Questions for Atheists: Did something cause your unbelief?

Mike Clawson here:

Some publishers recently sent me a book to review called Greater Than You Think: A Theologian Answers the Atheists About God. So far, despite the fact that the author’s supposedly on “my side”, I’m less than impressed. However, I was curious about one statement he made towards the beginning of the book. He said:

“I have never known an atheist who could not identify the event or events that brought about his or her unbelief?”

That makes me wonder how many atheists he actually knows, and whether he’s ever met any that were brought up without religion and are not simply ex-Christians. But at any rate, I was also curious about how well his statement reflected the average atheist at this site. Is his statement true of you even if it’s clearly not universally true? Can you identify some specific event or events that led (whether directly or gradually) to your rejection of belief in God? And if so, what were those events?

BTW, forgive me if Hemant has already asked this question at some point in the past. If he did, I must have missed it. And though I’d hope it would go without saying, I just want to reassure all of you that I’m not asking this with any ulterior motive or hidden agenda. I’m just simply curious.

  • http://atheistagogo.wordpress.com/ Gregory

    Mike — nope, not for me. Honestly, despite dalliances with religion, I don’t think I ever *really* believed in God (for whatever “really believe” means :) ). Intellectually, I wandered back and forth, and I can’t point to any one thing, or several things, that “made me an atheist.”

    My sister and I sometimes talk about this, and always come to the same conclusion — we don’t feel it. Where people we know are quick to ascribe God to events and things and feelings, we just don’t. And that despite a definite ability to feel very “spiritual” in many ways.

  • Siamang

    It’s a good question.

    For me it was watching my grandmother die, and seeing that it wasn’t a spiritual process. It was a physical process. And I had a particular reaction to what death was like.

    Then religious people (like the minister for the funeral) came and had such a different description of what happened… something so opposite… and i realized in a flash something that I never considered before. *These people don’t have a flipping CLUE what happens when you die…. they’re LYING when they say that they do. The more sure they are, the LESS HONEST they’re being.*

    It was a revelation.

    For the first time in my life, I didn’t regard people with a collar or a divinity degree as if they had a deep hidden knowledge that I should trust implicitly. I started to see self-appointed religious spokespeople as fundamentally untrustworthy on matters of the supernatural. It was a 180 degree flip from where I had been on the issue. It was a ways before I would call myself an atheist… but the skepticism was starting to kick in.

  • Adrian

    Does reality count as a cause?

    Just kidding. :)

    No, nothing caused it. I don’t know personally any atheists that have a ’cause’ either, but then I live in a pretty secular city. I do know of atheists via the ‘net that arguably have causes – ex-Christians, for instance, who left the church for some reason. One friend of mine that grew up as a Christian toyed with atheism for a while after his father died of cancer so he came close, but he never took the leap.

    If this author had gone to any country in Europe, much of Canada, or even cities like Seattle then he’d meet many people that were not brought up in a religious environment and who never made a conscious decision to accept atheism, but rather were atheist by default and just never saw any reason to be a theist.

    Incidentally this means that the atheists that you find in these environments would look much different than the atheists who grow up in very religious environments. Instead of being rationalists or universal sceptics, you’ll see that New Age, Homeopathy, spiritualism, crystal BS and other magical thought can afflict atheists as much as theists. I get a little miffed at atheists in the US who describe us as rational, sceptical or anything else like that – it’s a nice thought and it may be true for some areas, but it’s ultimately parochial (pardon the expression). (Pardon the side-track!)

  • http://madmansparadise.blogspot.com Asylum Seeker

    Can’t identify events leading up to my unbelief because I never believed to begin with. But, I guess I may have been strange, in that I never held any belief with much confidence, having a fond interest for the fantastic while simultaneously knowing all too well that it was just that: fantasy.

    I was exposed to the idea of the Christian God well into a youth spent dabbling in the fascinating unrealities of dragons, aliens, ghosts, and whatever fictions you could concoct to distract us from the mundane facets of real life. As such, I could find no more regard for something that I could not see as anything more than a ego-gratifying social construct than I found for any other of these interesting, fanciful, but ultimately false supernatural entities.

    But, I was very lucky that I was raised in an environment where my childhood guillibility wasn’t exploited and my skepticism was allowed to grow, despite myself. I didn’t have any religion forced upon, with primarily areligious and apolitical parents, so I was able to come to my own conclusions on such matters. It was pretty helpful, I must say.

  • Darryl

    It was a confluence of forces that led me to stop believing in God. I learned too much about the history of religious/philosophical ideas, and as I did the comparisons among religions raised doubts about the singularity of Christianity, and a general doubt about all beliefs. In addition, I was honest with myself about the emptiness of my experience. Finally, I was tired of closing myself off from humanity; tired of the us-them mentality that treated non-Christians as either adversaries or targets.

    I had worked very hard to synthesize everything that I knew about Christianity and about secular culture from my own experience as I passed through various stages of theological repositioning, but it was such a burden. When I finally let go, I saw clearly what religion was and what I had been doing.

    I set myself free 20 years ago. I can’t believe it’s been that long. It’s now difficult for me to remember just how I felt back then. I kept diaries, and I’m glad I did. I don’t want to ever forget what I was at that time. I tried so hard; I worked so hard; but I used religion like a weapon. I’m so glad I found my way out.

    It’s ironic, now that I think about it, but in my desire to no longer be separated from the rest of humanity because of my faith I became an atheist, a stranger, to all the religious peoples of the world. Life is crazy.

  • snoozebar

    My mom was (and is) pretty hippy-dippy and into New Agey psychic aura crap. I grew up half-believing in that vague ‘Higher Spirit’ nonsense.

    It wasn’t any particular revelation that caused me to chuck it, but rather leaving home and spending four years studying physics and learning how the world is really put together.

    Honestly, I just grew out of it. Nothing dramatic.

  • Elsin Ann Perry

    Mithras.

  • sexorcista

    Nothing earth shattering. I simply wanted to be free and not confined to the house rules.
    Little kids tend to have a fairly good ‘bullshit’ radar. At least this one did – hypocrisy was also a biggie.

  • geru

    Well, I guess I’d have to say that my atheism was caused by the fact that along the 20 odd years from my birth to the moment I finally ‘declared’ myself an atheist, I had not come across a single piece of evidence that would have even suggested the possibility of there being some sort of a higher power.

    So the complete and utter lack of evidence, would probably be the top reason I’m an unbeliever.

    Also it kinda helps when you notice along the way that pretty much everyone who does believe in something, seem to have some sort of a glaring psychological need for it, or that they’re just completely nuts.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ hoverFrog

    I’ve never believed but I didn’t call myself an atheist until I saw the kind of destruction that could be done in the name of religion post 9/11. That’s probably a cliche but there you go.

    I’d be interested in knowing when Christians (and other theists) could identify a specific event when they were saved or were they always believers, raised in a faith?

  • http://blog.chungyc.org/ Yoo

    Reading Henry Morris’ Scientific Creationism when I was a teenager set me on the path to explicit atheism. The egregious errors in the book got me to start questioning what else existing religions might be wrong about, which eventually led me to notice the lack of positive evidence for religions.

    If it weren’t for that book, I would probably be a Deist or a Buddhist or with some other moderate religion.

  • Gadren

    I grew up in the LDS Church, and while I never felt all that personally pious, I believed (and believed pretty strongly). But there aren’t any particular events that represented a turning point toward atheism for me. I suppose if there was anything like a starting point, it was when I began to write in my journal about hypocrisy I saw when performing my priesthood duties at the age of 14, but there was no real event — just a gradual progression over time.

  • Charles

    My unbelief was created slowly over the years, starting with vague mystical theism in my teens (being raised in a non-religious household), brief flirtings with various faiths, none serious, then into general meh-level agnosticism. The thing that finally tipped me from agnostic to atheist was good old FSTDT. Look up Troy “Churchwork” Brooks some time. I can single “debating” him out as the straw that broke the camel’s back. In the process of making one-sided arguments with him, I ended up finally doing enough research and introspection to realize how much BS it all was. I picked up audiobook versions of God Is Not Great and The God Delusion, and made it official.

  • http://hoilund.org Mikae Høilund

    I guess I just kinda … drifted away from it. I was quite religious when I was a kid, but that just slowly went away until I was practically an atheist, labeling myself agnostic. I then read The God Delusion by recommendation from a business contact while at work (which, ironically, was a mainly-family business by a Jehovah’s Witness family), and decided atheism was a better fit. I’ve never looked back.

  • http://www.creativecentury.com Ramon

    I was raised in a Catholic home. I don’t know exactly when it happened, I just realized some time in high school that I didn’t believe in the existence of any god and I hadn’t for a very long time.

  • http://infidelicacy.blogspot.com/ Steve

    I found the idea of disbelief weird, it was just a part of how I grew up (although as a teen I really, really wanted to believe because the folks in my youth group were pretty cool and I wanted some friends…) and I couldn’t dismiss the supernatural aspect of my religion out of hand.

    Then I read the entire bible near the end of high school. My faith never stood a chance.

  • http://blog.jaredharley.com Jared

    Gregory said,

    Mike — nope, not for me. Honestly, despite dalliances with religion, I don’t think I ever *really* believed in God (for whatever “really believe” means :) ). Intellectually, I wandered back and forth, and I can’t point to any one thing, or several things, that “made me an atheist.”

    My sister and I sometimes talk about this, and always come to the same conclusion — we don’t feel it. Where people we know are quick to ascribe God to events and things and feelings, we just don’t. And that despite a definite ability to feel very “spiritual” in many ways.

    That was going to be my answer almost exactly, but replace sister with wife.

  • http://www.xanga.com/drew85 Drew

    I can honestly say there was no event. I was sad and scared the day I realized–really realized, after years of believing but also thinking–that my faith could just as easily be a result of wanting really badly to believe something.

    After that, my faith started to fall away.

  • http://wanderingink.net Kris

    Since I reached the “age of reason” or whatever they call it, my faith was headed for a decline. When I was a teenager it progressed to agnosticism and stayed there for a year or two.

    While I have no doubt that I would have eventually come to atheism anyway, the event that pushed me over the edge was reading Ivan’s monologue about the suffering of children in The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky). The argument struck me so deeply that I threw out the idea of God altogether, although it did take me a few weeks of thought afterwards to fully consider myself an atheist.

  • Sea

    There was no specific event that caused it, but I could list a few things that sped up the progression from devout Catholic to militant atheist: having atheist friends I admired, taking philosophy and science classes, being bored to sleep during mass, and, oddly enough, Confirmation. Turns out that I was put off by realizing I’d just signed over my life to a church (spiritual life, I suppose, which is why I really don’t care anymore about whatever promises I made to God since I no longer believe in gods).

