New Book Tells Personal Journeys to Atheism for 25 Young People, Including Me

This is a guest post by Dan Riley, the author of the new book Generation Atheist.

***

In the summer of 2009, I had an idea that I couldn’t get out of my head. I was a campus organizer for the Center for Inquiry On Campus at the time, and we were about to host dozens of secular college leaders from around the world for our annual summer leadership conference.

The students who came to the conference each held within them a personal story about how they had gotten there: perhaps their flight from dogma came through a moment of clarity late at night while reading a website analyzing the Bible; maybe they had experienced religiously-inspired misogyny or discrimination in their youth and chose to forge a new path; perhaps they had lived through years of their prayers going unanswered and had concluded that God does not exist.

I knew that personal stories like theirs — emotional, complicated, human stories — had been well-documented in books, but they tended to conclude with the people devoting their life to God, getting saved by Jesus, or committing themselves to religion. To the best of my knowledge, not a single book had featured a collection of personal stories of people who had, through struggles and triumphs, ultimately found truth and meaning firmly from the opposite perspective.

I wanted to create that book. That idea has kept me going over the past three years.

Today, I am honored and proud to announce the release of the book Generation Atheist.

From my own journey as a devoutly Catholic altar server to a secular activist, this is a book I would have wanted to read as I was going through my own journey away from religion.

As an out-atheist and former campus organizer, it is a book I now want to give to friends and family who quizzically wonder why anyone would become an atheist, how people become nonreligious, and why I’m still so concerned with religious topics as a nonreligious person.

While the book includes discussions of philosophy and religious texts, these are stories, first and foremost, about people and the lives that they’ve lived. In Generation Atheist, the reader will find personal liberation from fear and cognitive dissonance, a purpose-driven life of secular activism, a struggle to reconcile Christianity and homosexuality, a journey into music to reveal and work through childhood indoctrination, a near suicide caused by the loss of faith and family, ostracism from communities in Louisiana and Rhode Island, and a former medical-student-turned-high-school-teacher-and-blogger readers of this site might be quite familiar with.

When I began this project, I had a hunch that their stories were becoming part of a larger national and worldwide narrative, a hunch that has been confirmed by recent polling data (PDF).

I hope this book can give voice to the growing number of people who view the world through nonreligious eyes. Creating it has been a labor of love.

To celebrate its release and to start a conversation about its stories, I’m giving away 10 copies of this book for free — in either paperback or Kindle format — to people who share with us their own personal journey to becoming an atheist. It may take a sentence or a few paragraphs, but just leave #GenerationAtheist at the end of your comment. I’ll select a group of winners next week.

I hope you will check out the abbreviated introductions of the people in the book on the book’s website. If this book speaks to you or someone you know, I hope you’ll consider sharing it with them.

To the people in this book: thank you again for sharing your lives with me.

To everybody else: thank you for reading. I hope you find these stories as compelling, meaningful, and memorable as I have.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • kaboobie

    In becoming an Atheist, I didn’t have as far to go as most people do. My mother came from a Protestant background, specifically Presbyterian. My father’s family was Jewish. By the time they met, after my Mom’s freshman year in college, both had pretty much given up on organized religion and decided that they would not pass either faith on to their children. My Dad continued in a “spiritual” vein and eventually came to embrace a Taoist philosophy, but this is not something he ever tried to impress upon me or my siblings. My Mom, who I now see as basically agnostic, did read some Old Testament stories to me growing up (from the psychedelically-illustrated “A Child’s Bible”) but didn’t give them any particular weight compared to any other stories. My parents told me there was a God, but they also told me there was a Santa Claus. It sounds like a joke, but it was pretty much the case that once I stopped believing in the latter I saw no better argument for believing in the former.

    I went from calling myself an agnostic in high school to an Atheist in college. I was impressed by the Existentialist authors I read in the last two years of high school and took some courses in college that continued to inspire my thinking along those lines. I had a particularly good professor in the Religion department who taught religious thought from a philisophical perspective. In my sophomore year, I was reading Camus’ collection of essays, “The Myth of Sisyphus”, when a member of my group of friends (though not someone I was particularly close to) committed suicide. As this book directly confronts the question of suicide and how to bring meaning to one’s life, if it does not come from outside onself, it was both challenging and somehow comforting to me at that particular time. I took Sisyphus (who in Greek mythology spent eternity rolling a heavy boulder up a steep hill, only to have it slip from his grasp just as he gets to the top) as Camus understood him to be, as a metaphor for life, where the only choice we have is to find meaning in the process, not the goal. It is a philosophy that informs me to this day.

    #GenerationAtheist

    • Robster

      Yeh, the demise of Santa was a big event, it was more difficult than giving up god and the baby jesus because Santa was at the shops every year from November and magically, pressies appeared under the plastic tree every Xmas. Never ever saw any evidence for jesus, god or the ghost thing either. Santa  was a whole lot nicer than the god being in their bible book, it’s made out to be more a monster than a desirable thing that warrants some sort of worship.

  • ChrissyDawn

    My father was a Baptist preacher.  After working at a church in Denver for several years, he realized his search for spirituality and a sense of community was unattainable.  He spoke of backstabbing, gossip and theft that gave him a sense of guilt.  After his suicide in 1993, I was working in Colorado Springs with a religious woman who I considered a friend.  She stated to me, “you know your father is in hell, right?”  Wow, how could a person be so insensitive? After a heated argument, that I lost because I didn’t have answers, I became angry.  I had to search for my own spirituality.  I contemplated my father’s death, and analyzed the Bible.  I realized he figured it out too.  God doesn’t exist.  I almost wonder if killing himself was the final test.  Whatever his reasons were, he set me and my children on a path of logical thinking.  And I am thankful for that, and thankful to the women who rudely enlightened me.  At times, it’s hard to raise my boys to believe in science when Focus on the Family is literally in our back yard.  Maybe your new book can help me with this task.
    #GenerationAtheist

    • advancedatheist

      She stated to me, “you know your father is in hell, right?”  Wow, how could a person be so insensitive? After a heated argument, that I lost because I didn’t have answers, I became angry.

      You should have said something like, “Wow, Dad knows that his life has meaning and purpose now as part of god’s plan!”

  • http://profiles.google.com/rbh.third RBH Third

    Some of us don’t belong to the Amazon borg. Is a Nook edition planned?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arthur-Bryne/100002441143047 Arthur Bryne

    Folks who find this concept interesting might also find of interest Altemeyer and Hunsberger’s Amazing conversions: why some turn to faith & others abandon religion, which includes (as part of a more formal study) some thumbnail sketches from various young people going from highly religious background to highly irreligious outcome, and the other way around. The contrast is striking… although the religious may be left with a bit of a sour taste at the comparisons that result when relatively representative samples are used.

    I look forward to buying the book.

  • http://www.facebook.com/crystalwheel Crystal Bandy Thomas

    Thanks for giving me a place to tell my story…

    I grew up in a pretty non-religious family.  We started going to an Episcopal Church
    around the time I turned 10 or so…and in the church we attended I got baptized,
    confirmed but never to my recollection heard anything about being “saved”.  Then my parents got a divorce when I was 13
    and my father moved us 200 miles away from our hometown and presented us with a
    stepmother and a half-brother.

     

    My stepmother had been raised Church of Christ and so we
    sporadically attend a C of C church but what I remember from that is that we
    didn’t have musical instruments…but still I hadn’t heard about being “saved”.

