An Example of Apologetics Leading to Nonbelief

It sometimes surprises me that more folks who study religion full time don’t become atheists. It seems to me that any critically-minded exploration of religion, grappling with the details of faith and myth, would have to lead a person to, at the very least, some very serious questioning.

That seems to have been the case for blogger Carly Jurica, whose minor in Biblical and Theological Studies began her journey away from acceptance of Christianity’s claims. “I was ending up with a lot of questions and very few solid answers,” she writes.

Things really began to change for her when, after suffering her own traumas, and witnessing those of others, she found how empty the claims of God’s “goodness” sounded.

Suddenly, the cop-out answers of “It’s all a part of his plan” and “He works in mysterious ways” just weren’t good enough anymore; it was time to be honest and say, “If there is a god and this is his plan, then it’s the fucking worst and most cruel plan he could have come up with. It sucks.”

Finally, as she attempted to make deeper sense of apologetics, she saw just how flimsy faith’s foundations really are:

I decided to come at my reconstruction from a place of reason and began researching Jesus and the Bible from a historical standpoint. What I found blew away my life-long indoctrination in apologetics. For me, there wasn’t so much a straw that broke the camel’s back as there was a mountain dropped on the poor animal–a mountain of evidence pointing in the exact opposite direction of my entire life.

Did you arrive at your nonbelief in a similar way? Did a better understanding of a former religion make it easier or more obvious to reject?

About Paul Fidalgo

Paul is communications director for the Center for Inquiry, as well as an actor and musician. His blog is iMortal, and he tweets as @paulfidalgo, and the blog tweets as @iMortal_blog.
The opinions expressed on this blog are personal to Paul and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Inquiry.

  • http://josephherrera.com/ Joseph Herrera

    I find that in a search for what is true, going to the source for the alleged truth often shows that there is is a complete lack of a foundation for even consideration for a possible candidate for truthfulness. We believe a lot of nonsense.

    While the doubts I had since leaving Catholicism in the 8th grade were always present, it wasn’t until researching where all the ideas originated and finding how flimsy they all were that I was truly able to dismiss them all as fabrications. So yes, a better understanding of the origins of the Abrahamic religions makes it much easier to reject them completely as fiction.

  • Jim Jones

    I decided to find out what facts were known about gospel Jesus and reason from those.

    Early on, I found this: http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/rmsbrg02.htm

    So … that’s it.

    All gods are mythical and impossible.
    The bible is fully fictional.
    The Jesus of the gospels never existed.

    Nothing more to say.

  • Kengi

    I became an atheist based upon the high quality religious education at my Lutheran high school. That was back in the days when the Missouri Synod was much more ecumenical and taught comparative religions as a way of better understanding Lutheranism.

    The instruction was so good they were, in essence, quality anthropology courses. That triggered not only a life-long love of anthropology, but lead to the realization that man created all gods, not just all those that weren’t mine. All religions were a reflection of the culture they were developed in, and evolve along with the societies they are practiced in.

    In that light, it’s difficult to believe in any gods in the absence of empirical evidence.

    When asked for such evidence, the typical response is to say “The evidence is all around, you just need to see it”, which is a content-free explanation. The follow-up, which is often, for some mysterious reason, “Just look at the trees!” is nothing more than equally vacuous evidence for tree fairies. (Tree fairies must exist, how else could there be trees???)

    A solid understanding of religious anthropology coupled with decent training in critical thinking (from my science classes) lead to what I thought was the inevitable, obvious, conclusion. I’m not sure if I would have arrived at the same conclusion with only the science training I received.

    • kielc

      I had a very similar experience: religious high school, religious college, father who was a graduate of the seminary, and a great upbringing in a liberal church. A lifetime of concerted thinking, writing, and studying about these issues led to my conviction that there is absolutely no evidence for anything but manmade myths.

      • R Speeter

        Kielc,
        Could you share with me how you dealt with your fathers strong belief, so strong that he entered seminary? My father was very intelligent, a phd biochemist, and I respected his mind greatly. I struggled internally with the question, how could someone so smart be wrong. So I thought that I must be wrong. I felt this way about many smart people that I respected, especially those that had devoted their whole lives to religion. How could they be so mistaken and wasted their whole lives on a god that does not exist? These questions kept me on the fence for many years.

        • kielc

          He was always very pragmatic and liberal in his world view and beliefs. And, after a while, I simply figured out that no matter how smart a person is, he or she is going to be wrong about some things. In his case–and the case of most of the people in my church–I realized they were good people. But they were going to be good people with or without religion/faith.

    • spookiewon

      I received 18 years of catholic school education (K -12 plus 5 at a catholic college) with excellent science and comparative religion classes as well. I understood it didn’t add up by the time I was 7, but Pascal’s Wager can be pretty compelling to a second grader. I tried very hard to believe in HS despite the compelling lack of evidence but by college had settled on self-identifying as agnostic. While I was functionally atheist then I didn’t apply the label until middle age.

    • reasoningbeing

      Similar to the existence of trees being evidence of god, I have been told by by mother on multiple occasions to “look at the sun” as evidence of god. Of course to look at the sun would blind a person as does believing something based on faith.

      • Bdole

        So she worships Ra?

      • evodevo

        Similar experience in a chance encounter with a Campus Crusade fundie while walking across the commons. When I informed him I was not a believer, his comment was – “But look around you at the trees, where did they come from?!” I replied they just evolved, and left him spluttering. If I hadn’t been in such a hurry, I might have engaged in a biology debate, but it wasn’t worth the effort.

        • Alexis

          But if trees evolved, why are there still monkeys?

    • Anna

      I can’t remember where I read it, but I seem to recall that anthropologists have extremely high rates of atheism, more so than most scientists.

