What Convinced You to Become an Atheist?

If you’ve got a few minutes to spare, Greta Christina is compiling a list of reasons people change their minds about religion:

I’d love to see some good sociologists tackle this question, and get a good, large, somewhat statistically representative sampling of non-believers to answer this question. But for now, this may at least get a rough idea of some of the methods that can work…

So: If you’re a non-believer in religion, and you used to be a believer — what changed your mind?

Let her know your answer at her site!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Stargate SG-1 turned me into an atheist :-p

    • Anonymous

      I’ve gotta admit, if I’d watched Doctor Who earlier in my life, it might’ve made me lose my faith sooner…

      • Kevin_Of_Bangor

        It may sound strange to some that a TV show helped you lose your faith but Stargate SG-1 played a huge part in me becoming an atheist.

        The show really did make me question everything I was taught and raised to believe and the snowball effect pretty much took over as I learned more and more.

        And now I’m a very happy atheist.

  • Cobo Wowbo

    Reading the bible, cover to cover, turned me.

  • http://twitter.com/PeteHullah Peter Hullah

    This sounds like what PZ is currently doing. Are we going to get into an IPR battle among atheists now? :-)

    • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

      To be fair, PZ is ripping off the idea from an early 1900′s newspaper called “Blue Grass Blade”

      • http://twitter.com/TominousTone Tom Lawson

        The more the merrier.

  • Grlnxtdr

    Being unable to reconcile the idea that God “loves us”, and would intervene here or there, but somehow letting babies starve to death, get raped, beaten to death, etc. But he “loves” them….huh, that’s some love right there. If he exists, he’s an evil, uncaring, shithead.

    • usclat

      HEAR HEAR!!

  • TiltedHorizon

    I had to read the bible….. twice. The first pass set the stage for doubt, the second buried my faith entirely.

    For the record, nothing “convinced me to become an atheist”, once my faith was stripped I became atheistic by definition.

    • usclat

      I appreciate your experience in losing your christian faith TH, but while you may lose your faith in christian dogma, there are many other dogmas that you could have easily jumped to. My point is, that once you lose your faith (whatever that may be) you do not necessarily become an atheist by definition. Just ask Cat Stevens. 

      • TiltedHorizon

        I understand what you are saying but I was speaking about myself, note the qualifiers: “me”, “my” and “I”.

  • Michael Anderson

    I never really was a believer, but I was a fence-sitter most of my life. AronRa’s Youtube video’s knocked me right off that fence!

  • Mattincinci

    reading the bible convinced me i was atheist

  • ff42

    I wanted to answer the question, “Why does the LDS church want government involved (Prop8) in marriage when 100 years ago they wanted government out of marriage”. Perhaps they didn’t want .gov out of marriage 100 years ago?  Maybe I should do some research to what really happened back then.  Because I was so invested it took a couple years (and many books) to realize it was all a fraud.  Within days, using the same reasoning, I kicked the Bible and even god out for being the frauds they are.  Final note:  For me nothing and nobody could persuaded me, I had to come to terms with it on my own.

  • kaileyverse

    I wasn’t ever really a believer – sure I would go to church on occasion (with family or what not), but a god concept never really made much sense to me.

  • Bvice

    I read the bible.

  • King_damond01

    I was in a combat zone and people were sending prayers and nothing changed. Plus the enemy always said ” god is good” when they were trying to kill me and my fellow troops.

  • stylofone

    I can remember having philosophical discussions in the school playground when I was about nine years old. “Something must have made the universe, so there must be a god”, someone would say. “Yes but what made god?” another child would counter.  On occasions like these the rituals of the Catholic faith and the authority of our elders pushed those doubts aside. Finally when I was 14 a friend confided in me that he thought the entire Catholic religion, its rules, its declarations about the nature of reality, the afterlife and how to influence it were “a load of crap”. It was the first time I’d ever heard someone say that and I knew in that instant that I agreed with him.