    I’ve calmed down considerably on the militancy part, and that is due to more philosophy and science classes and more atheist friends. Funny how that happened.

  • http://pastbyer.livejournal.com pastbyer

    From what I have read around the blogosphere, most deconverts seem to describe deconversion as a journey – sometimes triggered by certain events, but those events were just the start of a (usually painful) process of discovery and letting go of faith. I personally don’t think that change occurs all-at-once from a single event – we tend to think so because of our cognitive biases towards single-cause sequences, but really a lot of deep and profound changes are processes that happen over time, with many causes all working together and influencing eachother.

    That said, I was never a “true” believer in Christianity or even New Age mysticism. For both of them I had a very long period of time where I tried very hard to believe (“believed in belief”, if you like), but every now and then contradictory evidence turned up, such as learning about science (I like to read… a lot) or just having several weeks of unanswered prayers. I spent the first 9ish years of my life in an essentially secularist society raised by non-religious parents, so I was never taught to blindly believe things. As a result any contradictory evidence would stir doubt – which I never learnt to ignore – and I’d fall away from belief again.

    I teetered back and forth for a long time before I began to learn critical thinking at high school, when I started to be more interested in philosophical arguments for and against “Omnimax God”, and I did some Internet searches, read lots over several months, and eventually formed my position as an agnostic bordering on atheism. It wasn’t until I finished high school and became more confident (I had very low self-esteem when I was young, related to other issues) that I began using the term “atheist”, mainly because it was a more accurate term for the way I lived my life, and the way I viewed life.

    So… I think that, for most people, it’s the sum total of experiences regarding religion and life in general that makes one an atheist (or a theist/agnostic/apatheist, etc), not any single defining event.

  • http://johnmoeller.wordpress.com/ John Moeller

    I think that the assumption is absurd. I was taught to critically think from a young age. By the time that I was old enough to really make my own decisions, religion just hadn’t “stuck.”

    I had learned that the earth had formed 4.5 b.y.a. in an aggregation of dust and debris, so when I read in the Bible that it was created in seven days in a completely arbitrary order, I had a hard time swallowing whatever the Bible stated from that point on.

    There was never a “turning point” of deconversion for me (because I was never really “converted” in the first place). Maybe that assumption makes it easier for apologists to assume that atheism is some kind of personality disorder borne out of trauma.

  • Cade

    I’m not actually sure of any particular event that “caused” my atheism. I’ve thought about it a lot, and all I can come up with are various things that, over time, lead to this conclusion. It’s not that I was never religious (I was quite religious) it’s just that I’ve been down so many winding paths of spirituality with long bouts of apathy that there are too many “events” that did it.

    It was a slow, piece by piece, replacement of one view of the world with another. Once I consciously gave myself the label of “atheist” (or “agnostic” for a while) many of my views changed very quickly. But up to that point, my views were slowly being replaced as I found out more about the world, and the more I thought about philosophy.

    I could probably talk about certain events or things in my life that helped point my path (Confirmation, science classes, forum threads), but it wouldn’t tell the whole story.

    By the way, is that actually supposed to be an argument against atheism? If it is, it’s an exceedingly poor one. Wouldn’t it be natural to be able to explain how you came to a certain position? Especially if it’s something you actually as the atheists he talked to did with him.

    On a side note: When you think about how you came to believe what you do about Christianity, do you think about any specific events?

  • DSimon

    I’ve never believed in God, but I do have a similar story.

    I used to be into all sorts of new agey junk, like psychic powers and extraterrestrial visitation. I said to myself, what reason would all those people have to lie about their experiences?

    Then, I ran into an advertisement for an expensive remote viewing course, and started thinking about saving up to attend, when I suddenly saw what a precipice I was at the edge of.

    I realized that it only takes a few liars to perpetuate a big lie. Wishful thinking and pride will do all the grunt work of spreading the misinformation, and make it tough for believers to admit to themselves that they’ve been had.

    It was sobering to figure out that the only difference between mystical junk and MLM (which set off all my alarms when I encountered it) was that I was more prone to being wishful about super powers and space aliens than about getting rich.

    Truly, psychic woo is the dark side of the geekness.

  • http://ecstathy.blogspot.com efrique

    In spite of the fact that there were incidents that you’d imagine might have been enough to put me off my belief in God (such as it was), none of them did (how often does that really happen anyway? I mean, really?).

    It was more to do with the whole thing just not making one blind bit of sense, and me finally admitting that to myself, and agreeing with myself not to keep ignoring the huge gap between what I could see actual support for and what it would be convenient to go on believing.

    I think that sort of thing comes about because there’s a VERY large group of believers who insist that we’re angry with God, like we just had an argument or something and we’re busily stomping around the house and slamming doors and just behaving crappy, and once we get over ourselves we’ll be nice little believers again… Unfortunately, in spite of having met many dozens of people (maybe even hundreds if you count all the ones I’ve communicated with online) with no belief in any god, I don’t think I’ve ever met one that was *angry* at god. I’m not even sure how that works UNLESS you believe god is real. There are some who would be angry with god if they thought there was one (I tihnk I would be too) – but there’s no anger with what isn’t there. It’d be like being angry with Santa because he didn’t bring me any presents last Christmas, but who I nevertheless don’t believe in… kinda schizo.

    The thing is, if you don’t believe in god, you can’t attribute bad incidents to him – it’s the same problem. Incidents can’t do much to cause disbelief, because if God was being a bastard, it would be a reason TO believe, wouldn’t it? (it might be a reason not to worship him, but you could hardly ignore his existence, could you?)

    The only way I can see a particular incident leading to disbelief is if someone had a strong belief that both
    (i) God is pretty much controlling everything that happens
    (ii) God is purely good and would never harm us

    Then if a bad incident occurs, the person with that rather odd set of beliefs would have to question that belief structure – but surely they’re more likely to adopt a slightly different belief (one that is less rigid) than to simply reject the entire edifice?

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

    For me, it was catalyzed by my stumbling upon a website. Afterwards, I was in limbo for two years until I decided that “atheist” was an accurate description for myself. I would not really count this as an “event”, as it did not really cause a swift transition, and was nothing more than a quiet encounter with another point of view.

    I am wondering what kind of events the author is talking about. I’m fearing the worst. He probably thinks every atheist deconverts after some major tragedy, broken relationship, or because of the behavior of Christians. Not so.

  • Richard Wade

    Hi Mike, good to see you back. Yes, Hemant has posted at least one other question something like this, but it’s a good one to ask again. Maybe if we can find the other one the responses there will add to your research.

    I too wonder about the depth of the author’s experience with atheists, and also wonder what exactly is the point of his statement anyway. Stated by itself out of context it kind of sounds like he is trivializing the atheists’ unbelief by attributing it to a single, identifiable and possibly traumatic event, perhaps something they could have gotten over, rather than a deeply considered decision and/or a slowly developed perspective. Well, it is taken out of context so it’s not fair to judge. You’re the one reading the book so maybe you can tell us what he’s getting at, once you figure it out.

    In my case there was a specific event but it wasn’t the cause of my unbelief, it only brought to my attention the fact that I had already been an unbeliever for several years.

    I was always a skeptical kid and having been brought up by non-religious parents I picked up beliefs only from being immersed in the general society around me. It never was more than a vague, pantheistic-deistic thing in my teens and early twenties. As the decades wore on that stuff wore off. By the time I was fifty I was not believing in any religion or deity but I wasn’t thinking about it one way or the other. It just was not an issue that I spent time considering.

    Then I watched the Twin Towers go down and that morning I realized that not only had I already been free of belief in gods for quite a long time, I also knew I wanted to be free of any last traces of the bad habit of persistently assuming the truth of things without evidence. I was revolted by what that can lead to. I wanted nothing resembling in even the tiniest way the lunacy that had darkened that day. After some searching and scouring I was clean. I don’t practice belief. Ever since I have felt more free, more healthy and more happy than at any time before.

  • http://thesciencepundit.blogspot.com The Science Pundit

    Well, the closest thing to an event would be when I was about 14-15. I was already an agnostic and well on my way to full-fledged atheism. One of the few things preventing me from going fully atheist was the idea (that I’d heard many times) that “Sure the Bible stories aren’t true; they are symbolic. But God is real and he inspired them.” However, when I started studying anthropology and ancient mythologies and saw that all the stories in the Bible had evolved from much older similar stories from polytheistic religions, the final nail had been driven.

  • kevin

    Since I’ve never been part of a religious organization, so I never needed to have that “aha moment” to notice that it was all BS and here in Germany, even in the conservative south I hardly had any encounters with religion at all.
    As a 7-8 year old I attended a protestant religion class at school and one day I was set home for arguing with my teacher.
    She had told us the Christian creation myth (6 days, Adam, Eve…) which I as an 8 year old thought was somewhat fishy, so I asked “what about the dinosaurs?” and she gave me an unsatisfactory answer. I questioned the time line, saying that I know that plants were about at the time of the dinosaurs which was at least 65 million year before people existed… eventually I was sent to the head master’s office who contacted my parents and seemed to think that I had committed some sort of serious offense. My father backed me up 100% laughed at the head master for being so silly and then excused me from attending religion ever again.

  • http://priorperceptions.com Frank DN

    I was a totally gung ho man of god planning on becoming a full time preacher when I had a stroke. The stroke severely altered my way of thinking as well as leaving me in considerable pain for the last ten years. My emotions don’t work anymore and the pain drives me up the wall sometimes. But the biggest change was that I had no more interest in god or his word. It went from being my life to being only poorly written words with no inspiration or life whatsoever. I look at it now and I can’t fathom how I ever believed any of it. But I have been trying to find an answer for ten years to explain how that could happen. So far the only explanation is simply that there is no god and brain damage can really mess you up.

  • http://erickaun.blogspot.com Eric

    I was raised with in an implicitly protestant home, by parents who went to church only a few times a year but sent me and my siblings to their Lutheran church for religious education. It didn’t really take – especially the transubstantiation – but I passively accepted it.

    I joined a Bible-study group in college, as a way to learn more; it was slightly cultish (a Korean-based, moderately evangelical group whose leader seemed to set up a lot of marriages), but even after I left the group, I had to work to suspend my disbelief in the Bible I “studied” (which meant reading only selected portions).

    I dabbled in woo-woo (Zen and other forms of Buddhism, various New Age “energy” types of crap), but none of them stuck either.

    About 10 years ago I read the Bible cover to cover. That put the stake in the heart of any faith I might have had. But I still was a vague theist, based on a form of irreducible complexity argument, and wishful thinking (“wouldn’t it be nice if…”).

