helping hands will receive an inheritance along with his Only Son.”

    That was my claim. But, that claim was patently, demonstrably FALSE. With the intellectual support of my faith removed, I finally admitted it to myself and abandoned faith altogether.

    I’m sure I’ve said most of this before. Sorry for the repeat.

    **I know some Xians will purposely misinterpret this to say that I fell away because of a bad example but that’s not what I’m saying and I think I’ve made it clear enough.

  • Aly

    It’s been almost three years now. I was only thirteen when I deconverted (I’m sixteen now), and for me it was rather painless.

    Before, I had been a Hindu. I had truly believed in it all, and tried my best to think of God (in itself a good deed, worthy of good karma) and to be a good Hindu. By the time I reached thirteen, however, I was no longer as enthusiastic about religion and such.

    One day, after having read something by Ayn Rand for the first time (I believe it was Anthem, probably her best book—but that’s not saying much at all), I looked up her article on Wikipedia. I came across the term “agnostic” for the first time. I clicked the link.

    I read all about agnosticism (weak and strong), how it related to atheism, etc. By the time I closed the window, I had decided that I was an agnostic: unconvinced that knowledge of God was possible. However, this revolutionary idea tugged at me, and I kept thinking about it until I went back to that article again. After rereading it and thinking deeply, I came to my final conclusion. I wasn’t an agnostic; I was an atheist. I started Googling around and came across Ebon Musings and this site very early on. I’ve been a faithful reader ever since.

    It took me several months to tell people. I started out with a couple friends, and now even my parents know, although they’re not exactly happy about it. Hell, my dad even said he considered himself a failure as a parent because I’m an atheist now.

    The thing I find funny is that I came to Wikipedia, which has a neutral point of view policy, with an open and curious mind. That summary of the positions was all it took for me to switch my view, despite years of teaching to the contrary (though I was never indoctrinated or anything). A neutral, well-reasoned approach can only lead to one conclusion: there is no God.

    I guess I owe my atheism to Ayn Rand (this just might make up for the time I wasted slogging through Atlas Shrugged). ;)

  • uhclem

    I was born the third of five into a relatively benign religious family, my mother having been raised presbyterian and my father coming from a german lutheran strain. While I was confirmed in the lutheran church, this mostly amounted to memorizing the lord’s prayer and professing to understand what the various parts of it meant. I wasn’t really confronted in a serious way with hard core believers until I married a woman who was raised in the southern baptist persuasion. At the time, I realized that religious differences could cause real problems in a marriage, but having never really understood what true believers were like, and taking as a matter of common knowledge that religion was “good”, I entered into what is now over 20 years of marriage.

    For the first thirteen years, I was very seriously involved in evangelical christianity, at an evangelical free church and later in a baptist church. I did the whole deal, full immersion baptism at the age of about 35, children very heavily indoctrinated; my daughter was baptized at age 10. Toward the end of my involvement, I was on the board of trustees, leading the singing at contemporary worship services etc. etc.

    It is very humbling to have spent 15 years working toward being a scientist, all the while holding serious christian beliefs (“A lot of good people will be going to hell” – I really believed that). A couple of critical items served to prime me for my path away from the fold. Basically one of my stepsons was having severe emotional problems, going so far as to threaten my life. About six weeks later, the massacre at Columbine high school occurred. This really made a severe impact on me at the time. I think my ability to compartmentalize people into two classes, “real” christians vs. everybody else started to fracture, thinking about the horrible things happening to real kids.

    I was stewing over this for about 8 months until believe it or not January 1, 2000. If you go to the astronomy picture of the day for that date, there are links to other links which discussed flaws in the bible. I had never seriously investigated such things in the past. I told myself that I was a fundamentalist christian but not a literalist in that I didn’t hold every single statement as literally true, but that the main ideas were holy, and that the holy spirit would always be around to prevent any confusion. The trouble was that there were huge glaring problems which somehow no one had ever explained to me in a way that I would take seriously.

    The internet is a wonderful and terrible thing. Here I was, heavily invested emotionally and financially in a belief system which I could no longer support. I had a wife with a black vs. white mentality towards the bible (“you don’t get to pick and choose which parts of the bible to believe”), and all of my friends were from church. For 15 months I kept all of this bottled up, certain that my wife would leave me and take my daughter with her if she discovered by heathen ways.
    Finally I let the cat out of the bag and explained the fact that I was having serious doubts about my beliefs to my wife. She insisted that I meet with our preacher, which I had no problem with, so I did meet him a couple of times. I presented my doubts in writing to the preacher and darn near deconverted him from the looks of it. He certainly was unable to supply coherent answers to my questions.