  • http://twitter.com/car_tag Josh Helton

    I was never actually able to suspend disbelief, though not for lack of trying while younger. I thought I was defective that I never did believe. Turns out it wasn’t a bug, I was right all along.

    • Ashton James

      I had the exact same experience.  I grew up in conservative Christianity but I remember disbelieving and trying to talk myself into believing from the time I was about 7.  I don’t know where this disbelief came from as I really wasn’t exposed to any critical thought.  Everyone I knew was religious and I even went to Christian schools.  Throughout my teenage years I really thought that there was something wrong with me.  I tried begging “God” to give me any amount of faith, but I just felt ridiculous for talking to the air in my room.  I finally gave up and figured if god wanted me to believe he’d let me know somehow.  I was finally able to relax and start trying to figure out truth instead of trying to force my brain to do something it was incapable of.  I started calling myself agnostic, but that didn’t last long and I quickly realized I was atheist and had been for quite some time – actually, probably my whole life.  Conservative Christians for the most part don’t believe me when I tell them about this experience.  They can’t accept that someone could genuinely want to believe and that their god would ignore that person.

      • sam

        What about some of the historical evidence in the Bible and the miracles of Jesus? These accounts cannot be denied. Jesus came and died so that our sins could be forgiven and so that we could have a relationship with God in a sinful fallen world.

        • Declan Stylofone

          Like all accounts of miraculous events, they CAN be denied. The Bible has no more authenticity than any other religious book. I no more believe that Jesus rose from the dead than I believe that Athena was born out of Zeus’s head after he ate the pregnant Metis.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DocMonkey Mick Wright

    I read the Bible and became Buddhist. Then I read Sagan, and Warren Ellis, and Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha-lifestory manga, and the three of them purged gods from my life forever.

  • guest

    I converted and over time the feeling of God’s presence dwindled.  I wondered why God was “leaving” me when I wanted him in my life so bad.  That combined with constantly witnessing to friends and family that I loved and seeing no response, and then suddenly realizing that, while I would do anything, even take their place in hell, God wasn’t making any effort to save them, that if a single person went to hell it would be because God hadn’t put forth the effort to save them.  I think I stopped believing long before I realized I had, because I didn’t want to let go of the idea of eternal life and love.  Eventually I realized that I had lost my faith, and when I went back to study the apologetics that I had spent so much time on before, I saw all these questions that I had never considered. 

  • Girish Billava

    Since my high school times I have been seeking proofs of God’s existence. But never found a concrete answer. My interest towards astronomy made me realize the truth in this matter. The realized truth is that GOD is only an imagination of the humans. Its very easy to believe in GOD  as the fear of the unknown always nourish the idea of GOD in humans. Idea of second life(rebirth) always console humans from the fear of death. So the idea of GOD has developed in the human minds in different ways in different times. The unconsistant GOD ideas per se is the proof of non existence of GOD.

  • Miele Tita

    I’m Italian, i was sent to nuns schools from the age of 5. No wonders I was actually quite a hardliner catholic. but the more i was trying to be a good catholic, the meaner i was becoming as a person. it sounds absurd but it was like this. The bible is a book so contradictory, they say “love thy neighbor” but then also that “homosexuality is abomination”, “god is love and mercy” but “you have to suffer in order to follow him” etc…when i started to thinking with my own head, all of this didn’t make any sense. I want to be a good person, and to be as such I MUST NOT to be a good catholic…and this apply to any other groups of people who think they know THE truth. The only thing I follow now it’s common sense, so far it works much better than religion rules. I delete my name from catholic registers (to be coherent and also for political matters, in Italy you have lots of financial benefit and jobs favoritism just to be a catholic, but I couldn’t watching me in the mirror…so….) and  I warmly suggest everyone to do so to “fight” all this non-sense that produce just lots of barriers and discrimination.

  • Trace

    Hi Greta (too lazy to go to your site…sorry)

    I don’t remember when it really happened.

    I had always been interested in history.

    Early in my life I found that the population of my country had changed religions several times through history (normally following political intrigue, upheavals or domination).