    About 3 years ago I spent some time praying for faith. Naturally, there was no one on the other end of the call. About a year ago I started reading science – especially evolutionary biology – more heavily. That sealed it. There’s simply no good reason to believe the supernatural exists. Its drama and flair explain why people seek it.

    Summary: I never really believed, but gave it several solid shots, and am much, much happier now that I’ve accepted my atheism. All we need to do to convert more Christians away from nonsense is to get them to read the Bible, all of it.

  • http://www.tuibguy.com Mike Haubrich, FCD

    Mark – It’s always a good question, because it gives people a chance to talk about it. It’s a complex experience to realize one is an atheist in a religious society. Many of us didn’t even know that it was an option until later.

    I didn’t have an “event” that made me an atheist, there were many factors involved.

    I got frustrated with unanswered prayers and the standard responses that god answered my prayers through the Bible, through other people, through the beauty of nature, etc. None of these were satisfying. The answers and apologetics on evolution were unsatisfying.

    One day, I started thinking about the whole “Salvation” thing and a few things struck me about it. Of course they have struck other people as well.

    I didn’t think I needed “salvation” because I wasn’t born a sinner. Salvation is a convenient way of creating the problem, and then offering the solution. But, the other point is that millions of people never got the chance to be saved because they were either born before Jesus died, or they lived in areas never reached by the church until the 16th or 17th century. In the 10 thousand years of man’s civilization, it seemed injust to judge people who had never been offered Salvation and then condemn them to an eternal Hell for not accepting it.

    I asked Christians about this and the best they could come up with was that the people who didn’t have the chance to reject God were either unfortunate, or that they would be judged on their deeds, or that this was all the more reason to mission to far-flung people.

    None of the other religions made any sense, either, and so I finally threw my hands up in the air after giving up on Wicca, too, and realized that I am an atheist. It was relaxing, is all I can say, because I didn’t have to twist my brain so much in order to believe.

  • Tracy

    I was raised in a baptist church as a kid. When I was growing up, I was exposed to several religions. I really, truly wanted to believe. I even dabbled in Wicca since it was more of a feminist belief. About 12 years ago I started taking an antidepressant and that was the end of religion for me. It gave me a clarity that I hadn’t had about religion. I was finally able to be honest with myself and say “I don’t believe”. I’m not taking them any more, but I’m still an atheist :) I still have the “clarity & reason”.

  • Spork

    It was always harder for me, even as a child, to believe in religion and the invisible skydaddy. Now, I was raised around plenty of other superstition that I had to eventually work away from, but that was things like ghosts and haunted houses and friggin’ psychics.

    I don’t know if the difference was one set of supernatural hoo-ha was based on people and one was based on a giant, invisible, magical man who was watching every single thing I do. But, I just never really took to that imaginary big man in the sky like others.

  • cipher

    Mike, as I’ve told you, I began from a position of agnosticism, and spent over thirty years making my way through the catalog of world religions, trying to find both a common thread pointing to something underneath (the “perennial philosophy”) as well as a belief system involving something greater than myself in an attempt to give my life meaning and purpose. In the end, I was forced to give it up as a bad business. I never found any evidence, nor did I have any subjective experiences, that would have enabled me to “believe” – whatever that means.

    I did have a few experiences within the past year that caused something of an internal shift, and led me to feel that I couldn’t continue to identify as an agnostic, and that it was more honest to regard myself as an atheist. I went from a position of not knowing to a position of disbelief.

    I went looking for God, Mike – there was no one home.

  • BowserTheCat

    My father was a biologist and made it clear that belief was fine but in all cases logic, reason and good science trump religion. If your beliefs don’t match reality it’s time to change beliefs.

    We did go to church on occasion as my parents thought that there was some virtue (pun intended) to be found. Just don’t get too deep into the magic part of it all.

    So I would have to say that I never believed in a deity of any sort. I was actually amazed when I got out of college and into the workforce to discover that co-workers my age were into religion. I had, wrongfully as it obviously turned out, assumed that the whole religion thing was a vestige of older generations and my generation wouldn’t need such foolishness.

    Ho hum, wrong again…

  • Vincent

    For me it seems it was a long progression of things.
    First was the theological position of growing up a liberal Catholic with the attitude that all other religions were wrong, but that God would still save everyone who lived a good life, despite their mistakes.

    Then there was the time in a college history class when I was chastised by the professor for suggesting the cause of a particular event in the Middle Ages was “a miracle.”

    Then there was the movie “Jesus of Montreal” which suggests that even if Jesus was the bastard son of a centurion and was never resurrected, it wouldn’t take anything away from his message.

    Then getting a degree in Medieval History taught me that the “traditions” of the Catholic church were pretty much crap they made up and didn’t actually go back that far.

    I decided that I believed Jesus was sent by God but was not God.
    So I quit going to mass because I thought it was disrespectful to the congregation of me to go through the rituals with sincere believers when I was not a sincere believer.

    Through enough reading I realized there just was not enough evidence to support the existence of God but I chose to believe anyway. I thought to myself “Well, there’s no proof, but I can believe anyway because it is a comfort.” After a few months of that I decided I wanted to live a justified, rational life and that it was irrational to believe something without evidence just because I wanted it to be true.

  • Tim

    It’s been about 12 years since I attended the xtian university where I earned a degree in children’s ministries. People have started to seek me out to see what I have been up to. They can’t believe that I am an atheist and want an explanation.

    I have written a rather lengthy article on the entire process and when people finish they often say “That’s nice but I don’t see anywhere in your writing that explains why you don’t believe.”

    When I get those types of responses I sit back and wonder if they actually read what I wrote and then one day it hit me – theists are looking for that silver bullet that knocks out belief. If they can find it and counter it maybe you will believe again. It’s not that simple.

    Ravi has come out with a book called “The End of Reason” – my parents covertly handed it to me in a book exchange with my wife. I have spent that last few weeks going over that book and comparing it with Harris’ book “Letter.” Ravi says that a worldview (I think he just means his) cannot be knocked out with a single argument and it seems many theists think other worldviews can be.

    While the process of becoming an atheist happened over a period of about 5 years there was a moment where a lightbulb came on and I would point to that event – It was when I stopped making excuses for god. I would excuse or special plead the god concept into an untouchable box where the light of reason was not allowed to go. I stopped presupposing his existence and required of myself that he provide as much evidence as any other aspect of reality.

    If you want to call that my silver bullet so be it. But I don’t think it’s the type of bullet theists are looking for – which is why I get “That’s nice but I don’t see anywhere in your writing that explains why you don’t believe.”

  • http://heathendad.blogspot.com/ HappyNat

    Sounds like the author has met many atheists or hasn’t talked to them. The comment is pretty vague, as event could be taken as a lot of things, is going to college or reading the bible an event? I didn’t have one major even but followed a series of steps until I lost my christianity.

    However, his question sounds like the argument that something bad must have happened for a person to be come an atheist. I’ve heard several people say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry the church/pastor hurt you, but give christianity another try”. Like the only reason to leave Christianity is because of bad experiences. I fell away from Christianity despite having great experiences and having a large circle of friends at church. I enjoyed singing in the choir and being at church 3 day a week, so I didn’t leave because of a negative event, my brain was just hurting from the mental gymnastics and I had to be honest with myself. So maybe being honest with myself was my “event”.

  • Anna N.

    No cause for me. I was raised in a non-religious family, with atheist parents. It wasn’t until I was 13 or 14 that I realized that there were people who actually still believed that religion stuff. Like, for real believed it.

    Fifteen years after that realization, it’s still difficult for me to wrap my head around, honestly.

  • Rick

    I started following various atheist related blogs several months ago, and because of the “non-conversion” stories I’ve read, I’ve spent a bit of introspection on this myself. Even though I spent a lot of time in church at least up through high school graduation, and really cannot recall a time where I can say I was ever a believer.

    The only “defining moment” I can think of was learning about Greek and Roman mythology in elementary school. I found the topic fascinating, and read every book I could find in our county library on different mythologies (Greek, Roman, and Norse primarily…it wasn’t that great of a library). At that time, a cover-to-cover reading of the bible was included in my studies. I pretty quickly came to two conclusions: 1) At one time, these were religions just as prevalent and just as believed as Christianity, and 2) There was little difference in what I was reading as “myths” and what I was reading as “religion” in the bible.

    From there until my escape to adulthood, I operated in an “acting out the parts” mode in church, dutifully going every Sunday and attending all of the various functions, but not really ever feeling like I belong. It was so refreshing being able to drop the facade once I graduated from college and was responsible for my own decisions.

    Rick

  • http://www.vomitcomit.wordpress.com thordora

    Raised Roman Catholic, but I never believed, even as a small child. I tried-how I tried, but it didn’t click. Once my very religious mother died when I was 11, it was like I could finally start allowing myself to not believe. Her dying and death didn’t cause atheism in any way.

    Having children affirmed my atheism though. It really made me wonder why anyone needs more than this earth.

  • Joseph R.

    Hi Mike. Glad to see you posting. There was not a single event that turned me into an atheist. It was more of a long progression. I was raised in a southern baptist home. I was baptized at the age of 11. I had heard our preacher describe some peoples’ conversion from ? to christianity while on a mission trip to Africa. I’m not sure what country. When I didn’t experience the same transformation that was described, I thought something must be wrong with me. That started my doubt. I was almost 30 (I am now 33)when I had finally finished my conversion from christian to full fledged atheist.

  • http://obimomkenobi.wordpress.com Obi-Mom Kenobi

    It was just a long process of questioning. I questioned what I’d been told, questioned what I saw, questioned what I read and questioned what others said they believed. And I found that I do not believe in the supernatural beings of mythology, past or present.

  • Chris Nowak

    I think usually one can pinpoint the chain of events that lead you to becoming Atheist, just like you can pinpoint the chain of events that lead you to do any action.

    I don’t have any major event that change my belief, but I can pinpoint the chain of events.

    I never took my faith very seriously to begin with, and just kind of took it for granted and believed in god because I thought that was what good people did. I was Catholic and went through all the sacraments, and finally was going to get confirmed, although I honestly didn’t care that much. For confirmation in Catholicism you have to have a member of the church sponsor you. I think my sponsor contributed to my Atheism (not on purpose) – he was a pretty religious but open minded guy who I thought of as an authority in the church at the time. He told me that it was good to question my faith, because it will always come out stronger in the end.

    So after getting confirmed and everything I head off to college where I was exposed to different viewpoints and wasn’t afraid to question anymore, I definitely did NOT strengthen my faith by questioning and instead just saw it fade away.