      From my perspective, any serious education in comparative religion and mythology ought to turn someone into an atheist, unless that person has been exposed to hardcore indoctrination.

      • Polly The Ist

        I think it also turns some people into eclectic pagans…

        • Kengi

          One of the dangers of long-term field research for anthropologists is “going native”. Some do start to believe the mysticism of the culture they immerse themselves in after awhile and lose their objectivity.

          • Anna

            Been meaning to read this book for a while:

            http://www.amazon.com/dp/0739177885

            • Kengi

              Thanks for the tip! It looks very interesting.

              Added to my wishlist. (Hopefully it will come down in price someday…)

    • Andrew

      Anthropology is false. The scientists that discredit the Bible’s account of creation made up theories on the dinosaurs and anthropology. First, you must realize that NO fossil can exist in the time frame that these scientists claimed. All dinosaur bones and man-ape-like fossils would have completely disintegrated and reverted back into molecules, so scientifically, the evidence shows that these fossils are NOT billions of years old, or even hundreds of thousands of years old.

      Furthermore, other scientists have discovered soft fleshy tissue in dinosaur bones that these Atheist scientists did not report. If these dinosaur bones still had soft fleshy tissue in the bones, how could it be billions of years old? That can only mean that it was a cover up to discredit the validity of the Bible. Not only that, the evidence shows that all these man-ape-like fossils that were found could not have been stages of human evolution because all of these fossils around the world were found in the SAME LAYER OF ROCK, which means that these man-ape-like creatures ALL EXISTED IN THE SAME TIME PERIOD.

      What that means is these Atheist scientists merely lined up all the skeletons, cooked up a story, and said “These are the stages of the evolution of man,” which is like me lining up a Chihuahua, a Fox Terrier, a Labrador, and a Great Dane, and saying “This is how the Chihuahua evolved into the Great Dane.” It’s silly:-D

      These Atheist scientists are indoctrinating our schools with these false facts of evolution. Correct me if I’m wrong, but to take a theory and pass it off as fact is a heresy in the religion of science; therefore, these Atheists are false scientists.

      Check out this video for more information about the TRUTH of creation:
      http://youtu.be/7fhNP3FSnKI

  • jose

    I think this is a “dog bites man” scenario. Not surprising for her to be atheist after looking at the arguments and the evidence. Since most of us were raised in one religion or other, it’s what we do. What I still can’t wrap my head around is the Libresco case and others like it which go in the opposite direction.

    • Guest

      Leah seems to have had a transformative emotional experience, where she felt that goodness was a person, who loved her. That’s not really a rational arguement that you can argue against- it’s intensely personal. Maybe a psychologist can explain it.

  • Zuckerfrosch

    This was absolutely the case for me. I was already on the edge, but when I took a history of Judaism class in college, I learned how deeply, unapologetically misogynistic it was. There was even math for it, in terms of how many responsibilities each person had, and how great their reward would then be. A non-Jew was responsible for 7 mitzvot (deeds), while a Jewish woman had 13, and a Jewish man had 613. With a Jewish man being worth nearly 100-times the value of a non-Jew, or 50-times his wife, what sorts of his behaviors wouldn’t be excused or tolerated?

    I also found enlightening how arbitrary the whole thing was. I always knew that if I were born into a Christian or Moslem household, I would be just as devout towards those religions. But to hear that there were major sects of Judaism that believed, for example, in reincarnation, but I wasn’t taught that because those sects didn’t happen to be the one that survived the sacking of Jerusalem, made me realize how historically arbitrary it was, as well.

    It ultimately came down to me explaining how a god could fit into the universe to an atheist girlfriend, who then asked me, “you don’t really believe that, do you?” that made me realize how contorted I was making my logic to fit a god into the picture, but the groundwork was laid by many things, including this class.

  • William Brinkman

    I read the Bible in college, and I realized that I couldn’t reconcile it with science and my sense of morality. That did it for me.

  • mikespeir

    Believe me, I get the point of not being to understand the mind of a god. All I ask is that he make the attempt to explain himself to me–personally. Not by way of one of his minions, but in person. Then, if I couldn’t “get it,” fine. We’d go from there. But so far there’s no evidence he even exists, much less that he’s ever tried to communicate with me.

    • new_atheist

      If the god in question is omnipotent, then BY DEFINITION, he would have the ability to communicate his message to human beings in a way they would perfectly understand him, despite our “inferior” mental capacity.

      If he can do anything, he can do this. If he chooses not to do this (which seems to be the case, if such a being exists), then he clearly doesn’t give a damn that we don’t understand him. That just makes him an irresponsible dick.

      • Boo Hoo

        Agreed. And even more than that – if he were there, and truly omnipotent (and omniscient), then he would know your needs before you did, and have the answer or solution already in motion.

  • Buckley

    I know exactly what she means. In a 3 year stretch I lost my job, nearly died and spent 8 days in ICU, lost my house to a fire, my kids to a divorce (she moved 3 hours away with them), lost a 2nd job, and had to sell the rebuilt house because of the divorce. There is no god, I don’t want ‘his’ plan, because trust me that wasn’t my “plan”. Kiss my ass.

    • Guest

      Man, that sucks. You have my sympathies.

      • Buckley

        Thanks, it did suck, but I have a fantastic woman in my life now and the love of my children and a great job in a new city. But, just as important I have found inner peace by accepting what I always thought was true…there is no sky spirit to rescue you when the shit hits the fan.

        You have your self, your family (if you are lucky) and life. You only get this once, live it to the max. Losing nearly everything has taught me the most important thing: life is fun and I’m in no hurry to leave. There is freedom in letting go of fantasy and mythology.

    • FaithIsGlorifiedDelusion

      Stay strong.

