Open Thread: Your Coming Out Story

When did you first realize you were an atheist?

What was religion’s breaking point for you?


[tags]atheist, atheism, coming out[/tags]

  • The Unbrainwashed

    I went through years of just simply not thinking about it. Basically, I flat out ignored the God question. My interest was briefly sparked when my roommate sophomore year of college informed me he was an atheist. However, I had previously come up with the idea that our societal norms are merely the result of upbringing and subjectivity. A few months after that initial convo, I put three things together: the aforementioned subjectivity, my 1.5 years of engineering education (at that point), and finally noting how religion contradicts science. At that point (it wasn’t a eureka moment, more of a realization), I was an avowed atheist.

  • http://protium.blogspot.com Protium

    I don’t remember a time I wasn’t an Atheist although I didn’t use the term until recently.

  • http://students.washington.edu/secular Michael

    I was born an raised Mormon, in a loving home with a perfect Mormon family. I shared the gospel with friends, I lived a clean life in preparation for a two-year mission, and I was quite well read (of apologetic material, at least) regarding Mormon doctrine. I was a model youth. I went to BYU, and was called to serve a two-year mission in Singapore. I had been waiting to serve my entire life.

    However, before you go on a mission, you must receive your “Endowments” in the temple. This experience was shocking to me, and felt contrary to the faith I thought I knew. I was walking in a Barnes & Noble one day, and walking down an aisle, noticed the cover of a book on Freemasonry. I recognized many symbols on the cover from the temple, and launched into frantic research (you receive your Endowments within a week or two of shipping out).

    I came to the rash conclusion that the church was false, but nonetheless a beneficial force, and I wanted to go to Singapore more than anything I had ever desired.. so I shipped out anyway.

    After a week or two, guilt (among other things) caught up with me, and I ended up coming home from the Missionary Training Center. I decided that I needed to thoroughly investigate and ponder the veracity of the church so my soul may rest easily.

    I moved into my own place (my father would not allow material contrary to Mormon doctrine in his home) with two good friends, and spent the better part of a year investigating and soul-searching. I gradually went from Mormon to Christian, Christian to Buddhist, Buddhist to agnostic, and finally, agnostic to atheist.

    I lost everything I had save my two very good friends, and it took me some time to get back on my feet, but I yet live, and my life now means more than it ever had.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    Thankfully I was raised without religion so the question never really came up. I also had the fortune of having one parent who liked to answer questions with “What do you think?” and then demanded an answer and usually a justification. What a pain that was. ;)

    However I do recall a Eureka moment when I went from indifferent Agnostic to Atheist and that was while I was studying philosophy for a degree course. The question of determinism and free will pretty much invalidated all arguments for heaven and hell and without a punishment\reward system religion is irrelevant. I’ve amended my views on philosophy since then but not on religion.

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/ C. L. Hanson

    Can I post the link to mine?

    How I became an atheist

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Since I was raised an atheist (or more correctly, not raised a theist) I never needed to “come out” to my family. But I did have a “coming out” in high school. It was 1979 in the bible belt and a tee-shirt logo store opened up at the mall. My best friend, who also was an atheist, and I decided to get atheist tee-shirts. He decided to get “Atheists Unite” on his shirt. I decided to go with the humorous “I swear to God I’m an Atheist“. Needless to say wearing those tee-shirts in high school drew considerable attention. We only wore them once. There were all the typical social repercussions that could be expected in a high school setting. It was an education.

  • http://nogodsallowed.wordpress.com cg

    Around every corner was more and more evidence and reasoning that demonstrated there was nothing unique or special about the Christian religion. I went through stages of denial and confusion and bouts of mild depression. But I remember very clearly that one day it dawned on me, the one thought that would lead me into a world which made sense. It seems obvious and less-than-epiphanal today, but at that moment it meant the world to me. It went something like this:

    You don’t have the upper hand in life or death. You’re just another member of the human race, just like everyone else. You don’t get a free ride from a man in the sky and no one can talk to him. In fact, there is no “him”.

    As odd as that may sound, it was life to me. This realization changed me and gave me hope again. Life would only be meaningless without a god if you let it. Ironically, it felt like I was being born again. I still love that analogy. It brought me hope and joy, and felt more real than the church had.

    After that I had to refrain myself from being an evangelical atheist and telling everyone the great news! It slowly trickled out over time and I had the standard range of reactions from people; from the accepting ones to the ones that try to convert me back.

  • buttle

    raised catholic: baptism, catechism, confession, communion, confirmation, all the standard madness.

    at twelve years old, in a public school with other 21 kids on the same class, one day the teacher of catholic religion asks a very easy question: “do you believe that the bread is a symbol for the body of christ or do you believe that it IS the body of christ?”.

    all of us, poor little ignorant kids, told him that it was OBVIOUSLY just a symbol: it tastes like bread, it looks like bread, it IS bread, not human meat…

    the reaction from the teacher made my day, he couldn’t believe that none of us knew the “right” answer. that’s the exact instant when i realized that i was NOT a catholic, that catholicism made no sense no matter how many people believe in it and that everyone that claimed to be catholic was crazy, deluded, ignorant or a mix…

    not much later in my life, with just a bit more knowledge, i realized that catholicism is even worse than that, that all other forms of christianity, even if a bit saner than catholicism, were absurd too, that basically all the other religions were absurd, that pantheism and deism don’t really say much, so there i was: agnostic/atheist, but without a real coming out, so i guess this is a bit off topic… nevermind…

  • Shauna

    Well, I was lucky all in all. After spending most of my childhood Mormon, by middle school I was slowly spending less and less time at Church and my family never forced me to go. I became disgusted with the Mormon church after high school and was “kind of Christian” for a little bit. Mostly I just never thought about it. Eventually, I just asked myself if it would be painful for me (mentally, emotionally) if god didn’t exist. When the answer was a resounding no, that’s when I really think I became an atheist. It helped that my sister and several friends were also atheists, it was nice having people to talk to about it. And my parents still don’t care. (Note: They are also not Mormons anymore though still religious, my Mom was actually excommunicated from the Mormon Church).