  • http://atheistsage.blogspot.com/ Sage

    For me, it’s a little of column A and a little of column B. I chose to attend church with my grandparents for about 4 years (from second grade to sixth grade), and I tried my hardest to believe in it. But looking back, I’m astounded by how little I actually knew (I had no idea why people prayed to Jesus when they could just pray to God? It was so confusing!). But, I suppose a combination of factors led to my “rejection of belief”:
    1) my brother stopped attending church (which was hugely emotional for me. I remember having a huge crisis whenever he’d ask me whether I would accept it if he believed in Buddha or another god).
    2) I finished reading His Dark Materials
    3) I entered a certain ‘teenage rebellion’ phase

    So no major events really. Just a combination of little factors. Combined with an extremely secular household.

  • Dan

    No cause for me.

    Despite pretty much growing up in a church (my dad was the organist and my mom was in the choir) I just never really bought into the whole religion thing. I can point to plenty of “events” that reinforce my non-belief, but none of them had any causal effect on it.

  • http://kjcw.blogspot.com Kelly

    I can’t identify a single event that made me an atheist. Like a lot of other commenters said, it was a slow process of questioning that eventually brought me to atheism. I wasn’t terribly religious to start with, so it wasn’t really a major, earth-shattering shift in my life. Rather, it was a recognition that I had probably been an atheist all along without knowing it. If that makes any sense.

  • http://jennifurret.deviantart.com/ Jennifurret

    I never had any sort of epiphany where I thought “Wow, God doesn’t exist!” Both of my parents were raised in religion, but chose to raise me without it. I didn’t even know what Christianity and Jesus was all about until I got into middle school. They wanted to me to figure stuff out on my own. The one thing my dad always told me is “It doesn’t matter how much you go to church or how loud you pray. Just be a good person.”

    The only epiphany I had was when I heard the term atheist for the first time (when I was about 13). I just sort of blankly thought, “Oh yeah, that’s me.” It’s when I starting telling people what I was (not knowing I would have such a negative reaction) was when I first started investigating beliefs. But everything just sounded so crazy to me, that it didn’t really take an event to settle in my atheism.

  • mike

    There was no single momentous event for me. I think that many people have this idea that all religious beliefs (maybe all important beliefs) must be formed during specific, single events filled with emotion and ceremony — like being “born again” at a revival. This approach has always seemed like a very fragile, superficial, and dangerous way to come by a set of beliefs. Meanwhile, for many of us quiet introverts, (non)religious views come about by a slow process of reflection and refinement. It was this way for me when I was a theist, and the same was true in reaching atheism.

    I never believed in any of those supernatural Old Testament miracle stories. I’m not sure what I thought of the gospel miracles; I probably never thought too hard about them. I was about 25 years old before I even considered applying this same scrutiny of supernaturalism to the resurrection story. It was unsettling, because I realized that if I didn’t believe the literal truth of the resurrection, I had no business calling myself a Christian. The resurrection seemed like the cornerstone of the faith, and I didn’t feel comfortable cherry-picking around it. It didn’t take long thereafter for my beliefs to be flushed of all supernaturalism.

  • Jordan

    Reading about dinosaurs at the age of 6-7 and then reading the first couple chapters of genesis, and asking my rabbi where are the dinosaurs and getting a reply that at that age i knew was bullshit…

  • Steven

    I think I can recall a couple of things that put me on the path to atheism.
    When I was about ten years old my grandfather passed away and not long after that my baby sister died only a few days after her birth from a heart defect.
    I couldn’t reconcile those things with the God I’d been told about in Sunday school for so many years. Not very sophisticated I know, but I was only ten.
    The older I get the clearer it becomes that nothing happens for a reason, it just happens. There is no God to thank for my good fortune and, as much as I might want to, none to blame for my tragedies.
    It does feel strange though, not accepting something that so many millions of people believe is the truth. I’ve often wondered, does it take more courage to live without any faith in a higher power, or to have faith without any evidence at all?

  • Brian E

    About 8 years ago I was walking through a bookstore and I saw a book entitled ‘The Birth of Christianity: Reality and Myth’ by Joel Carmichael. Simply reading the inlet was enough to cause a stir in my ‘religious’ mind. It made me realize that there are so many aspects regarding Christianity and Jesus’ life to be learned NOT from the bible, that in order to be honest with your faith one absolutely must examine these aspects from external sources. Well, one you start doing that, the house of cards falls quickly.

    So I guess for me, the one event that triggered it was reading something other than the bible, and taking an honest look at the faith.

  • http://omega-geek.blogspot.com Spook

    Nope, no deconversion or anything here. Religion’s never been an issue in my family and (probably) both of my parents are god-free.

    Although, for what it’s worth, the endless hate brought on by people in school ultimatly made me firmer in my lack of belief.

  • Doreen

    There were two events that led my questioning of the beliefs I grew up in, but there wasn’t a specific event that led to my disbelief in god.

    I watched the movie Stigmata when I was in 7th grade. It included lines from the Gospel of St. Thomas: the kingdom of God is inside you and all around you, not in the buildings of wood and stone. This made so much sense to me; god was in everything, not just in church. I got my mom to watch it and she made the comment that that gospel wasn’t approved by the Catholic Church. That got me thinking that maybe the Catholic Church isn’t always right

    The second point was probably a turning point for a lot of people. Until 9th grade, my world consisted of the neighborhood I grew up in. So on 9/11, I wasn’t even aware the WTC was in NYC. I had just gotten the internet, but I only really used it for music. On 9/11, I started using it to research all sorts of topics including politics and religion.

    Throughout the next few years, I did so much research. My journey kinda went like… Catholic to disenfranchised Catholic to Wiccan to Buddhist to Satanist to Agnostic to Pantheist and finally to Atheist. There was no specific event that led to atheist other than a slow peeling away of supernatural beliefs.

  • http://jimloomis.deviantart.com Jimmy

    The process was very gradual for me, and it had a lot to do with opening my eyes to observation and inquisition. If we are born into an environment that doesn’t allow for questioning, then we are either happily suppressed or angrily and involuntarily silenced by authority. Once I learned how to sift through all of the crap, I learned that I had nothing to lose, literally. Religion is nothing but superstition and weak knowledge based on intuition, tradition, and authority.

    Many people have claimed that they’ve “lost” their religion, and I claim that I’ve lost nothing, and gained an understanding of the world which is far more fulfilling and self-correcting.

  • Robin

    Yeah, I’m one of the people that author hasn’t spoken with. Our parents just didn’t raise us to be concerned with this type of thing, and I had no real idea what other people believed until the early teen years. I had no reason to notice that I didn’t believe until I knew that others did. After I learned, I thought about it for a really long time and understood how difficult it would be for most people to face death and non-being and that this was probably the source of thier beliefs. I didn’t identify as an atheist for a few more years, possible because I hadn’t yet heard the word, or possibly because I knew that it often was understood as a challenge. Until I went to school outside of the Northeast, I mainly regarded people who held religious beliefs with a sense of profound compassion. (Facing death is terribly hard.) My first year of college made me realize that I would be more comfortable calling myself an atheist, but it was more a matter of formally declaring myself outside of the believing group, where I had been all along.

  • http://joenothinmac.com jonathan

    No single event caused me to become an atheist. It was the culmination of several years of intensive study of the Bible and other world religions. In college, I also took several courses in logic, which also helped.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Thanks for your honest answers everyone. You have all pretty much confirmed what I suspected when I read that assertion in the book: that on that point at least, the author has no idea what he’s talking about.

    As several of you suspected, the bit I quoted was part of a larger argument about how atheism is “always” motivated by a hatred of God for some reason or another. I didn’t include the whole quote because I just wanted to hear your honest responses, not incite a debate about how offensive and wrong the author’s beliefs were. (And I do agree that they are offensive and wrong.) Anyhow here’s the whole quote in case you’re interested:

    I have known a good number of atheists and agnostics in my life, and my own limited experience indicates that atheism – especially in its more passionate strain – always has its causes. All the convinced atheists I know do not merely disbelieve in God; they hate Him. He becomes for them an object not of simple indifference, but of the most visceral animosity. And this animosity seems always motivated by one of two things: a deep injustice suffered, for which they blame God and cannot forgive Him; or a deep injustice they have committed, for which they cannot forgive themselves. It happens with a truly remarkable frequency that I speak with a self-declared atheist who reveals, after some time of conversation, that “I stopped going to church after I had an abortion when I was twenty-two,” or “I lost my wife when we had been married only three years,” or “I stopped believing in God when my twin brother was taken from me when we were only fifteen.”

    I enjoy no personal friendship with any of the authors of the atheistic works being considered here [Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens], and I am not privy to sufficient details of their private lives to confidently identify the underlying causes of their hatred of God. What I can assert with moral certainty is that atheism is not natural – it is produced. What requires explanation is not how a person becomes a believer, but how a person becomes an atheist. In fact, I have never known an atheist who could not identify the event or events that brought about his or her unbelief.

    I am convinced that atheism – unlike religious indifference – never represents a gentle estrangement from God or a gradual falling away from belief. It is a rejection of God. No one writes angry books about other phenomena in which they do not believe. Only God, the Supreme Deity, evokes such vehemence. Only God merits book after book of passionate denial of His existence. Only God – and especially the Christian God – invites such devotion and love on the one hand, and such deep-seated odium on the other.

    Anyhow, after I read this I knew that this author was mostly full of shit, but I wanted to ask the question of you guys to help me confirm it. While he does go on to make a few good points later in the book, for the most part I’m finding an astounding lack of familiarity with what most atheists actually think, though oddly enough the author actually lives in Europe (Rome).

  • http://mylongapostasy.blogspot.com ATL-Apostate

    What really did for me was entering my chosen field of pediatric cardiology. Here on a daily basis, I take care of kids with unimaginably horrible heart conditions which they were born with. They did nothing to deserve it. Some are born with half or 1/3 of a heart. We put them through a mind-boggling series of operations to “fix” god’s so-called “intelligent design.” I was already an agnostic / deist at the beginning of my training, but seeing this first-hand convinced me of three things:

    1. God does not exist
    2. If he does, then he is incapable, and incompetent in the extreme.
    3. Children being born with horrible, undeserved medical conditions is better explained by genetic mutations, “bad luck” and failures of embryologic development rather than the esoteric concepts of “sin,” “God’s will,” and an “imperfect world.”

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    Tried to edit and it turned into a double-post. Sorry.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    The most influential event for me was actually talking to a Christian pastor. I’ve blogged about this before but what the hell…

    I was visiting my brother in Kentucky, and prior to going to see Pirates 3 Saturday night, we all went to watch him perform at his megachurch where he plays the drums. As we were getting ready to leave, some of the people in my party were chatting with friends they knew, and while this was going on, the lady pastor there somehow caught wind of my parents’ recent divorce. She took advantage of this and she immediately started asking me very prodding, personal questions.