  • Rip Van Winkle

    I’ve always been an atheist. My family was secular despite my grandparents insisting I be baptized. Anytime I was around religious gatherings, I felt uneasy, like the people weren’t acting of their own volition. It was creepy. Later, when I actually started seeing bits of the bible, I had difficulty understanding how or why anyone would believe it in the first place.

    Now a days I wonder…how do little, little kids of 3 or 4, getting dragged to church every week and only caring about when they get to go home again…how do they go from not caring about bible study or the sermons about god and jesus…only to turn 15 and suddenly be bible-thumping brainless zombies? You’d think the ambivalence towards religion would carry through their early teens and into adulthood. I always figured if you went there not caring, you’d come to resent the whole thing and end up hating it when you finally have the choice not to attend.

    • LizBert

      Most little kids love church. Outside of extremely conservative churches, most of the time there are special children’s classes and children’s church during the normal sermon. You color pictures and play with your friends and your teacher reads you story about a good man from a picture book. The indoctrination starts very young.

      • allein

        We didn’t have a separate children’s service but we did have Sunday School which a lot of times was basically arts and crafts (I still have the bookmarks we made for our bibles that they gave us in 3rd grade). I was usually bored in church but I would color on the bulletin with the little golf pencil from the prayer card holders in the pews. I did always like the candlelight service on Christmas Eve, though, cuz it was pretty.

        • LizBert

          I confess to still going to Christmas Eve services. I really love the holiday and the music and for the most part the religious messages at that time of the year are pretty innocuous. I just see it as mythology instead of believing it all happened.

          • allein

            Christmas Eve was the last thing I gave up, though by then I was mostly going because it was sort of family tradition and it made my mom happy. They always did an early service and then an 11pm candlelight service, which is the one we always went to, which was really nice. (And when it was over at midnight we got to officially say Merry Christmas.) I like the traditional music, too, and they had some people in the congregation who would play (trumpets, violin) which was always nice. I wouldn’t object to going if it was really important to my mom, but she doesn’t make a big deal of it (though she usually asks if we want to go with them) so I don’t bother. It’s easier now since I don’t live with them. The year before last I ended up crashing at their house over the holidays (because of the timing of my closing on my condo), and I thought for a second she was going to challenge me when I said no but she dropped it. I do love Christmas, though. We always do breakfast at my parents’ house, then open presents and hang out and relax for a while, then dinner at my uncle’s. It’s been that way for years and it’s just a nice, relaxing holiday tradition (helps that my extended family actually gets along).

      • JohnnieCanuck

        There’s also cookies and candies as rewards for attending and/or paying attention. They get them to make necklaces out of those sugary coloured doughnut cereal things.

        It’s pretty much all carrot and no stick to begin with, but the guilt starts soon enough.

        • http://penciledinexistence.wordpress.com/ Carly Jurica

          Yeah, I got a lot of candy and other goodies. Candy just for going, candy for being good, candy for getting the right answers…

        • LizBert

          My church kind of held off on the guilt until you were older. Everything was rainbows and Jesus healing the sick and loving the poor and raising the dead until you’re a teenager. And then they tell you all abut how everything you feel is sinful and will lead you down the path of damnation.

          • reasoningbeing

            Maybe I was fed the hell and damnation stuff too early. It offended my sense of fairness.

            • LizBert

              I’m not sure there’s a right time for the hell and damnation stuff, really. I really liked the god is love, care for the poor, do good things side of the business that I learned when I was young. When I got older and got to the do what we say or you’re going to hell, love the sinner hate the sin, god wants you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps crap I couldn’t reconcile it all with my sense of morality. Plus you have to listen to the sermon instead of making noddle necklaces.

      • Rip Van Winkle

        I dunno. Anytime I listen to an adult recount their childhood church experience, it’s always a recount of how boring it was and how the best part of the sermon was when it ended. If kids today are getting treats and stuff, then that’s sad…they’re being bribed not to have church.

        • allein

          We used to sometimes get treats after the service…some weeks they did coffee and donuts/cookies/cake/etc. Those were my favorite weeks. ;)

          • Rip Van Winkle

            I guess I just came from too different a background to be okay with that sort of thing. When I was a kid, I got treats for working hard or achieving something in school that was awesome. I didn’t get rewarded for tolerating anything.

            • allein

              It wasn’t a reward for anything, just a post-church social hour pot luck sort of thing. They just didn’t do it every week. The adults would have coffee and chat and the kids would run around and play.

            • LizBert

              It’s not a treat for tolerating it really, it’s more part of the overall social structure of it all. Churches are very social places, that was actually the hardest part of leaving for me and I still miss it 5 years later.

        • LizBert

          A lot of churches now have separate children’s church services so most kids don’t sit through the boring sermon. They go downstairs and sing kiddie songs and play games and do crafts and things like that. It’s all pretty fun.

      • Anna

        Not for Catholics, though. There’s CCD and “faith formation” classes, but little kids have to sit through the Mass with adults. My boyfriend’s parents used to bring toys and candy to pacify him and his sister.

        • LizBert

          That’s true, my husband is Catholic and I always thought it was odd that they make little kids sit through mass when they obviously don’t get it. Most of my personal experience with church is in protestant and evangelical circles.

          • Anna

            Maybe it’s a “blessing” in disguise. I wonder if it makes it easier for Catholics to leave the faith since there isn’t (usually) a heavy emotional investment in those earliest years.

            Then again, Catholics do still have a retention rate of 68%, so they must be doing something right. This is pretty interesting:

            http://www.pewforum.org/2009/04/27/faith-in-flux3/

            • LizBert

              What I think is interesting about that survey is that of people who say they are still Catholic only 42% attend church weekly and only 46% say that their faith is “very strong.” I think Catholicism is somewhat cultural, in that many people who claim to be Catholic are not actually all that faithful or practicing. My husband would say he is Catholic if asked but he doesn’t attend church, doesn’t agree with the Vatican on much of anything, and doesn’t have particularly strong spiritual beliefs either. I think for whatever reason Catholics may be less likely to just say to hell with the whole thing than other Christian denominations, but that’s purely speculation on my part. I think in some ways Catholicism is more open to questioning than the evangelicalism that I grew up in where you are either one of us or frying in hell.