  • http://fivepublicopinions.wordpress.com AV

    When did you first realize you were an atheist?

    It’s difficult to pinpoint a “when.” I went to Catholic schools, and maybe I bought the Catechism more or less while I was still in what you Americans call “elementary school.” I don’t know if that really counts, because at that age I doubt I fully comprehended what I was buying. I think I pretty much knew I was an atheist by the first or second year of high school.

    What was religion’s breaking point for you?

    There was none: I just never saw a reason to believe in God. I didn’t enjoy the authoritarian approach to religious instruction employed by my school and my parents–I didn’t like being dragged to Mass, I didn’t agree with the dogmatic approach to morality, I didn’t enjoy the attempted indoctrination in RE class–but none of that influenced my non-belief. I do remember that one RE teacher, who was also part of the science faculty, once asked if there were any atheists in the classroom. When I raised my hand, he told me that I would have an “accident”–say, a lightning strike–that would cause me to believe in God. I thought that was pretty funny. Ridiculous, but funny all the same.

  • http://bjornisageek.blogspot.com Bjorn Watland

    I remember hating church when I was growing up. I was raised ELCA Lutheran. I remember my parents dragging me to church, my dad pinching my arm when I wouldn’t sing. I remember praying, and hearing nothing. This is the first time I thought that the idea of God was all in my head.

    I did go through Confirmation, my parent’s expected this of me. I endured through church camp after church camp, and thought over and over that this is not what Christianity should be like. So much is wrapped up in money, and I had attended churches with 12 families, and a church with 10,000 members. Money could not be separated in either case. Church camp was mandatory, which my parents thought was crazy, because it had nothing to do with confirmation.

    So, I’m Confirmed, and like many, I stopped going to church. After all, I had the excuse that “I had to work on Sunday.” After about a year, I was often sarcastic and negative. I’d bitch about everything, and wasn’t very happy in general. I was about 17. I had been diabetic for about three months.
    *Insert Spiritual Experience Here*
    I woke up at 2:15 AM. I checked my blood sugar, and everything was fine. I wasn’t too hot, wasn’t too cold. To me, I felt perfect. Then I started thinking. I recalled seeing a girl from school in my dream right before I woke up. She was one of those girls who would not hesitate to talk about Jesus, and she always had her Bible with her. I remembered that her favorite book of the Bible was Philippians, and I thought 2:15 sounded like a Bible verse. So, I flip to my Bible, which I hadn’t read, and picked out the verse for Philippians 2:15.

    Then you will be blameless and innocent. You will be God’s children without any faults among people who are crooked and corrupt. You will shine like stars among them in the world.

    Ok, I thought the timing may be off a bit, so I backed up. Philippians 2:14:

    Do everything without complaining or arguing.

    Those words pushed me from acting like a grumbling ass hole, to someone who worked to fix problems when I saw then, rather then bitch about them. I stopped worrying about things I couldn’t change. I didn’t read the Bible, but I had a mini revival. To me, I made Christianity into doing good things for people. I disregarded all dogma. I even questioned the divinity of Jesus. I remember doing Census work with a man who was a theologian. He put my quickly gleaned verse into perspective. He said, people go around worrying about every little thing. People get mad when the copier breaks. But really, what does that have to do with your salvation? Yeah! I thought. Then I started to think, what does anything have to do with my salvation? I wasn’t even sure Jesus was divine. I couldn’t jive what I knew about the physical world with a spiritual world. At this time, I was so much happier as a person. I stopped bitching about things, and “didn’t sweat the small stuff.” I happened to meet my first real serious girlfriend in high school, and we dated for almost a year. I was in ignorant bliss. I even had my heart broken. At this time, the feeling was worse, because I had imagined our souls dancing together in heaven. What a pretty thought, but caused me much anguish when she left. I still held onto my philosophies.

    I remember working at a high school shortly after I graduated high school. I remember one girl there saying that it was intellectually dishonest to say that there is a God, and all you had to do with think it out, and anyone would agree with her. I thought she was nuts, that was a gut reaction. I had no idea of any theology, I didn’t know about any other religions. I didn’t know what God was, and I certainly didn’t agree with any dogma any church had built up around this God, but I had a spiritual experience! And, I think it had a big impact on my life over two years. That couldn’t have been my over active imagination working over time at 2:15? Could it?

    Pretty soon, I had whittled my idea of God down to a pocket sized creator. I still thought of myself as Christian, though I doubt anyone who was Christian would agree with me. I didn’t go to church. I felt I had the philosophy of the teachings of Jesus down from a few lines I read. I never did read much more of the Bible. I didn’t think that God answered prayers, and God’s interaction with the world was always subtle. I was so close to being a deist.

    Then I went to college. I took philosophy classes, and learned about reality, and how we can know reality. I learned about what we can really say we know, and how we can come to know things. It was very heady stuff. Then I took a New Testament Studies course. One thing this teacher said, stuck with me. We made God in our image, not the other way around. Then, through teaching this scripture as literature, it was easy to see why certain things were emphasized, and others missing by certain authors. They were writing for a purpose, and for a particular audience. I read the Pauline Epistles, and could tell which were written by one author, and which by another. I found it fascinating, and still do.

    I wasn’t open about my atheism until my mom read a profile for a webcam I stuck into my blog. I didn’t mention on my blog that I was an atheist, but I did put atheist in my Stickam profile. My mom didn’t speak to me until the 35W bridge collapse, because she thought I was dead. That was four months.

  • chancelikely

    Raised Methodist.

    Actually, it was my fault that we went to church at all; I asked what the ‘t’ at the front of the sanctuary was at my great-grandmother’s funeral when I was three years old. My grandmother was horrified, and my mom set out to finding a church so we could get me a little bit educated.