     

    I got married at 19 in an Episcopal church to a nominal Catholic,
    divorced at 22. 

     

    I married again at 25 to another nominal Catholic this time
    in a Presbyterian Church. 

     

    The first time I heard anything about being “saved” was one
    day while I was contemplating my miserable second marriage.   And
    that “Good News” came from…and I kid you not…while watching Jim and Tammy
    Bakker on the PTL club. This insured that I stayed in that marriage for another
    VERY miserable 5 years.

     

    I got married a third time to someone whose family were so
    different from mine that at first it was utterly charming but ultimately not a
    set of values I could live with forever…

     

    I met my 4th husband, a Christian man who wanted
    a family.  We had 2 children and raised
    them in first the Baptist and then a Christian church.  I attended Bible Study Fellowship for 3 years
    until my children become too old for their program.  I remember the exact time I decided that I
    would take the Bible as the inerrant word of God on faith…I was 39 years old and
    looking back I saw that was the day I deliberately checked my brain at the door.
     We homeschooled, we were at church 4
    times a week… it was really a great time for us.

     

    Then we moved to the country on December 23, 1999 because I
    was afraid of Y2K.  Of course nothing
    happened but we were out of the city and that felt great!

     

    We attended a very small Brethren church
    of less than 50 members.  We had women
    elders and there were a few women pastors in our denomination.  Then our church became infiltrated by 3 Fundamentalist
    couples who made our little church family a hellish place to be. 

     

    It took about a year and a half for me and another woman to mastermind
    their departure from our little family. But during that year and a half, our
    Pastor threw us to the wolves.  He wouldn’t
    confront these people, he was protecting his paycheck…I had never experienced
    such a complete betrayal before in my life. 

     

    Then I began to question what I was doing and why was I
    having to be doing it?  Where was God
    during all this?  I thought he was
    supposed to be taking care of us.  I
    couldn’t sing the songs, I couldn’t pray the prayers.  I felt betrayed and alone…and then one day I
    realized…I AM alone, God is not there, has never been there and wouldn’t ever
    be there.

     

    I decided to look at all the alternative religions to see if
    there was something there I could believe in…nope!  Nothing there mad sense either.

     

    When I decided I couldn’t go to church anymore and I began
    to tell my friends what had happened to me…most of them just fell away.

     

    I’m very fortunate that my husband, who is still a believer,
    loves me enough to let me be myself and believe how I want with no penalty from
    him at all.  This is also great!  My two kids are grown and neither of them believes
    anymore either. 

     

    I finally have peace in my heart and know for a fact that
    the life I have now is indeed all that I’ve ever wanted.  I don’t have to wait for eternity! My
    blinders are off and I can see what a beautiful world it is upon which I live
    and I live with the people I love!

     

    I’m 62 now…but better late than never, eh?

     

  • advancedatheist

    Firebrands on both sides of the god question assume that ideology and education determine religiosity, but the emerging consensus from social scientists suggests that people hold religious beliefs superficially as a way to manage existential anxiety. When people grow up in conditions of existential security, like in most developed democratic countries, they lose interest in religion and don’t seem to miss it. 

    Actually I consider this discovery a bit of a letdown. For generations deep thinkers have argued that god belief reflects the grandeur and tragedy of the human condition, so who could have guessed that this belief would tend to go away in a reasonably well-run country with some social programs?

    In other words, the emergence of a cohort of youngsters in the U.S. which grows up religion-resistant shouldn’t surprise anyone, considering what has happened in some other countries. 

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

      don’t forget that “generations of deep thinkers” mostly includes folks who didn’t have stuff like plumbing, electricity, modern medicine and sanitation. the world’s “greatest” philosophical and ideological thinkers are mostly long dead folks who died before the car was invented. as much as i agree with and understand the point of the study you mention, it will take a long time, even in a highly technological society such as ours, to free ourselves from religion. so long as  we educate our young in the study of “great books/minds” including long dead guys who genuinely believed that women were inferior, black people deserved to be enslaved, and that angels danced on pins, this will be a problem.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    congratulations on publication, Dan! kudos, and thank you for your efforts. i’d say you’re doing the “lord’s work,” but no one has come up with a good atheist substitute for that yet. /silly

    i have a sort of unusual story that i hope adds value to this conversation. i was raised in an atheist household. mom and dad had to leave a lot behind when they got married, as an interracial couple. religion was one of those things, as the religions of both their families disapproved of their union. 

    religious belief always seemed odd to me, when i’d talk about it with my friends and neighbors. as a child, i became quite fascinated with it. my parents were smart, and never told me what to think, and when a neighboring family invited me to go to their church with them, sensing my curiosity, my parents let me go with them. for a while, i went. then i realized how very, very boring it was to have to sit for two hours listening to a fat guy talk about stuff that didn’t have to do with anything real, and bad singing on top of that. and i had to give him money. so i stopped going. 

    but i never really lost my curiosity about religions. i read a lot of fantasy books in high school and college, and was fascinated by the idea of magic and supernatural beings. eventually, i got into the study of anthropology, and after that, the history of religions. took it pretty far too, thought about teaching it as a college prof for a while and did the graduate work required for that at a highly ranked divinity school. 

    i met a lot of interesting people while studying religion. pagans, jains, buddhists, daoists, hindus, animists, orthodox folks from the abrahamic traditions, wiccans… everybody sure did think they were on to something. coming from a household of no tradition, it was always interesting to talk to folks about why they believed what they did. consistently, the bottom line answer to any of my questions about their faith was “because that’s how we do it, that’s why.” i found it disturbingly easy to poke holes in the “logic” of any faith.

    i admit, for a time there, i really wanted to belong. i was jealous of the “community” a lot of believers seemed to enjoy. but two things kept me from signing up. the first was my niggling sense of logic. there is literally no religion out there that fails to forget about logic, in one or more of its essential creeds and declarations. the other was the misogyny. again, it is endemic to religion, eventually, they all posit that the female is lesser than the male, in one way or another. 

    eventually, i stopped believing even the agnostic/friendly atheist conviction that “there is some good in organized religions, even if sometimes they oppress and hurt people.” i came to realize that the main purpose of all religions is to 1) help a bunch of grifters and con artists avoid real work 2) help a bunch of politically motivated people achieve power and cover up their crimes. all the “good” believers that are out there are allowed to exist in order to make the liars and hucksters look legit. that made me very sad to understand, but it clarified my understanding of human nature. the obvious example today is the roman catholic pedophile protection racket, and the anti-war nuns who unwittingly give them cover. 

    i grok the trend in modern humanist/atheist/nontheist activism towards service. for a time, i really wanted to be a nun of any faith in which i wouldn’t have to sacrifice logic and in which i could genuinely serve humanity. sadly, i never found one. today, i’m mostly interested in religion as a component to our political and societal progress. which is to say, if left up to me, i’d get rid of them all. getting rid of all organized religions wouldn’t make the world perfect, but it would make it a better place. 

    and i’m older than a lot of the people who blog here, i think. my childhood was in the 70s. i wonder about the ways in which that makes me different than today’s up and coming college age atheist set, in terms of our experiences. 