    In turn, as my country’s political dominance grew, its leadership forcibly converted many of the peoples living in its territories worldwide or fueled religious warfare in nearby territories.

    Atheism soon followed as I realized that, more often than not, historically coercion was often associated with conversion. That and the realization that my ancestors probably “dabbled” in every religion that reached our shores.

    By the time I was an adolescent I was a lost cause, I guess.

    Movies like Pharaoh(1966), and more recently Agora (2009), illustrate, much better than my worlds, what I am trying to say.

    Good luck with your research!

  • Anonymous

    Bible reading and theological studies, reinforced by applying observation and logic. 

    From that, there followed the realization of how small the Christian god was (in light of the grandness of the Universe, there is no way their petty despot could have even understood the physics of it, let alone designed it) and how silly the attributions were.  For example, when the survivor of a fire declares, “Thank God we all got out,” my thought is, “Where was your god when the fire started?”
    If both teams pray to the same god for a victory, shouldn’t the result always be a tie?
    The silliness that God intervenes in our lives, that He sends calamities to punish us, or prosperity to reward us.  The unjustness of letting children starve when there is food for them, and die from easily prevented disease while the nasty people steal relief supplies and live in luxury, whereas a good person who didn’t happen to be born in the right place will burn for eternity.  Eternity is a very very long time, and burning causes incredible agony and as such, is inappropriate punishment even for the worst evil. 
    When I heard that New Orleans was flooded as punishment for the Christians allowing people to speak of those who are Takei, then see the child rapists and cruel selfish people live in luxury and without feeling guilt or anxiety because they are Christian and believe God wants them to be prosperous, and they think that poverty is evidence of not being Christian enough, then I see there is something very wrong with these beliefs.

    Having determined that this God didn’t measure up, I studied as many other religions as I could, searching for one I could support, but none qualified.

    I can’t support an unjust supreme being.  Yes the Universe isn’t fair, but at least it doesn’t do that on purpose.

    • sam

      I am a Christian believer and I thought I could leave a comment. God allows a lot of things, including bad things, to happen and he leaves the choice to everyone. Many times God prevents many bad things from happening or spurs someone to help another; but he allows everyone to be whatever they wish to be, including murderers and rapists. He also gives the chance to everyone to repent and have a life in purity through a relationship with Him. We live in a sinful fallen world that has been somewhat separated from God in different ways, but we can have a relationship with God and eternal life through the sacrificial work of Jesus and the Spirit of God.

      God in His creation didn’t intend that people live in sin and suffer in a difficult world, but people caused the world to be in this way when they sinned; but God still provided redemption and hope to anyone who can accept His salvation and will.

  • Anonymous

    I also struggled for many years with the God concept.  And perhaps it was my Catholic up-bringing that kept me on the agnostic fence for a while (just in case he did exist). Even though I realised many years ago that religion has been utilised for centuries as a means of controlling people, it was not until my father committed suicide after years of suffering with MS that I became a confirmed atheist.

    • sam

      I am sorry to hear about the suffering and pain your dad went through. The whole experience was just as painful for you as it was for him. I am a Christian believer and I trust that Jesus didn’t forget your father or you. Jesus loves you and answers everyone who call upon Him. He also experienced our sufferings when He was crucified and went through human death. Through His resurrection, everyone in Him can be raised to new life in the Kingdom of God. Life on earth is very short compared to eternal life.

  • Annie

    I was always an atheist… even while attending 12 years of Catholic school (I just never bought into it all), but it wasn’t until I had a child that I went from calling myself “non-religious” to atheist.  I realized there were simple things I could do right now that would make the world a better place for her when she grew up.  Telling people you are an atheist and letting them get comfortable with knowing a real, live atheist is one of them.

    • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/DJRVGKGG36KNLNMZAVT4EXOF3M Ed-words

      I went to Catholic school for 14 years (including kindergarten)

      We seem to have a lot in common.

  • Jedipunk

    Nothing convinced me to become atheist.  I simply stopped finding reasons to believe.