    To this day, a verse from 1 Timothy stays with me “… there is no fear in love.” So I have an all-knowing all-powerful all-loving god who sends people to hell. And there’s no fear associated with this? Believe what you’re told or you’ll burn in hell, but don’t be fearful about it? “Work through your salvation with fear and trembling…” but “there is no fear in love”? “Fear him who, after destroying the body has the power to cast you into hell”. Well this has never been satisfactorily explained to me for the simple reason that there is no explanation.

    Now, almost nine and a half years later, I’m still married to the same woman, who still clings to her beliefs, albeit with less fire and brimstone than in times past, and the children are now out of the house. All but the wayward stepson (who is now in prison) know my views, and I now know so much about the bible that I’ve reached a place where I’m ok with who I am. It’s ok to be good for goodness sake, certainly better than the imaginary carrot and stick approach. True, since I’m very introverted I don’t have many friends outside of family – since I stopped going to church, those relationships all mostly faded away, but there are occasional contacts.
    My daughter remarked that I didn’t seem to be too happy of late. My response was that religion undoubtedly can be very comforting to people, but that doesn’t make it true.

    Ten years ago I would have declared that the my identity was a man of god, a husband, father, and scientist in that order. These days I’m just a guy who’s interested in all kinds of stuff, still always a father, but content with who I am and where I’m at. And life goes on, and it’s ok.


  • chanson

    I’ve posted my deconversion (from Mormonism to atheism as a teen and young adult) on my blog:

    Background, the evidence, the tipping point, and how I became an atheist.

  • stillwaters

    Hell, my dad even said he considered himself a failure as a parent because I’m an atheist now.

    @ Aly:

    Sorry to hear about this. It’s rather sad that you make up your own mind, free to think what you want to, and draw your own conclusions, and he views this as a failure. Hell, I wish *more* people would be like you. And I say that as a father myself.

    As far as I know, all three of my kids are atheists, and I’m proud of each of them for being freethinkers.

    Anyway, be proud of yourself for your open mind. It is a great accomplishment. Some people never get there, throughout their entire lives. And that’s what I would call a failure.

  • Antigone

    It’s odd to compare deconversion stories with conversion stories. The main differences seem to be that deconversion stories involve a long time; a process of thinking and examining the evidence, whereas conversion stories are normally an “ah-ha” moment. It’s even weirder yet that the deconversion is normally a painful thing, and conversions are all about joy and feeling right with the universe.

  • LiquidThinker

    It is great to be among such distinguished company here. As for me, my “deconversion”, as such, was certainly not as dramatic as some I’ve read here or elsewhere. My family is religious and at the age of 11 or so, I was a pretty fervent believer and remained so a couple of years. But I did have a few doubtful moments that caught my attention reading the Bible. Things like the Exodus story, the Elisha “hit-bears”, etc., kind of stuck out as pretty odd and planted the first seeds of doubt. Then there was a kind of rebellious early teenage stage where I just decided “not to believe”. Childish? Sure. But it was perhaps also a kind of dare. Not sure how one can choose to believe in something or not, but in my mind at the time, I figured I could. In spite of the Old Testament stories, I figured that if God was real and the loving, merciful being I knew him to be, he’d throw a life line before it was my time to go. In the meantime, I’d see how life would be without worshiping this guy, who I was apparently upset with for some forgotten (and probably unimportant) reason.

    While having a normal life and sort of waiting for the life line, my curiosity about the world eventually drove me into a career in science. A combination of scientific study and secular reasoning gradually led to a dawning realization that there would be no life line. That, in fact, I had already learned how to swim on my own and there was no need for one. I can not pinpoint exactly when that was, but there were moments early during that realization process when I did want to believe, in spite of the petty cruelties in the Bible with which I was quite familiar. Off and on, I would try to find support for my earlier Christian beliefs. But the more I approached the problem, the less reasonable Christianity appeared until I finally came to grips with the fact that the whole thing was built on a foundation of sand.

    Somebody earlier had made the observation that deconversion was often a more difficult and painful road to take. I think there are at least two reasons for this. The religious life can provide some measure of comfort, a cozy security blanket with perhaps happy childhood memories (that would certainly be the case for me). Complementary to that are the threats of hell, which also constantly lingered in the back of my mind. Both of these are difficult aspects to leave behind. But shed of the security blanket, we no longer need fear hell and can face the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. The world, as it is, is a much more fantastic place than ever hinted at in old scriptures.

  • Tom

    Interestingly, Antigone, especially in light of the “high on religion” thing we’ve seen mentioned here, your description of the difference in experience between conversion and deconversion seems remarkably similar to that of getting hooked on a drug and giving it up.