    Well, they got to me a little late (four) and by about the time I was supposed to be confirmed (twelve), I realised how little of it all I believed. I ended up getting confirmed in the church by a pastor who must have had at least an inkling of how marginal a Christian I was.

    Why’d I get confirmed at all, if the confirmation process was what really got me thinking about it? Grandparents. My mother said that if I wanted to get out of it, I would have to call my grandparents and tell them why they didn’t have to come to the church that particular Sunday. Ah, guilt. How Catholic.

  • Vincent

    Your questions don’t actually ask for a coming out story, which is fine with me since I have not come out to the only people who would care (my family save my lesbian sister – she came out to me so I came out to her).

    I was raised Roman Catholic in Oklahoma, surrounded by Souther Baptists.
    I went to Catholic grade school, and in high school was heavily into Catholic Youth Ministries.
    Being the liberal religion there, I was taught that all religions worshiped the same god in a fashion, and even though they got it wrong, all who did their best would go to heaven.

    I went to a catholic junior college and was very ministry-active.
    I finished at a secular college where I was still involved in the Catholic community on campus to the end, but I began to doubt the divine Jesus after watching the movie “Jesus of Montreal” (which I cannot recommend enough). I reasoned that it didn’t matter whether he was god or not, because his message was good, and his church had grown from an oppressed minority to the world’s most dominant religious group and had lasted 2000 years.

    Then I switched majors and studied Medieval History. I learned that the church hadn’t lasted 2000 years, and in fact Catholicism as I knew it was only about 30 years old. What Catholicism has going over all the other Christian sects (except Orthodox) is tradition. Only I learned it didn’t even have that. I also learned the real meaning behind the words we use like “lord” and the meaning of things like kneeling and was disgusted by ceremony that had no modern meaning to those who practiced it.

    When I stopped believing the divine Jesus story, I stopped going to church because I thought it would be disrespectful to the other people there for me to go if I didn’t believe what they did.
    Gradually I grew less and less enamored of religion until I decided I would live using my own mind and rationally, and that believing in a god without any evidence was not rational.

  • Hank

    4 years of chapel 6 days a week in boarding school helped me become the cynical and surly asshole I am today.

  • Mikey

    I stopped going to church in 1969 as a college freshman when I refused to eat the blood and flesh of the human side of a man that was both god and man. I considered myself a cultural Christian until 1991 when I read the Nicene Creed with a critical eye. After realizing I didn’t believe a single word of the creed, it dawned on me that I was a-theist and needn’t pretend otherwise.

    Starting with the born-again movement of the 1970s, politics has forced me out of the closet. The more the right wing harps about God and Country, the more religionists deny science, the easier it is to tell people I’m atheist. Does that make me a New Atheist? No. Having been born atheist, I’m only returning to my atheist roots.

  • http://radicalatheist.com Jack Carlson

    When I was in high school I started attending a beach-front Pentecostal church and eventually became a youth pastor. I was very devout and believed passionately. As I got older and read more, my desire for a more intense and somber spirituality grew.

    At 18 I converted to Catholicism. After serving in the Army, I was honorably discharged with a letter of introduction in hand that would have gotten me admitted to seminary in San Diego.

    However, while in the Army, I had been close to a Catholic priest who introduced me to writers like Thomas Merton and, of all people, Alan Watts. I was fascinated by them both, but found that Watts spoke more to my beliefs than Merton did. I never used my letter of introduction. Instead, I read more of Watts and began my drift away from superstitious religions.

    I rather casually morphed into an atheist. There never was an “aha” moment. By the time I was in my late-20s I knew that I could only reasonably accept a natural worldview. I began to follow science and philosophy. I also began to speak out in an attempt to counter the nonsensical theistic belief system. Thirty years later I still am.

  • Mriana

    I went for years questioning, studying, questioning some more, researching, questioning… You get the picture. Thing is, the questions I had could only be answered by studying religion and mythology.

    I knew there was no historical Jesus and I knew a lot of other things concerning religion was not true. I started wondering why I didn’t not have that “a ha” moment that so many theologians and scholars have in which what they knew became real- not just in their minds, but in their hearts. Tom Harpur had that moment of utter shock when he realized there was no historical Jesus. I haven’t read Bob Barker’s book yet, but I’m sure he had it. The list goes on and on concerning such things, yet I was stuck with only knowing in my head, not actually feeling it. I could regergatate everything I knew, but it wasn’t my own.

    I finally did have that profound moment, ironically in a Hindu class- the last meme exploded and I was in my own type of shock, it was as though my brain itself fainted for a moment because I was still standing but incoherent with utter dismay. Krishnu was Vishnu incarnate, the beginning, middle, and end. Krishnu, Krista, Cristo, Christ was Vishnu/god incarnate, the beginning, middle, and end. Krishnu/Christ was god incarnate… You get the picture that sort of shock my mind was in at the time. Then it was a Julia Sweeney moment, in my mind- OH MY GOD! THERE IS NO GOD! my brain went thud, but I was still standing.

    When my brain became coherent again, I heard my prof saying, “You understand.” I didn’t know if it was a question or a statement, but I said, “Yes, I do.” I doubt he had any idea what was happening in my mind as he explained that part of the Bhagavad Gita that I thought I didn’t understand, but as he said, “We discover Krishna is Vishnu incarnate…” my brain clicked with everything else I learned.

    One day I was telling Bob Price about the incident that left me in utter dismay that there was no god or historical Jesus, it was no longer head knowledge, but actual knowledge. He called it an “epiphany”.

    Don’t know if I would have called it that, but OK- it’s the best word yet for the experience. I got what I wanted, what I asked for, and I can honestly say that I’m happy about it. For once in my life, I got what I wanted and actually still wanted it after I got it- of course I was stuck with this one. Oh I had some sadness to begin with after the initial shock wore off and I still have occassional sadness concerning what I was told as a child isn’t true and alike. Thing is, if it gets too bad even now, I remind myself that I asked for it. I went on a quest, demanded and insisted on the answers to my questions and found there was no historical Jesus or even a god of religion- it was all, as Spong said/says a human concept. Religious belief, God, etc are without a doubt a human creation.

