Open Thread: Submit Your Deconversion Story

I’ve posted a link to a new deconversion story on Ebon Musings: “Deconversion as Withdrawal: Just what is this God-smack stuff, anyway?“, written by the vivacious and loquacious blogger D of She Who Chatters (whom you may recognize from her comments here on Daylight Atheism).

Having posted this, it occurs to me that I haven’t been doing much to solicit deconversion stories for Ebon Musings lately. That’s why I’m inviting you, dear reader, to send yours in. Are you an atheist who’s broken free of religion and wants to tell the world your story? If so, I want to hear from you!

I’ll link to your story if it’s hosted elsewhere, but what I’d especially like is to have new stories that I can host on Ebon Musings. If you have a well-written testimonial, or are thinking of writing one, leave a comment or send me an e-mail. I’ll read them over and repost the best ones. (If you sent in your story the last time I did this, you’re also eligible – let me know if you’d like to see your story reposted on EM.)

About Adam Lee

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

  • http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~edmin/Pamphlets/ Cyberguy

    My deconversion story.

    As a 17 year old in 1979, in Auckland, New Zealand, I had been a pupil of a particular Anglican boarding school for five years. We had Chapel every weekend, usually communion, a short morning service or two through the week, plus a weekly religious studies class for good measure. The Anglican message was pretty well drummed in.

    My academic strength was in science, particularly physics. A perceptive physics teacher noticed a lecture series happening at Auckland University, and suggested that I might enjoy it. So that is how I personally attended a couple of lectures by nobel-prize winning physicist Dr Richard Feynman, on the subject of quantum electrodynamics.

    The Physics Department at Auckland University has put that specific Feynman lecture series on the net and you can still watch them here – http://www.vega.org.uk/video/subseries/8. This series was chosen by the New Scientist as the best on-line videos in 2007, and are well-worth viewing.

    During question time at the end of one lecture I asked Dr Feynman about his safecracking exploits during his days at Los Alamos when we has working on the Manhatten Project. Off topic I know, but the only thing I could think to ask him at the time. To general laughter he replied “I see my reputation precedes me!”, and went on to say the safes holding plans for the design of the first atomic bomb were often not changed from their default combinations, or had guessable combinations. Sadly my question seems not to have been included in the Q&A on the video.

    Neither was some woman’s question that eventually awakened my atheism. She asked “Where does God fit into all this?”.

    His eventual answer was profound. First he started to answer by pandering to her obvious religious beliefs, along the lines that religion and science were non-overlapping disciplines. But then stopped his answer – paused – and said “Dammit, actually there is no god!”.

    This was the first time I had ever heard anyone say this so bluntly.

    Dr Feynman then went on to explain that physics was so accurate that there was no gap for any supernatural explanation to fit into. He explained that we know the fundamental constants of the universe such as the charge on an electron, or the Planck constant to an incredible degree of precision. He said that the resulting uncertainty in quantum calculations was so miniscule that if an answer was represented as the distance from you to the moon, the uncertainty would be as small as asking “Is that measuring from the top of my head, or from my shoulders?”.

    And the calculations match the experimental results to that level of accuracy, so that there is no room for a question of god to enter the equations. God is simply not needed for the theories to work. If god existed, he said, the level of accuracy known in the fine detail of the universe would reveal god’s presence in some way. But there was no trace, and hence no need of god.

    There was no gap larger than this infintesimally small margin of error for god to fit into. And a god hidden in such a miniscule gap could have no effect on the universe.

    It still took two more years before that explanation really sank in. By age nineteen I called myself an atheist and have been so ever since.

  • Siamang

    My story is contained in this question and answer thread from the old ebay atheist blog.

    http://www.offthemap.com/ebayatheist/viewtopic.php?t=247

    Here’s a snippet.

    If you’ve never been with someone when they died, I’ll tell you what you do, you watch them. You watch their eyes for any sign of relief or revelation. You wonder if at the instant of death, you’ll see a flicker of the life beyond reflected in their eyes.

    Well, I can tell you, it’s nothing like the movies. Nothing happened. No magical moment of release or awe. Death is, at its core, ultimately a physical process. The one thing I was utterly struck by was how completely non-spiritual the entire process is. Not to be gross, but It was like a bowel movement: A thing so utterly real and mundanely physiological that I simply could not attribute a spiritual meaning to it. It was the least spiritual thing I’d ever witnessed. It was a physical thing, blunt and forceful and completely without meaning. It was like dropping your car keys–no deep philosophy, no esoteric intellectual rationalization, no moment of psychic clarity– just the time before and the time after, and the difference between the two.

    So I came away with that and dealing with the terrible grief for the loss of my grandmother, whom I loved to the core. Since my childhood, she was probably my favorite person. It’s a painful thing to lose such a part of ones life. I think I had to get past the rawest part of that pain before I could reassess my beliefs. But I think that all the pieces were in motion at that point.

    I kept dealing with her death, and the idea of death in general. As I dealt with it, I felt that it was terrible how death is hidden in our society. We have these gatekeepers who keep us away and explain the whole thing. We had a minister speak at her funeral, and he explained the whole thing. Only he wasn’t there. I was. I was the one who held her hand, and kept telling her I loved her as she passed. The minister wasn’t there. He didn’t know or have any idea, any better than I did as to what happened to her in that moment.

    I think that in a year or two from that point, it all had to come down for me. Just the whole elaborate tabernacle of religion had to come down, because I saw in that moment that nobody knew anything. People made it their profession to say they know. They read ancient books, and prayed, and said they had the answers. But I could tell, they didn’t know more than I did. And they said “oh yes, I know. I have deep understanding of the Truth of God.” and all the while I could see right through them. It was like a four year old child saying “I understand all about calculus.” Many of them FELT they knew, and the more self-assured they seemed, the more I could tell that they hadn’t a clue.

  • CSN

    I never had Cyberguy’s enviable opportunity but Feynman also played a significant part in my deconversion at a similar age, through his books and videos. I was into physics, though I eventually ended up an engineer, but who he was as a person as much as anything helped me realize “It’s okay to be an atheist, you can be a positive, charismatic person and for that matter these seem to be the people who are really getting things done!”

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    I’ve posted my deconversion story on my blog:

    How I Became An Atheist, Why I Became An Atheist
    How I Became An Atheist, Why I Became An Atheist, Part 2
    How I Became An Atheist, Why I Became An Atheist, Part 3

    You might find it interesting, since it’s not a story of deconversion from Christianity or any of the other major religions. It’s a story about deconversion from woo. Please feel free to use it any way you like (including not at all).

  • http://avertyoureye.blogspot.com/ Teleprompter

    I have posted my deconversion account on my blog:

    http://avertyoureye.blogspot.com/2009/09/my-deconversion-story.html

    Here is an excerpt:

    “However, despite my active involvement in the church, I had not thought much about the basic essentials of my beliefs. I had read large portions of the Bible (I still haven’t gotten myself to read it all – I’ve been meaning to do it), and I prayed often, but while I grew up, I was never confronted by any serious challenges to my perspective. I had friends who went to other churches, but I didn’t really know anyone who was non-religious. I had this default assumption that there was a God, and that most of things I had been told in church were true.”

    “But that careless slight, that unintended observation — it struck me. I really had an existential crisis. I felt a surge of doubt paralyze me at that very moment; thoughts of “what if this (my beliefs that I had grown up with) isn’t true??!!”

    “What if this isn’t true?!”