  • Wedge


    I wonder how much of the difference between the two is due to the social pressures influencing the stories? Conversion stories are usually put out as a ‘witness,’ to convince other people of the glories of their particular god; although there’s a lot of talking about how bad their life was before finding god, they want to emphasize how great everything is now that they’ve converted. Stories about slow, painful conversions full of doubt don’t sell.

    OTOH, atheists are usually trying to reach out to people who are going through a painful process (losing their social and philosophical support) and want to show other people that they aren’t alone, so they talk about how tough it is. ‘Meh, no big deal’ doesn’t sell.

    Of course, not everyone feels like they have to frame their stories to fit the need, but the response to stories does set up a kind of expectation.

  • blargon7

    First some high-level background and then I will get to the actual crux of my deconversion. I was raised in a conservative religious environment that started out Southern Baptist due to my parent’s heritage of such teaching. I was taught all the usual bible stories and beliefs, did sunday school, vacation bible school, and all the fun, “innocuous” activities. When I was about 10, my parents took a hard turn into the “Full Gospel” movement and we moved into the realm of the tongues-speaking, prophesying, god-wants-you-rich-and healthy, independent charismatic movement. Soon after we started attending the growing Lakewood Church here in Houston, TX I went forward and “accepted Jesus as my savior” and got baptized. What a big day! My parents were weepy, and I go to call my grandmother and give her the good news. I had been washed clean by the blood of jesus, and I would now go to heaven like all my family by saying the magic words.

    I was subjugated to a steady flow of all this foolishness that my parents had bought into all the way. God was apparently too busy enriching Ken Copeland and his ilk though while we slid into financial ruin thanks to the oil bust of the early 80′s that took the Houston economy out. We lived with several friends and relatives over the course of 1-2 years and watched a good friend of my parent’s wife die of complications due to her chronic diabetes. They were also fellow charismatics. I then got to move away from all my friends and community of 6 years just two weeks prior to my freshman year in high school. We moved 60 miles south of Houston and we did manage to stay there for my entire 4 years until my graduation.

    During those tumultuous teen years, we were part of a local full gospel church so the weirdness continued, and I accepted it and lived like a good christian teen should by not dating (can’t date those ungodly girls after all!), going to church, and the like. For the most part this is not about the people we interacted with from the church, they were generally good folks who helped my family get through some pretty tough financial times. It is about the belief system that bound them all together, and helped make my teen years not all they could have been (though on the flip side I did avoid some things that would probably not have been too great for me no matter what my beliefs had been….)

    Moved on to college and became involved with the Baptist Student Ministry and eventually did do some of that elusive dating and met my wife of 19 years now during that time. She was a Southern Baptist and I settled back into that mode of christian existence as I was backing off the more fringe beliefs of my parents. We dated for over a year and were then engaged for 8 mos. before getting married while still in school – don’t worry, we both finished :). I spent my 20′s dealing with all the “crazy” theological stuff I had been indoctrinated with growing up and settled into a mid-range evangelical fundamentalism. We worked with teenagers as well as other functions in the church. We had been married for eight years when our first daughter came along and our second came along 2-1/2 years later. By that time, I was past all my struggles with childhood beliefs and was shaping my theological worldview and stance (as in any make believe club, there is a wide range of opinion even within the same group). I did come to be an old-earth creationist though (Ala, Hugh Ross) as I just could not ignore all the evidence that this rock we live on seemed real old. I was not informed enough on the biological sciences though to really consider evolution seriously. My exposure was just to the church’s mis-characterizations of the science.

    Fast forward to age 37, we are in the Sunday School class of a nice guy with a great family. The guy is an oil geophysicist but a rabid young earth-er with the full charts of Bishop Ussher from the 1500′s. At one class he was gone and left a video for our consumption – a real gem straight from the ICR. By the time I walked out of that class, I could not believe that I was even associated with idiots like the one on the film doing nothing but ad-hoc observation and what amounted to personal attacks on those scientists in the film – via edited sound bites and quote mining nonetheless.

    I revisited my Hugh Ross material and really started seeing the holes in his logic as well. I turned to the internet to research and decided I needed to read the opposition in their own words. I found Ebon’s site here almost out of the gate;and well, it had contained pretty much all the information necessary in one spot for me to make the leap from believer to non-believer in 4 months or so (and what it didn’t have, the Secular Web did). I did a lot of other reading also and covered all the topics as my favorite apologist arguments were utterly destroyed by facts and reason. I do not mean to imply that I did not struggle with this because I did. It blew away the foundation of my whole life practically, but it all made sense. I was just tired of struggling to rationalize things that I now see are just mythology as fitting into the real world. I think my wife was a little shocked when he said that to quote “was not necessarily surprising as I have seen several people from within who just couldn’t make it all add up anymore” and communicated that he would be glad to talk with me some if I wanted to – something I have not felt any need to do.