    I tried to defuse them with stuff like “I’m handling it” but she wouldn’t let up. Finally, thinking it would satisfy her, I was frank about my reactions to the whole situation. She then started crying, and gave me a hug (freakin’ awkward) then asked me if I was trusting Christ. At the time I was somewhat of an agnostic Christian loosely clinging to emerging church theology but I really hadn’t used any form of faith in dealing with that particular situation. This quickly devolved into an attempt on my part to defend my faith-position on the fly to someone who was extremely well-versed in apologetics and well-practiced in religious debate (contrast this to me who only ever had to defend a Christian faith to people and was now finding himself unwittingly on the other end of the shotgun!)

    After about an hour of me trying to get out of there gracefully, she had successfully broken down all my emotional and psychological barriers, and I was pretty much ready to just jump the gun and “re-commit” myself, but on an intellectual level I knew I was being manipulated. So I managed to ask her to pray for me to “find the truth”, so we prayed together and then I got the hell out of there. The rest of my party had left except for my brother who had been instructed to stick behind and continue the conversation on the way to the theater.

    After that weekend what stuck with me was the importance of “finding the truth” so, among other things, I wouldn’t be stuck in that situation again. I prayed to Jesus to help me in my search. I started up a blog where I could put down my thoughts on faith-related matters, struck up conversations with Mike on his blog, lurked on this blog for awhile (this was around the time of “A Christian Pastor Responds”) before beginning to post, started exploring the blogosphere for different points of view, and started striking up discussions and debates with people of different faith backgrounds.

    In the beginning, I wasn’t really opposed to arriving at a Christian faith (in fact I pretty much expected to!), I still prayed to God and felt him responding, and felt like he was blessing, sanctioning, and even guiding my search for truth.

    But after a long period of doubt, prayers that felt totally un-listened-to, a frank look at the reality around me and a realization that the world truly acted self-sufficient and seemed a whole lot like there wasn’t a benevolent, supreme, eminent mover in it, I realized my beliefs in God were slipping away. I of course fought this. Hard. I prayed earnestly and fervently to God to just do something, anything that would convince me he was real. I didn’t know what would convince me, but surely he would, and I wanted so desperately to be convinced.

    Then, wondering if I was missing something by sticking too close to the Christian path, I tried spoon-bending. This is what pretty much killed off any belief in a spiritual otherworld for me. I became a monist agnostic deist… and then the deist part of it just sort of slowly tapered off.

    I know at this point the atheist label is not wrong, but I still call myself agnostic because I sincerely believe that real “knowledge” about God or godlike entities is truly unattainable. I also know that a good many people have “spiritual” experiences that I am just not ready to discount entirely, simply because I just do not know what is going on in their minds.

    But I am pretty certain that none of this would have happened, and I would still have contented myself as a non-practicing emergent-leaning agnostic liberal Christian, if it hadn’t been for one eager Christian pastor on the prowl for a soul-saving.

  • Lorem Ipsum

    No event, no epiphany. I was raised around and by vague believers but just never bought into it.

    I checked, and the author of the book is a Catholic priest and lives in Rome. Is it any surprise, then, that all the atheists he knows have a cause for their rejection of religion?

    I did want to take issue with what Adrian said, though, at least are far as Seattle goes – I live there and all the atheists I know are as quick to roll their eyes at the woo-woo as they are at traditional religion. The ones I’ve met that are into the new age mystical stuff are mostly deists, in my experience, but I will say that there does seem to be a whole lot of them.

  • elf_man

    The way I was raised, religion was a non-issue. It was by no means a taboo topic, but we didn’t go to any church, my parents are non-practicing/non-religious, and I never really asked much to my few religious friends, none of whom were particularly hardcore about it. It was just irrelevant, and so the entire religious mindset, basing actions and decisions on belief in a god, is completely alien. It still surprises me that so many people are so fundamentally different on this, that most people believe in some sort of a god to the point that they run their lives around that belief.

  • http://http: grazatt

    Mike C you said I’m less than impressed with this book. Can you Elaborate a bit more as to what you feel the failings of the book are?

  • http://AgnosticOracle.livejournal.com AgnosticOracle

    Well I’ve never meet Thomas D. Williams. I was not raised atheist but raised in a mainstream Christian household. There was no single event or events that caused me to become an atheist. It was just the growing realization through the later parts of high school that Christianity was absurd.

    The more I thought about various Christianity and other religions for that matter the sillier they appeared. There was not day or week that I said I don’t believe. I just slowly became apparent that the stories I was told were fiction.

  • http://notreallyalice.blogspot.com Alice

    I had already been trailing off from fundamentalist Christianity and finding a lot to be excited about in the emergent church… then I started studying Judaism, expecting to find the source of Christian faith. But I didn’t. Christianity seemed like a complete non-sequitor, and a re-imagining or re-interpretation of Jewish faith. It took me a few weeks to process it all, and then I pretty much never prayed again. If there was a God, I realized, it was the god of the Jews, and since I’m not Jewish, there’s nothing more required of me. It all started with that thought. Not sure where it would have gone if I was Jewish.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Mike C you said I’m less than impressed with this book. Can you Elaborate a bit more as to what you feel the failings of the book are?

    I haven’t finished the book yet, so I’ll let you know when I do my actual review for this site (as I told the publishers I would – though I think they were hoping for a more positive reaction). However, I think you can see a lot of what I don’t like in the bit I quoted above. Note the absolutist language he employs – “all”, “always”, “never” – that kind of unnuanced, dogmatic thinking annoys me no matter what position is being asserted since reality is rarely ever that black and white.

  • Siamang

    Wow, Mike! That passage is something else! It sounds like Thomas Williams is writing to an audience of the religious, rather than to atheists.

    The atheists are angry at God stuff is funny. It sounds like every “atheist” he knows is currently a Christian: “I was only an atheist so I could get an abortion, now I’m a Christian again!!!”

    I enjoy no personal friendship with any of the authors of the atheistic works being considered here [Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens], and I am not privy to sufficient details of their private lives to confidently identify the underlying causes of their hatred of God.

    I crack up at Dennett’s inclusion in this roll-call.

  • TheOtherOne

    I was raised very religious. I could name a number of “nudging” events – things that made me question certain ideas – but even put together the specific events I can name wouldn’t be the whole story. For me, becoming an atheist was kind of a long, quiet journey . . . .

  • Robin

    I never believed.

    The idea of God was presented to me as a child; the notion of “God” seemed like wish fulfilled for older people who wanted to control the behavior of us young’uns. Here was a perfect Divine Policeman; if you “got away” with bad behavior, “He” would still know about it, and you’d still be taken to task for whatever you did at some nebulous future date.

    Also, there was the early self-knowledge of my own homosexuality, which I was lead to believe “He” didn’t approve of. And the attendent homophobia which kept me closeted until my 20th birthday. (I actually “came out” as an atheist when I was 15; it was good training for later.)

    Not to mention that I heard outright lies from the pulpit every Sunday about human origins, history, psychology, etc., etc., etc. These lies (and there is no other word for them!) are still being presented as facts in churches, synagogues and mosques everywhere.

    I’m grateful for my unbelief. And I’m grateful for my homosexuality. I love being both. In some very real, very concrete ways, both of these facets of my make-up are responisble for who I am today. And when anyone tells me that either of them are morally wrong, I know that they are simply liars, whether they know it or not.

    Now, as much as I detest religion in general–and make no mistake, I do detest religion!–there’s a big difference between religion and its’ followers. Most everyone is actually a decent person (for which we have Darwinian evolution to thank, not some bogus Imaginary Friend).

  • William

    This may seem like an athiest cliche but it started when I found out about Santa Claus. Around the same time I read Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001 and it was a steady slide from there. I’m 33 now but I still don’t trust anything an adult says to me.

  • cipher

    Mike,

    While he does go on to make a few good points later in the book, for the most part I’m finding an astounding lack of familiarity with what most atheists actually think, though oddly enough the author actually lives in Europe (Rome).

    He’s a professor at the Pontifical University, and my guess is that he spends most of his time in a somewhat isolated, rarefied environment. He probably isn’t speaking to typical, secular Europeans. And, of course, he’s seeing what he wants to see.

    When you finish the book, you may want to go over to Amazon and write a review. Most of the reviews so far are five-star, and contain the usual nonsense, “He’s completely refuted the atheists! Read this so you’ll be armed the next time you have to argue with one!”

  • Siamang

    He’s a professor at the Pontifical University,

    That would explain the pontificating.

  • timplausible

    I have distinct memories of the things that made me first start to question the veracity of Christianity as a young child – mostly related to learning about the mythology of older cultures (loved them Greek mythology stories!). But that just started a long process of questioning and questing – a struggle between a desire to still believe the happy religious ideas and the growing conclusion that they simply couldn’t be true. Eventually I got weary and just put the struggle away – stopped thinking about it. Some time after that, I was exposed to some people who may be some of the best human beings I’ve ever met, who happened to be very devout Christians. I gave Christianity one more serious go at that point – just on a personal level, by reading the New Testament. But in the middle of that, I was exposed, for the first time, to the writings of an open atheist. And I agreed with so much of what he said that I had to admit to myself at that point that I really didn’t believe in god anymore, and that I was, in fact, an atheist. I’d never really considered myself in those terms before, despite all my years of questioning. Once I did, however, it felt like kind of an epiphany, and I felt much better about myself and about the world. Like a weight was lifted.

    I don’t consider this to have been an “event” that made me an atheist, in the way that people would probably think of such a thing. My atheism was a long process – a journey. The first step and the last step had an event aspect to them, but I wasn’t “turned into an atheist” by those events. At least, that’s not the way I perceive it.

  • Justin jm

    I was raised Catholic (lukewarm) and eventually made up my own religious beliefs, which I held until the age of 16. I somehow lost my faith (it just kinda happened) and I eventually realized I was an atheist. That’s where I’ve been ever since.

  • John

    I’ve had a gradual journey away from faith that culminated in my late 20s when I found that the world made more sense and that I was more comfortable with agnosticism. I was raised and confirmed a Methodist in a suburb of Chicago. I have vivid memories of attending the little Methodist Church in Sciota Illinois with my grandmother. There, in the very best sense of the word, my much older cousin Eldon played harmonica with the church choir.

    I attended Sunday School, but found it dissatisfying. Actually, the questions raised and explored in my later religion classes at Elmhurst College were more what I had hoped to explore in Sunday School. In high school I attended a number of Methodist Youth banquets and events, but felt out of place with the faith I saw around me. I stopped going because I felt hypocritical when I attended and did not believe as deeply as the other teens.