    Doubt. I was struck by doubt. Nagging, overwhelming, unceasing, terrifying doubt.

    I suddenly realized that I had no idea why I believed what I did.”

  • http://unreligiousright.blogspot.com/ UNRR

    I posted mine on my blog awhile back.

    My Deconversion Story

  • http://howgoodisthat.wordpress.com Jim Gardner

    I myself have been free from any sort of religious superstition for some time now, but it always amazes me how many people who are the same arrived at this happy place not because they lost their faith, but because they gained reason. I think this should be something which is made much more of in conversation with people who are having their doubts about the various truth-claims they are expected to believe in, by their particular religion, but who fear that they will lose something of themselves when the skyhook which has cradled them for so long moves on without them.

    Faith is not a dirty word, to be avoided at all costs if you want to be “a real atheist”. We are the ones with true faith, in humanity—despite many compelling reasons to suggest this trust is misplaced. People with addictive personalities often swap one addiction for another. But supplanting the glossolalia of high octane witnessing with the in-your-face brand of activist-anti-theism we’ve all been guilty of at some point (late-night rants in blog comments, aggressive twittering and so on) is no way to show people the path towards rationalism and free thinking. Rather, it is better I think, to calmly explain the true beauty of nature and our place in it. To do this one has to actually understand science and critical thinking on a far deeper level than merely stubborn contradiction.

    That is why my de-conversion story is one of a transition from my being anti-theist, to simply what I call ‘awake’—happily floating along on this undulating grid of space-time; an evolved ape. The fiercely religious will always sort-of have a point about “those atheists” for as long as we bunch together in the pre-determined zones they have set out for us. They will only fail in their attempts to herd us into these tired and circular arguments for as long as we let them.

    The key to escaping these traps is a true understanding of science. I have staved off any number of repeat offenders in the comments thread of my moderately popular blog simply by quoting Weinberg’s disproofs of Hoyle’s “fixed constants”, for example. Or Einstein and Maxwell’s observations on the flexibility of space, proven experimentally by the slow decay of accelerated Muons. Once you step into the truly incredible nature of nature, few of even the most deluded religious; the Mormons and the creationists, for example, show any interest in engaging you further with their bronze-age guesswork, because this simply highlights their disinterest in reality.

    The net result of this is they go away angry with themselves for not being capable of drawing you into a theological debate. It eats away at them. Some of them come back for more. But a tiny fraction of them go to the library, pick up the first tomb of non-fiction they’ve ever read and begin the journey out of their childish arrogant certainties. This is enough reward for me. I don’t need to ever speak to that person again or confirm that it was me who had this effect on them. It is enough for me to know that it is possible—however small the odds, that my lack of interest in their superstitions, in the face of my exuberance about rationalism, wore off on them sufficiently so, that they began to ask questions of their own.

  • http://www.logiclounge.wordpress.com Melissa

    I was raised in a Baptist home (for those of you who don’t know, this is a denomination of Protestantism). My dad’s side of the family came from Italy, and of course, they were Catholic. When my dad met my mom, she had just recently become a fanatic of the Baptist faith, and so he left his Catholic roots behind to join her in her new found ideology. For the first 8 years of my life, I lived in Raleigh, North Carolina… a deeply spiritual, fundamentalist Christian, southern-bell part of America. I lived and breathed Christianity before I was even entirely aware of it. I attended a Baptist school which doubled as my church, and so I was frequented this place 6 days a week. Christmas/Easter plays, Awanas, Daily Chapel, Sunday school… that was my life, and my indoctrinated beginnings.

    We moved to Seattle, Washington when I as about 9 years old and I entered into another Private school with the same routine as the old one. My mom also began attending one of the mega churches in the area—Overlake Christian Church—and thusly she had me tag along. It wasn’t until I started attending Overlake that I felt the presence of God in my life. I wanted to serve God in any way I possibly could, so I joined the church’s drama team, the nursery worker program, the homeless outreach program, prisoners for Christ program, the choir, and participated in at least 20 separate mission trips offered by the church (one to Santiago, Chile where I had my 13th birthday). I was also put in a youth leadership role while I was there, and loved giving sermons to audiences of over 300 people in my age group. I was convinced that God wanted me to become a missionary when I grew up… and, since I had always loved science, I knew he wanted me to become a scientist so I could share the word of God by helping poor countries invent ways to grow food, etc.

    Out of all the various stresses and confusions my early childhood had (parents got divorced and a nasty custody battle that lasted about 4 years) the one thing I knew for sure was that I loved God. I had few concerns, as I knew everything was in God’s hands. He would take care of me no matter what hardship I went through. Church was a beautiful escape for me from that other confusing life. It made sense to me, and it gave me a sense of belonging I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

    In 2001 my mom decided to move back to her hometown in Michigan. We left Seattle and our big mega church that I loved so much, and started over in the smallest town I had ever seen. The churches were no bigger than 50 people per congregation, and it was difficult for me to find my niche there. I joined a small Baptist Church in my town and quickly started working to bring kids from my public school into the youth program. It was also during this time that I became an employee of a large Baptist summer Camp in Lake Ann, Michigan.

    This camp employed kids from ages 14 through 18 to come and work as either kitchen staff or maintenance staff at the camp. Our work schedule was from 630am-1130am, 1200pm-300pm, and 600pm-1000pm, making it a grand total of 12 hours per day of hard labor. Our compensation was about $13USD per day (which comes to a little over $1 per hour for our work). The times we were not working, we were required to attend Bible studies and chapel services. Suffice to say, we were never allowed more than two hour’s worth of free time. The people who employed us would say we were doing a great service for God, etc. They’d pull the “Jesus Card” on little kids and exploit them for cheap labor so they could save money. The camp pulled in millions of dollars every year, and the heads of staff were obviously well off, so I knew they could afford to pay their workers. But, instead, they brain-washed their children staff and gave us pennies for the most grueling, tiresome work I have ever done. I caught onto this at the young age of 15 and realized even then what they were doing, and how disgusting it was. I started to see what I had only noticed a few times in my past, which was how religious people used what I loved to exploit and take advantage of others. After that, I started to see the same attitude everywhere. I would get disgusted simply sitting in the pews during a church service and looking around at all the fake people. How I knew that many of them would go home and do the worst kinds of things, and yet judge everyone else around them who was not a Christian, saying that they were better than them simply because they had Jesus. I decided I didn’t want any part of that, and became embarrassed to call myself a Christian, since so many people were perverting what that even meant.

    Though I was unable to attend church anymore, I still considered myself a Christian. I believed for a long time that everything in the Bible was true (that’s how we’re raised in the South). But, all of that began to change when I went to college. I changed. The thing that influenced this change the most, I believe, was math. The calculus classes I took reshaped my thought process. No longer did my mind jump to different thoughts or ideas… I was taught linear reasoning. I have never heard of calculus having such a profound effect on anyone else, but I know that it changed me… namely, the way I thought and reasoned through problems. Math IS logic, and is known as the universal language. It only makes sense that the rationalization taught in mathematics would flow over into other areas of life.