              • Anna

                I think there’s a strong cultural element, too. Catholics are defined by the fact that they’re not Protestant, and thus it can be a form of cultural and familial betrayal to announce you’re leaving the religion. I have relatives who identify as Catholic despite not believing a lick of the theology. In that sense, it seems like Catholic loyalty is more akin to what secular Jews might experience.

    • Alice

      My parents were very religious, and church bored me a lot growing up. I don’t think I resented it, but I did resent having to sit still and listen to looooooong Bible readings at home as a little kid. Almost all of it went over my head anyway because there were no explanations.

      I think most people are converted because of emotionally-charged Bible camps or sermons. The leaders know all the right buttons to push, especially with teenagers.

      Sunday School was also boring because by first grade you’ve already heard all the popular Bible stories, and by second grade, you know you’re going to hear the same stories every year, so you stop saying, “I’ve already heard that story.” Nowadays, it’s scary for me to think about how all the God-sanctioned violence is taught so non-nonchalantly. “Then God sent the angel of death to kill all the firstborn of Egypt, and that finally convinced Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Next time we’ll talk about what happened after they left Egypt. “

    • http://penciledinexistence.wordpress.com/ Carly Jurica

      I know what you mean; I’ve wondered that, too. Big church bored me, and I have *always* hated getting up in the mornings, but I liked children’s church and I loved awanas. Games, snacks, fun adults, friends, lots of praise for getting the right answers… what more could a kid want? I think the big thing, though, is what kids get told. They don’t have critical thinking skills and will absorb almost everything they hear (and more than happily parrot it back to anyone who asks). Even a kid who hates church but is exposed to people running under Christian assumptions will accept that as a normative framework through which to view the world. Once they get older, that framework has been solidified in their brains and becomes part of (or all of) their budding individual identity, so that they take it and run with it. Also, youth group is fun… and camp…

    • Michael W Busch

      It’s not just the time spent at religious gatherings that matters (although that certainly does). It’s things like growing up in a culture that privileges religion in many ways, and spending much of the time with family/friends who are largely religious – and who largely belong to the specific religious group to which you belong.

      This means that religions that integrate themselves into almost every aspect of life are more durable than those that don’t.

  • Boo Hoo

    I don’t know that I ever believed it. I wish that I had a story to tell you of some epiphany, but my memory of that time period is fuzzy, at best. However, when I was around 14, my religious brother-in-law was trying to explain to me the concept of how God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were all supposedly the same being, a concept that I found to be…well….straight-up bull$hit. It was kind of downhill from there.

    I think that humans like a good story, whether there is any reality behind it or not. We want to believe in ghosts, UFOs, magic, heaven, etc….. We want to believe, because it’s fun, and interesting, and hopeful. The reality is that this planet is boring. Reality sucks. lol

    • Kengi

      This planet, and the universe it’s in, is anything but boring. In fact, the cosmology of religions pale when compared to the fascinating reality of how things actually work.

      I’m endlessly fascinated by descriptions of evidence-based reality. Learning about actual early human migrations and the rise of civilization is much more interesting and complex than any creation myth I’ve read.

      I do understand the appeal of such mythology in a world where we didn’t have the tools to adequately explore our origins. But reality has turned out to be much more interesting and entertaining to learn about. Carl Sagan, Bill Nye, and others have demonstrated this admirably.

      • Boo Hoo

        You have a refreshing, optimistic outlook. Thanks for sharing it.

        • Deus Otiosus

          I agree that there is an endless supply of awesomeness in the natural world. From the intricacies of microscopic biology and atomic theory, to the grandeur of the universe we’ve seen through the Hubble telescope. But I also know what Boo Hoo is saying. As awesome as the universe is, it would still be a magnitude awesomer if I had my own lightsaber.

          Just sayin’.

          • Boo Hoo

            I know, right?!

          • Pisk_A_Dausen

            “Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know, that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom.”
            Death, in Terry Pratchett’s “Hogfather”

            (I want a time machine. :-p)

            • rtanen

              You have one, it’s called a telescope… you can see years into the past. Even with the naked eye you can look up at night (ignoring light pollution) and see the past.

              • Pisk_A_Dausen

                Actually, I don’t have a telescope. :-

          • spookiewon

            Yeah, but the difference between god and science is that science may one day give you one. Awesome, huh?

      • midnight rambler

        I think you hit the nail on the head without quite explictly saying so – how things actually are is vastly more fascinating than the simplistic mythologies that, however complex they may get, eventually boil down to “god[s] did it”. But it takes a lot of effort, learning, technology, and special devotion to uncover all that, and quite a bit just to understand it; and for the most part it’s only been revealed in the last 200 years (especially the last 100). So there is still a vast proportion of people who cannot or (much worse) will not appreciate it.

        • Boo Hoo

          And money.

    • Michael W Busch

      The doctrine of the trinity was one of the things that led to me leaving Catholicism in particular and religion in general.

      As I learned more science, I slowly applied those skills and knowledge base to religion. I spent a few years doing progressively-more-strained translations of theistic (Christian and also Buddhist) concepts into things that were physically possible: “holy spirit” -> “whatever peculiarity makes people moral agents” (this was before I knew as much about animal cognition as I do now), etc. But that fails when trying to equate that, a mythical character* sacrificing himself for the good of others, and something that created the universe. Recognizing that and many of the other contradictions between religious beliefs and reality, I left.