    To me, that statement said that he realizes that he would have little chance of parting me from my newly found sense of freedom and oddly enough peace. It is a lot easier pickings to find those folks at work or of acquaintance who might be having a hard time or be in an emotionally vulnerable state to work your religious magic out on. A little harder to consider somebody who worked it from the inside out to reach their conclusions (not that I am the smartest guy around or anything like that – quite the contrary).

    Unfortunately, I was “in the closet” during this time period and after I had made my decision. I was quite worried about how my wife was going to deal with this and I had two young kids to deal with also. I actually went from mid-2006 to late last year under the radar before I admitted to my wife how I had changed as to my beliefs. She confirmed that she had sensed something was going on but did not realize the extent of the change. She was very upset, more so about thinking I might pack up and head out than anything else. I reassured her that this was not the case, that this was about me and how I thought but not her (though I know it does involve and affect her obviously). I was not on a mission to leave or to convince her out of her beliefs. She was initially of the mind that “I had read all that bad stuff, but did I read the responses”. Well, I have spent a lifetime reading all the McDowell, Lewis, Giesler, Platinga, and others that you could shake a stick at and it didn’t matter. The arguments are built on something that is not real, so they don’t stack up. She also thought if I talked to someone it might have swayed me from this path, but I again told her that looking back on it all, those things would not have made a difference in the ultimate outcome of events.

    I am not a real emotions driven person and live in a more pragmatic world. Like uhclem above, I was not completely immersed in the social network of the church having something more like a large network of acquaintances unlike my wife who derives her social needs outside of family from her church circle. Other than her, I have not really come out from the shadows other than not being at church – which hasn’t raised a lot of issues since my wife assists with teenagers once again and then attends a service (it is a large church). As a kicker, she did need to confide in someone, and I said that that would be fine so she did have some conversations with a close friend of hers as well as the SS teacher whose video started the ball rolling. I did not know what his response would be, both guns blazing full-on apologetic attack or what, but that was not the case. I think that my wife was a little shocked when he told her quote “that is not necessarily surprising and I have seen several people who just could not make it add up anymore” and then communicated that he would be glad to talk to me if I wanted to. Something I have felt no need for to date.

    So here I am about to turn 41 enjoying my life and family. Preparing for the soon to come day when I will need to talk to my daughters about what I believe and why and communicate to them that they will be free to choose and live their life and beliefs as they choose. I just do not want them to live a life that was thrust on them by dogma without full knowledge of the alternative freedom available. Perhaps my wife will move one day toward this thinking but I am not counting or expecting that. I may attempt to officially communicate my stance to those we are acquainted with in the church or not. I have not really decided on that front. As far as my wife, I pointed out that from her point of view, I was covered according to Paul who says in 1st Corinthians:

    “If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?”

    This is one of those catch-22 areas in the Bible because there it is in black and white – as long as somebody believes you’re golden. Hard to argue from the evangelical, literal standpoint against that. Of course the theologically-minded will twitter on about sanctified vs. salvation, etc…, etc…, but I think that verse helped keep the peace through the situation better. I am just glad to be done with that minutia and am enjoying reading all the good literature as well as studying up on evolution and other topics (not to mention getting to see the pregame show during football season!).

    Thanks ebon, for all the information you so lucidly put together and originated. I may not always agree with everything said here on all topics, but this is surely a treasure trove of thought and reason.


  • blargon7

    I think I may have messed up some of my lengthy post above by inserting some text twice that I thought I had lost during entry, so pardon the order of reasoning if you hit the section in the “Hugh Ross” paragraph that gets repeated down below where it actually belongs.


  • Catinthewall

    I deconverted before I started forming memories. I was brought to church as a baby, and always screamed as soon as the organ started. after a few weeks, parents game up and have never forced me to go again. When I was 8ish, I found several boxes from my dad’s past filled to the brim with old pulp sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks. They were often too difficult for me to completely understand, but whenever I could, I used CD-rom encyclopedias (this was before wikipedia!).

    As a side affect, I learned in detail about the pantheons of the Norse, Greek, Ancient Egyptian, and many others. By comparison, Judaism and it’s spinoffs were boring.

    I got high on science and math, from cosmology to quantum physics to topology, or at least as much of it I could actually grasp. It taught me burden of proof, and I’ve been godproof since.

  • Demonhype

    Raised Catholic in a Catholic suburb, and went to a Catholic school grades K-8. My parents weren’t really all that religous, but I sure didn’t know about that until I was in my late teens or so. They’d lost a lot of the devotion but still had enough programming left to believe that early religous indoctrination was in a child’s best interests.