  • Bluebury

    I was also never a believer despite my best efforts ask a kid to try to conform. 
     I think doubt started pretty young for me.  I remember being at a swimming pool with a band aid on my arm after getting a shot (I couldn’t have been more than 6) and a woman asked me what had happened.  I explained that I had received a shot and she said “Oh we don’t believe in shots”.  I later asked my dad why they didn’t get shots and he said in an incredibly condescending voice that I will never forget “They think God is going to heal them.”
     It wasn’t until I took an early American lit class in college that I started to identify myself as an atheist.  In particular, rereading “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” gave me a great moment of clarity that sounded suspiciously like my brain fake-sneezing “Bullshit!”  

  • Anonymous

    I was 20, a college junior, when I had my unBorn Again moment. I truly realized, not in an “it’s interesting to think about theological dilemmas” way but in a “holy shit this is reality, this is my life” way, that I only believed because of the home in which I’d been raised. My 18 years in the home of a Southern Baptist pastor-dad and a properly submissive mom saw every day saturated with Evangelical tenets. If I’d been raised in a similar home in any other faith, my epiphany told me, I’d believe just as strongly.

    And, like a switch, in a proper Road-to-Damascus moment, it just shut off. I 100% did not believe. I knew that, if I were to ever return to the faith, I’d have to have a better reason than mere circumstances of my birth. I never found that reason. Instead, I found Reason.

  • Alice

    I didn’t get ‘convinced’: I just suddenly realized, after 30years of worrying about offending people, that it was ok to say out loud what I was thinking in my head, which was something along the lines of “God is a cushion for people who are small and scared, and the Bible (my atheism comes from a Christian education) is the equivalent of 1st-century tabloid press.”

    Who wants to live small, scared and ruled by tabloids?!

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

    I’ve always been an atheist, so this might not be much help, but I never started believing because I assumed that the supernatural was made up. Even as a little girl, it seemed obviously false. I knew that monsters and ghosts weren’t real. I knew that the angels and devils I saw in cartoons weren’t real. It really never occurred to me that people could think otherwise.

    When I got older, it was hard for me to imagine that adults could believe in the supernatural. I wasn’t sure if they actually did, or if they were just telling kids that they believed in it, like with Santa Claus. To this day, I’m confused by how Christians can believe in some supernatural things while dismissing others as myths, all because an ancient book says so. I still can’t figure out what makes the ”real” supernatural (gods, angels, devils) any different from the “fake” supernatural (fairies, elves, unicorns).

  • http://twitter.com/TominousTone Tom Lawson

    Takes about as much or as little as it did 108 years ago…http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005PJKWUY

  • Icarus09

    I read Carl Sagan’s book “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark”

  • Kevin H.

    Raised and confirmed Lutheran I started to drift from the church in my early teens. When I was in my twenties I considered myself to be agnostic. In 2007 I became an atheist after being introduced to “The God Delusion”. At first I was a closet atheist. I didn’t want people to think that I was some kind of radical person bent on taking down theism, be it mono or poly. It was a bit scary telling my parents that I don’t believe that there is a god and when I came out at work I was also a bit nervous. Now I am comfortable with being an atheist. If you are curious about atheism just ask. We are not a bunch of crazy people. We just enjoy our pasta more than most.  ;-)

  • Xeon2000

    My catch-phrase as a child was “what’s it do?” As long as I can remember, I enjoy figuring out how things work. I was raised nominally Methodist. Growing up, the occult fascinated me. I investigated magick and even had a Wiccan phase in high school. None of the occult stuff ever gave any results. I guess I approached it more as a scientist than a believer. In high school, a “friend” tricked me into attending bible club at lunch. As a social outcast, I embraced the attention the bible club heaped on me (with the agenda that I’d convert). I spent a year as a bible thumper, mostly for social interaction. One weekend at a prayer rally, they had kids come up front to break their “secular” CDs in front of the audience and only listen to Christian music from then on. I remember thinking how stupid it was and how much I like some and the bands they were destroying. I quit after that event and never went back. I called myself agnostic in college and eventually admitted I was actually an atheist later on.