    I slowly started to question the teachings of the Bible and the contradictions I saw between that and the rest of the world. I started wondering why religion had to even exist… why didn’t God love me enough to TELL me and the rest of the world, in a way that everyone unquestionably knew, that he did. And then, many of my friends and mentors started dropping like flies… so to speak. Five friends died within a year’s time. As everyone knows or could imagine, the loss of one close friend provokes many thoughts on the realization of how fragile life is, on where they could have gone, on how life would never be the same without them. Losing 5 amplifies that feeling, I think. My initial reaction was to get angry at God. Angry at why we had to be stuck in this trend, angry at how pain doesn’t make any sense coming from a God that supposedly loves us. This led to my realization that either God is here, working feverishly in everyone’s lives, or he’s not here at all… and things happen because that’s the way life goes. The former had stopped making sense to me. I felt that if God was as involved in my life as everyone says he was, I should know it. And, I didn’t.

    It took about 3 years after those events to realize that I had lost faith in God. That I internally did not believe in the God of religion… the personal god, the one who loves us, existed. When I did finally realize this… I freaked out. I suddenly had to look at the world through new eyes… I no longer had a defined purpose… I had to find my own. I no longer had a place to go once I died… I had to confront my own mortality. It was like a total rebirthing, and it was a scary thing at first. I started to have anxiety attacks when I’d think about death. I felt for a time that life was meaningless… that no matter what path I chose for my life, it didn’t really matter.

    That was a really hard time in my life, being introduced to such a huge level of uncertainty. And yes, it is hard to find meaning in your own life without someone just giving you an answer. But, it didn’t last as long as I thought it would. I have, in fact, found meaning again. I still find this world beautiful without attributing everything to God. I am getting more used to the idea of the finality of death… and am accepting mortality as just a cycle of life.

    Because of my background in Christianity, I know I can see both sides of the fence clearly. I remember what it was like… it wasn’t very long ago. I can also contrast the differences between the values of an atheist and the values of a Christian (or religionist). I realize that most atheists probably won’t share a similar story… as I was heavily indoctrinated as a child and heavily believed what I was taught until later in adolescence/ young adulthood. Because of my upbringing, most of my friends are Christian, as well as my family. I can’t “come out” to them because I know, unfortunately, I will lose many of them in the process. My family would especially not understand. So, it’s lonely in my world believing what I do… the point I want to make here is that it wasn’t my “choice,” as many religionists will believe. I did not reject God. My thought process simply changed in a way that would not allow belief without evidence.

  • http://10plusyears.blogspot.com/ 10plus

    Mine is here-

    Turning Points (I)

    Turning Points (II)

    It’s in the form of a letter (that I’m still writing) to some old very good Christian friends of mine to whom I never really explained what happened with me going from believer to atheist. Even though the writing is still ongoing, the two main reasons that I lost my faith are in those two posts.

  • Adele

    My family has been secular as far back as we can remember. My great-grandfather brought his children to church purely for social reasons, and when my grandmother finally got up the courage to tell her father that she believed none of it and was an atheist, my great-grandfather listened calmly. At the end of the conversation he got up slowly and said, “Well, Hélène” – my grandmother – “I don’t either.” All four of my grandparents were out atheists. Both my mother and my father were out atheists. I was, too – it was kind of the default for my family – until I was about fifteen, and my friend invited me to join a church group. It was a group at one of those uber-liberal Congregational churches that we have scattered all over New England. I loved it – but after a while I decided it wasn’t really “Christian enough” and joined another group at a more conservative Baptist church in town. The irony was that in my family the teenage rebellion was becoming a Christian, not leaving Christianity.

    In any case, when I went to college I joined another conservative church and became quite the little fundie. My parents were okay with this – but I was convinced they were going to hell, and every time I went to visit them things would escalate into a fight. I eventually stormed out of their house and told them I wouldn’t be speaking to them again.

    It was five years I didn’t speak once to my parents or to my sister or brother. I got progressively more and more into the church at this time – and more and more depressed. I started secretly reading scientific books at this time – I say secretly because at that point I was living with a fundamentalist roommate who was at my church. I only read my books in the dead of the night and hid them under the bed during the day, dreading that she would find out and tell our pastor. I had troubles sleeping and didn’t eat much. I lost motivation for everything.

    On Christmas a package arrived from my mother. I didn’t want to open it at first – but I did, in the end, and it was a copy of the newly printed The God Delusion. My family has always had a tradition of only giving each other already-read books – and this was one of them. There were pages that had been dog-eared, phrases underlined, words written in the margins – and over several passages, tear marks staining the page. I read it eight times in one week.

    I drove down to my parents’ – I was living in Montreal at this time, and they were still in Boston – and knocked on their door. My mother opened it – it was the first time I had seen her in five years. We both started crying and hugging each other.

    I left my church and moved out of my apartment very soon after. I can’t say it wasn’t painful – I had forged strong bonds with these people over the years. But I did, and in the end I was glad of it. I’m so much happier now.

    And a huge thanks to everyone here. You helped me so much on my way.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Melissa, Adele, bravo to you both! Those were two of the most heartfelt and moving stories I’ve ever had the privilege to read. In their own ways, both of those stories are inarguable evidence for the oppression and harm wrought by religion, and the liberation and joy that come with setting it aside and embracing freethought.

    The more stories like yours I read, the more it amazes me that anyone could claim atheists are anything other than sincere, or that we came to this decision lightly or for selfish reasons. We have living proof that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

  • http://personman.com Danny
  • Thumpalumpacus

    A native Texan, I was raised a Southern Baptist. When I was eight years old, My family moved to Teheran, Iran; since there were no Baptist churches active, my parents sent me and my sister to whichever churches their friends happened to attend.
    This gave me a good overview of Christianity.

    We also got to see Ramadan observed. The public expiations on its last Friday were particularly disturbing.

    In 1978, the revolution that overthrew the Shah happened. My school, a private international school, was very near the Grand Bazaar at the south end of town, and thus it was that on 5 Nov 78 it was surrounded by a riot/demonstration. Although we were safely behind a 10-foot brick wall, we could not go home, so the Army sent a platoon of troops and an armored car to our rescue. These units shot a path for our buses; I’ll never forget the th-thump of my bus rolling over a rioter. The carnage I saw introduced me in a very wrenching way to the problem of evil, and I wrestled with it for a couple of years, but no pastor I asked had any satisfying answers. I eventually saw that this was the case for most of my now-multiplying questions, but I was afraid to not believe. The questions kept coming to me, and I tried finding my own answers, and still came up empty.

    One day I realized that not only was I not afraid to not believe, but that I’d become a non-believer. It was so natural a position, by then, that I hadn’t noticed my adopting it.

  • Rodney Chlebek

    My deconversion was a slow, but hard-fought process. I was raised Catholic. After I left home, I was curious enough to bounce around from church to church looking for a sign of spirituality that I could put my finger on. My questions were bigger than the answers I received. I’ve also experience other non-Christian cultures and noticed that their convictions were just as strong as those here in the US. After I finished my Army Reserve contract, I went back to school for a second time. I found through sociology that there was a common theme that was most conspicuous in religion. People are products of their environment. My English argumentative thesis was “Science Vs. Religion.” I was a proponent of science but hadn’t realized the impact that religion had on today’s scientific community… or even early contributors such as Galileo. Just days ago I was asked what the catalyst was that brought me to atheism. Now I finally realize what that is. I’m very inquisitive and not satisfied with simple answers. My catalyst for atheism is wanting to reach a comprehensive understanding of reality and having the motivation to fulfill it.