    None of the indoctrination ever really took hold. I think that part of it might be genetic–just not wired for it, my dad was the same way as a kid, so I found out much later–but the big thing for me was unicorns.

    Yes, unicorns.

    I believed in the existence of unicorns. I’m not going to be too ashamed of that, because I was six (though it lasted until about third grade)! But I had decided that I really and truly believed that unicorns were real and would totally appear before those who believed in them and maybe even grant wishes. I drew unicorns and wrote story after story about unicorns. Sometimes my stories even had threats about what might happen to those wretches who dared to deny them.

    So everyone’s concerned, because apparently believing in a magic Jewish zombie is all right, but believing in unicorns is just crazy-talk. I get all this crap from everyone (all of them part of this devoutly Catholic community, mind you, as well as my parents who seemed to see Christianity as a healthy cult to be indoctrinated into, but found my childhood Unicornism alarming) about all the scientific, logical, and historical reasons that unicorns don’t exist and never have, and if I keep believing in them I must be insane.

    So eventually I asked (in all innocence, I assure you) for the scientific, logical, and historical reasons that all this much crazier crap in the bible is true. I figured that if my beliefs can be shot down for lack of evidence, then they must have some amazing evidence, especially since they claim so often that they alone know the truth about everything. So I asked an honest question.

    What did I get from them? “Well, we don’t need evidence because we’re right, and we already know that we’re right, so that’s the end of the argument.” All I could think was “so, you’re right because you’re right, and I’m wrong because you already called it, yah, makes total sense.” I was incredibly peeved at them for that. So the fact that you “know” you’re right makes your lack of evidence meaningless, but lack of evidence makes all other beliefs meaningless? I “knew” that unicorns were real just as much as they “knew”, and I saw no reason that the lack of evidence that disproved my beliefs somehow didn’t disprove theirs. I outgrew the unicorn thing, but I think that my hatred of hypocrisy might have started with that. Was I ever disgusted with their arrogance!

    And I think it was all downhill from there for Christianity, though I would latch onto the whole Cayce/Seth Speaks/ghost/psyhic thing for a while and still believed in some vague “something” of a universal intelligence. My hatred of hypocrisy eventually did that in too, as I would enjoy questioning orgainzed faiths–especially Christianity–but would studiously avoid looking at any criticism of the paranormal. Even then, I couldn’t escape the fact that no ghost or psychic research conducted with real scientific rigor never seemed to cut the mustard, nor could I escape that subconcious realization that I was being hypocritical with the way I applied my standards of evidence. Between that and my introduction to the atheist communties on the internet, I lost my faith in all things supernatural. I believed in that much more deeply than I’d ever believed in Jesus, but even my deconversion to a materialistic atheism never approached the level of trauma that I’ve read in many other deconversion stories.

    Of course, I had been pretty big on Seth Speaks, and if anything ever turned out to be true I would bet on that. I don’t believe it, I just think it has more potential to eventually have enough evidence to be plausible. But it was heavy into reincarnation, the rejection of any personal gods, the lack of necessity of religious-type belief, and morality being not just about how you treat other people but how you actually regard them. I know, I’m sure there are forms of Buddhism that are like this too, but this is what I was exposed to. A lifetime of being surrounded by the devoutly faithful, who were uglier and more hateful than anyone I had ever met, had shown me that religous faith is not only not a source of morality but seemed to be a barrier to it in many ways. And when I went onto those atheist forums, I saw some incredibly well-adjusted and wonderful people who could be incredibly moral without any religous faith at all. According to my Sethian beliefs, the atheists were far more “spiritually mature” than any religious people I had ever met.

    I started thinking that perhaps the only way to really be a moral, decent person was to drop all assumptions about the way the universe worked (particularly those involving the afterlife, which can never be more than speculation) and start using one’s logic and reason in conjunction with one’s basic human empathy. That moved into sort of a reverse Pascal’s wager–that if I’m right about Seth then I’m set, but if I’m wrong, it’s no loss because I’ve tried to live a productive and ethical life, which is still a plus. One thing just kind of flowed into the other without a lot of resistence, and from this point it just eased right into atheism. One day I realized I was referring to myself as an atheist, and that was that.