    #GenerationAtheist

  • Chanteygrrl

    My grandparents were Methodist missionaries, but I grew up without being specifically indoctrinated into any one religion. We attended my grandparents’ church when we visited them, and our local churches for occasional holiday services, but it wasn’t a part of daily life. I don’t remember a moment of “rejecting” religion, much as I don’t remember rejecting geocentrism or the idea that two and two add up to five. I do know that by the time I began reading Dennett and Dawkins, at around age 18, their books felt like sustenance—like bricks to build something solid out of my skepticism. My mother, it seems to me, moved away from traditional Christianity but retained some god-shaped holes in her logic filter, leading to intense faith in homeopathy and interest in Shirley MacLaine’s books on past lives. The closest thing I have to an atheist “coming-out story” is the time I bought her a copy of Carl Sagan’s ‘The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.’ She didn’t care for it. #GenerationAtheist

  • Pedro Lemos

    Boy, this is gonna be long…

    Growing up in Brazil, it´s really difficult not to adhere to a religion. 65 % of the population is catholic, 22% of it is evangelic and roughly 5% follow other religions. The last census showed that only 8% of the population consider themselves with no religion affiliation, and that doesn´t necessarily mean they´re atheists, some of these ate theists, some are agnostics and some even follow some religious dogmas and traditions, but don´t consider themselves belonging to a specific religion. So, if you think you´re a minority there, rest assured it could be worse.

    I grew up in a catholic family. I was baptized, did cathecism, and attended a school run by the catholic church till I was 15. Though I was surrounded by catholic culture, like almost anything here, my family (like most families nowadays, I guess) wasn´t really devouted to religion. We almost never went to church, never prayed before eating, or really talked about these things. They just acted like the majority of people, carried by the cultural tide, and doing what everybody expected them to do. The so called cultural catholics.  And, in a manner, so was I. Until then I had never really stopped to think about religious things, you just learn about them and accept it, like you accept you should eat with cutlery, wait in line to be served, can´t poke your nose in public etc.

    By the age of 15 I took a test to go to the air force and study to be a pilot. I passed it and had to move to a small city in the country. It was a really exhausting routine, the air force school was a boarding school, we could only leave in the weekends and it was relatively far from the city I was born and raised.

    As there was nothing else to be done with my time and I had a lot of studying to do, this was the time of my life I read more books. One of these books was the bible. I had already read it, mostly the parts recited in mass and religious schools out of context, but until that point  I had never gotten to read the whole thing.

    By the time I was done reading it, I started to raise some questions, being the main ones: how could anybody believe that all those things were absolutely true and how come I never questioned those things myself, accepting it as if they were the most natural thing in the world.I was terrified to think that anybody could consider those teachings as absolut truths, and even take them as a model guide to a life in a modern society. 

    Some parts were loathful, others made no sense and some were just plain stupid. I realized that I would never reconcile with any bible based religion again, but I hadn´t quite reached the point of atheism. I´d say I became more of an agnostic in the following years, trying to figure out a definition of god that would fit my logical thinking and way to lead my life.
     
    As I left the air force two years later, I had read enough phylosophical and religious books to understand that nobody had a clue of what god looked like or wanted with mankind. In spite of it, lots of people were making fortune in his name. That´s when I started to realize that there was no god at all, it was just a plot to gather money and power. I started reading about atheism and agnosticism. And though some people criticize his works, Richard Dawkins books had a great deal of relevance to turn me to atheism. Unfortunately, atheistic literature is pratically non existent in brazilian editorial market, as the publishers comprehensibly prefer markets with bigger demands, such as evangelicals, so international best sellers atheistic books are more likely to come by. For a rookie atheist such as myself at that time, RD books were a nice way to get acquainted with this new world.
     
    Nowadays I have accepted and understood better my lack of belief. When someone asks me if I go to church, why I don´t pray or celebrate christmas I explain to them I don´t believe in god, and already expect the scared looks. When asked why I don´t believe, I usually reply with another question, why they believe in it, and follow the conversation from there. My family already knows about it, and they don´t really seen to care. But I wish the rest of society was as accepting as them, sometimes it´s a difficult struggle, people can be really stubborn when it comes to religion. But I´m surviving. :)
     
    #GenerationAtheist

  • Sean Maher

    I found Christ at 15 and dove into being a Christian with my whole heart. 

  • Jack McCauley

    People always ask me about my story.  I never know what to say. 

    I think because telling your story about how you found Jesus is such an important part of evangelical culture, people expect atheists to have similar profound moments — that there’s a definite point in time when you suddenly decide to be an atheist. 

    It’s rarely like that.  

    When the ocean washes away a beach, when did that beach cease to exist?  When you bought your beachfront property, there was a lot of it.  Then one day you walk out of your house and realize the waves are washing up just outside your back door.  You can’t point to the day the beach went away or even when it started going away, but there’s no denying it’s not there anymore. 

    That’s how it was for me.   I was raised Christian, though my parents weren’t particularly religious.  In my small town, it was expected.   When I was young, I was told to pick a religion, though I knew that really meant, “you can be any religion you want, so long as it’s Christian”.   The oddness of that statement never occurred to me.  It never occurred to me that one could question belief in God or that atheists weren’t anti-God. 

    I chose Catholicism because I felt like if you were going to worship a higher power, then you should really take the time and effort and spend the treasure to do it justice.   At one point, I even thought I heard the voice of God speaking to me. 

    Yet, I was incredibly curious about the world, a bit anti-authority, and I really wanted better answers than “God said so”.   The more I read, the more I learned, and the more I found simple natural explanations for all the miracles I’d been told about.  Gradually, my faith began to wane, but it was still “I believe in a higher power, just not the Christian God or organized religion.”  

    I struggled greatly with the concept of Hell.  I couldn’t make it match with “loving, just, father figure”.    I imagined that the way God looked at me was the same as I looked at my dog.   Sometimes, my dog acts like a dog.  He does things that make me very angry that he doesn’t understand upset me because he is a dog and these are the things that even well trained dogs do.  It doesn’t make me love him any less.   What I don’t do is take him out in the backyard and torture him forever because he decided that a stuffed animal looked an awful lot like a dog toy.   In fact, if someone told me they were going to do that, I not only would think of them as a pretty awful person I didn’t want to be friends with, but I’d report them immediately to the authorities.  Why should I forgive God of  behavior I would find absolutely detestable and abhorrent in a human?  Again, my faith slipped just a little more. 

    My wife converted to atheism while we were still married.  I remember being uncomfortable with the concept.  She was the first atheist I knew and I begged her not to tell my family.   I felt she was taunting God, even though she wasn’t really against the concept of a God.   However, I had to admit she had a point.   I wasn’t going to church.  I hadn’t opened a Bible in years.  I believed in something, but it wasn’t anything that could be found in any holy book.  Looking back, I think I wanted to believe, and I really didn’t like the loaded term atheist.   I was close, but I couldn’t wear the label. 

    Over time, I found the rhetoric spewed by the religious to be more and more intolerable and found my faith slipping ever more.   I got divorced, but I don’t recall ever reaching out to God or asking Him to help me through it.   It just happened that after that event I was having to reevaluate a lot of things I thought I knew.  Suddenly, I realized that the beach was no longer there and hadn’t been there in a while.  I’d just never bothered to check on it.   But sure as night is dark, my faith and my belief were gone.   