      Humans certainly like stories. But I disagree with you that this planet is boring – and I say that as someone who spends much of his time studying things off of the planet. Kengi said it well. To add an example: we live in a world where we can eat dinosaur eggs** for breakfast. This is a pretty awesome world.

      *The character of Jesus in the gospels is not the same as whatever historical Jesus may have existed, and the blood-sacrifice bit in the story is both outrageous and morally bankrupt – but those are separate points.

      **Chickens and all other members of clade Aves are in fact part of clade Dinosauria – they’re dinosaurs with warm blood, feathers, and wings.

  • ejoty

    I think my crucial step was asking the minister in the Congregational church I attended – I assume my family sent me there as it was very near the house where we lived – what separated us from the other churches in the town and why we needed separate churches. I never got a coherent answer, and concluded that there was no serious intellectual basis to the doctrines being preached.

    Oddly, some years later, my headmaster at school assumed I wanted to become a minister myself, apparently because I was the only boy who asked serious questions in the Religious Instruction class he taught.

  • Without Malice

    I’ve not yet come to the point – and probably never will – where I can say that there is no God. But, it was the study of religion and the reading of the bible the led me to abandon my belief in the God portrayed therein. A God that is vindictive, abusive, cruel, jealous, and at times down right murderous is certainly not worthy of worship. And why any God worthy of the name would want to be worshipped is another question that cannot be easily answered. Why would an all-powerful and all-knowing being need any validation from lowly human beings who are one step up from chimps.

    • Dirk

      I’ve not yet come to the point – and probably never will – where I can say that there are no unicorns.

      • JohnnieCanuck

        I’m pretty sure, verging on certainty that there are no unicorns. Likewise, no gods.

        Let’s just say I will be shocked if either one ever shows up.

        • http://penciledinexistence.wordpress.com/ Carly Jurica

          Not gonna lie, I’d scream like a little girl if they found unicorns in real life.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

            First thought that popped into my head.

          • Anna

            Forget gods; I want a unicorn!

            • Hat Stealer

              At least unicorns don’t burn you forever.

              We hope.

      • Horny believer

        Unicorns are real, just look up ‘Javan Rhinoceros’ or ‘one-horned deer

    • sk3ptik0n

      I have always wondered that myself. Why would this omnipotent being need our praise so often and so much of it.

      It makes no sense and no one has ever put forth a convincing explanation for that.

      • http://penciledinexistence.wordpress.com/ Carly Jurica

        I was always told, “he doesn’t need it; he wants it.” And if we don’t give him what he wants, we burn in hell… not because he sends us, but because we send ourselves… by not giving him what he wants… *facepalm*

        It’s the subtle rewording to make shitty doctrines sound ever-so-slightly better that makes all the difference to them.

        • Jason

          I think I empathize to an extent with you, Carly. It’s hard for me as a believer to accept that doctrine. It bothers me when other Christians talk about it flippantly or as though they could decide who was or wasn’t there.

          I believe it, though. The alternative (everyone ends up with God whether they wanted it or not) would entail an absence of human freedom and dignity.

          • cipher

            What you’re saying is that you’re fine with the idea of billions of your fellow human beings being made to suffer for all of eternity so that you can have the existential security blanket for the few brief decades you’re here. This tells me all I need to know about you.

            Free will – never has a concept so nebulous, ill-defined and impossible to prove been used by so many to rationalize so much.

            I’d avoid use of the term “empathy” – you really don’t know what it means.

            • Jason

              I’m not fine with it. It’s very difficult to accept. If it were possible to bring every last person around without violating their will, that would be fantastic.

              I admit to having used Jesus as an existential security blanket. That isn’t what he’s for.

              The fact that I’m a deeply flawed and messed-up person is kind of central to what I’m trying to say. That God would love me anyway tells me all I need to know about God.

              • cipher

                You ARE fine with it, otherwise you wouldn’t believe it. It really is as simple as that.

                The fact that I’m a deeply flawed and messed-up person is kind of central to what I’m trying to say.

                Your theology (and that of millions like you) is a projection of this. I refuse to be held hostage to it.

                I admit to having used Jesus as an existential security blanket. That isn’t what he’s for.

                Yeah, it is.

              • RowanVT

                How would it violate their will? Wouldn’t sending them to be TORTURED violate their will even more?

          • spookiewon

            That is not the only, or even the most logical, alternative. The most logical alternative is that he just isn’t there. We may not affect reality by our beliefs but the only sane way to determine what is real is evidence. I disbelieve in all the gods that I’m aware of for the same reason I disbelieve in garden fairies. There is, so far, no evidence.

            “Look at what is around you” is not evidence of an omnipotent god.

    • spookiewon

      You don’t need to say there is no god. Almost no atheists do. For the most part, most atheists are agnostic atheists who don’t claim to know that no god[s] exist[s]. We simply have rejected those god claims we’ve so far encountered. If credible and verifiable evidence were presented of a god or gods we’d become theists. The god of the bible can’t ever meet that criterion, BTW, because an omnipotent AND omnicient being is logically impossible.

      You are functionally atheist. It’s okay to embrace the word.

  • allein

    I was raised Methodist but it didn’t stick. Did junior choir, youth group, confirmation…not long after my confirmation (I was 14) my parents stopped going to church (for their own reasons; they’ve since gone back), so I stopped too and didn’t think much of it. Did Christmas and Easter for several years, through college and maybe a few years after, and then I just kinda stopped. I was non-religious for years before I ever really started to think about it, about 7 or 8 years ago, maybe. Read some of the “new atheist” literature and whatnot and it just kind of clicked. “Oh, so that’s what I am. OK, then.”