    I’m actually greatful for finding the right theologians/scholars who were nice enough and honest enough to help and guide me through my quest. They also know where I stand now too. Most of us know where Bob Price stands, so he obviously isn’t disturbed by it and Spong is ok that I am now a humanist. I don’t think any of the others mind too much either. My older son is fine with it too. I just haven’t told my mother, aunt, and younger son. It’s funny how you can tell your mentors that you are now a non-theist and Humanist, most of them don’t bat an eye, and life goes on. It’s family and friends that are the hardest to tell though.

  • http://thatatheistguysblog.blogspot.com/ NYCatheist

    I wasn’t raised religious and never went to church. I guess I had a vague belief in some kind of a god when I was very young, but it was more like a belief in Santa Claus. From a pretty young age (6th grade? 7th?) I called myself an agnostic, and then sometime in college a guy explained to me there wasn’t much difference between agnosticism and atheism beyond nuanced semantics. So that’s when I started calling myself an atheist. After college I moved to Japan where the whole god/no-god issue is mostly non-existent so I didn’t think about it much. I became more active both online and off after I joined the local meetup group a few years ago.

    I have a pretty skeptical outlook in all areas, not just religion. I think reading Sam Harris’ book The End of Faith a few years ago crystallized the general skepticism I had about religion. I think skepticism is our best tool to wipe our eyes clean of foggy beliefs and get as clear a view as possible of the real world.

  • stogoe

    I was raised moderate protestant, baptized, sunday school, etc. And then we started confirmation classes (about 6th grade, I think). I had tons of questions about the religion I was joining, and some of the answers were less than satisfactory. On the Sunday when we were to go up on stage and publicly state our dedication to Jebus, the leader of the class said something to the effect of “even if you still have questions, go up there and say ‘Yes,’ because nobody really ever says ‘No’.” So that was a big eye-opener, that what we were doing was just a show for other people.

    In high school, it became clear to me that my irreverent friends were better people than the all-star christian kids at church. Up until then I had thought that being Christian meant that God would help you live a better life, and that wasn’t true. By the time I left for college, I had become an apatheist.

    The attacks on September 11th, 2001 had a big impact, as well. Away at college, my mother called me and pressured me to go to church on the Sunday after. So I reluctantly trudged over to a service at a nearby church, and listened for an hour or so to the most vitriolic, nationalistic, bigoted puke that I’d ever heard spew from a pulpit. That was the moment where I realized that organized religion was complete and total garbage. But I still wasn’t ready to discard the idea of a God.

    No, that happened in 2006, when I made a New Year’s resolution to stop letting religion make me feel guilty. And it worked, amazingly. I had also stumbled upon Pharyngula by that point, via the Dover trial. So reading PZ’s pro-reason screeds probably helped a bit, too. I don’t think there was a specific ‘aha!’ moment at that point, just a gradual shift.

  • http://hjhop.blogspot.com Bing McGhandi

    My first inkling that there was something wrong with religion was when I was in 5th grade. I was at Catholic school. We were at mass and I decided that I would go the entire service without saying anything. I still followed along in my head, but my teacher actually came up to me and scolded me for not saying anything, which seemed to me to miss the point of mass entirely. Anyway, that was my first realization that religions were actually behaviors more than anything else. By high school, I could say that I did not agree with most of what I was learning (it gave me a good moral base to play off of, so my thinking went at the time), and by college I was basically a non-practicing former Catholic, but not identifying myself as partuclarly anything…agnostic? When I realized that I didn’t believe in god, I was initially surprised to see that I was not sad, but relieved. It was after that realization that I started questioning the ideas behind the various religions and started holding them to account for their claims (putting their money where their mennorha is, so to speak), and I have always been disappointed by them.

    HJ

  • http://steingrueblwe.blogspot.com Heather

    Like Protium, I don’t think there was ever a time I wasn’t an atheist. I was taken to church by my mother for the duration of my childhood while Dad sat home reading the paper on Sunday mornings. I could not for the life of me figure out why we kids had to get dressed up and stressed out once a week and he didn’t.

    I kind of liked the stories they read at church though, and it was fun to sing. When I figured out that the stories printed in the bulletin were straight out of this “Bible” thing they’d given me, I decided to read it cover to cover. I got about half-way through Deuteronomy before deciding that they’d clearly been using the nice bits for Sunday, and that my parents probably didn’t want me reading some of that stuff. So, out of deference to their sensibilities, I stopped.

    It never really connected for me that the stories and the singing were all supposed to be about something until I was in middle school, and they began pushing confirmation. “Oh wait, I’m supposed to actually believe all of that stuff? Um, nope, and is that really a problem? I mean, it’s stories!”

    At which point my mother brought in her minister who told me I had no choice but to believe what my parents told me to. It seemed like such a rotten thing to tell a kid, and completely at odds with all the stuff this guy was saying on Sundays. From that day on, the stories lost their luster and I was increasingly sore about having to go put up with these people who thought they had some sort of right to my brain.

    I decided there was no point in their confirmation ritual, at which point my father took me aside and told me to just do it and make my mother happy or (though worded differently) things would be very bad for him. So I did it. And my mother beamed and the minister looked very happy. And I tried to go back to that place as little as possible.

    Fast forward to college. I missed being around people who weren’t teenagers. I missed my parents, my kid brother, my grandma, and I knew that church was a socially acceptable way of finding an instant community. So I joined a church up the street from my university and did all kinds of stuff there. After a few years, I realized that the other people there really did believe the stuff they were chanting (even though they were so much nicer than the church-folk of my youth) and that it was probably disrespectful to hang out there under false pretenses. So I stopped going.