  • Bill

    I was sent to an Assemblies of God in 6th grade.  I just thought the kids trying to witness to me were so STUPID.  Also, the idea of witnessing to my friends and family just seemed so…embarrassing.

  • Anonymous

    I was 14 or so when the tsunami in 2004 happened. That was all it took.
    The Kansas City Star had an article titled, “What kind of god would allow this?” or something to that effect. The article featured religious apologists but my mind was made up when I started to ponder what sort of god would allow this sort of thing to happen.

  • Elliott776

    It answers questions and affirms “truths”  with conjecture. Its an absurd idea. I was religious because I was taught to be. When I challenged these ideas they just don’t hold water. 

    • Elliott776

      “It” meaning religion. Sorry

  • Oksana

    was always not religious but doubting. So I read Bible as well and than i met a guy who was radically against religion. He gave me courage to go against people i know .  And read more and more and couldn’t even tolerate nonsense of these mid age books and ideas. But i m not able to convince any friends of mine

  • Baby_Raptor

    What initially made me question was my sexuality (I’m openly Bi). At almost 13, raised in a *very* fundamentalist home, I had no idea what homosexuality was. I can’t recall ever even having heard the word before. 

    So when I found myself with my first crush, on my also female best friend, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. And it took almost a year of listening to her and the rest of our little group talking about only guys for me to start worrying. 

    Finally, I confessed to my youth pastor. Bad idea. He immediately told my grandparents (who were raising me), her parents and the church elders. My grandparents ended up leaving that church “in shame.” My home life went to hell; they were constantly abusing me over it. When we landed in another church, I kept my mouth shut.

    I started exploring what the bible says about people who aren’t straight after that. By 17, I was in my first committed relationship with another girl and I had pretty much abandoned the faith. A huge part of that was a single incident: At 15, I was raped. Drugged, tied down, and used repeatedly by the guy I was dating and his friend for an entire weekend. When I was finally discovered, I was taken to the nearest ER and treated. They gave me Plan B, among other things. It took my grandparents about 6 hours to show up after the cops had informed them I was at a hospital, but when they did they went batshit. Screamed about how I was an evil sinner for attempting to not get pregnant, and not contract any STDs the two guys might have had. And they yelled repeatedly about how I should have shut up and accepted what the men were doing, because “that’s my place in life as a woman.” 

    I’m 27 now. After leaving Texas, I started encountering “Progressive christians,” and for a little while, that made me wonder. But that pondering was destroyed when I started paying more attention to politics, and watching the Religious Right. Watching how their god, who commands them to love, does nothing as they openly hate and despise people. How their god, who commanded them to follow the government he placed over them, did nothing as they broke law after law to attempt to enshrine their hate over everyone. How they lied constantly to get ponies to see things their way. The list goes on, and I’m sure everyone here is familiar with it’s contents. 

    The final nail in the coffin was a comment that some random person on an internet forum made that I happened across. It was something along the lines of “And they can just keep doing this shit over and over til they die, it doesn’t matter. Their god has forgiven them; nothing is stopping them from getting to heaven. There is no punishment.” That’s when I realized the whole concept of justice, and how the christian god shows exactly none. 

    I don’t know if I can actually be called an Atheist. My position is that I don’t know or care if the christian god exists. If he does, I refuse to worship him.  

  • Jason

    I think I’m kind of an interesting case. I have a good head for science, statistics, and I tend to be kind of skeptical. But I was also raised in a fundamentalist church. I was a true believer for a long time. The religion got in before the radar was up and running, I guess. The trouble with religion began because religion’s talking points are so narrow. The sum total of religious thought is really kind of shallow and mentally confining to someone who is curious and wants to understand the reasons why things are the way they are. If your life revolves solely around work and play, and you aren’t curious, then you might never notice how repetitive religion gets. The further I delved, the more questions I asked, the more impoverished and threadbare the religious thought I was raised on seemed.