  • Peter

    My deconversion happened over a period of several years when I was fairly young. I had been attending church with my foster family every Sunday for a few years and I really loved the way religion was presented to me. Living with a foster family made me a bit of an outsider, especially in the tight knit farming community where I lived.
    Religion and belief in God sounded like just the thing I wanted in my life. I was taught to respect others and treat my fellow humans kindly and they in turn were supposed to do the same for me. I was very keen on learning and I won a few prizes in Sunday School for my knowledge of the Bible and my perfect attendance record. I felt being part of the religious community would make me more accepted as one of them.
    My first taste of acceptance came one day after church service. The pastor would stand by the door of the church and offer salutations to his parishioners as they left for home. This was my first time in the throng as they left church since I was now in regular attendance instead of Sunday School. I can still remember the look on the pastor’s face as I approached and began to extend my hand to shake his. His smile became a scowl and he turned his back until I had walked past.
    I was used to being an outsider but this blatant rejection made me wonder what I had done to deserve such a slight. I soon came to realize that my only crime was not being born among the other churchgoers.
    My faith was not shaken by the experience but it made me suspicious that church was not as it first appeared. Over the next few years I began to notice other things that did not fit with what I was being taught. I began to think I was the only one in church who really believed what the Bible said.
    By the age of 13 I had rejected church as a source of any meaningful knowledge. Around the same time I began to wean myself of all supernatural beliefs or superstitions. I finally realized that I could never live a free life unless I rejected them totally. I still felt the Bible might hold some valuable lessons and began to read it with a few friends.
    My friends and I were reading the Bible unsupervised so we found a lot of passages that we had not known before. I was shocked at some things we found but I wasn’t ready to reject the entire book.
    A serious blow to my faith happened when I was 15 and watched the movie Inherit The Wind. When I saw how easily the statements in the Bible could be debunked I knew I was on the right path. My final bit of deconversion came as a result of being exposed to some very strong attempts at indoctrination.
    I took 3 science courses in high school. I was the only student in my grade to take chemistry, biology and physics. I was chosen to take part in an elite science group outside of school at the same time. Before my last year of high school I had to choose to live with my sister and her family or move across the country far away from my friends. I decided to live with my sister not knowing she and her family were all members of a religious cult.
    The cult they belonged to was very anti-science and my deep involvement with science presented them with a challenge. We had debates on various religious and scientific subjects several times a week. I found myself constantly having to defend myself against arguments I had never heard before. More than once my belief in the truth of science was shaken by arguments that, if they were true, would mean that all of science was a hoax.
    I spent long hours researching the Second Law of Thermodynamics, transitional fossils, radiometric dating, and more than a few bible passages. In the end the research served to strengthen my belief in science and reason and caused me to totally reject all religions.
    My knowledge has increased and become more confirmed in the 45 years since my exposure to Inherit The Wind. I’m sure without that movie I would have ended up in the same place. My sister and her cult were the real force behind me becoming an atheist. Some day I may tell her she is largely responsible for my atheism.

  • http://chronos-tachyon.net/ Chronos

    My deconversion was so gradual and started so early that I have a hard time building a coherent timeline out of it.

    One of the more significant events on that timeline, though, happened when I was roughly 9: my mom and dad divorced, and my mom’s church (Church of Christ) kicked her out not long thereafter. Despite feeling bewildered by the idea that my parents were divorcing, I was indignant at the church’s action since it was clear that no good could come of forcing them to stay together against their will.

    A few years after that, shortly before my 13th birthday, I started getting a clue that I was gay — not a good thing to discover about yourself when you’re growing up in Kansas. I couldn’t help feeling alienated by society, especially the more religious quarters of it: even though the vitriol was not aimed at me (I was too geeky to be seen as gay), I couldn’t not hear the abuse, and I couldn’t not take it personally. If I’d had any tiny bit of trust for organized religion after what happened to my mom, this eradicated the remainder quite effectively.

    Despite all that, though, I still maintained vague theistic beliefs for some while afterward. At one memorable point when I was 16, I even had a religious experience while praying for the fulfillment of some emotionally meaningful wish. However, even at that point, doubt was already at work in my mind: I increasingly felt the nagging suspicion that God was impersonal, miracles didn’t happen, and prayer was wishful thinking. Indeed, by the time I entered my Freshman year of college, I was a deist who disbelieved in any divine influence in the physical world from the Big Bang forward.

    The final phase of my deconversion had surprisingly little to do with the concept of God, and instead had to do with dualism. Despite believing in a non-interventionist God, I’d managed to cling all this time to souls and afterlives and notions vaguely resembling Universalism. Alzheimer’s Disease disabused me of that. In roughly my mid-teens, my grandmother was diagnosed with the early-onset form at a shockingly young age — barely older than 50. Early onset Alzheimer’s tends to be the most rapidly progressing form of the disease, and my grandmother was no exception. Throughout high school, she had been increasingly absent-minded but nonetheless clearly the same person. However, in the time I was away from home attending college, she progressed drastically and starkly.

    When I dropped out of college two years into my four-year degree, I returned home just as she was losing the last remnants of her personality. She shuffled and wandered endlessly. At one moment she was cheerful, the next crying, and the one after that furious — like a two year old in an adult’s body. She babbled constantly, as her brain replayed the familiar words from a lifetime of repeated thoughts and experiences, but there was no longer any meaning behind the empty syllables. Rarely, in brief but precious moments, her face would light up with recognition at the sight of a familiar face… then vanish an instant later.

    With a grim acceptance, I gradually realized that the soul-hypothesis was inconsistent with the evidence in front of me: if her soul were there, then her personality should be there as well; but if her soul had left her, she shouldn’t be able to recognize anyone, even for brief glimpses. The reality of her disease left me with only one explanation: her personality — the part of her that made her uniquely her — was a mere function of her brain, and thus vulnerable to the disease. The pieces of her that were left weren’t worth preserving in an afterlife, and yet at no point had there been a moment when her soul had been suddenly spirited away while still intact — if a soul meant anything at all, we would have seen it if it had. Without a soul or an afterlife, I no longer felt any reason to continue believing in a God: there was nothing left for a God to do.

    By the time of her death in February 2002, I finally and truly deconverted to atheism at age 21.

  • Hrd2Imagin

    I grew up in a Catholic family, my mother was/is “born-again” and my dad is the casual believer. Up until I was 28, I was also a believer at some level. At times I was very active in the church and internally spiritual, other times I didn’t attend church often, but was still very much a believer. There were times that I even called myself “born-again”.

    I was married in the church at age 23, and my daughter was born when I was 26. She was baptized in the church and my wife and I attended mass fairly regularly. When my daughter turned 2, and I was 28, several different paths in my life seemed to converge all at the same time:

    PATH 1 : All my life, I was always casually interested in astronomy. I liked black holes, nebulae, relativity, etc. I’d read science articles here and there, watched science shows on TV. And I simply thought that God created the universe with the Big Bang, and was undecided in the whole “Teach the Controversy” issue (at the time, I had a very poor understanding of evolution)

    PATH 2 : My daughter, who was just beginning to speak, would sing Christian songs with my mother. At the time, her favorite was “Joshua fought the battle at Jericho and the walls came tumbling down…” and my daughter would very cutely yell “BOOM!”

    PATH 3 : I discovered Podcasts. As a fan of Penn & Teller Bullshit, I started listening to Penn Radio Podcast, which then made me aware of the Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Point of Inquiry, Astronomy Cast, etc. I loved the skeptical community, I loved how well everyone used logic to tear down ridiculous claims. But every so often, these smart people that I respected would take a jab at God, and it angered me and really puzzled me, “What did they have against God?”