    I struggled with it for a bit.  I was surprised.  A little bit disgusted.   I hated the label and the word.  Atheist.   Yet, I knew it was me.  It was what I believed.   And once you’ve lost your faith, you really can’t get it back again. You can’t force yourself to believe in something that you intrinsically know isn’t true, no matter how much you want it to be true. 

    Now I find that my life makes more sense.   Bad things happen to good people because bad things happen in this world and random chance means that often it happens to those who don’t deserve it.  God didn’t answer my prayers because they were unimportant or He had different plans, but because he’s not there.  I might as well be praying to Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster for all the effect it actually has.  The world is logical and happens in a very logical and predictable way because I know there aren’t mystical beings playing dice or pulling strings somewhere behind the scenes.   

    I miss my faith though, even now.  I miss the comfort it gave me in tough times and the knowledge I had that there was something bigger and better after all this.  Yet, I wouldn’t trade it.  I love knowing that this life is all I get and I had better enjoy it while I’m here.  I make better choices now and I have a much more fulfilling life free of the emotional weight and baggage that came with my religious upbringing. 
    #GenerationAtheist

  • Kaoru Negisa

    A little over a year ago I came out to my parents as bisexual. It was incredibly difficult to do, but a post on Greta Christina’s blog where I received encouragement helped me finally make that step. I had been reading her, JT Eberhard, Jen McCreight, and several other atheist bloggers for several months at this point, mostly looking for the pro-LGBT stuff that consistently kept popping up, mostly because I could use it in my LGBT activism.

    However, it wasn’t until the specter of coming out as queer passed that it occurred to me that the other stuff they post, things about non-belief, refutations of the existence of god, common arguments for a creator and the intellectually void nature of all of them…it started to catch up to me.

    “Why do I believe in a god?” I couldn’t help but wonder what could make me think there was one. I suppose being a confirmed, if severely lax, Catholic helped. I went through CCD. I had been in what turned out to be an abusive relationship where my partner demanded that we attend Church. My friends were some sort of theistic, mostly pagan or wishy-washy “spiritual” (which I thought was the coolest and most sophisticated approach). Looking over these reasons, it started to dawn on me that none of them were “I have evidence for a god.” It was hearsay and social habit.

    I was still not really willing to jump fully in, though, until I was cornered and beaten up outside of a mall for looking too queer. The hitting didn’t last long, mall security rolled by, but I remember being told they would punch some Jesus into me. Some friends tried to say that they weren’t “true” Christians, but I’d read enough to know to ask them why their favorite verses were more valid than my attackers’.

    At that point, when they could do nothing but talk in circles, is when I decided that there was no benefit to believing in fairy tales. There was no point. It was unlikely to be true and inspired gullible people to do awful things, but provided good people with nothing worthy of respect. Since then, I have expanded my activism and worked hard to fight irrationality wherever I can. It’s not enough for me to just not believe, not when belief is the root of so much injustice. I have to fight for the people who can’t.

    #GenerationAtheist

  • Sean Maher

    I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior at 15 after watching the Power Team (a group of proselytizing body builders) when they came to my school. I dove into Christianity with my whole heart and found a loving community of people. 

    As a nerdy young teen, I was the one my friends came to frequently for help with the Bible. I read it over and over, studied commentaries and hungered for more on all of it. I became a youth leader, president of the Bible Club and lead Crysalis (a sort of weekend, love-bomb Christian camp). 

    When I got out of college, being the brainy sort, I figured that if I was ever to reach those poor deluded scientists who believed in evolution *clutches pearls!*, then I would have to understand evolution from their perspective. Since my West Virginia public school wouldn’t touch the subject and I didn’t have to take bio in college, I knew I didn’t understand it except for the rhetoric that I’d heard at church. 

    I searched the internet for a good laymen’s introduction. I picked up Richard Dawkin’s The Blind Watchmaker. If you know the book, you know where this ends. If not, then I highly recommend it as one of the best explanations of  evolution out there. It explained everything about evolution and showed me that may pastors and Bible study leaders never understood the theory were demonizing.

    I remember sitting at my table and realizing the implication of evolution; we are slightly evolved primates, and nothing in the Bible about human origins could be true. I’d been waning in my faith for a while, but that was a watershed moment. 

    “God isn’t real.” I actually said it out loud and it became reality. I haven’t looked back.

    #GenerationAtheist

  • Ryan King

    I grew up in a Presbyterian church. I was ordained a youth elder in high school during a time my church was going through a pile of political drama. Disagreements about gay marriage, and conflict about the pastor’s musical choices served to disillusion my young mind about the basically good nature of christians. 

    The summer before my senior year of high school, as I was researching for my Extended Essay on pluralism in America, I realized i was not Christian and really hadn’t been for awhile. I couldn’t respect a god that would condemn the innocently ignorant. I was a generic pluralist and believer in “love” for a few months before I read The God Delusion and finally cast off belief in the supernatural.

    #GenerationAtheist

  • doctorhow

    I was ten when my uncle died, but it wasn’t until I was thirteen that I realized he was in hell. Or at least my friends thought he was. 
    I grew up in a moderately liberal Catholic family. We lived next to a natural history museum, so even though my Catholic school never taught evolution, I never gave a second thought about it. My mother was a doctor who would preach the benefits of birth control for hours. I had lesbian and gay relatives. No body ever bothered to tell me there was anything different about them.Therefore, my friend’s casual comment that my uncle (who was the single best Christian and best person I have ever known) was in hell, shocked me. I had never experienced Christian bigotry before. 

    I didn’t know what to do- surely the Bible didn’t really say that. It did.) Surely that was fringe belief. (It wasn’t.) Weren’t all Christian’s kind and loving? (They weren’t.)

    And just like that, I stopped being a Christian. I refused to associate myself with a group that spread so much hate and so little love. 

    Once I finished the Bible, so that I could confidently say it was a load of hogwash I found I couldn’t stop. I read Dawkins and Hitchens before moving on to Steven Hawking and Camus. There was so much out there, and I wanted to understand all of it. The binders of Christianity had finally fallen away. 

    I spent the next few years floating between deism and agnosticism before finally admitting that I didn’t really believe in a god. I agreed with almost all the atheist lit I red, but I wasn’t quite ready to give up the idea of a god. After all, I had used it as a support crutch for so long. 

    But, staring up at the bright night sky in the deep backcountry, I realized that this was it. There is no God. 

    #GenerationAtheist 

  • Michelle B

    I was raised Orthodox Christian and I thought I had an explanation for everything. I had atheist friends in high school and college and we discussed endlessly. I studied abroad in England where everyone I met was incredibly friendly…and most were atheist. While there I read “The God Delusion” and that’s when something finally clicked. I finally “got” what my atheist friends had been trying to explain to me-why they didn’t believe there was a god. I read Hitchens and Harris and everything else I could get my hands on (including Hemant’s book and this website. Jenn McCreight’s blog was also a great help). It’s been a long, slow process of undoing the indoctrination of 20 years but it’s totally worth it.
    Thus, my journey was the result of books and all the awesome atheists I know. #GenerationAtheist

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

    My story was posted on Libby Anne’s “Raised Evangelical” section :D

  • RB

    It’s a long story of what brought me to where I am now, a secular humanist and an atheist, from my beginnings as an evangelical Christian. But here’s the short version:

    Was raised in a very loving Christian family, with a strong emphasis on serving others and caring for those in need, with a good dose of honesty and integrity thrown in there. Good values, and it was a happy childhood for the most part. Went to church several times a week, the people there were like my extended family. We homeschooled and I was largely self-taught, so got to spend lots of time doing my own thing and became a quite independent spirit and a critical thinker. This is key.