    Two quotes I generally use when describing my religious background:
    “Religion was something we did on Sundays.” (me)
    “I was never a believer with a capital B.” (someone on asktheatheists.com)

  • nakedanthropologist

    I definitely arrived at my nonbelief through the study of religion. During my mid-twenties (while I was studying for my master’s degree at a Catholic university) I began to research Christianity in order to allay my long-standing doubts. What I found only enhanced my doubts and questions, and further study led to my deconversion.

  • Rex Winkus

    I became an agnostic while I was attending Bible College. I was asking hard and default questions based on historical research, critical thinking, and dedicated analysis as I was wanting to get to the “truth” of matters even if the truth went against everything I had previously been taught. My professors at the Bible College could not answers ANY of my questions, but merely parroted whatever they had been taught themselves years before. They only wanted to preserve the status quo. Finally, I worked enough enough courage to look outside the bubble of narrow dogma, and a big wide world opened up for me. Simply studying ancient near east history (e.g., Sumerian, Canaanite, Egyptian, Persian) and the way the Bible was ultimately compiled should be enough to shake anybody’s “faith” if he-or-she is embracing intellectual honesty.

  • MyScienceCanBeatUpYourGod

    Catholic High school, religious history class, 9th grade. The more I learned about the history of the Bible and the Church, the clearer it was that it was all bullsh!t.

  • Atheist Diva

    In the church I was raised in, we were encouraged to study the Bible a lot. The expectation was that this would lead us to become baptized, which usually happened around age 13 (although I knew a lady in her 70s who was baptized and told me that she just came to the truth a little late). I became an atheist when I was 10 because that’s when I happened to run into the wall that prevented me from believing what I’d been taught and read; everything I learned in church after that only reinforced this. If you think it isn’t a painful process to be unable to accept the rigamarole that the rest of everyone else believed, you’re wrong.

    • reasoningbeing

      Painful it was…wrenching with long lasting emotional and relational repercussions.

    • Janet Holmes

      A group of people I find interesting are those who grew up surrounded by religion but soon realised it was nonsense, or who never got sucked in in the first place. I assume they just keep quiet about the fact that it’s all obviously bullshit, but it must be a bit of a strain. It must also have some effect on a person to feel surrounded by deluded idiots, who are also responsible for looking after you and running the world.

      • spookiewon

        You do keep your mouth shut as a kid. As an adult whose parents are dead I’m polite but don’t pretend with family.

  • Sly Cotto

    For me, it was a paper I wrote on “Teach the Controversy” of “intelligent design” vs evolution.
    When I studied the arguments for both and realized that one was science and the other nonsense… my faith just withered and died.

  • Steve Clark

    this is similar to how arrived at it as well. If after 20 years the divine plan was to be a broke, lonely and hopeless loser, I could only conclude that god was sadist or it didn’t exist. I chose the latter.

  • Paul (not the apostle)

    If you think you leave religion , if not physically at least mentally — If you want to believe unprovable shit you stay.

  • Marisa Totten

    I started out as a nonbeliever. My parents were an atheist and an agnostic. Though I was never denied the opportunity to attend religious services with friends, religion was not rubber stamped in home, though it was also not humiliated. When I asked religious questions, they were addressed in unbiased terms, which I admit is more than I’m doing for my own child. I’m an atheist, and nothing would please me more for her to continue to be an atheist as well.
    I’m also a military spouse. When faced with my spouse’s first deployment I went through some feelings I’d never experienced before. They unnerved me. I looked around me and saw other people taking comfort from their beliefs and thought hey, it’s worth a try. For 3 years I worked at developing a belief in god, but it just did not happen for me. I tried the “turn your troubles over to him” theory, but found I could not let go of the need the resolve my own emotional turmoil.
    Finally I returned to my roots of atheism with a much clearer picture of why I’m atheist. I read the bible, which I hadn’t done prior to trying belief, nor while trying to be a believer. It’s a clear picture in my head now, why I am what I am and can never be anything else.

  • Mark Moore

    I became an atheist when I found Christian morals so evil. I could not in good conscience worship Jesus knowing he was going to be sending the majority of people to hell to be tortured. That started the critical thinking that lead to me saying “What a load of nonsense.”

  • IDP

    As a Christian in a conservative church, I was pretty much told that the Bible is the bestest book ever in all ways of measuring the merits of books.

    Problem was, I was interested in ALL of history, and in reading about other ancient cultures, I learned they were hardly the cartoonishly evil and cruel people I was shown. Plus the fact that some of what’s in the Bible is copied from older sources – and I’m not just talking about the flood myth – Psalm 104 is too similar to the Ancient Egyptian Great Hymn to the Aten to be a coincidence.

    Since I wasn’t going to fall for cop-out answers like “That was Satan tricking those poor, dumb Egyptians/Sumerians/Persians” and circular “The Bible is correct on this because the Bible says so” logic, the obvious conclusion was that what I was being taught wasn’t the only or the correct interpretation. Also, why would the “History book of the world” completely ignore whole continents of thriving civilization in favor of said small principality in BFE? Especially if the whole point is to reach as many people as possible? Why not choose, say, ancient China with its millions of people and vast trade networks?

    Then I found out about stuff like the fact that there’s lots of evidence that the ancient Hebrews were polytheist for a good deal of their history, the J E P texts that made up Genesis, The Jewish view of Jesus etc.

  • Anna

    It seems to me that any critically-minded exploration of religion, grappling with the details of faith and myth, would have to lead a person to, at the very least, some very serious questioning.

    I think the key here is “critically-minded.” I would guess most people who are reading apologetics are not only wedded to their foundational supernatural assumptions, but also have a strong desire to keep their belief intact.

  • viaten

    ‘ “It’s all a part of his plan” and “He works in mysterious ways” ‘, some of the worst cop-out responses there are. I put them slightly above “You just have to believe.” and “You just have to have faith.” They’re the worst, especially the “You just have to” part, as if there is no discernible reason to but you still have to.