    THE CATALYST: Since my daughter loved the Jericho song so much, I decided to take a refresher and read the book of Joshua again. It was then that I read something completely shocking to me, a glorified story of genocide! Not only did the Israelites destroy Jericho, but even made a point to mention that they brutally murdered all men, women, children, infants and livestock at the command of God!

    At that very moment, it was as if my own walls crumbled and everything that I was listening to (but not fully understanding) from the skeptic community had just smacked me in the face! From that moment on, for the past 2+ years, I’ve not been able to stop reading. I’ve learned and absorbed more information about world religions, science, history, art, politics and culture then I ever had before. It truly was an awakening along the lines of Ingersoll’s Vow.

    My entire worldview has changed. I no longer live to ensure that my family and I get to spend eternity together. Rather, I live to enjoy them everyday, here and now. I’m not an atheist that’s out to deconvert others, but I relish the opportunity to smack down believers with logic, my favorite argument is the Problem of Heaven. (If free will is the cause of sin, and there is no sin in Heaven, then is there no free will in heaven?)

    I’ve come out to my family and it has caused some turmoil. My wife had a hard time with it for a while, but I think she’s now turning the corner of disbelief. My parents still struggle with it, but have accepted that I’m not going to change. I might come out to my Facebook list for blasphemy day, haven’t decided that yet though. =)

  • LindaJoy

    Gee, these stories are great. I am finding much comfort in them. I think I am still in the stage that Melissa describes when the realization of no afterlife comes marching into your mind. Intellectually I have no trouble with it. Emotionally, I must be, because since I realized that I am an atheist about three years ago, I am not very good at handling medical fears, most of which are anticipatory on my part, and not real. So it’s good to hear that others go through this transition issue too.

    I was confirmed a Lutheran at a nice midwest liberal church. Not the pushy types, and real nice people. I went to camp and enjoyed all of it. When we moved to NJ my mother tried to find a similar church, but couldn’t and just gave up. Dad was the type that said religious belief was important, but always seemed to have an important golf game “for business” on Sundays. There was a girl next door who was one of my first new friends in NJ and she invited me to be a part of her church’s youth group. I remember the kids meeting at my house one time and discussing how you can’t go to heaven unless you accept Christ. For some reason, a question popped into my mind and out of my mouth, “But what about the people who were born before Jesus or never heard of him through no fault of their own?” Well, the quick answer was that all these people would go to a kind of waiting area after death and then be judged by their life deeds during the second coming and go to heaven or hell then. I thought, “That’s not fair. That’s not the God I believe in.” So I told my mom. She handed me a book by James Kavanaugh entitled “The Birth of God”. He was a priest who left the church. That convinced me that church was not important for belief. Several years later, she suggested a book by Elaine Pagels entitled “The Gnostic Gospels”. That had me wondering why those books weren’t in the bible, and how did all this Christianity stuff come about anyway? So I read the history of Christianity and the whole bible. All of that made Christianity very easy to walk away from, but then I wondered where I could find my “God”. I got into reading about Native American beliefs and really thought that was it. God the Great Spirit. I blended that in with New Age stuff- holding crystals, reading The Celestine Prophecy, squinting my eyes in order to try to see auras, etc. I still wasn’t quite sure I had found the tradition that fit my idea of “God”. Then I got an job at a high energy particle physics facility and a whole new world opened up for me- quantum physics. Maybe my “God” could be explained by that! I read Edgar Mitchell’s The Way of the Explorer and joined the Noetic Sciences Institute. I loved their articles. I read Deepak Chopra who loves to use quantum physics to explain God. But after awhile, I read some of the works of physicists who were very upset by this science/religion blend, and I began to see their point. So I decided that the “God” I believed in wasn’t there either. Then a change in my life caused me to move to Kentucky. Suddenly I was immersed in this in your face christianity all the time, and struggling to maintain my personal belief. One day a thought came to me (maybe from god?!Only kidding). Maybe the reason I still could not find the tradition or philosophy that explained my “God” was because my “God” was all in my head! God was imaginary!! Why it took 30 years to figure that out, I don’t know. Last year, I bought Julia Sweeney’s DVD of her stage show, “Letting Go of God”. Not only is it funny, but she went through many of the same phases I did. And I love her little scene of god sitting by her front door with his bags packed ready to leave looking small and insignificant. It really fit what I felt. So that’s it folks. Now I gotta work on afterlife thing. It is much tougher in many ways to let go of that than letting go of god, but I’m not going to take 30 years this time! Thanks to everyone for sharing and listening!

  • purpletempest

    Hello again,

    First time this has been written down anywhere. I’ll see if I can avoid rambling too much (yeah right).

    My family moved around a lot when I was young. It wasn’t until my mother married my stepfather that I began going to church with any regularity, the Episcopal church he belonged to already. I believed what the priest told me: God loves me, He became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ to save me (though how exactly that worked, I didn’t think much about at the time), He also appears as the Holy Spirit, blah blah blah. The church was moderate and mostly apolitical, as far as I was aware, so early on I was sure that the Bible wasn’t meant to be taken literally. I believed that the message of love and compassion I was told was in there was the most important thing, not the specifics. It was Christianity of convenience. Going to church was something I did because it was what people I knew did, unless they’re lazy and want to sleep in on a Sunday so they weasel their way out of it.

    I got full tuition to college, fulfilling the dream my mother had for me since I was young, and went off to school to study psychology. Halfway through freshman year, I realized I hated the psychology program, and felt deeply unsatisfied with my life. All that work for all those years…and that was it? But I wanted (still want) to help people, to be a source of comfort and support, and I thought my Jesuit priest and nun professors were awesome. Hey, I thought, I’m Episcopalian! They have women priests! So I changed my major to dual in English and Theology, with the intention of going to seminary after I graduated.

    Six months later, I’m home for the summer, reading Karen Armstrong’s ‘A History of God.’ Now, I’m aware of Ebon’s criticisms of her, and I think they’re well founded and I agree with them. The “all the religions are the same deep down, really” namby-pamby wishful thinking she promotes is naive at best and deluded at worst. However, I didn’t know about her philosophies at the time. Her book was the first more or less neutral description of how Judaism, and Christianity and Islam following it, arose in the peoples of the Middle East that I had read up until that point. So it got me thinking.

    I had read Augustine in my freshman Philosophy class, and he hinged a great deal of his theology on Original Sin. But I was coming to realize that Adam and Eve probably never really existed. If there’s no Adam and Eve, if that story is just a metaphor for an ancient writer to express his thoughts about the human condition. then there is no Original Sin. If there is no Original Sin, what did Jesus die for? The idea that he died to save me from naughty acts I committed or would commit seemed patently silly. If this is God dying and rising again, anyone who believed should through his divine magic woo automatically not sin. He’s freaking GOD. But obviously that’s not the case.

    I just couldn’t come up with a good answer for why God had to take human form and be crucified. To understand us better? He supposedly made us in his image. What was there for Him to understand that he didn’t already put there? (So I thought at the time.)

    So if Jesus died for nothing, maybe he wasn’t really God.