    Amusingly enough, I read the Cayce and Seth because my mother gave them to me in the hopes that they would “restore” my faith in Christ, as they had for her when she was doubting in her own youth. She still can’t imagine why the books didn’t have an identical effect on me, but then she also thought I had any faith in Christ to “restore” in the first place. (That also came as a shock to her. I had to explain to Corporal Punishment Annie that just because you force a kid to dress up and sing a song about how much they love Jesus doesn’t make them mean it. Perhaps I just didn’t want to be hit for expressing doubt, since I’d been hit enthusiastically for much less, and this church thing seemed to be much more serious to them. Yet another reason not to hit your kids–at least, not if you want them to feel they can confide in you about the really important things.)

  • Sara

    so this is my first comment here but i like the idea of sharing deconversion stories – even though mine is a bit different. here goes!

    I don’t recall ever really believing. this made childhood very… interesting when it came to church. my family took me to methodist church from a young age, telling bible stories and going to sunday school and singing in the choir. the thing was, when i was little i just thought it was stories, like disney movies or fairy tales. i imitated what i saw people in church doing – ok they go up and take the little snack, and sit with your head bowed for a bit. when they explained prayer it just seemed kind of silly to think about talking to someone who wasn’t there so i just day dreamed instead. i remember having a moment of epiphany- that people actually believed these things were real. i remember it was an argument i was having with my nanny’s kid, who went to catholic school – one of those “well my something-something is bigger than your something-something” competitions. “mine’s as big as the planet” she said. “well mine is as big as the galaxy!” i said. “well GOD is bigger than EVERYTHING” she said. i was maybe 8 years old, and it was silly and embarrassing to think about… and i didn’t know who to talk to it about. so i kept doing what was expected of me by family and church friends. this trend continued through high school – I was confirmed, and continued to sing in the choir and go to youth group, all the while not really believing any of it. at the same time, it was kind of “popular” to say you were an atheist among my friends… i wasn’t comfortable enough to talk to family but with my friends i jumped on this idea, even though i didn’t give it a lot of thought. so to my friends i called myself an atheist, but to my family i was a good little christian.

    it wasn’t until college, when i could escape the expectations of going to church every week, and met new people to talk to that i really started to embrace my atheism. i started discussing faith with christians and found i was able to rationally argue my views. i was able to defend my atheism, largely because i began thinking about how happy i was with my life WITHOUT belief. but that was just the start of it – i was learning about science and loving it. and when i finally found other people who had embraced atheism and had gone through a similar gradual awakening, then i was really comfortable enough with myself to be truly open. i am still not necessarily completely comfortable discussing my lack of faith with my family, but it is getting there.

  • Jim Speiser

    That was a great post, Sara, because it resonated with me as well. I remember thinking one day, “Wait a minute. You mean….we’re actually supposed to believe that stuff really happened???” I, too, thought it was all supposed to be symbolic or metaphorical, I guess, the way Hawaiians tell the story of Princess Leilani as a kind of cultural icon, but they don’t REALLY believe it.

    So I was never a true believer, and alas, don’t have a real deconversion story to tell. But I am enjoying reading those of others, and I hope you all appreciate how tremendously important these stories are to our understanding of the “psychology of the other.” Its zeroing in on those chinks in the armor, those cracks in the shield, that will someday put the lie to the whole religion business. And I’m glad to hear one guy say that arguing with atheists in Internet chat rooms had an effect (and no that’s not lame!). It gratifies me to think that it might have been me you chatted with (back when I had nothing better to do than to sharpen my fangs on unsuspecting fundies that wandered through my chatroom).

  • Kyle Crawford

    I grew up a Southern Baptist with the typical Christian attitudes of intolerance for ideas about the world that didn’t fit with my own. I began to slowly doubt as a kid which, at first caused me to cling more fiercely to Christianity, and I became quite a fanatic for a short time.

    Slowly, however, I came to see the glaring hypocrisy found in the Bible, in Christians’ attitudes towards others, and towards life in general. I started to read the Bible seriously and it seemed to contradict itself in not a few places. When I went to college, my beliefs were formally challenged by many professors which at first caused a sort of knee jerk reaction on my part, but began to have an influence on me. I became interested in philosophy and started reading the works of Ingersoll, Russell, Nietzsche, B.C. Johnson, Dennett, Dawkins and a slew of others and pretty much had an awakening. I realized that Christianity tries to keep its adherents from questioning and that lack of faith in the doctrines is the supreme sin of all sins. I abandoned Christianity about 10 years ago or so and have never looked back. Indeed, the more I look around, the more I am convinced that Christianity and belief in the supernatural in general is the cause of much needless suffering.