    Around this time, in high school, I read and underlined the bible I was given for confirmation, as an exploration in faith.

    At Elmhurst College, although I didn’t attend any other than mandatory chapel and stopped attending church at all, I silently prayed every night all through college and into the first few years of my marriage. (My college prayers were a great surprise to my college roommate, who had no idea I prayed at all.)

    The more I thought and read, in secular and sacred texts, the less likely I found the existence of a beneficent, personal god. There was no crisis, nor any dramatic turning point. The questions I asked and the readings I did all slowly reinforced my sense that god was a man made construct – although I did not use that phrase at the time.

    I never became anti-religion, just anti-certainty and anti-dogmatism. (An interesting aside is that as an agnostic, for several years, I taught the Religious Literature elective, which was basically a comparative religions class, in a Chicago suburban high school.)

    For the last thirty years, I have read widely, if not deeply, in world religions as well as in the sciences, to say nothing of novelistic treatments – since I am an English teacher. I have found nothing in my readings, nor in world events, that would shake my doubt.

  • sc0tt

    Siamang said,
    “The more sure they are, the LESS HONEST they’re being.* “

    I love that! Siamang’s uncertainty principal for theology.

    As for myself, I was never devout but as a youth I went through all the motions with my family; Methodist church, Sunday school, baptism as a teenager, bible school, grace before meals etc. I never liked it but never really questioned it. The more preachy the people the more I disliked them but I also remember being shocked that some of my friends would admit to being atheists.

    Gradually I came to realize that I wasn’t being honest with myself and that nothing I had ever done or experienced could be considered supernatural acknowledgement. No single event brought me there, just a developing confidence in my ability to rationalize, and the diminishing fear of the answer.

  • http://barefootbum.blogspot.com The Barefoot Bum

    As a child, I was (at best) a “naive” theist. When I was 7 or 8 years old, I accidentally locked myself (and everyone else) outside the car. Happily, the rear window was open, and the driver was able to break into the car.

    I said, “Thank God the window was open!”

    The driver said, “God had nothing to do with it; it was just good luck.”

    That seemed obviously true to me. (I didn’t feel shamed or corrected; I was a very precocious and smart-assed child, used to challenging my elders if I thought they were bullshitting me.)

    I was never serious about theism ever again. I subsequently thought about theism and religion in a lot of different ways, but I was never able to make it work out. Finally I just stopped thinking about it for a many years, and then explicitly self-identified as “atheist” around 2000.

    But perhaps it goes even earlier. When I was 5 years old, in Kindergarten, I did a show & tell presentation of an experiment that showed that light always travels in straight lines. One of the other students objected, pointing to a picture of the sun, with wavy yellow lines representing the light. I remember clearly thinking that it was silly to consider such a picture as having any sort of authority or relevance when I had just shown an actual experiment to the contrary.

  • http://ondfly123.livejournal.com Betsy

    Our atheism was the result of a long journey which simply began with a quest for knowledge. I went back to school and learned more about human history and religion; my husband was prompted by a family crisis to delve more deeply into his faith, resulting in learning more about the Bible and religion in general. If there was any one event that led to our atheism, it was reading the Bible as adults without any preachers telling us how to interpret it or what god meant.

  • Justin N

    I can’t say I can trace it to any one event. I’ve never truly believed in a god. Of course, everyone’s born atheist, so you have to point to a cause of a belief. :)

  • http://noadi.blogspot.com Noadi

    Nope. I remember when I realized Santa didn’t exist and I remember when I started identifying myself as an atheist, but I don’t think I ever really believed god existed. At least Santa left some evidence behind.

  • http://mcshaggy.blogspot.com Father Shaggy

    I would think that it would be a weak and simple faith that could be nullified with a single event, suitable only for weak and simple people. In my experience, they are the ones who harbour a pathological distrust of other faiths, other belief systems, and skeptical thought. I’m related to a few of them.

    If your faith is worth anything to you, it would take more than one thing, no matter how bad, to destroy it for you–I’ve seen rationalizations that make me squirm, justifications for evil or bad luck usually.

    For me, my faith was as strong as anyone else’s I guess, until I started really thinking about it. Many of the people in the churches I attended used god to justify their bigotry, against Catholics, Muslims, Jews and gays. So my faith was ugly. It was very, very ugly. My god hated. I expect that’s part of it.

    I, like everyone else, it seems, took a long time giving up on religion, and then a long time giving up on “belief”. Sometimes I’m lonely, but I’m much happier.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ hoverFrog

    All the convinced atheists I know do not merely disbelieve in God; they hate Him. He becomes for them an object not of simple indifference, but of the most visceral animosity.

    Why is he unable to see the difference between faith, religion, and the idea of God? There is certainly enough in certain religions and in some of their harmful practices to hate. There is much to hate about poorly directed faith, think alternative medicine that leads to people rejecting conventional medicine. God though, what is God? It’s like hating the Easter Bunny except without the cute ears.

  • Jeff Satterley

    Echoing many others on this post, it was more of a process for me than a single moment. I was raised Catholic, although my mom was never very pushy about it. We never went to church, but I went to religion classes for two years and made first communion, but I remember being very confused about these classes. In my normal school classes, if I asked a question, my teachers would give me an actual answer, and in some cases admitted they didn’t know the answer. In religion class, there was this negative tone when anyone would ask questions, and the answers were always lacking. So I told my mom I didn’t want to go to religion anymore, and stopped going to classes around 7 years old.

    So I figured there was something wrong with Christianity, and that God must be more sensible than the Catholics let on. I thought for a while I was in on some secret, that I knew God better than Christians. I still prayed occasionally, if I was going through a rough time, partly out of habit and partly because I still thought God was there, just a little less interested in silly rituals than Catholics thought. But I realized that praying didn’t seem to do anything noticeable. After a while, I started testing God, praying for things that should be no problem for God to perform, and noticed again and again that nothing would happen. I finally figured out that God probably wasn’t that interested in me or anyone else, and I became a deist, because I still thought God was necessary to explain the universe, human consciousness, etc.

    Finally, I studied psychology and philosophy in college, and I started to put together the real problems with the God hypothesis. First, philosophy classes showed me how lacking the arguments for God were. I realized that I was treating God as the default position, as if someone else needed to prove that God doesn’t exist. So I started looking at the evidence for God, and it was mostly anecdotal and very suspect.

    Cognitive psychology was the final nail in the coffin, because I finally understood where all these feelings of the divine come from. Things like pareidolia and confirmation bias are much stronger than anyone realizes. One of my professors was also an expert on eyewitness testimony, and how unreliable it can be. After finishing my Psychology minor, I was pretty well convinced that most religious experience can be attributed to natural, psychological phenomena.

  • Richard Wade

    Mike, that quote shows that the author conflates and confuses atheist’s anger at the church, clergy or religious people who may have abused, neglected or failed them with anger at God. Hanging around Rome I’m not surprised he’s done that since that’s the center of the notion that clergy are close to being deities.

    This sentence contains the essence of the conflation as well as being so illogical it’s painful for me to read:

    All the convinced atheists I know do not merely disbelieve in God; they hate Him.

    Ok, so I can hate something that I don’t believe in? Uh huh. No, if they hate at all (which is a bigoted assumption on the author’s part) they hate his followers for their behavior. They don’t believe in God but they certainly do believe in all the crap they have to put up with all their lives from people just like this author, who pretend to easily know atheists’ minds and feelings.

    His arm chair psychoanalysis is really nauseating. He simplistically presents people’s painful experiences as the only cause of their disbelief. What amazing arrogance. I made my living getting to know intimately the motivations of thousands of people, and I never ever assumed that I could read their minds. I had to constantly ask them about themselves, not assume, and I always avoided simple, pat analyses.

    Well, it’s not like Christian authors are widely famous for careful, honest inquiry. It wouldn’t be the first time one both ignored evidence that contradicted his assertions and even made up stuff to support his assertions.

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    Richard, I had the same reaction to that quote as you. You should see all the angry exclamation points in my margins. :)

  • http://emergingpensees.com Mike Clawson

    It’s surprising to me how many atheists here seem to have been raised in atheist or very nominally religious families, or at least claim to have never really believed, even as a child. Is that the norm among atheists? I guess I was under the impression that the majority of atheists (in America) were deconverted Christians. Is that not the case anymore, or are the demographics for this particular blog just skewed for some reason?

  • J Myers

    My siblings and I were raised in an irreligious household, and all four of us find the notion of genuine god-belief quite peculiar. I personally find the idea so strange that I suspect that many professed believers are merely saying what they’ve been conditioned to say without ever having given much thought to the matter.

    Mike, I have no idea what the norm in the US would be; it would not surprise me if most atheists here were deconverted Christians, but neither would it surprise me if most of them were never true believers in the first place.

  • Jeff Satterley

    Mike:

    It’s a tough question to answer. If you include a child of a Christian family as a de-converted Christian, then I think the majority of atheists probably are just that. But looking back, I don’t think I was ever really a Christian. I had no idea why I believed what I did, I did it because I didn’t think there was a another choice. I would expect many other atheists from religious families feel the same way. Not that there aren’t atheists who once truly believed in God, but I suspect the vast majority were questioning from an early age, and only held on to religion so long because that was all they knew.

    I think it goes back to what Dawkins says about labelling children as a Catholic child, or a Protestant child. Just because my parents believe X, doesn’t mean the child does, or can even if it wanted to.

  • Miko

    It’s surprising to me how many atheists here seem to have been raised in atheist or very nominally religious families, or at least claim to have never really believed, even as a child. Is that the norm among atheists?

    I think most atheists approach religion from a more logical angle whereas theists often go for a more emotional approach. The problem with this is that our memory works best with emotional things, especially at a young age, so even if we think we never believed we should take the fact that our memories may be inaccurate into account.

    Personally, I have witnesses to the fact that I was an atheist by the time I started kindergarten (and I was in a part of the country where this wasn’t viewed as especially odd my peers). Since my parents fall into the “nominal” category, it’s possible that I had some form of religious belief before then, but I have no memory of it. However, I still wouldn’t feel justified in guaranteeing that it never existed.

    Also, the term “atheist” is a little too vague to be meaningful here. While I didn’t believe that a god existed in kindergarten and indeed thought that it was a silly belief, I certainly wasn’t interested in things like the influence of religion on politics or the philosophy of belief, both of which are much more recent acquisitions for which I can identify specific causes. So, while I can’t identify why I stopped believing in a god (if I ever did), I can definitely identify reasons why I started caring about the answer to the question.