    That pretty much ended me being Christian right there, which also put an end to my plans on being ordained. Once I was over the Jesus hump, I did some bouncing around and dabbling to figure out just what I did believe concerning God or gods. I was taking classes on Buddhism as part of my Theology requirements, which as many here may know, is not theo-centric. The Buddha accepted that there were gods, but claimed that they were on the same wheel of samsara as everybody else. The fact that Buddhism lives side by side or is integrated with the religions that preceded it in many parts of the world was a sort of model for me. I was also reading up on various neo-Pagan religions. What emerged from all that was the general idea that there were beings out there, they were more powerful than me in some ways, but not all powerful. Some were benevolent, some were malicious, but we were all reincarnating again and again, with enlightenment as the ultimate goal. This is in a nutshell the belief system I held for several years.

    Then I became pregnant by a guy I had only known for about six months.

    After my parents divorced, my father saw less and less of me until he just quit altogether – that was seventeen years ago. I know first hand how easy it is for a parent to simply leave. Yet here is this man I’m just getting to know who’s willing to marry me and raise our son together.

    On top of that, pregnancy is a crazy thing. It seems like you’re just dragged along for the ride by these chemical processes you can’t see and only know about when they make you throw up or burst into tears. Yet I ended up with this absolutely amazing kid.

    Why did I get a great family out of a careless night, when other people get abandoned? Why did my son get to be born to parents who love him and can financially take care of him, when other children suffer, are abused, or starve? It’s not just. It’s not right. Yet it continues to happen, perpetrated by people that delude themselves into thinking they are not bad, because it’s not really their fault, or because they are better than those they are hurting.

    This is, of course, the classic ‘problem of evil’, which is usually addressed from the basic premise of an all powerful yet somehow all loving God. I had already moved on from that idea, but now I was beginning to see that I couldn’t accept that there were little-g gods around, either. Cruelty and suffering are just too widespread. People convert to new faiths or become more entrenched in their supposedly “good” religion, but it’s just a facade and their interior motivations don’t change. If they do good things, it’s because the impetus to do good was already part of them, not because of some higher being. There’s no evidence anything is influencing us other than measurable, detectable physical factors. So why believe in any gods? The idea that there are beings out there that somehow need our worship, the idea that we have to worship anything, now seems silly and a waste of time.

    I’m pretty sure if anything is discovered that could by any stretch of the imagination be called a god, it’s completely uninterested in human beings. However, I choose the label “atheist” over “agnostic” because I’m not just leaving the question up in the air, but actively living and making choices on the premise that there isn’t one. I live Without gods. I’m happier for it.

    Sorry this is so long. Thanks for providing a place to share, and thanks to everyone for your stories. They are a pleasure to read.

  • http://wilybadger.wordpress.com Chris Swanson

    I really haven’t got much of a de-conversion story.

    From the time I was a young boy, I apparently never took religion all that seriously. My mother tells me that at the age of seven or eight I used to argue theology with my grandmother (her mom), who readily encouraged me to think freely and question things.

    I went through the motions as a kid and into my teens, doing things like going to church when my mom made me (a liberal Methodist church it was, home to our local PFLAG chapter), getting baptised and confirmed and going to church camp each summer.
    But I never bought into the whole thing.

    When I got a little older, into my late-teens and early-twenties, and was going through the start of my sexual coming out process, I briefly entertained the whole Wicca thing, and went through the motions on that for a couple years (including reading a laughable book on the subject. I recall a spell they mentioned for getting a job that involved doing some tricks with pennies and water and candles and prayer and then putting a whole lot of job applications. Guess which part was more relevant to the task at hand?), but lost interest. I went through the whole Buddhism thing for about three weeks as an effort to get down someone’s pants (it failed, thus pointing out that while there may indeed be many valid reasons to change religions, doing so to get someone in bed is not one of them).

    Eventually I sort of drifted in my late-twenties to my current state of total atheism. I’m much happier this way. It’s certainly a lot less complex. :)

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Wow, there’s a lot of good stuff in here! I haven’t even read most of it yet, though – I just wanted to say “thanks” for the shout-out and the link, and also that it’s great to see all these stories of apostasy!

  • Caiphen

    Hey Hrd2Imagin

    When is blasphemy day? I think it’s time for me to fully come out.

    My story- it’s too long! All I can say is that rationality won in the end.

  • Nes

    Sorry Caiphen, you missed it. It was September 30th. There’s always next year, if you can wait that long.

    Or just treat every day as blasphemy day ;-)

  • goyo

    Hello All:
    I’ve always wanted to submit my story, but never thought anyone would want to hear it, so here goes:
    I was born and raised in East Texas, home of the bible belt. Everyone here is Southern Baptist, and your status is judged by the church you belong to. I was a typical kid, forced to go to church everytime the door was open. Of course, during my junior high years, I went to a church camp where I was coerced by days of emotional pleading and fear of hell to “walk the aisle”, and got “saved”. My parents were ecstatic, for this meant I was going to heaven.
    I never got into religion, even though I continued going to church until I graduated from High School. After leaving home, going into the Navy, then later University, I never gave religion any thoughts.
    My next big spiritual moment came when I had my first child, and someone presented me with a copy of “The Late Great Planet Earth” by Lindsey.
    This actually had some answers to bible interpretations that I had wondered about, and I began to really study the bible for the first time in my life. I read the whole book twice, and when I started answering questions in my sunday school class, I was invited to become a sunday school teacher. I really got into the bible then, because I approached it as something to study and learn from. I took two years of N.T. Greek just so I could learn more about the bible.
    As I got deeper into by biblical studies, I soon began to think my other church friends weren’t as spiritual as I was.
    This led me to a pentecostal church, as they seemed to be deeper into prayer, and I couldn’t see why my prayers weren’t being answered like theirs were. I began speaking in tongues, believing in spirit possession, name it and claim it …
    I also noticed I liked their worship services, because I am a musician, and they had really good bands, and I missed getting high… the church services were a form of getting high for me, as we really worked ourselves up to get in the spirit.
    I moved from the pentecostals to calvinist reformed church. Again, they seemed to have the answers.
    To sum it up, I always had problems with the contradictions in the bible, and the fact that no one’s life seemed any different to me, even though supposedly they had the indwelling of the holy spirit.
    I found an old copy of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and read it through twice. I came to the conclusion that I was an atheist about 8 years ago, and have never looked back.
    It is a problem to my family. My mother is heartbroken that I have renounced the faith and is sure I’m going to hell. My wife is a believer (deist), and refuses to talk about it. I can’t talk about it at work because the majority of people I work with are xtians, and could affect my job.
    I found Daylight Atheism when it first came on line, and have been reading it since. Thank you Adam.

  • Caiphen

    Goyo

    Now you’ve compelled me.

    Wow, what a story.

    Looking back like you, I’ve been an atheist for 20 plus years. Some of our experiences are quite similar. I too denied science in favour of religious nonsense without ever truly believing my erroneous choice.

    I’m not bitter though, I met the love of my life in the church, so I’m thankful for that. But, damn, I threw away so much money. I wonder if I can sue the church to get it back? I can only wish.

    Daylight atheism has been fundamental in me being honest with myself.

    Without giving the guys a head the size of a pumpkin, this site is doing a top job and I’ll continue visiting it while it exists.

  • Virginia
  • Rollingforest

    When I was in middle school, God was a lot like China: something far away that didn’t affect me much. As I grew older, China became more real (saw it in the news, met people from China) and God became less real (Science never showed anything supernatural happening, and I never saw any compelling reason for believing in one religion over another). While my faith was weak, I think I actually did deconvert from faith. This came as I was exposed to the fact that some people didn’t believe in God and that was okay.