    Fast forward another decade, and I rediscover science. I read Simon Singh’s book The Big Bang and love it and start going to local astronomy club meetings. I read Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens & Dennet. Also McGowan because I want to parent beyond belief. But I’m still not “out.”

    And then one day, Dawkins’ “Out Campaign” finds its way to my feed reader and I think, “Ah hah!” It took one quick minute to elegantly express my lifetime of atheism with a scarlet A.

  • Tyler

    There are two major points in my former religious life that were not quite strides toward atheism yet, but decisive breaks from religion. The implications of both- which I shouldn’t have thought about if I were serious about god- could not be ignored.

    The first came when I was ten. My family and I were in church as usual, and I was admiring the architecture as usual- not because I didn’t believe and needed something to pass the time, but because the meaning of the sermons and rituals flew over my young head. There was a visiting minister who delivered the sermon that Sunday. Nothing is memorable about it except-

    “If you go worship another god, you will perish.”

    After getting over the shock of hearing something so out of place in my rather liberal Massachusetts Episcopalian church, I decided a change in my spiritual priorities was in order, without a clue how to re-prioritize. I only knew I wanted nothing to do with the above cruel and capricious statement.

    I’d read many god-myths up to that point and found nothing remotely objectionable about them as myths. What does it mean to worship one of these other gods? Why is that bad? Why would I think about doing that anyway? And worst of all, why is the Christian God threatening me over what amounts to curiosity about history and culture? I’d had experiences with bullies in school, and if they were caught they were given proper consequences for their actions. But no one raised their voices against this obviously immoral statement. And I KNEW it was immoral. So why did no one challenge the speaker later? I consider that, too, a moral failure- the unwillingness to question what is obviously the statement of a bully. I suspect even in my uncommonly rational church there was a majority who could sweep these archaic inconveniences under the rug, preferring archaic comforts.

    The second came during my confirmation training in my teens. My Sunday School peers and I were on a retreat, and at a certain point we gathered in a room. The minister handed around envelopes and pressed the play button on a tape recorder. Music- horns, acoustic guitar and a male tenor voice singing praises and comfort in an affected ‘broken heart’ style. We all opened our envelopes and took out letters from our parents. I read mine through and smiled at the encouragement. I looked up and everyone else was gushing tears. A real flood.

    I recoiled internally- what I saw was group manipulation. I didn’t see a spontaneous open-ended outpouring of emotion, which would have been great, but the result of a well-crafted calculated tear-jerking group experience. Cry and open your heart. Get carried away by the mournful horns. Be overwhelmed with that broken heart feeling and be grateful.

    Lose yourself. Be open. Feel the loving presence of god (or perish! …just kidding.) Feel the loving presence of god and the limitless love Jesus felt for his people, the painful, horrifying and beautiful sacrifice he made for us. (Talk about being overhelpful!) Above all, don’t think about what is happening to you. You’re safe. You don’t need to think when you’re safe.

    My family stopped going to church soon after that. It just wasn’t important. Throughout my 20s, I moved decisively toward atheism after reading George Smith’s “The Case Against God.” I realized I am made safe only through my own efforts, gaining knowledge, not through the efforts of a living effigy wearing a name tag with my initials. The idea that I must be grateful to this effigy for ‘saving’ me from a thing not found in nature – sin – is either hypnogogic sound and fury, or the greatest con game ever. Or both!

    -Hose Anna In Eggshells, Cease!

  • ed

    I was raised in a small town in Louisiana. I was forced to go to church by my parents. When I think back to the many Sunday mornings I spent in Sunday School, the transient nature I saw in the supposedly infallible doctrines, the lies and contradictions, and the philandering and adulterous preachers and other church characters from my teenage years I now realize that I didn’t even believe the stuff back then. When I was 10 or 11 years old, I was baptized (dunked under water by a music minister) and told I had accepted Christ and was safe for eternity. The one or two times I can remember actually closing my eyes and praying were shallow concessions to something I did not believe. If I revealed this to my family they would be heartbroken. My folks consider themselves to be very religious, attending church on a weekly basis and engaging persons through proselytizing. Thinking back to my childhood reminds me that god was, for me, akin to an imaginary friend. A little bit of reason and logic blows the leaky and ailing vessel of religion out of the water. You can’t bail water with a thimble, yet religion has used a patchwork of lies, ignorance, and misunderstanding to keep the ship of fools afloat in a sea of blood, tyranny, and the sighs and tears of humanity. The theocratic murders of 9/11 really made me think about religion, history, philosophy, political science, etc. I had resolved to finish college with a typical degree in business or accounting, and to live as most Southerners live, carving a vain, materialistic existence and chasing our fiat dollar until I die. But the very real threat of totalitarian ideologies came and knocked at the door, and when it was refused entrance, smashed in the door with a sledgehammer. I didn’t need a Hitchens or a Dawkins to show me that some nutbags had attacked NYC in the name of religion and BS politics, although these two authors are exactly what the world needs more of: unflinching soldiers of reason and truth with the ability to reach the masses. The old axiom of the pen being mightier than the sword leads to this revelation: we need a lot more “pens” writing in today’s world because the “swords” have been smelted and made into guns and nukes. (By the way, Hemant rocks!!)

  • Gabriel

    I started church around 10 years old. Tried desperatly to beleive what I was told to believe but always wanted to know “Who made god?” and “What existed before god?” “What about all those contradictions in the bible?” and no one would give me a satisfactory answer. Most of the time they wouldn’t even try to give me an answer. Usually I was told that if I just beleived hard enough and not worry about those silly questions I could go to heaven when I died or conversely I would go to hell when I died if I didn’t quit asking those questions.
    The more I studied the bible the less sense it made. I finally realized that most christians work very hard to not think about what is in the bible or in their religion.

    The last straw for me was a sermon I heard in college. The preacher said that parents shouldn’t let their children have to much education and that they shouldn’t let their children attend college. The gist of the sermon was that education pulled children away from god and condemened them to hell.