    As time went on, I started to think more about what I believed and why I believed it. And the more I examined it all, the less it made sense. And the more I tried to make it make sense, the less it did. Why would God command genocide? why would God condone misogyny and slavery? why didn’t he just outlaw those things in the ten commandments? and, ultimately, if I think that I could come up with a more moral bible than the one that god wrote (which is pretty easy, really), then why do I still say I believe it? 

    And with that, I was done. I realized I could still care for people and being a good person without the bible (in fact, it was easier without it, far less cognitive dissonance and mental gymnastics to make it all work). And the more I looked around, the more I realized that other people had been doing it too, being good without God, for a long time.

    #GenerationAtheist

  • Kim Thompson

    My parents never talked about religion or went to church. All 4 of us are atheists- when you grow up without religion, it seems really fucking weird and illogical. One time I went to my friend’s church and had to eat the body and blood of christ-I did NOT sign up for that!

    #GenerationAtheist

  • http://exconvert.blogspot.com/ Kacy

     I grew up a Baptist in Texas, where being Christian was simply part of the culture.  When I went to college, at a Baptist University, I took a class on Biblical criticism, where I learned about Bible from a historical and critical perspective.  

    After that I could no longer believe in the Bible as an authoritative, God-given document, but I wanted to cling to my Christianity.  Five years ago I converted to Catholicism because the Catholic Church claimed authority over the Bible and admitted to getting their doctrine from tradition, rather than simply the Bible.  I was married in teh Catholic Church and practiced NFP (no birth control).  I didn’t want a child, but I became pregnant.  This caused problems to my health and marriage.  I hated practicing NFP, and I began studying the doctrine to see where it came from.  I learned the process that went into the Papal Commission on Birth Control, and then I started learning about the politics that went into other councils, deciding other  church doctrines.  

    I concluded that, just as the Bible is a man-made book, the doctrines of the Catholic Church are also completely man-made. I lost faith in the authority of the Catholic Church and my faith in God.  I realized that I had completely been starting with the assumption that Christianity was true and that this was due to my upbringing.  When I separated myself from this assumption, I realized I had no reason to trust the Bible or the Catholic Church as true accounts of the way the world worked.

    That’s the short story.  There were other issues that went into my de-conversion, and I’m slowly writing out my story on my blog.

    #GenerationAtheist

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.brazelton.3 Chris Brazelton

    My road to atheism was a long and difficult one.  I was raised in a Southern Baptist home and growing up I loved going to church, attending the church youth group, and participating in church social activities.   The religious aspect of church was not as important to me; in fact, I would often read video games magazines during the sermon (I am indebted to my librarian mother for allowing this).

    That changed at age 12 when my parents divorced.  This event was very traumatic for me.  Up until that time my parents were the foundation of my world and I suppose that, feeling I could no longer depend on them, I turned to God.  At 15 I had what most people would call a “born again” experience while praying alone one night in my room after a revival meeting.  I became very serious about the Bible and theology.  I started reading everything that I could about apologetics, history, and philosophy.  By 17 I was teaching my high school Sunday School class and I was “that guy” getting into heated religious debates on various internet forums.

    My faith continued to grow in college.  I was solicited by a conservative pentecostal church on my way to the dining hall in the first week of class, and I started going at first only because they had Bible studies on campus and free rides to church.  The pentecostal elements like speaking in tongues and prophesying were odd at first given my Baptist upbringing, but I got used to it over time and even became part of the student leadership team. 

    My first negative experience with religion came in my sophomore year, when over summer break my sister told me that the married male leader of the church youth group had propositioned her for sex.  I was furious and wanted to report it to the police, but my sister begged me not to tell anyone.   To this day I regret that decision, because this man went on to not only approach but actually molest several young girls in the church before finally being arrested.

    In spite of this I continued to attend church, teach Bible studies, and serve as an officer in the church’s campus organization after the end of summer break.  Things continued much as they had before.  During my junior year I met the woman who would later become my wife.  It was at this time that I had my second major negative encounter with religion.  The church I attended at college was extremely puritanical, frowning upon even the most innocent displays of affection like holding hands and kissing, which I considered to be perfectly acceptable.  The church leaders urged me to end the relationship, which I absolutely refused to do.  They finally gave me an ultimatum to follow their rules, or step down from student leadership.  I chose to step down.

    After college I remained in my college town and continued to attend the same church for a few years.  Over time I became more and more concerned with the church’s espousal of what I now know to be dominionist teachings, so I left the church and began attending a “New Calvinist” church in the area.  I grew depressed from the gloomy Calvinist theology, and due to the fact that I had clinical depression, which I only learned after becoming an atheist and seeing a doctor rather than a Christian counselor to discuss my problems. 

    The final breakthrough came almost by accident, when I read the book “Lies My Teacher Told Me” by James Loewen.  In it, the author demonstrates that much of what we are told about history in high school history textbooks is wrong, and that the best way to study history is to consult college level scholarly works.  Until this time all of my information about evidence for the truth of the Bible and arguments for Christianity had come from Christian apologists, theologians and philosophers, so I had a profound misunderstanding of the evidence against Christianity.  After reading Loewen’s book it was only a matter of time before I started to question whether the apologists had also lied, and I started to seek out more objective scholarly works on Biblical archaeology, science, history, philosophy, neuroscience, and many other subjects.  I quickly learned that I had been deceived and not only became an atheist, but also became committed to challenging the misinformation and propaganda of Christian apologists whenever I could.  It was an extremely liberating and uplifting experience to study truly rigorous works for the first time.

    Unfortunately all is not well.  I have not yet been able to come out to my wife, my family, or my friends.  I fear that when I do so my wife may leave me and my friends may shun me.  On the positive side I have been inspired by my new-found love of science and learning to pursue a career in nursing (Who says atheists have no compassion or morals?), and I have resolved that I will come out before I start my education (hopefully in the Fall 2013 semester).  At least then in the worst case scenario, I can start a new chapter of my life in all ways and move forward to see what the future holds.

    #GenerationAtheist

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.brazelton.3 Chris Brazelton

    My road to atheism was a long and difficult one.  I was raised in a
    Southern Baptist home and growing up I loved going to church, attending
    the church youth group, and participating in church social activities.  
    The religious aspect of church was not as important to me; in fact, I
    would often read video games magazines during the sermon (I am indebted
    to my librarian mother for allowing this).

    That changed at age 12
    when my parents divorced.  This event was very traumatic for me.  Up
    until that time my parents were the foundation of my world and I suppose
    that, feeling I could no longer depend on them, I turned to God.  At 15
    I had what most people would call a “born again” experience while
    praying alone one night in my room after a revival meeting.  I became
    very serious about the Bible and theology.  I started reading everything
    that I could about apologetics, history, and philosophy.  By 17 I was
    teaching my high school Sunday School class and I was “that guy” getting
    into heated religious debates on various internet forums.

    My
    faith continued to grow in college.  I was solicited by a conservative
    pentecostal church on my way to the dining hall in the first week of
    class, and I started going at first only because they had Bible studies
    on campus and free rides to church.  The pentecostal elements like
    speaking in tongues and prophesying were odd at first given my Baptist
    upbringing, but I got used to it over time and even became part of the
    student leadership team. 