  • Scotlyn

    Interesting thread. My parents were/are Christian missionaries in Central America. I’ll not tell a story, I’m too old, and still involved in the long process, but some snapshots – I have no memory of my “conversion” story, but my mother tells it like this. At the age of 2 or 3 (I was an early talker) we had a conversation about how to take Jesus into our hearts. I asked if I would have to cut my head off so he could get into my heart. (Which perhaps was actually rather foresighted of me at the time). But having explained that I wouldn’t have to literally cut my head off, I apparently accepted the proposition and from then on, in my parents’ eyes, was “saved.” I clearly remember a fire and brimstone sermon (much more extreme than the ones I was normally exposed to) at around age 12. For a day or two I was totally caught up in this painful, but utter acceptance, of my own sin and depravity, and prepared, once again, to accept Jesus rather than have to look into my own well of evil any longer. I was a fairly sheltered and innocent young girl at the time, and so after a few days, this feeling wore off a bit, I didn’t feel I was such a horrible person, and I began to feel that being made to see myself as so utterly evil was in some sense a violation, a mental rape, and then I hated that I had allowed myself to be so carried away by it. But the whole episode dimmed after awhile. I still identified myself as “saved” throughout my teenage years, while also becoming caught up in the fight against injustice and poverty (if I had been Catholic, I would probably have gotten involved in liberation theology at this point, but we had no equivalent movement, that I was aware of, for identifying with the poor. This dual purpose – to canvass the world for Christianity, and to canvass the world for justice for the poor and oppressed created an irresolvable tension. In the light of this tension, reading the Bible cast a whole new light on its moral outlook, and eventually, for moral reasons, I realised that I had to dissent from following the God of the Bible. As you highlight so well on this site, He was not morally worthy of my worship. Over many years this view has been confirmed over and over. A recent argument with my father went as follows:
    Me – how do you explain that a good God, one that you, as a good person would wish to follow, would order the Israelites to slaughter every Canaanite, down to the last unborn baby?
    Him – but the Canaanites were sinners and committed great evil.
    Me – But God could have done the punishing himself, he didn’t need to corrupt the Israelites by forcing them to commit genocide on his behalf. That’s how gangs get people to join – by making them do something so bad that the gang will always have a hold on them. Anyway, I can’t seem to find what it is that was so bad that the Canaanites did other than worship the wrong God.
    Him – They sacrificed their children to Ba’al. Sacrificing your children is really depraved. Even you would agree, wouldn’t you?
    Me – I would. I would find the sacrifice of my children evil and repugnant whatever God asked me to do it. Any God that did could get stuffed. But that’s not what Abraham said to God when asked to sacrifice Isaac. He was willing to do it simply because he thought his God demanded it. How is that different from any other religious child sacrifice anywhere else?
    Neither of us is able to persuade the other. But I guess our friendly debates are better than not speaking.
    I am enjoying your site. keep up the good work.

  • Andrew T.

    I’m a bit late to the party, but here’s my tale. The full version appears on my weblog; such as it is.

    My parents came from mixed Catholic and Episcopalian backgrounds, reared their household in the Episcopal church, then jumped ship to the Methodist church after discovering the local Episcopal vestry was an Oliver North fan club. Religion was a matter I was born into, and initially took at face value. When I was young, I assumed the notion of attending church services and Sunday school and believing whatever people said in the bargain was simply what people did as a matter of course. Why? Presumably, because that was the way things were and no other option existed.

    I was, however, born with a critical mind…a mind that eventually began to quietly critique the memes of the church. Never once did I not doubt the efficacy of prayer. It became apparent to me from an early age that our church denomination was simply one of many religions extant in the world…that in spite of their apparent similiarities, remained mutually-incompatible to the point where people were reduced to elimination and bloodshed in the bargain. The last point shocked me when I first started reading up on history and world affairs, as I had assumed to that point that religion was a benign characteristic as unimportant as a shoe brand. People really didn’t take it that seriously, did they?

    It wasn’t until I consciously tried to be religious, however; attempting to make sense of the madness, that I really began to see cracks in the façade. I started thinking over the various aspects of Christianity and attempted to reconcile their implications: “Is the Bible true? If so, how much of it is literal and how much is figurative?” “If it is figurative, why do so many people think otherwise?” “Why does the Bible consist of what it does? Why does our church leave out the Apocrypha?” “Is it commendable to adopt idealistic viewpoints in the pursuit of religion? Is it even sensible?” “What if hell exists? If it does, how does one go about averting such a fate?” “Am I already too far gone, just because I haven’t been praying and looking forward to church every day of my life?”