    I just couldn’t beleive it. Keep your children in ignorance and poverty so they can go to heaven? And know one blinked an eye or questioned what was going on.

    I never went back to church. Most people here in Texas can’t beleive that you can be an athiest. They are shocked when I tell them that I don’t beleive in their god and immediatly try to convert me. Usually they will stop if I tell them that I sincerly tried it and stopped so I wouldn’t be a hypocrite.

    The word hypocrite carries a lot of weight here and will usually end a conversion attempt with whoever is trying to convert me telling me that they respect me.

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

    I answered this question over on ebonmusing’s blog a month ago, but here goes again. I’m a lapsed Catholic.

    My foster mom was French-Canadian and Catholic all the way. A wonderful Mom and woman in every way; she raised 400 foster kids in her life.

    I got First Communion, but gradually fell out of Catholicism; I never even got confirmed.

    Didn’t think a lot about religion until my Mom got cancer and I helped look after her for her final years. She died of complications from her cancer and a very painful hip infection from which she never recovered.
    There is nothing like going to the hospital to hear someone screaming in pain–and recognizing your mom, except hearing that–and going in anyway.

    I just lost any faith I ever had at that point.

    I had a born-again pastor try to convert me; I couldn’t bear to tell him I could never ever be a Christian again. There are a number of friends I still haven’t told.

    That was 12 years ago.

    I’m still an atheist. Several years ago, I nearly went blind from detached retinas in both eyes.

    According to many Christians, I was supposed to beg God for my eyesight; obviously, I can’t be an atheist or else bad things happen.

    Five operations later, I still have my eyesight. I never begged or pleaded, expressed self-pity or prayed. Not even once.

  • Milena

    I was born and raised Christian Orthodox. My father, I’m fairly sure, is an atheist, because he supported the Communists back in Bulgaria and he opposed my baptism, saying I should be old enough to choose. Now I wish my mom had waited and let me choose, instead of sneaking me off to church to have me baptised in secret.

    Anyways, I was never particularly religious. I went to church when I was told, I lit candles and prayed, but I always felt horribly fake doing it, like I was lying to myself and to this god I was supposed to worship. I guess that makes me like a lot of people – I said I belonged to a religion, because it’s more convenient and familiar, but in practice I had no real belief.

    My grandmother especially turned me off religion. She became very religious after my grandfather passed away and I was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. She started praying for my healing (that is one of my biggest pet peeves – people are always telling me that I can be healed from a chronic disease with faith and prayer, which I find rather hurtful, like I’m not good enough, thus bringing it upon myself).

    I didn’t become aware of my own (dis)belief until 11th grade. I entered a tough academic programme with a lot of emphasis on critical thinking, so my classmates and I had many opportunities to evaluate and question ourselves. I guess I didn’t realise how opposed I was to the idea of the existence of a god, until I realised that all the people in my class who described themselves as religious didn’t believe in evolution. We even had an impromptu debate, during which I explained evolution, presented evidence and gave examples, only to be answered with creationist rhetoric about the ultimate evidence that is the Bible/Quran (depending on who was speaking).

    Soon after, I come out as an atheist during one of our Theory of Knowledge classes. It wasn’t really a surprise to anyone. I’m lucky though, because atheism is more accepted in Canada than the US. I’m currently in a 12th grade class of 14 IB students and only 6 of them are religious. Most of the atheists in my class were raised without religion.

    For me, coming out was more a personal thing, admitting and accepting my own beliefs, than an event for the whole family. I haven’t talked about it with my immediate family, mostly because religion isn’t a big part of our life. I haven’t hidden it from them either. I’m fairly sure they’re aware of the fact – I’m listed as an atheist on facebook and both my mom and my sister have access to my profile, not to mention the many times I’ve questionned religion in front of them. However, part of it might be cowardice too, considering the way my feminism was greeted. I still haven’t told my grandmother though and I think that she’d be especially upset.

  • Beth

    I was raised in a liberal Catholic household. From the time I was very young, this “God” guy never made sense to me – I just didn’t buy it. It became obvious during preparation for my first communion at age 6. My mom explained to me that Catholics believe that communion is taking the body and blood of Christ, to which I precociously sneered, “yeah, RIGHT!” It was all downhill from there.

  • sasha

    after reading Richard Dawkins’ “The Blind Watchmaker” and Sam Harris’s internet essay “An Atheist Manifesto”

    thanks for my dad to referring me to both =D

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    I was an apathetic Catholic. I was never particularly faithful (I had refused to be confirmed). But I never really thought about it until I discovered that a guy I met on the internet had a webpage detailing how he had deconverted from Catholicism and why. He himself was some shade of pantheist.

    Around the same time, I was taking a course called “Faith of Catholics” at my liberal Catholic high school. It was basically an apologetics class. Being strongly inclined toward critical thinking, I looked at the apologetics arguments and compared them to the counter-arguments I had found on the webpage. I found the counter-arguments winning out at nearly every point. However, the argument for pantheism, I thought, was rather poor.

    I quietly left it at that, until I later found the atheist blogosphere. Only then did I think of myself as atheist. Less than a year ago, I “came out” quietly by changing my facebook profile. Sometimes I wonder which of my friends have actually seen it, but other times I don’t care.

  • Corncob

    I’m not sure when I became an atheist, but I know that last year was the first time I acknowledged myself as one.

    I come from a WELS family. This meant baptism at birth, Sunday school and Bible study regularly, and Everyone Else Is Heathen lessons on the side (called something else, but that was the content). Also present: Creation Magazine and Answers In Genesis.

    There were several factors, I think, in my deconversion – firstly, there aren’t many conservative Lutherans in the Pacific NW, so after hearing how I was the only kid in town who was saved, things seemed a bit fishy. Secondly, my parents encouraged a love of reading and exploration by sending me to all sorts of places – science camps, art classes, world culture exhibits – while giving me fairy tales to read. By the time high school hit, I had a diploid world view – the earth was young, science worked, biology was a scam, and astronomy was fascinating and awe-inspiring for how insignificant it made human history. This led to some odd behavior, like purposely avoiding taking any more biology than necessary because it might make me lose my faith. Interning with scientists and engineers only exacerbated the dissonance.