    People like her are most valuable, who have been there and gotten themselves out, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, sometime by just thinking, sometimes by life events and experience. It’s a big threat to religion when people like her start talking. I expect Christians that give the cop-out answers will say she’s now a “never was” ex-Christian. She says “more to come”. I’m looking forward to it.

    • http://penciledinexistence.wordpress.com/ Carly Jurica

      I’ve been waiting to hear that I “never really was a believer.” No one has said it yet, at least not to my face. I’m pretty much just getting the silent treatment about it, which is very unnerving.

      • viaten

        If they do say it to your face, maybe ask them how is it or could it be part of “God’s plan”. (They’ll probably just say it’s a “mystery”.)

      • cipher

        No one has said it yet, at least not to my face.

        Really? I’m surprised; it’s one of their default rationalizations/defense mechanisms.

  • Guest

    I was raised a non-believer, my dad being a rabid anti-theist and my mum a cultural christian. Even so, I thought things like Jesus being born in a stable and the flight to Egypt were historical facts when I was a kid. It’s only as I got older and started looking into studies of Christianity more, that I realise how little of the Christian story we can really be certain of. Being in a culture that simply accepted these things, I never thought to question them as a child. I didn’t know that most/all of the gospels were written many years after Jesus’s death, for example, or that the two birth narratives mention historical details which can’t have happened at the same time (the census and Herod) or that censuses in Roman times never required men to go back to the home of their fathers, or that Mark was written first (why does it start with Matthew?)…or, for that matter, that Job is probably older than Genesis.

    Carly’s story is interesting. It’s a shame she had to go through some bad stuff to start questioning her faith. I would have liked a little more detail about what pieces of evidence most convinced her of the truth of atheism.

  • GCBill

    I guess I’m an unusual atheist in that the “big” atheistic arguments weren’t the ones that most moved me to deconvert. My biggest gripe with most faiths wasn’t even “God,” but immortality. There aren’t any human faculties that seem persistent enough to survive our physical annihilation. Studying psychology and neuroscience really drove this point home. Of course, if my beliefs were wrong about the soul, there was no good reason to trust them on anything else. If I hadn’t chosen the path I did, I may have tried to rationalize religious beliefs using poor apologetics.

  • closetatheist

    I’m a religious studies major and began my college career as a Christian looking to poke holes in the religion of others. I ended my career as a staunch atheist. To me, its the only viewpoint a critically thinking person could come to after honestly studying the history and doctrines of any religion.

  • Juliebgood

    16 years of Catholic school and an ex-nun mother who made the mistake of teaching me the Bible were plenty enough to kill my faith. Not that I really had any to begin with – as a 7-year-old, a frigging 7-year-old, I realized there was something deeply, deeply wrong with being taught that because the best woman I knew (my friend’s grandmom) was an atheist, she was going to hell.

  • Jason

    What I have to say about this might be atypical for this blog, but here goes.

    My parents are Christian Scientists and raised me in that religion. “CS”, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is based on the ideas of Mary Baker Eddy, who claimed to have discovered a reliable way of healing “as Jesus did”, and based the system on her own personal theology which is very radically different from the more familiar Christian tradition. Followers believe that the material universe is an illusion, that reality is purely spiritual, and that by realizing that fact, one progressively excludes the possibility of disease and death from her/his existence (after all, they are illusions). I held to this set of beliefs very fervently from a pretty early age. My family and the broader CS community did a solid job of integrating me into the religion, mostly because of the high degree of love and functionality usual to the part of the community that I grew up in.

    Here are the problems that emerged for me:
    1) A comparative religions course in college undermined Eddy’s claims to unique revelation.
    2) I read up on the history of Eddy and the CS movement, and even through the sources written by people within the movement, I saw an insecure personality and a timeline of pretty sordid events.
    3) I witnessed the passing of people within the CS movement who died despairing over the inevitability of death, which isn’t supposed to be real. I remain convinced that, at least psychologically, this is one of the worst ways to go.
    4) I became more aware of the suffering in the world, and eventually had to conclude that it is indeed real. Christian Science claims that God is unaware of the material universe and everything herein, and I couldn’t accept a God that was oblivious to human suffering.
    5) I read the actual New Testament straight through and discovered that nothing like CS could ever have been legitimately derived from it. It’s too different.

    Anyway, for some time I tried to remain a nominal Christian Scientist, out of loyalty to the community and the people, but eventually the cognitive dissonance got to be too much and I drifted away. Became a sort-of deist for a while.

    • Jason

      The above is my answer to the original post. The below is something that other posters will probably find objectionable but I hope it might provide some food for thought.

      I ended up becoming a Christian after a period of further drifting into agnosticism. What led me there was my own humanistic moral efforts to be a good person and serve other people. This became problematic when I realized that those efforts were all about me proving myself to be good, and all that cultivation of a “good” persona was in fact fueled by a selfish desire for the approval of other people and of myself. Basically, I was doing well at being nice and ethically normative without God, but there wasn’t anything really good about it.

      At that point, the story about God becoming a man and submitting to his own creation, and fixing us by an act of grace, started to make a lot more sense to me. Belief in Christ is immensely freeing; I’m a lot better off than I was.

      However I have engaged with a lot of doubt and skepticism, contemplated atheism, and occasionally still do. The problem with atheism, for me, is partly an intellectual one. I couldn’t pull off any sort of humanism if I didn’t believe in God. To reject faith and still believe in goodness, love, meaning… it’s inconsistent. You *have* to suspend disbelief in a whole slew of meanings and standards that are actually meaningless and arbitrary. I don’t mean to disrespect anybody, but I find this to be intellectually dishonest.