    My first negative experience with
    religion came in my sophomore year, when over summer break my sister
    told me that the married male leader of the church youth group had
    propositioned her for sex.  I was furious and wanted to report it to the
    police, but my sister begged me not to tell anyone.   To this day I
    regret that decision, because this man went on to not only approach but
    actually molest several young girls in the church before finally being
    arrested.

    In spite of this I continued to attend church, teach
    Bible studies, and serve as an officer in the church’s campus
    organization after the end of summer break.  Things continued much as
    they had before.  During my junior year I met the woman who would later
    become my wife.  It was at this time that I had my second major negative
    encounter with religion.  The church I attended at college was
    extremely puritanical, frowning upon even the most innocent displays of
    affection like holding hands and kissing, which I considered to be
    perfectly acceptable.  The church leaders urged me to end the
    relationship, which I absolutely refused to do.  They finally gave me an
    ultimatum to follow their rules, or step down from student leadership. 
    I chose to step down.

    After college I remained in my college
    town and continued to attend the same church for a few years.  Over time
    I became more and more concerned with the church’s espousal of what I
    now know to be dominionist teachings, so I left the church and began
    attending a “New Calvinist” church in the area.  I grew depressed from
    the gloomy Calvinist theology, and due to the fact that I had clinical
    depression, which I only learned after becoming an atheist and seeing a
    doctor rather than a Christian counselor to discuss my problems. 

    The
    final breakthrough came almost by accident, when I read the book “Lies
    My Teacher Told Me” by James Loewen.  In it, the author demonstrates
    that much of what we are told about history in high school history
    textbooks is wrong, and that the best way to study history is to consult
    college level scholarly works.  Until this time all of my information
    about evidence for the truth of the Bible and arguments for Christianity
    had come from Christian apologists, theologians and philosophers, so I
    had a profound misunderstanding of the evidence against Christianity. 
    After reading Loewen’s book it was only a matter of time before I
    started to question whether the apologists had also lied, and I started
    to seek out more objective scholarly works on Biblical archaeology,
    science, history, philosophy, neuroscience, and many other subjects.  I
    quickly learned that I had been deceived and not only became an atheist,
    but also became committed to challenging the misinformation and
    propaganda of Christian apologists whenever I could.  It was an
    extremely liberating and uplifting experience to study truly rigorous
    works for the first time.

    Unfortunately all is not well.  I have
    not yet been able to come out to my wife, my family, or my friends.  I
    fear that when I do so my wife may leave me and my friends may shun me. 
    On the positive side I have been inspired by my new-found love of
    science and learning to pursue a career in nursing (Who says atheists
    have no compassion or morals?), and I have resolved that I will come out
    before I start my education (hopefully in the Fall 2013 semester).  At
    least then in the worst case scenario, I can start a new chapter of my
    life in all ways and move forward to see what the future holds.

    #GenerationAtheist

  • GrumpyMrGruff

    I had the good fortune to be raised by nominally Catholic parents who “believe in belief,” as Daniel Dennett puts it. I imagine that they took their faith more seriously in the past. When it came to religion, they once explained that they hadn’t had me baptized as an infant so that I could first attend Sunday school and fully appreciate the meaning of the ceremony.
    Then they ‘forgot’ to send me to Sunday school.
    By the time I was old enough to question the concept of God (as clumsily explained by my parents), we were only attending church on Easters and Christmases. They had no convincing answers for my theological questions.
    I attended public school and continued to fling the occasional bartering prayer skyward before tests. ‘If I get a good grade on this test, God, I’ll be really good next week!’ My test results only confirmed that my grades were more strongly affected by preparation than divine intervention.
    I made no secret of my atheism in high school. Frankly, I was a bit of an asshole about religion when it came up in conversation. I was pointed toward George Smith’s The Case Against God by a friendly classmate. My parents still didn’t know anything about my lack of belief.
    As it turned out, the book wasn’t that impressive; too much focus on Ayn Rand. But it helped me in one regard: It gave me the chance to come out to my parents. I left the book sitting in plain sight when I finished it. Later, my mother whispered to me in a half conspiratorial, half disapproving tone that she had ‘found that book.’ The first thought through my teenage brain was, ‘Oh crap! My porn?’ She then sought assurance that I still believed. And there it was, the perfect opportunity to tell her my thoughts on religion. I saw the opening and I took it.
    Naturally, my parents assumed that my atheism was a phase. They were vaguely disapproving, but never ramped up the church attendance for the sake of my soul.
    I wasn’t active in any atheist groups in college.  Almost all my college friends turned out to be atheists and I didn’t see the need to join a club at my very secular school.   My position changed when I headed to the rural Midwest for grad school.  I’m active with our student club and would like to act as a club advisor if/when I make it to professor.
    #GenerationAtheist

  • http://twitter.com/hernanderson césar

    i knew i was an atheist after going to catholic catechism for a couple of months.

    my parents practised a very relaxed catholicism (mom is now an agnostic while dad has become more fervent…), and didn’t really pay attention to my religious education until it was too late. my younger sister, 8 at the time, wanted to celebrate her first communion cos all of her little classmates were having one too, so my parents decided to send us and get prepared at the same time.

     i was 12, and the lady trying to “teach” us wasn’t ready to answer any kind of questions. her method of teaching was based in mere repetition. i got bored, and, really, who wants to wake up at 7am and be lectured for 2 hours on a sunday morning? sundays for me, up until that moment, had been lazy, get-up-late, eat-a-lot, enjoy-yourself-and-your-family days. i dropped out after a few “classes”. there wasn’t any fuss or scolding from my parents.

    heh, kinda anticlimatic :P

    #GenerationAtheist

  • Liz B.

    I was raised Catholic but didn’t have to go to church anymore once my sister decided she didn’t want to go when I was 8. I didn’t think about it much until I was in my 20′s and met a guy who was a born-again Christian but not really a church-goer. We had many long talks about God and the Bible and all of my questions and doubts. He tried to answer as best he could but it just wasn’t enough. I never bought into Hell and the Devil, it just seemed mean and not something I could really believe in. The whole salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice was confusing, too. How could God sacrificing his son save me? Why did anyone have to be sacrificed, he’s God, why couldn’t he just decide to save mankind without a sacrifice? Anyway, I started looking for alternatives to Christianity once I realized that it wasn’t for me since I couldn’t believe in the Bible. I tried Buddhism, Paganism, Unitarianism, and piecing together my own thing from everything else. After about a decade real heartburning over this, I was talking to my sister about it all and she asked THE QUESTION, “What if there is no God?” It was blinding. Everything fell into place and it made so much sense. If there is no God then there’s no Hell or Devil that I couldn’t believe in anyway, there’s no trinity, and no need for humans to be saved. There’s no sin and that personal code of ethics that I’d worked up was fine since I didn’t need to refer to the Bible for morality anymore. It took me about a week to process the implications. I still had a sentimental attachment to the idea of a God watching out for me for a while but that’s long gone now. After 30 years of trying desperately to believe, including 10 years of real suffering over that inability, I was finally free. Now I have kids and am telling them from the start that I don’t believe and their father does. That way they always know atheism’s an option and maybe they won’t suffer the way I did.

    • Liz B.