  • John

    If it’s applicable, it was more of an internal event than an external one. I was struggling with the problem of evil, and then the idea that maybe there’s not a god popped into my head, and the problem was solved immediately. Of course other such conundrums have popped up over the years, but none of them required theism to satisfactorily answer.

  • Miresse

    I was born an atheist, and for me I simply remained one being raised without any religious beliefs. At one point I read the Bible out of curiosity knowing full well most people believed in what it said and I tried to think of it as a “real true story”, but I found nothing compelling belief in it, and thus continued being an atheist. :)

  • Carlos

    Certainly no specific event for me. I was brought up in a non-religious household, with a Catholic mother and atheist father. My brothers and I had neither viewpoint forced upon us. My mother occasionally spoke of God, Jesus, and praying; my father simply didn’t address his non-belief. There was, however, some good-natured banter, or my mom would shoot dad dirty looks when he would “blaspheme”.
    The only series of events that might have lead to my non-belief would be any objective evaluation of the subject throughout my life, be it investigating the problem of evil or considering the plausibility of religious claims. None of it ever made sense to me, nor did any of it pass critical muster.

  • Old Beezle

    Being raised Mormon, my atheism was mostly a result of realizing that the LDS church had no more monopoly on truth than any other church claimed. Once those blinders were removed, it was easy to see WHY people believed in god, but just as easy to see that there was NO god.

    Regarding the author’s blanket statement about the cause of atheism–it sounds like most church-goers’ response to apostacy (especially mormons since I’ve gotten it from them). They think that people only leave the church for two reasons:
    1) they were offended (hate god)
    2) they wanted to sin (hate themselves)

    I think my family lumps me in with the wanting to sin part because they’ve seen me enjoy a glass of wine (big no-no for mo-mos) with dinner. They can’t understand how I could give up eternal salvation for a glass wine and I can’t understand how they could believe that any god would base any salvation on such a petty thing.

    Remember, your simple atheism is an affront to many believers because if they admit how easy it is to live, love, and be happy without god, then they’ve lost “the war.” They always want to find some ulterior motive for not believing in god. The response of “he’s just not there” scares them. But now I’m making broad, probably-inaccurate statements about people who believe differently than me. Ah, humanity–ain’t it grand?!

  • Nick

    This will be sort of humourous. My family wasn’t overly religous but they believed in god and some of the religious non sense. It wasn’t until later in my life that I started to question things more but what started to really nail things down for me, believe it or not, was Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. Sounds funny but I think it gives insight into religious type thinking. From there I just started to learn more and more until I determined that I was an atheist. I just find atheism suits me. I’m just too damn rational, skeptical, and logical to be religious.

  • monkeymind

    Oops posted in wrong thread

  • http://groundedinreality.blogspot.com Bruce

    I refer to myself as a “Natural Atheist” in the sense that it is our natural state to be atheists and we must be indoctrinated into religion. Since I was never indoctrinated, I am naturally, an atheist.

    Sorry to disappoint the author, but there is no event that caused me to be an atheist because I always was one.

  • MHD

    I grew up being catholic. Got taught the whole thing in school. Prayed every morning. Then at age 10 or 11 I did a class presentation with a school friend of mine on Greek History. We dug really deep into the history. Really deep. We wanted the biggest presentation the school had ever seen. From cuisines to linguistics, from their ancient gods to their current religions.

    And there I was. With that friend of mine. Looking at all those gods.

    We didn’t have Google to help us out. But we had libraries full of books. We went there. We read up on a lot of things. Mind you, two 12-year-olds are sitting in a library with all these theological books in front of them.

    We spent hours reading on all those deities history has known. We went from one unknown word to the next, browsed more books with the help of the library’s computer, and eventually decided religion is nothing more than a psychological ploy to explain the unknown.

    Specifically death.

    Thankfully, our teacher was a very liberal guy and quite possibly atheist himself. He gave us a 10 (highest rating where I live) for the report.

    It wasn’t a tragic loss that made me change my mind. It was a stack of 50 or more books about our own history.

  • Rob

    I was pretty deeply buried in Catholicism well into High School. I wasn’t very religious, per se, nor evangelical by any means, but I really didn’t even CONSIDER the notion that I could question the existence of the Christian God. I had been raised that it was a “gimme” and that I didn’t have to worry about it. It was a question already answered to the world. I knew such things as atheists existed, but I don’t think I ever contemplated how they reached that point.

    But I probably started doubting the existence of the Christian God (without necessarily concluding that there were no gods at all…that came a few years later) when I was in 10th or 11th grade. I was still being sent to CCD (“Continuing Catholic Development” for you lucky people who missed out on this) and in my 10th or 11th grade year, we had a teacher who was a customer on my dad’s mail route. I found myself having numerous genuine questions about so many things discussed. After a couple classes of particularly heated discussions, my dad told me that the guy had told him I was a troublemaker and that I clearly didn’t “have what it takes to be Catholic.” My dad never told me his personal reaction to this statement, and I’ve never felt the need to ask him about it, but needless to say he took me out of the class and I never went to CCD again. For some reason, after that, I felt like I was on to something.

    That was 10-12 years ago. It took me about 3-4 years after that just to get over my absolute dislike for Catholicism and Christianity. It is one thing to dislike a particular religion…it is another thing to dislike organized religion as a whole…and it is a completely different ball of wax to reject the idea of gods. Those were the three initial steps I took. It took a general maturing of my worldview to get to the point where I could accept the religious beliefs of others without mockery (at least, in a social context; in a serious discussion, I can’t take it seriously). I’m basically at the point where as long as a person understand that faith is an individual trait that not all people have, and that it can’t be externally forced, I can get along with them. It’s usually not a problem, even as I am surrounded by religious people in my rural town.

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

    Mike Clawson said,

    It’s surprising to me how many atheists here seem to have been raised in atheist or very nominally religious families, or at least claim to have never really believed, even as a child. Is that the norm among atheists? I guess I was under the impression that the majority of atheists (in America) were deconverted Christians. Is that not the case anymore, or are the demographics for this particular blog just skewed for some reason?

    Atheism, or more broadly, freethought is a rather quickly growing group, so it stands to reason that it has a higher percentage of (de)converts than many religions. But I wouldn’t be surprised if most of the (de)converts were only nominally Christian before. Especially from Catholicism, because the Catholic Church just seems to enjoy using nominals to inflate their own numbers. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers are more than slightly skewed here. Among the requisites to be here are being concerned about the issue, and outspoken enough to delurk. And then, we all need to be interested in “friendly” atheism, whatever we think that means.

    As one of those people who grew up as a nominal Catholic, I could describe what it’s like. It isn’t so much about believing or disbelieving. It’s about being Christian and vaguely thinking that must be a good thing. It’s about feeling slightly guilty that you don’t pray every night, but then just getting on with life anyways. If you thought about the actual religious beliefs, they seem a little silly, but that’s just religion for you. Services aren’t really something to enjoy, but they are more like vegetables. It’s good for you to attend, and maybe listen, but it’s also very boring.

    I could easily look back at these memories and say, “I never really believed”, but I think that’s not quite what it was.

  • Happy Christian

    Wow a lot of comments! I’ve read parts of a few. It seems that some of you think God ought to set a deadline and put an end to all wrong and evil things in the world. If He did that would you not be atheist?

    Just wondering.

  • Darryl

    It’s surprising to me how many atheists here seem to have been raised in atheist or very nominally religious families, or at least claim to have never really believed, even as a child. Is that the norm among atheists? I guess I was under the impression that the majority of atheists (in America) were deconverted Christians. Is that not the case anymore, or are the demographics for this particular blog just skewed for some reason?

    Mike, perhaps you or someone else who wants to put in the time could compile the stats from this topic. It may not be a fair representation of all atheists, but it might show some interesting results.

    If you include a child of a Christian family as a de-converted Christian, then I think the majority of atheists probably are just that. But looking back, I don’t think I was ever really a Christian. I had no idea why I believed what I did, I did it because I didn’t think there was a another choice. I would expect many other atheists from religious families feel the same way. Not that there aren’t atheists who once truly believed in God, but I suspect the vast majority were questioning from an early age, and only held on to religion so long because that was all they knew.

    I was struck by your statement “I did it because I didn’t think there was another choice.” I can never forget the feeling that came over me when, as a young boy in elementary school, I asked another schoolmate what religion he was (simply assuming that everyone was something) and he said he was “agnostic.” I didn’t know what that meant, but I suddenly felt alienated from him, and I felt a distrust of him. I didn’t know what to say after that. It really caught me off guard.

    I think most atheists approach religion from a more logical angle whereas theists often go for a more emotional approach.

    I’m skeptical of that generalization, but I would think that, because atheists have to buck the trend, they might have to have substantive reasons for not believing.

    It wasn’t a tragic loss that made me change my mind. It was a stack of 50 or more books about our own history.

    Bravo, MHD. You did it the hard way.

  • Karen Brown

    Some of us were raised Christian.

    It just never really took for some of us.

    I went to church every single Sunday through my childhood and teen years. I was the secretary of the youth group, and went to church camp. And the whole time, well, never really believed at all.

    I never realized, most of that time, that people viewed the whole thing as more than a fictional story with, sort of, a moral. Like one long Aesop’s Fable.

    So, no. No big single ‘ah-ha’ moment.

  • Jeff Satterley

    It seems that some of you think God ought to set a deadline and put an end to all wrong and evil things in the world. If He did that would you not be atheist?

    That might convert me, if there was no better explanation for why evil all of a sudden stopped existing, of course. But, I think if God is all-powerful and all-loving, this should be no problem from him, and something he would want to do. It’s not that I think God should do anything. It’s that if God actually DID exist, he would have already done so, or at least there would be a better explanation as to why all of this evil exists. “It’s a mystery” or “God only knows…” never cut it for me.

  • http://blog.crispen.org/ Rev. Bob

    Like many of you i drifted away gradually as things made less and less sense. The only epiphany I had was during my father’s funeral. Several of us were speaking of him in the service, celebrating his life. and when the minister began to speak and told fairy tales about how he was with my mother in heaven, it struck me that he was an alien presence. He was intruding on my family’s grief with a salesman’s pitch. Life and death are real and what he was talking about something that had nothing to do with life or death.

    It was at that moment that I realized i was out and would not be back.

  • http://www.jimloomis.deviantart.com Jimmy

    I must say that reading these responses has left me amazed! Its interesting to see how truly strong so many of these minds are. Its hard, if not impossible for impressionable children to sift through the shit excreted by authoritative figures. I think its wonderful to see that people have abandoned their pacifiers, and demanded explanation for what was thought to have been already explained.