    So, after graduating high school, I decided to suck it up and research my faith, rather along the lines of the early scientist theologians who researched the natural world in search of the divine. Found lots of nature, lots of history, lots of points nobody’d ever called attention to in church – and distressingly little divinity. For several months, I’d cry at night after reading something particularly eye-opening, because I wanted the security blanket of an afterlife, I wanted a second chance where I couldn’t screw things up. Eventually it sank in, though, and life has been about the same, minus the guilt over not being perfect and proselytizing everywhere or the self-censorship of research into topics that might lead to hard questions.

    There’s been surprisingly little backlash, but that’s because only immediate family and friends know. The religious ones ignore it – apparently, I’m either a believer who doesn’t know it, or not worth trying to save, or they’re hypocrites. Most likely they know it’s all baloney, but are too invested in the fantasy to critically examine it for what it is.

  • http://www.thegookins.net don

    I just “officially” came out this month, with this post on my blog. Technically, I guess I’m still coming out because I haven’t told my children, and I don’t know if my parents have seen it yet.

    I was raised Catholic, but have had doubts going back to childhood. By college, I was not really practicing religion, but still considered myself a believer. When my first child was a couple years old, my wife and I decided to start attending church again. Partly to help provide a moral base (we thought) for the kids, and partly because it was what was expected by family/society. But eventually we both became disillusioned with religion and started feeling like hypocrites, especially dealing with sacraments for the kids, etc. About 1.5 years ago we stopped attending altogether. It’s just been within the past year that I’ve been honest enough with myself to admit I don’t believe in god. Then I kept putting off the whole “coming out” part until I finally did it out of frustration from an online “discussion” with a fundamentalist Christian.

  • the Shaggy

    (Late to the game)

    I’ve never been a religious person, though I spent a lot of years being “spiritual” and “philosophical” and assuming that there was some overarching purpose and direction in life. That things happened for a reason.

    What killed it for me? Realizing that I blamed this unnamed, undefined “force” for my friend getting all the girls and I didn’t. I clued in suddenly that the only thing stopping myself from getting the girls was… well, myself, and the longer I held to some idea of greater power, the more chance I had to blame it rather than solving my own problems. Didn’t help me get the girls, but gave me some perspective.

    Reinforced by an astronomy class in university, which exposed me to ut how self-contined, predictable and understandable. I didn’t need a God to tell me that these things were far away but acting on the same forces that powered me. That for there to be a “God” in any theistic sense, one who is active and observational would destroy the careful balance of the system. I remembered Stephen Hawking writing abot how the universe existed in our dimensions because it was the only way it COULD exist, and that made so much more sense. It didn’t happen ’cause someone wanted it, but happened because it could. That made so much sense to e.

  • JoshH

    I was raised a Baptist (well, Nazareth for a while) but while I was in the Marines–very long story short–I began thinking differently and ultimately it led me to a naturalistic worldview. Looking back on it, it was a very confusing time. Now though, I realize it wasn’t so much thinking as it was wondering whether or not everyone I grew up with would still accept me. That was the hard part. I’ve since declared openly that I’m an atheist, my parents know, and if anyone asks I tell them. Most of my Christian friends are saddened or disappointed but they still talk to me and love me. I still sense an unspoken, deep pity from all of them. It sucks they have to be tormented with the thought of me being punished for eternity…I truly hope they can all someday overcome that ridiculous, cruel line of thinking.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com Efrique

    I’m not sure there was a particular moment of realization, though it depends on how you mean it. There was a time when I wasn’t definitely an atheist in my own mind (where I would have called myself an agnostic an was looking at various religions). There was a particular moment then when I definitely said “Well, I can never be a Christian” (but it was a while longer before I said “I am an atheist”). The moment that I decided that I could never be a Christian was to come after I had several conversations with a Hindu friend who was trying to draw parallels between various religions, and then talk to a Christian (whose aim was apparently to convert me to her particular brand of evangelism), and her condemnation of the Hindu guy was so unspeakably vile. I tried to tell myself that she didn’t represent Christianity, but the difficulty was I realized that she actually did. The words she said were not some obscure interpretation of unusual doctrines, but direct quotes of very well known parts of the New Testament, which were perfectly plain in their meaning.

    The unspeakable vileness was not hers, it was Christianity itself.

    The actual moment of realizing I was an atheist came much later, and wasn’t really spectacular – it was just during a moment of reflection about my belief, and it was along the lines of “Well, I haven’t even entertained any belief in any kind of god for a long time now. I guess I just need to admit it to myself – to just say it out loud. I am an atheist.”

  • Syckls

    I grew up in a Christian household. My father was raised a Southern Baptist all his life, and my mother, who grew up in Uruguay and Brazil, was raised a Catholic all her life. When they married they decided to stick to Protestantism. I have attended churches of the Baptist, Methodist, Church of the United Brethren in Christ, Presbyterian and finally Lutheran persuasions. All this mixing around meant that I never came to accept one particular interpretation, but rather the basic gist of Christianity. The only preference I showed for one church over another was whether I had to sit in boring church service or whether I got to have fun in Sunday School. (Later, when I became more “mature”, I would of course look down on my little sister for her childish Sunday School ways.) I also favored churches that had us eat bread and drink grape juice every day.