    (by the way, my spell check wants me to change ‘deconvert’ to ‘reconvert’. I think my computer is trying to evangelize me ;)

  • Stan

    I think, looking back, I have always been a “teapot agnostic” toward God, which flourished into my freedom from ignorance while going through my military training just a few years ago.

    Growing up in suburban (though, by most American standards, quite URBAN) New Jersey (Morris County, to be exact), I was raised by a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. The belief in my house that there were different but equally valid paths to God always confused me as a child. Honestly, this is the master of the f**king universe we’re talking about. One would expect He’d have left slightly more explicit instructions about how to make him happy. Perhaps he’d have left the odd note behind, which, to modern eyes, would read as a series of phrases in ancient languages, with each recitation of the phrase growing more modern, until it reads in modern English (or perhaps another language) “Everyone go Catholic,” followed by yet-to-be-understood recitations of the phrase in future languages that will only be understood after our language has evolved sufficiently along the course of history. But I digress.

    In case it wasn’t apparent, I am a terrible Christian. I ask far too many questions, and I was no different in my youth. I was always terribly disappointed by the conflicting nature of the Bible, and of the answers given by “learned” church-peoples (what I called them). When I was taught how to pray (which you’d think would be an instinctive act) at the age of six or seven, I was blown away by how scary it is. You’re going to talk to the all-powerful creator of the universe, who knows all, sees all, and is infinitely powerful. I was always terrified I’d “slip up” and lie during prayer, or, for a flash of a moment, pray to the devil in some kind of prayer experiment, and lose my soul to an eternity of torment. Furthermore, I was really confused why we had to memorize ways to pray (specifically the Nicene Creed). God knew what we were feeling, right? Couldn’t we just love him and Jesus and he’d know it? Why’d we need to stop our days and tell him? Ironically, the act of praying sowed the seeds of legitimate doubt.

    Years later, thanks to some very un-Christian decisions made by my mother, I was off to Catholic school. Morris Catholic High School, in Denville New Jersey. Go Crusaders. Woo. While there, I met some of the most despicable, moronic, self-serving jerks I’d ever met in my life… as well as some nasty students. I won’t mention his name, but suffice to say the “President” of the school, Father “Rat” was a really villainous, scheming rat of a man (with bad teeth to boot). He struck me, as a freshman with an overactive imagination and a love of comic books and animated films, like how I would depict Satan. With his little white collar and black shirt, he’d roam around and bully students with flashes of gingivitis and that nasally, irritating voice. Anyway, he wasn’t a nice guy, but we were supposed to believe that, because he was an ordained priest, he was closer to God, Jesus, and the rest of the gang than the rest of us. Enter into my life someone I WILL name; Mr. Ward. Mr. Ward is one of the kindest, gentlest, most genuinely good men I’ve ever met, but he was a layman teacher, and therefore, when it came to God, was not as authoritative as “Father Rat”. Remember my habit of asking questions? Suffice to say, by the time I graduated from high school, I had been officially excommunicated by the Catholic Church, banned from the school grounds following graduation, and had my name removed from the school’s roster of alumni (only by the grace of the ACLU was my diploma saved). The local bishop even got a signed letter of excommunication for me. I didn’t know they still did that. Again, ironically, it was a function of religion which drove me further away from belief in God. A pattern was developing in my mind, and it was fast growing into a philosophy.

    In college, I ran into very few atheists. In fact, the only “outed” atheist I met at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, PA (go Colonels. Woo.) was one of those silly far-left Marxist types (he even wore a beret and refused to bathe. Bonus points if anyone can explain to me how those qualities somehow make one a better revolutionary for the proletariat). At that point, I thought I was most like a Jew, with a very pragmatic outlook on God, and held a loose belief in an impersonal God. I figured he probably didn’t get too involved with our personal lives, and it stood to reason that he was just kind of “out there” doing whatever it was he did with his time (skee-ball is as good a theory as any). Going through the USAF’s ROTC program (Det 752. Go Raptors. Woo.), religion wasn’t really a big deal, and most of my colleagues were very understanding of someone who had very little faith, just as long as they believed in something, and believe in something I did. That is, until Field Training.

    For those who are unfamiliar with ROTC, its a program which allows college students to attend university classes while going through a part-time officer training course. The idea is that, after four or five years of college, a student is ready to commission as a new officer in the military, ready to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Anyway, for those of us in the USAF’s program, Field Training is like an Officer’s boot camp in the middle of the summer between our sophomore and junior years of university. We go, get yelled at, do lots of retarded things like make our beds a certain way, and generally prove that we’re capable of handling ourselves under stress and in an unforgiving environment. While there, we were challenged mentally as well as physically. It was really the first time in my life I’d ever needed a little backup from the Big Guy Upstairs. For the first time in my life, there was an honest, no-strings-attached appeal to Him for help.

    It didn’t come. There I was, running my tenth or eleventh lap of the black-topped track behind the OTS buildings in Maxwell AFB in Alabama, sucking wind as cadets passed me on my right and left. I think I was passing the water fountain which leaked all twenty-eight days we were there, when I realized the culmination of decades of thinking. After analyzing all the data, after computing all possible explanations for why God didn’t do what I was told he’d do, the only rational explanation was that “He doesn’t f**king exist”.

    It was a curious feeling. There was no rush of emotion, no startling paradigm shift. I don’t even recall breaking my stride. It just clicked, much in the same way a math problem is solved to satisfaction in one’s head. There is no God, and that explains everything. All those questions finally had a nice, rational answer to them. Amputees weren’t healed because God didn’t heal anyone. Evil existed because nature doesn’t care about people and humans can be jerks. Science trumps faith. The universe has no purpose but that which I give it. Nobody is going to make me run faster; it is on me to push myself.

    Only weeks later, after returning home a proud graduate with another spiffy do-dad on my uniform, did I ever really think back about what kind of significance that moment held. Again, there wasn’t any strong emotion or “eyes opening” event. It was a curious feeling at the base of my brain; it was natural.

    “There is no God,” I thought with a smirk. “I knew it all along.”

    Whaddya know? There are, after all, atheists in foxholes.

  • Larry Johnson

    It was in 5th grade. Our class was discussing a story in which an ancient prince had a “whipping boy”. The whipping boy’s function was, whenever the prince misbehaved, he got, well, whipped. You can’t punish the prince–he will be the king some day. It doesn’t matter if guilty or not, as long as somebody gets punished.
    Every 10-year-old in that class realized how wrong and nonsensical this practice was. The class discussion moved on, but it occurred to me that this was exactly what I was being taught in church and Sunday School. Jesus was everybody’s whipping boy, and that is just as nonsensical as the story about the prince. Because I was a child, I still obeyed my parents and continued to go to church and confirmation (Missouri Synod Lutheran, to be exact). As soon as I became an adult, I stopped this foolish practice, and still believe the whipping boy idea is ludicrus.