    The one thing about fundamentalism that did make sense to me was that you don’t get something for nothing, and that god required you to be growing and becoming a better person. The New Testament is replete with parables about people who are going to be turned away from salvation, and labels for them such as “cowards,” “drunkards,” and “fornicators.” Golly gee! Don’t want to be one of them. Question is, how do you know if you are one or not? Well if you want to try to answer imponderable questions like that, if you really want to know where you stand with god, you have to start getting more rigorous in your thinking than the average churchgoer, or even the average pastor is generally inclined to be.

    Of course, niggling in the back of my mind for a long time was the knowledge that I was stagnating, not growing, not overcoming, not changing. I tried to be a better person. Trouble is, the person I wished I was, wasn’t the person I actually was. Culturally, there’s a certain amount of pressure to be that person you wish you were, and after a while, you learn to just “fake it till you make it.” Well, there’s something dishonest about that, but…what else are you going to do? The only strategy the church had to offer was “try harder.” That sort of presumes that being Superman is among your options. It’s not like I had extra barrels of effort just lying around unused. Let’s face it, if willpower is the only tool in your arsenal, then “making it,” as opposed to “faking it,” which is to say, real change, isn’t going to happen. And when I looked around at other people, I realized that they were all in the same boat, faking it just as I was. The church taught that you received the “holy spirit” when you were baptized, and that was going to make up the difference where you lacked. Looking back over my life though, I had to be honest that I couldn’t find any evidence of any supernatural help, answered prayer, or anything else out of the ordinary.

    That’s about the time that I realized that most people didn’t stay with religion because they wanted to become better people, they did it because of the carrot and the stick. They wanted to be rewarded after they died, instead of punished. When I thought about that, I realized this kind of external motivation wasn’t really a very good long-term strategy. And we’re talking about the eternal kind of “long-term” here, right? Besides, as soon as you get the “reward” now what’s your motivation going to be? You’ll have to find a new motivation to be good. If you believe that satan is a real supernatural being (we did), then you have to entertain the notion that you could go bad, even in heaven, right? Why would god entertain such a risky strategy? Wouldn’t he want his followers to be internally motivated?

    The more rigorous I got about the perfectly laudable goal of becoming a better person, not for pretend, but for real, the more imperative religious concepts began to simply fall apart. Take faith for example. If you look in the bible, the great figures in the bible, so the stories go, didn’t rely on faith. Moses talked to god face to face. They had lots of supernatural confirmation that something remarkable was happening here. So the stories go. Same is true for all myths. But why would god create me with an analytical mind, and then demand that I put it on ice? Where is the virtue in believing one claim or another without evidence? Doesn’t god realize that’s a setup for being conned? Where did my “faith” in god come from in the first place? Well some people told me about this invisible man in the sky, and the evidence they cited was an ancient book written by men. But that book also tells me not to put my trust in men. But if I didn’t trust men in the first place, how else could I ever come to put my trust in god either? And if god was all powerful, how come he always had to have some guy be his go-between? And why didn’t any of them agree on very much? And why were so many of them so sleazy? Why couldn’t he just come whisper in my ear? Why leave all that doubt dangling without a good reason?

    Well, you can see where this is headed. As soon as I got rigorous about religion, and what it would really mean in practice, not in abstract theory, for real, not for pretend, the more fundamentalism, then christianity, and the bible and god just fell apart. The more all the thinking behind it didn’t add up. It was like watching a TV show for years, and then going down to the sound stage in Burbank and seeing the set with your own eyes, and seeing how fake it all looks without a screen in the way to blur out the rough edges. I wouldn’t call myself an “atheist,” necessarily, but the more intellectually honest, “agnostic.” I realized that religion is bronze age crutch, and I didn’t need it. I had never needed it, but I had been told that I did, and I accepted that when I was too young to know better. I still believe in personal change, but I’ve dumped all the fictitious baggage that used to surround it.

  • 5glitchers5 .

    When I was 13, I read an article about Lucy, and I realized how Anthropocentric Christianity was, plus there are other Religions, I started questioning my faith, and it took me a week to finally become an Atheist.


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