    Fast forward to sophomore year in high school. My liberal political views had been firmly consolidated, and I was getting pretty sick and tired of fundie churches condemning Harry Potter, evolution and gay marriage. Being a fervent YTMNDer, I was also getting really sick of the Church of Scientology, which had made legal threats to the site the previous summer (which thankfully were not followed by anything else). In researching the Church, I soon learned the extent to which people will debase themselves and ruin their lives for the sake of a delusion. Being in an AP US History class, I also learned a little about the history of Mormonism. I found it odd that people would be so willing to follow what a single man suddenly decided was the holy word of God. Being a rational human being, I came to realize that my criticisms of Scientology and Mormonism could just as easily be turned toward Christianity. People did ruin their lives for my religion, and my religion really was based around what one person suddenly said was the holy word of God. And one fateful day, I decided to watch Jesus Camp. That film really made me ashamed to call myself a Christian.

    I spent an entire weekend philosophizing about the existence of God and how justifiable the Christian religion really is compared to all the other religions I was so willing to deny. One of the key breaking points was when I realized that if I was to go to heaven realizing that some people were in eternal punishment in hell, heaven could never be a place of perfect happiness for me. It was roughly 10:45 AM on May 21st, 2007 when I rejected the Christian religion and became an atheist.

    I spent five months in the closet, going to church and pretending to be a Christian. I think the reason I broke so quickly was partly because I could not continue to feign belief in the messages I found so repulsive and wrong, but also because I really hated the hymns (no joke, I had even hated them when I was a Christian). In any case, I found myself IMing things like “ever have those days when you’re pondering in the back of your mind whether you want to just up and go insane?” on Sundays. October 21st was the last Sunday I ever spent in church, because that Saturday I finally told my parents. We don’t talk about it, and it works fine. The rest of my family and my church still doesn’t know the truth.

  • Stealthcoconut

    I would say when I was 9 years old and my aunt tried explaining the creation story to me, then I made the mistake of questioning it with the Big Bang theory…after lots of yelling consisting of witty retorts such as the classic “you will go to hell”, (it is the bible belt in Georgia) I left with a newfound intoxicating ambition to explain and learn about the world around me.

    Shortly after I found Science, in my teens I found the courage to be an Athiest, and now with Secular Humanism in tow I start the road to a pHD in Physics…thanks aunt Harriet :)

  • anti-nonsense

    both my parents were atheists, I was sort of vaguely agnostic untill the age of 13 when I finally read a book of comparative religions and noticed how they ALL contradicted science, at that point I decided religion was bullshit. I can’t remember the first time I actually considered myself an atheist but it was some time after that.

    And that’s my story, in a nutshell.

  • LLL

    Ah yes.

    Since birth, I was raised as a Catholic. I look at my life as through 3 periods so far: nonreligious Catholic, very religious Catholic, Atheist.

    As a young child, I often never thought about religion. Nobody else did either. I hated Church because it was boring, and God was a subject I didn’t take seriously. I didn’t believe in God because I was convinced, it was because that’s just how it is here. Belief is the norm. We all believed in God, but we weren’t religious. I did, though, have a kids Bible I especially liked.

    I was raised very scientifically. Evolution, old Earth, etc. My beliefs were God and Science exist together.

    As I got a little older, my mom seemed to realize we were’nt religious enough, so starting in 3rd grade, I attendied youth class every week. I started studying Christianity, (the good parts anyway.) I was fascinated. Jesus died on a freakin’ cross for us! I learned the Bible stories and ate them up without question.

    I had an odd Christian history. I was baptised Catholic, but the group I was with was mostly evangelical, or whatever. My dad’s side of the family was Nazarene, and we had fun with our church. These were the magic days of religion.

    As I grew up, I learned about Atheists. I regarded them as people who were intelligent and moral, but lost in their own arrogance, blinded from God, worthy of pity. As a Christian, that’s just how I looked at it. I wanted to be a Scientist…until I heard most were Atheist.

    Starting in 5th grade, I attended Catholic school now and went to a Catholic chruch. This is when my faith got serious. I really started analyzing Christianity, and in my naivity, held on to it. I always invented foolish reasons as to why God MUST exist.

    Catholicism is very weird. Christianity was never the same when I attended the Catholic church.

    I found myself very close to God. I prayed whenever the thought came to my head. It was all very peaceful.

    Until last summer.

    It was on the night of a meteor shower, how cool. Me and my cousin and a friend were outside, watching the stars go flying by.

    I got into a small argument of evolution with my cousin, who was Nazarene. I was shocked. I had always believed that evolution was common knowledge, and all Christians believe in it Whoops, turns out only Catholics do. My acceptance of evolution helped me to atheism btw.

    We started talking about spirits, ghosts, and God. Now, I will not share everything that was said, but it was very eye-opening. I had always been an open Christian; it just happens I had never heard the Atheist argument and never the Christian one. This was the Buddhist argument, actually. The friend was a Buddhist. Strange, that Buddhism pushed me to Atheism.

    From then on, my beliefs were modified. And I got thinking. Applying rational thinking through it, and not what I was taught, and in time, I became a deist. I considered myself a deist of the Christian God.

    But as months went by, my rationality and knowledge of Science had grown greater. I just thought about it for a change. I abandoned faith and still held to Christianity, that was the method of my questioning. i had questioned God before, but used faith in the process. Without the delusional emotion of faith, the obvious truth is a lot clearer. It was very strange. I considered my own religion. I even tried out Buddhism.

    I don’t know exactly when I was fully realized as an Atheist, but I am sure that by Halloween 2007, I acknowledged my Atheism.

    It didn’t end there, though. Even after I was Atheist, I still “prayed”. If God would show me a miracle, I would believe. I didn’t, but I reasoned “If he DOES exist, he’ll answer me whether I believe in him or not.”

    Like every Atheist who makes this prayer, I got the same answer. I kept looking out for a miracle, hoping for it, but it never came. Eventually I gave up on it.

    Since then, my Atheism is strong. Well, no. I’m a broad Atheist with strong confidence in my belief. I’m not a “strong’ Atheist. That’s irrational.

    After seeing various argument, I’m sure more than ever before. I’ve studied religion, and I’ve found the bad side of it. I’m glad I’m no longer Christian. (Though for a while, I tried out Shinto, but it never hit off. Logic, reason and science had enslaved me.)


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