  • Liz

    I was raised Lutheran. My family is deeply rooted in the church, my dad is an elder, my uncle a minister…etc etc etc. I was a believer and I wanted to believe. I didn’t go to college after high school so I started working full time in a one hour photo lab while I decided what to do with my life. I met a college guy there who was an atheist. We had debates, me the fundie with all the stupid arguments (embarrassing now that I look back) We started dating and we had sex once…I got pregnant. Although I had been pro life my whole life I never hesitated to call the clinic for an abortion. Igot a little more serious with my life, and enrolled in community college. I got a job as a Travel agent. I traveled the world. I eventually married that atheist. We bought a house. we didn’t discuss religion. I was still a christian and planned on raising our family that way. He was ok with it as long as it was clear-he would never lie to the kids about what he believed. During those first years we worked opposite shifts. I spent the dinner hour and evening by myself. I started reading novels…historical novels of days gone by. I then delved into the realm of biography’s, I wanted to learn about these people from the past. I read about Catherine the Great, Marie Antoinette, all of Henry the 8th’s wives, Lady Jane Grey, Mary queen of Scots…etc, etc, etc. One thing prevalent in these books is the religious upheaval and religious wars. The turning point was the book about Isabella of Castile. She had refused Christopher Columbus funding for his travels because she needed the money for her holy wars against the Turkish Moor’s. She finally relented, when he told her how he could bring Catholicism to those who had never heard of Christianity. Hmmmm, I thought, how could there be people who have never heard of christianity if everyone came from Adam and Eve? I did some bible reading….then i started sneaking my husbands books by Dawkins and Sagan. Those made sense…I didn’t like that. I watched lectures by the apologists, Craig, Comfort, Hamm. I liked those better. Then I went out on a limb and in the youtube search I typed in “Ken Hamm Debunked”…I was afraid to hit enter for fear of what I’d find. Sure enough “the answers in Genesis” was easily debunked. I was now having serious doubts about religion. During this time I kept my journey a secret from my husband( it went on for 4 years) We decided to start a family. Sadly, although pregnancy came so easy that first time, it took us 2 years, a minor surgery, months of fertility treatments and a round of IVF before we finally conceived twin babies…in a petri dish…in a lab…with science….not god. During this time I was re-reading Dawkins. When they brought the petri dish into the room for transfer I remember thinking…He’s right….Dawkins is right…all of it…these little cells that were created here in this lab, will develop into people-a chemical reaction…egg meets sperm. I was awe struck and humbled. I cried. 10 days later the pregnancy test confirmed I was pregnant. An ultrasound was scheduled to determine how many “stuck”. They confirmed that both had stuck -I was going to have twins. I was so happy, my first reaction was to go to church to give thanks (old habits …)While I sat through that service, I could not say the words of thanks to god for this “miracle”….for he was not responsible….it was the doctors and scientists who deserved my thanks. I walked out and never returned. i drove home in the beautiful autumn sun and cried….this was life. it is amazing and I was going to make it count. I went home and told my husband I was an atheist. He was skeptical (of course) We talked and discussed into the wee hours of the night. He realized I had been doing some homework, but I don’t think he took me 100% seriously until the twins were born and I refused to have them baptized. Now we are full fledged free thinking parents with 3 (yep we got a surprise baby 20 months later) kids who are being taught how to think, not what to think. The End!

  • M.A. Hoak

    I used to be afraid of cremation. Having been raised a tried and true protestant, baptized by the Church of God out of Anderson Indiana, I found the idea terrifying. It felt to akin to the hellfire I’d been promised if I didn’t accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. Tales of never-ending fire, of the burning and peeling of flesh, the gnashing of teeth, littered my childhood nightmares. And, even if I did “love Jesus with all my heart,” there was still a chance I’d burn if I “backslid” or “walked away” – a thought that was especially terrifying for girl who constantly wrestled with doubt. So the idea of potentially getting devoured by flames both corporeally and spiritually was more than I could bear. So I vowed never to be cremated. And didn’t want it for any of my family members.

    But death has a funny way of bringing things out in people. At least, the ones who are still around. I remember the first “real” death I experienced: that of my great grandmother. She died just a week before Christmas. Her present was already under the tree. At her funeral, admittedly at my great-grandmother’s request, a selection of “happy” hymns and songs were played. One in particular, “I’m Trading My Sorrows,” – an overly perky, “contemporary” tune complete with pulsing drums and energetic guitars – struck a particularly raw nerve.

    I’m trading my sorrows

    I’m trading my shame

    I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord

    I’m trading my sickness

    I’m trading my pain

    I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord

    We say “Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord! Yes, Yes, Lord!”

    “Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord! Yes, Yes, Lord!”

    “Yes, Lord! Yes, Lord! Yes, Yes, Lord! Amen!”

    I come from a rather expressive religious tradition. It’s not uncommon for people to stretch out their hands, clap, or occasionally even dance as they are lost in the throes of religious fervor. But as I watched these actions played out in the living family members around me, an inexplicable rage boiled up inside my stomach. I curled my fingers into fists and shook, hot tears streaking down my face. I wasn’t really sure of the reason why. I couldn’t’ve articulated it – even if I’d been asked to. But I remember thinking: This isn’t right. This isn’t supposed to be happy. My grandmother’s about to go in hole in the ground, and you’re standing there. Clapping.

    For the next several weeks, while my family members comforted each other by saying things like “Grandma’s resting in Jesus’ arms” and “She dancing with the angels,” I struggled with visions of her withered body being devoured by maggots and ants.

    “Heaven” offered no comfort.

    I didn’t realize why then. I blamed it on sorrow and doubt. But the reality of it is that, in the face of the funeral, I was forced to confront something I hadn’t been prepared to face: the permanence of death. No matter what the Word said, what the songs promised, what even my great grandmother herself believed, the fact of the matter was: she was gone. Nothing could bring her back. I chastised myself for not trusting God, but nothing could make me feel differently.

    Between funeral #1 (my maternal great-grandmother) and funeral #2 (my paternal grandmother), a lot of things changed. I escaped an abusive relationship, through which I learned not to blindly trust and to stand on my own two feet. I weathered my parents’ divorce, one in which both of them were wretched and horrible to each other, and completely undermined the lessons I’d learned from them as a child. I finally had to learn, as an adult, that they were not perfect. And I destroyed the altars I’d placed them on. I found a new love, a man – a “nonbeliever” – who treasured me for who I was. Who loved me with my flaws and my doubts in a way that “God” never could. I learned sex is not a sin. Independence is not a curse. Thinking is not a crime. And I learned, slowly, to lose my fear of hellfire. Of a god who said “Love me, or else.”

    My second grandmother to die chose to be cremated. I expected to be plagued with panic when I found out, with thoughts of smoldering flesh. Instead, I found myself merely looking through her pictures. And wishing I could hug her one last time.

    And at her funeral, though both the pastor and my uncle (also ordained), used her death as an opportunity to tell us that “if we wanted to be with Grandma” we needed to follow her Lord, the rage I’d felt at my last funeral didn’t raise its head. Largely because, I didn’t buy it anymore. And I wasn’t suffering from the cognitive dissonance that insistently said I had to.

    It was, admittedly, a little strange to realize I was an atheist at my Christian grandmother’s funeral. I still sang the hymns, in honor of her, and wished there was a heaven for her to be in. But I didn’t think there was, or that her death was something to celebrate. I didn’t have to imagine her dancing with the angels. I didn’t have to clap.

    Her body is nothing but smoke and ash. There’s nothing left of her. But I sleep beneath her blanket. Wear her necklace. Remember who she was to me. And I feel at peace knowing her brief, precious turn on this earth is over. Because it makes her time here more meaningful.

    And, if I have children of my own someday, I won’t tell them tales of heaven. I’ll tell them that we all take turns, so each of us can have a chance. And that, when we go, we feed the trees, flowers, and plants that nurtured us while we walked. And there’s something beautiful in that. And, most importantly, honest.


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