    Everyone who has posted has made me feel infinitely better about myself and the world around me. To know that unproven fear of the unknown could be recognized as false by so many of us at such a usually young age is inspiring and comforting.

    Thanks!

  • Anne

    Studying my religion. Realizing that everything people “know” about god was written by people. Going on to do research in a number of areas.

    Researching after-death experiences and understanding that they are not evidence of the existence of a separate soul that outlives the body.

    Realizing that the scope of the evil in this world belies the existence of a loving omnipotent god.

    Better understanding the scope and nature of the universe and realizing again that the human-invented stories about a deity do not correlate with the universe.

    Recognizing that naturalistic explanations actually account for much more of the evidence of the universe around us than supernatural explanations.

    *****
    All of this happened within a 3-4 month period.

    All that said, I must add that I did not WANT to come to the conclusion that no god existed. I enjoyed my church and the people in it and believed very strongly in god. I was taking religious instruction to get closer to god. Instead the opposite happened as a result of rational inquiry.

    My subjective experiences of oneness with the universe cannot be interpreted as evidence of a supernatural invisible creative deity.

  • philosophia

    I can’t say there was any sort of cause for me — as far as I can recall I was just born this way XD. I was raised in a hodge-podge of religious beliefs, as my mother moved through several different faiths (and “woo”-related stuff) throughout my childhood. I think this helped me a lot: from near the beginning I came to see religion as what you made of it, or rather, as something which suited the seeker rather than as one fixed and unchangeable truth. I didn’t exactly question things — at that point, I don’t recall ever realizing that people *believed* the stories I was told or truly thought the rituals etc. did anything special — but I would argue some of the philosophical points with my mother on occasion, which would usually result in my crying “But that doesn’t EXPLAIN anything!” or something similar and storming off in sheer frustration.

    When I was about 16, a philosophy forum I was a member of started discussing religion. After some brief self-examination I said I didn’t believe in god so I guessed I was an atheist. It was kind of an “aha!” moment for me, and the first time I ever voluntarily used the label, but it was really more in the order of a realization than a ’cause.’ It wasn’t until I encountered the blogosphere last year that I realized atheists were actually a minority (for some reason, this honestly surprised me) and became a lot more militant about my disbelief. I guess I’ve been sheltered here in New Zealand XD

  • Dylan Armitage

    I would have to go along the same lines as what Gregory said: I don’t feel it. I never did. When I was young I tried to feel what other people said they did, that they felt God working in them. But the only thing I would feel was my heart beating, and the only thing I would hear would be silence, interrupted by the song that my mind was playing that day.

    However, since I had lived with that, I kind of thought that perhaps the forced feeling that I created was it. So I didn’t really give it any thought for much of the time. I did dabble in some other faiths, but that was it.

    However, what brought my lack-of-feeling feeling to the forefront of my mind was vomiting over a toilet for 6 hours at the age of 16 after a night of binge drinking. While I was doing that, a friend mentioned something about hell, so I thought of that. After I finished vomiting, which caused a bleeding ulcer to form in my stomach that didn’t stop bleeding until my hemoglobin level was at 5 and having received two blood transfusions, I realized that the only comfort I had came from my friends, not a deity. And the doctors had saved my life, not a supernatural force that offers zero evidence of its existence.

  • http://www.otmatheist.com/ hoverFrog

    Happy Christian said:

    It seems that some of you think God ought to set a deadline and put an end to all wrong and evil things in the world. If He did that would you not be atheist?

    Right! Which god? Whose idea of wrong or evil?

    If the Flying Spaghetti Monster appeared in the skies tomorrow and extended His Noodly Appendage to each of us with a message of piracy to combat global warming then I’d probably be forced to believe in him and his magic sauce.

    Of course he’d have to be obvious about it so I didn’t accidentally attribute the new prosperity of the earth to some natural or human influence.

  • stephanie

    Happy Christian said:

    It seems that some of you think God ought to set a deadline and put an end to all wrong and evil things in the world. If He did that would you not be atheist?

    Oh, dear, Happy Christian. I don’t think you quite get it. No Atheist thinks your god ought to put an end to all wrong and evil things in the world. Only humanity can do that- and then only if it chooses to value such things equally and find them worth the effort.

    For the record, coming to Atheism was a process over many years that began by going to many different churches with neighbors as a child. It’s amazing what some of those church authorities considered the core of their faith. Also, there were some very contradictory statements. So it started by considering that at least some of them must be wrong and once reason started knocking off the more outrageous claims, the lesser ones followed. By my twenties I was an Agnostic and a Deist. Today I am an Agnostic and an Atheist. Our little monkey-brains can’t understand everything in the universe. But from what we can, I don’t believe there’s any sign of a godlike creature anywhwere in it.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    I was born an atheist and have remained so my entire life. I was never indoctrinated into (or conditioned to be) religious at any time. For me, hating God is like hating Santa Clause or hating the Easter Bunny. Ironically, I am married to a semi-religious woman who feels a need to attend and participate in church. I do hate giving money to perpetuate an institution I don’t believe in. This particular church is struggling financially (just covering salaries and utilities) and there is hardly anything left over to help the poor (except for the time people invest). Money would be better spent at a mega church.

  • cipher

    Another example of the type of denial indulged in by Vatican functionaries:

    In an interview with the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Girotti said he thought the most dangerous areas for committing new types of sins lay in the fields of bio-ethics and ecology.

    He also named abortion and paedophilia as two of the greatest sins of our times. The archbishop brushed off cases of sexual violence against minors committed by priests as “exaggerations by the mass media aimed at discrediting the Church”.

    (from BBC News: Fewer Confessions and New Sins, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7287071.stm)

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

    I never went to church growing up, and only had a vague belief in a Christiany kind of God probably due to the surrounding culture. Once when I was pretty young (7?) my cousin said he didn’t believe in God which shocked me at the time since I assumed that man lived (literally) in the sky, just like Santa at the North Pole. I guess that started the ball rolling. I didn’t get interested in skepticism in general until college. I do remember arguing with creationist classmates in high school though.

    I certainly don’t hate the idea of God. As I’ve written elsewhere I wish there was a God. I like the idea of life after death and some kind of justice in the world. (The philosopher Colin McGinn expressed this idea very well in Jonathan Miller’s The Atheism Tapes.) I just read a fascinating book about North Korea (by Martin K. Bradley) and the amount of injustice in that country is overwhelming. Millions starve, thousands waste away in concentration camps, while the Dear Leader eats sushi feasts and paddles around in the private pools of his various mansions with his harem. Like his father, he will probably die with no justice served. However, I do hate the idea of eternal punishment in hell. Even Hitler doesn’t deserve that. (especially if there IS an afterlife for all his victims…)

    Williams writes,

    No one writes angry books about other phenomena in which they do not believe.

    The “angry” part is debatable, but in general it is not true. Lots of people write, lets say passionate, books about things they don’t believe in. Such as: global warming, UFOs, conspiracy theories (JFK, 9-11), astrology, psychics, ghosts, string theory, communism, capitalism, etc… (and atheists!)

  • gmanicus

    I grew up as a Protestant Christian. My moment of “clarity” came when I took a course on world religions in high school. I learned that books such as the Bible were recorded orally for hundreds of years before they were actually written down, and of course, the kicker was that the original orators were uneducated fishermen, and the like. Popular Science magazine also ran a cover story at the time that explained “great” events from the Bible from a scientific perspective (i.e. the burning bush, the flood, and the parting of the red sea). This information really cemented in my mind that religion was all a misguided effort to try and explain seemingly supernatural phenomena of the time. It was no different than indigenous tribes of South America who believe in sun gods or that taking a photograph steals your soul. In short, when people ask me why I am an atheist, I reply: “Because I believe in rational thought and science. I don’t believe in silly, superstitious nonsense.”

  • J Myers

    Oh, dear, Happy Christian. I don’t think you quite get it. No Atheist thinks your god ought to put an end to all wrong and evil things in the world.

    stephanie, you don’t seem to get it, either. Of course no atheist thinks that any god should do this or that; as we don’t believe in any gods, such a belief would be incoherent. The question is whether we would stop being atheists if (the presumably Christian) God ended all evil and suffering. It’s a rather stupid question, I’ll give you that… if it was clear that God took action, then it would be clear that God actually existed, and every atheist would become a theist of some type. If, however, evil and suffering simply vanished with no indication as to why, many atheists would remain atheists, as the responsibility for such a change should not be immediately assigned to an entity for which there is no evidence (as is the case for every phenomenon we already observe but cannot explain).

  • stephanie

    J Meyers, my point exactly. It’s about as logical and thought-provoking a question as whether Spider-Man or Batman would win in a fight. I took it as a troll but decided to be polite.

  • http://www.bernerbits.com Derek

    It’s about as logical and thought-provoking a question as whether Spider-Man or Batman would win in a fight.

    Though, to be fair, Bruce Wayne could kick Spidey’s scrawny, mutated ass around the block twenty-seven times without breaking a sweat. </offtopic>

  • Joe K.

    I was a true believer in my teens — jesus, satan, heaven, hell, the holy ghost. Say a prayer and get to heaven. Memorize bible versus to get closer to God.

    Then I realized fundamentalism was killing my soul. I began practicing non-western religions, and finally, after drifting in the desert of shamanism for a couple of years, I just took all of it, put it in a box, walked away from it, and haven’t looked back.

    I still question the nature of reality. I’m not convinced in the absence of any sort of larger spiritual connection which binds us into the fabric of everythingness, but to hinge it all on some kind of theistic solution seems unimaginative and unsophisticated.

  • J Myers

    stephanie, not exactly… the question is a hypothetical; if X happens, would Y happen? The fact that we don’t believe in a necessary condition (the existence of God) for X to happen does not prevent us from answering the question if we grant, for the sake of discussion, that X happens (God exists and acts to end suffering). The stupidity of the question lies in the obviousness of the answer once this condition is granted (yes, of course we’d become theists… we’d become theists if God did anything discernible).

    On a side note: who are all these “Meyers” people? PZ Meyers, J Meyers… they are always getting the credit (or blame) for what PZ Myers and I (no relation) say. The extra “e” is the less-common spelling, so they must really be doing something to grab everyone’s attention.

  • Matt

    the answer is simple–

    I have the ability to think critically!

  • http://www.heathenz.com Kevin

    To me, that question sounds a bit like “What caused you to be gay?” It’s not that something caused it for me. It’s just who I am. This position is a realization of my personality, knowledge and understanding.

    That’s my non-snarky answer. My snarky answer would be ‘reality’ caused me to believe what I believe. RAmen. (I’m eating ramen right now! haha)


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