    The more I thought about religion, the less I liked it. The presentation of the Bible as an infallable reference proved to be one stumbling block: Even if I gave it the overwhelming benefit of the doubt, the book came across as being unverifiable, factually-inaccurate, glaringly inconsistent, and at times morally-reprehensible at best. Moreover, I was disturbed by what I saw being justified in the name of God, Christianity, and religion as a whole every day: Scientific research and theory being stifled in laboratories and shunned from classrooms; the deprivation of gay and lesbian people of civil rights; women being forced to give birth against their will. In all cases, religiously-inspired ideals tended to be at polar odds with empirical evidence and logical analysis. I lived in rural West Virginia at the time, and got to see many of these abuses firsthand. Before I knew it, the religious fire that I had been seeking to fan had been extinguished like a wet match, and God had slowly but concretely followed Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy as the next illusion to fall. I don’t consciously remember the day I had this realization, but it had to have been when I was about eleven years old.

    When the dust cleared, it felt like nothing short of a revelation: A mask was thrown off, and a hundred-pound weight was lifted from my body. All sorts of issues that had dwelled on my mind, held up by the difficult task of being reconciled with ancient dogma and doctrine, began to promptly snap into place. I began sensing an urge to enjoy life to the fullest and appreciate the natural world for what it was, without being constantly worried about invisible entities and trivial issues in the bargain.

    My parents are acceptably tolerant of my beliefs, although at times I sense that they don’t understand them. (“I know you don’t believe in God and am opposed to everything organized religion stands for, but I still don’t understand…why don’t you like going to church?”) I do feel angry from time to time about the various issues and challenges atheists face in society. And while my intensity of opinion has waxed and waned several times over in the years since, my beliefs have remained constant and I wouldn’t dream of retrenching into the darkness of religion for anything in the world.

  • Debra Sherry

    My father died in a car accident when I was 7. My mother was bipolar and a raging alcoholic. Growing up sucked and created many insecurities and much depression. I married at 22, had 2 children, began going to church and prayed to God every night that my husband would be with me forever. Seven years into the marriage he had an affair and the marriage ended. I was devastated. I remarried 5 years later and soon after we began going to church. Before long I was totally immersed into Christianity. I had found my father and my salvation after a lifetime of pain. Church became the center of our family life for years, our foundation. I can’t say that things were perfect or even great because my marriage was very difficult for many reasons but I felt inside at least some sort of peace knowing “my home was not on this earth.” My eyes begin to open slowly over a period of years as my faith began to waiver, my eyes opening to the reality of the responsibilities we blamed on God and the canned answers to every horrible situation. Without going into long details about personal and non-personal circumstances that brought my faith to its pivotal point, I will just say I begged God to hold on to me and not let me go – for a long time that was the only prayer I could get out. When I realized He was not going to hold on to me, I knew He was not there. I have fallen hard from that faith. Whereas so many people I read about tell of it becoming a lighter load and a relief not to have “God” watching and judging their every move, even after 2 years I still feel empty. I found comfort in thinking there was a higher power who cared about me personally and in thinking of Heaven because Earth had pretty much been hell for me. It still feels like a betrayal, but from whom, really only the church or myself for buying into it. So I am writing this because i don’t think it is “just” to think that becoming an atheist is always such a relief or frees you, in fact, I have found that it was much easier to be a Christian and believe in fairy tales. Even in exploring other avenues of spirituality I steadfastly see them as a crutch. I hope to someday find a replacement for the “God” hole that was left inside of me and maybe I will, but for now, atheism feels pretty empty, and Christianity? a cult just like all of the other “religions”.

  • D

    You’re right that things aren’t always easier when you drop religion; it’s an infectious and self-perpetuating meme tailor-made to fulfill deep psychological urges we all have as a matter of brute biology. People don’t want to believe that they will some day cease existing entirely, and religion says you don’t necessarily have to; people want to believe that someone is watching out for them no matter how bad things get, and religion says that there is such a critter; people are uncomfortable with the idea that good may go unrewarded and evil may go unpunished, and religion says that this can’t happen; and on and on and on.

    In this way, I hope you can see how religion doesn’t really make anyone’s life easier – religion only makes it easier to avoid facing up to uncomfortable truths. If we wish to deal honestly with reality, then we must do so on reality’s terms, not on our own. Trying to deal with reality on our own terms (especially on things where we think reality isn’t “fair”) makes for wishful thinking and self-deception, fertile ground indeed for superstitious delusion.

    Or, put differently, religion is like a crutch that some people lean on their entire lives. They think the crutch is good because they like leaning on it, and they don’t feel strong enough to stand on their own power. If that crutch is suddenly taken away, then of course the person will be unable to stand alone right away, since the person is used to leaning on the crutch. But if the person enters a routine of physical therapy, building up the muscles and the coordination necessary to walk and stand without a crutch, then and only then can the crutch be tossed with a minimum of fuss – but even then, some crutch-havers will get their shorts in a twist because they think everyone needs a crutch to walk properly and get along in life, which just ain’t so.