      #GenerationAtheist  :)

  • sparkyb

    It seems like most people’s stories are either that they never really had religion or that they were strongly religious and made a sudden realization that caused a clean break. Mine is nothing like that.

    I was raised Jewish in a small New England town that was predominately Jewish (about 70%). Since Judaism isn’t a missionary religion, though, the overall atmosphere was very religiously tolerant, no one was trying to push anything on you. Maybe that’s also just a result of always living in liberal places, but religion just wasn’t an issue. Different people believed different things, practiced different ways, but day-to-day it didn’t really come up or affect people’s decisions on anything important. It didn’t seem to me like anyone took it literally so it was never obvious how ridiculous it was and gave me no reason to rebel against it.

    In my life and my family religion wasn’t about what you believe as much as it was about what you do (more about the ritual than the spiritual). But in that respect it did cause me strife. My dad was raised only modestly religious and my mom was the product of an interfaith marriage so she was raised with a bit of both Judaism and Christianity, but both of them chose for themselves to become observant orthodox Jews in college which is how they met. While they were married, I was raised orthodox as well. I knew all the rules, went to temple every week, went to a religious private school, etc.

    My parents divorced when I was 6. My dad remained orthodox and is so still today. With my mom, we became less and less observant. I started going to public school, we went to a less orthodox temple, we went less often, we didn’t keep all the rules as strictly. The trouble with this was that I felt shame and guilt that I did these things I spent the first part of my life being taught were wrong. I had to be careful to hide things from my Dad when I was with him. I’m sure he knew we weren’t as religious when we weren’t with him, but I didn’t want to outright say that I went to the movies on a Saturday to prevent a fight between my parents.

    When my mom started dating a Catholic, things got even harder. He openly mocked even the little bit of Judaism we clung to (intentionally using the wrong of the two sets of dishes we used to keep meat and dairy separate). He wanted to put up a Christmas tree which my mom was open to since she had one in her mixed-faith youth. For me these were an assault on my Judaism.

    The thing was, through all of this, Judaism was mostly cultural for me and so this was like a cultural war. I never thought that God was going to be angry with me, that bad things would happen, or that I’d go to hell. I didn’t really think much about God at all. I saw how futile it was, so many different religions all claiming they were right, none with any way to know for sure. I told myself internally that I was agnostic. I saw a reasonable (if not conclusive) argument to claim that there was a God (the God of the gaps, first cause argument) but no good argument for any particular religion. I guess you could say I was deistic, but I didn’t know that word at the time. My experience with my own religion was mostly that of a lot of effort for not a lot of benefit. Spending lots of time in temple was boring and I saw no benefit in it. I didn’t believe that repeating a bunch of prayers (or not doing so) was really going to affect my life. I felt that if God helped us at all that it was in that “God helps those who help themselves” way. So why waste the time following all these rules when I could be doing something else? Our time here is limited and it seems like a waste to spend it adhering to a religion that doesn’t seem to have a direct effect and has only a small possibility of even being the right one.

    But I still accepted Judaism as my “religion” even though it was only because it had been given to me by my parents. Aside from not being able to believe literally in the things it says and feeling that some of the rituals are a waste of time, it didn’t feel harmful so I didn’t really have a reason to reject it, and I liked some of the tradition of it.

    It wasn’t until within the last year that I started thinking of myself as an atheist. I started watching different YouTube videos arguing against religion, and I discovered WWJTD. I realized that even my deism, assuming a “god” to cover all the things I couldn’t yet explain, was kind of pointless. That was an ever receding thing as long as we push to get answers to things we can’t answer yet and not just leave it to god forever, and it’s just as well to say “I don’t know yet” instead of “God”. I saw that there’s too much in this universe that no sensible god would have created that it is more likely that there isn’t one.

    Of course now I really struggle which my identity. How can I say that my ideology is atheism and still call myself a Jew? How do I separate things I want to do culturally from things with a religious purpose I have no need for? It would be easier if it were only about observance so that I could jettison it all or if there were regular parts of the observance that were counter to my secular morals that I would actively need to reject. As it is, the prayers have no meaning for me but neither is there a harm is singing a pleasant song in a language I don’t understand even if I don’t believe in the words. I don’t believe I will be punished if I don’t keep kosher but neither am I doing anything wrong with imposing arbitrary dietary restrictions on myself. But I think a lot of the things I still do are just a product of momentum and brainwashing that’s really innate at this point. I don’t keep kosher but there’s some things I just can’t eat because they just taste like wrong to me. I think I’m a little obsessive such that I think something is only worth doing if I’m going to do it completely. So I end up feeling like a hypocrite for wanting to follow some rules and then not following others. There’s just this ingrained guilt about not doing things that rationally I don’t think are important but I’ve been raised to do.

    #GenerationAtheist

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/GBEYUZIF7A6YHUBRIZCHGWBFTE 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. 

     

    I shy away from certainty, especially since any
    investigation of the greatest thinkers, from Plato to Newton to Martin Luther
    to Buber and Einstein, show that even these great men had areas of weakness and
    error, no matter how great and accurate their most wonderful achievements had
    been.  If these giants could err, who am
    I to say I could not?

     

    However, my world view is enriched by the great
    thinkers and discoverers, so I will continue along my path of doubt and
    exploration, confident of new discoveries and a richer, though probably not
    theistic, understanding.

    #GenerationAtheist

  • P4ul47

    My story is pretty boring.

      I was born in a pretty catholic country and although my parents  were non believers, they kept it to themselves letting us kids believe in our version of Santa and putting the Bethlehem and singing carols in Christmas and we went to a nun-run kindergarten (the most secular in the world ‘though probably).  The thing is they didn’t indoctrinated us into into religion either (although my paternal grandmother tried but we only saw her on the summers when we spent a month with her) so when I was about to start grade 1 and my parents had to decide if they were to inscribe in Religion class, my mum asked me if I wanted (and I was sorely tempted by the marvellous crafts they had) but I said no because it would be dishonest since I didn’t believe in god.

    I was ostracised in school (partly because we only 3 kids not in Religion class, partly because I’m weird) and I didn’t enter the girl scouts since I though I couldn’t since it was done in the church although I never really asked. 

      In middle school I learnt about agnosticism and since I thought there was no way to be a 100% sure if there was some kind of supernatural power I though it was the most intellectually honest position. Fast forward some years until I get into atheism blogs into the internet and atheism activism mostly to support my fellow atheists since we have it quite well comparatively in my country and I learn a lot more about weak and strong atheism, Russell’s teapot and the like and retake the atheist label, this time as agnostic atheist or weak atheist or 6.a lot in the Dawkins scale, however you want to say it.

    From then on, I’ve solidified my position and delved into more topics like social justice and other progressive issue that I cared about before but wasn’t informed enough to effectively fight for so I think my atheism has influenced me into becoming a better person or at least not so deluded as other people.

    #GenerationAtheist

  • allein

    I was raised rather benignly mainstream Methodist. I was involved in church stuff – acolyte, junior choir, youth group, confirmation – but I didn’t really look at those things as “religious” exercises. I had friends there, some of it was just fun. I always say religion was something we did on Sundays; Sunday school and church, and then go home for lunch, read a book or play outside. Looking back, while I would have identified as Methodist until sometime after college, I was never, as I’ve seen it put somewhere, “a believer-with-a-capital-B.” We owned some bibles but I never saw either of my parents reading them; two of them lived on the shelf under the coffee table as decoration and my brother and I each had one because the church gave them to the third graders every year.

    My parents stopped going to church (except for major holidays) when I was in high school, so I stopped as well. Later in high school I volunteered in the church nursery during services, but didn’t go to church on the weeks I wasn’t working in the nursery; I really just did it to play with the little kids. Drifted away further in college (my school was affiliated with the Brethren church but was not a religious school), stopped the Christmas-and-Easter thing a few years after college (which I was really only doing for my mom by then, anyway). Religion just wasn’t a factor in my life by then.

    I didn’t really think about what it was I actually believed (or didn’t) until about 6 or 7 years ago. I was working in a bookstore when The God Delusion and all the others got big, and I found myself gravitating toward the subject. Read some Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, etc., and found I agreed with a lot of what they had to say. No big revelations, no existential struggles, just, “Oh, okay, I guess there’s a word for that, then.” Someone else mentioned Santa; that was pretty much the same. Around age 7 or so it just sorta clicked in my head, “Oh, my parents are doing this. Okay. I’ll play along cuz it’s fun.” It wasn’t so much a deconversion as simply a realization.

    #GenerationAtheist

  • Adam Collins

    I can’t type my whole story out because I’m restricted to my phone. My friend did a video series on youtube about some people’s deconversion stories. If you go to youtube.com and search “dynamics in belief” it should be the first option. Mine is the one titled “Adam”. I hope you’re able to check it out. :-) #GenerationAtheist

  • Gus Snarp

    I’m a little late to this party, but like many others, I do like to share my journey. I want to start with a disclaimer. My story has a somewhat familiar form, and there are Christian apologists out there who think everyone who will think that I was just in the wrong church and angry at God because of one tragic event and that this entirely explains my atheism. What should be clear from an honest reading of the story will be that while one denomination’s particular theology, and one tragic event sparked my journey, I remained a Christian for some time after that and it was a long journey of many years that led me to atheism, long after any anger I felt had faded.

    I was raised in the Methodist Church. We went to church and Sunday school every Sunday, but didn’t talk much about religion in our home. I felt very religious though. I believed everything I learned in church and Sunday school and felt very devout. I was terrified of Satan, even though he wasn’t’ a big part of our church, and I had dreams that often involved battling with the devil, which strengthened my religious feelings. Our Methodist Church was not the one of “Footloose” that banned dancing, it was a fairly liberal church. I learned in confirmation classes that the Bible could not reasonably be interpreted as literally true, for example. This led me to easily accept evolution when I learned it in school and to see no conflict between it and Christianity. After confirmation class my parents simply stopped taking me to church on Sundays. I would ride my bike to church some Sundays anyway, and I go them to give me a ride to youth group meetings, but eventually, in spite of my religious feelings, going to church began to lose interest for me. I was a Boy Scout and spent one weekend a month camping out and there was a chapel service we used that described the trees arching over head as a church… this became my world view, that I could connect with God best while out in nature.

    Then in high school some friends convinced me to come to their church youth group. I didn’t really realize they were trying to “save” me. I had gone to church with friends over the years while staying at their houses on the weekends and had been to services with my Boy Scout troop, so I had experience with Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian churches in addition to Methodist. I was a bit unprepared for a hip, modern youth group at a Southern Baptist Church. I had a great time in youth group, had a lot of friends, and started also attending Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings before school (this was a replacement for hanging out at the Circle K and smoking, because the people I did that with had all graduated or dropped out). Soon I was a regular attendee of this youth group, though I didn’t go to Sunday service very often. But I really couldn’t get my head around joining the church. It would require me to be baptized, and I still believed that Christians were all basically the same, and I was already baptized.

    After graduation a friend of mine who was still in high school was diagnosed with leukemia. He was one of the kindest, noblest, best human beings I have ever known. And for me to say that about a popular teenager is saying a lot. He battled bravely through chemotherapy, but finally succumbed at sixteen years old. Did I mention that he was Jewish? Where I lived in the south almost everyone was one of the Christian denominations I’ve mentioned already. I knew a couple of Catholics, but probably only this one Jew. I remember standing during his memorial service, so packed that I had no where to sit, and thinking about God, and heaven, and hell. It was clear that according to the theology of the Southern Baptist church, there was no where for this boy, who was a better person than I could ever hope to be, but hell. He simply could not get into heaven. I thought about Methodist theology, which as I was taught it was a lot more forgiving and still saw no clear way for him into heaven. To be true, I abandoned organized Christianity then and there. I still considered myself a deeply devout Christian, but I had some reconciling to do. That is not the end of my journey, or the cause of my atheism. It is the beginning of the journey. It is the event that set me free to ask real questions, not just “does god or heaven or hell really exist?”, but is a doctrine that requires belief in the sacrifice of a savior for admittance to heaven and consigns the purest of human souls to hell for not believing truly just? Does such a God make sense? Why should I believe this? Where is the evidence?

    The rest can be told more briefly, but it should be understood that it was a process that took years. I spent a lot of time in thought on religion. I read the Bible. I took classes in college on comparative religion, mythology, and philosophy. Since my college was small and lacking in adequate courses I looked more deeply into Eastern religions on my own. I found copies of the Bhagavad Gita and the Vedas the Tao Te Ching and I read books on Buddhism. I listened to Alan Watts. I came to consider myself a Christian Buddhist. But here was an unresolved conflict. The four noble truths and the eightfold path were not in conflict with the moral teachings of Jesus, but they were entirely at odds with the rest of the Bible and with Christian notions of the afterlife. What I finally acknowledged was that what was keeping me nominally Christian was fear. I had always deeply believed in Satan and hell. But did I really believe in this anymore? No, I don’t think I did, but that deep belief left fear behind and fear is irrational, I could not simply stop being afraid because I stopped believing. I don’t know when I stopped being afraid, but one day I did. I stopped calling myself a Christian and became a sort of weebly wobbly new age Buddhist sort, and even dabbled with paganism for a while, which was where I first encountered an online community that was trolled by Christian proselytizers. And where I found coherent arguments and effect take downs of Christian apologetics. It was also a place much like Pharyngula in its no holds barred approach to Christians. If they came on our turf, we shredded them. Ah, AOL and your Pagan Tea House chat room.

    But one day I realized that I didn’t actually believe any of this stuff. I went a long with various new age notions, but I didn’t believe the Wiccans really cast spells, I didn’t believe in reincarnation, really, it was just papering over the fear of death and eternal damnation I still had remnants of. And so one day I just gave it up. I don’t know when, or how. It doesn’t stick out because it was a continual process, not an event. But I do know there was a moment, though I don’t know when or where or how, when I had to confront my fear and say to myself that there was no afterlife and, in what was really the first time I consciously thought it, no God, Jesus was not his son, and when the body died, the mind died with it. There was no soul. This scared me for a while, but having once acknowledged it the fear was greatly diminished. Now it is simply the nature of life. I still fear death, but not in a daily way. I just don’t want to die, I want to enjoy life as long as I can and as much as I can because I know it’s the only shot I’ve got. And now I’m an atheist. And I admit that I project my own experience a bit: I’m convinced that many Christians, and most agnostics and new ageists, are lying to themselves. They don’t really believe any of it, but they’re still filled with an irrational fear and they cling to the tattered shreds of religion to keep from facing it.
    #GenerationAtheist


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