      • Vanadise

        “To reject faith and still believe in goodness, love, meaning… it’s inconsistent. You *have* to suspend disbelief in a whole slew of meanings and standards that are actually meaningless and arbitrary.”

        Why do you think those things are inconsistent, meaningless, or arbitrary? Do you believe it’s not possible to be good simply because one enjoys being good or because it’s what’s best for society?

        • Jason

          It’s clearly possible to behave in an *ethically normative* way simply because one happens to enjoy doing so. Plenty of people (yourself included, I imagine) do that without much of a problem.

          What’s best for society is too disputable to be a reliable guideline for how we should behave.

          “Good” is something entirely different from ethical norms. And if there isn’t a God, the word “good” has no real meaning.

          I don’t wish to put down any good things you do or the way you live your life. I don’t believe that being an atheist makes you any more immoral than me. I’m just saying that I find it inconsistent to disbelieve in God and yet be willing to reify arbitrary social constructs.

          • Vanadise

            How do you define “good” such that it can’t exist if there is no God? Your argument seems to me like it basically boils down to, “Defining social constructs and guidelines is hard, therefore it’s impossible without God.” I don’t see a reason to leap to the conclusion that any sort of god exists just because it’s hard to establish standards.

            • Jason

              I’m not saying that it’s impossible to define social constructs without God. I’m saying that, without God, all we have to go by are social constructs. I guess I don’t put much stock in social constructs.

              • RowanVT

                Aaaand… so?

                Besides which, love is not a social construct. It’s a hormonal one if anything. An extension of pair bonding, group cohesion (necessary for a social species like our own), and “Don’t murder your children even though they are extremely obnoxious.”

                So you believe we can’t have hormones without a deity?

          • midnight rambler

            In addition to what Vanadise wrote, the bigger problem you run into with this argument is that even if there is a God, the word “good” has no fixed meaning. You gave the example above of Vandana Shiva, Elon Musk and Hu Jintao. If you asked Joshua, Zedekiah, and Jesus what it meant to be good by God’s rules, you would get radically different answers. One of those involves slaughtering the entire population of a country and seizing their land.

      • Michael W Busch

        To reject faith and still believe in goodness, love, meaning… it’s inconsistent. … I find this to be intellectually dishonest.

        It isn’t. Those concepts are themselves human inventions*, which we describe in many ways but boil down to what is beneficial in the long run for both individual humans and for humanity as a whole (and for other people, should we find aliens, invent AI, or consider members of other species to be so).

        That we invented ethical and moral systems does not make them meaningless – they are meaningful because they make people’s lives better. This is neither inconsistent nor dishonest.

        Also, something touched on in other comments on this thread: If you’re looking for a loving god, the Christian Bible god is not the one to go to. In that story, God makes the rules, so there was no need for the dying-and-rising-son-of-god act: God could just have waved metaphorical fingers and made the corruption due to the fall of man go away. Torturing your son / part of yourself for no reason at all is evil. And, in reality, there was never any fall (Genesis is myth), so the whole sacrifice-to-make-salvation-possible line is nonsensical fiction anyway.

        * The word “love” has several over-lapping meanings, many of which apply to relatively low-level biochemical processes in human nervous systems. Those evolved. The other, more abstract, meanings are things humans developed ourselves.

        • Jason

          “…what is beneficial in the long run for both individual humans and for humanity as a whole (and for other people…)

          That we invented ethical and moral systems does not make them meaningless – they are meaningful because they make people’s lives better.”

          But what is “better”? If you could show me evidence of a universal and indisputable definition of “better”, absent God, I would have to agree with you. But such a definition does not and cannot exist. Ask Vandana Shiva, Elon Musk and Hu Jintao what it means to make people’s lives better, and you’ll get three totally different and utterly conflicting responses. Which definitions of “good” are more correct than others, and who is anybody to be the judge?

          Also, what if a future AI being, or the sort of aliens that Stephen Hawking is afraid of, were to decide that the extermination of all humans is good? Would that be evil? There isn’t any rational or evidential basis for saying so, unless there is a God that values human life.

          “If you’re looking for a loving god, the Christian Bible god is not the one to go to. In that story, God makes the rules, so there was no need for the dying-and-rising-son-of-god act: God could just have waved metaphorical fingers and made the corruption due to the fall of man go away. Torturing your son / part of yourself for no reason at all is evil.”

          I’ve posted on something similar in response to Carly. If God had made the corruption go away with a wave of his hand, that act would have abolished human freedom of the will. If there is a God, would you rather have him strike down your freedom of conscience? What if God strongly prefers to attract us by grace than to play puppet-master?

          I’m not saying that the whole thing isn’t problematic. It is. But I find it compelling like nothing else. The God presented in the Bible– one that respects us enough to give us freedom of conscience and real consequences to our choices, and loves us enough to undergo the profoundest suffering possible for our sake– if that isn’t a loving God, then I don’t know what would be.

          • cipher

            You’re obviously have problems with self-esteem, and you have a rather primitive understanding of the concept of free will.

            Sorry, but the majority of us here refuse to define the parameters of our lives in accordance with the psychological and cognitive limitations of you and your fellow believers.

          • midnight rambler

            If God had made the corruption go away with a wave of his hand, that act would have abolished human freedom of the will.

            This is not only wrong, but completely backwards. If we grant that the whole rest of the Christian story is true, then one choice is taken away – and that choice is between believing in Jesus during the brief period while one is alive, and burning in Hell for all eternity. Not much of a choice, is it?

            If God simply decided to forgive humanity by fiat, there is no decision for people to make, and it does not affect free will in any other area, including believing in God.

          • Michael W Busch

            If you could show me evidence of a universal and indisputable definition of “better”,

            There isn’t one. As I already said, the very concept is a human invention. But that doesn’t make it meaningless. And I am not inclined to describe the entire structure of diverse ideas that fall under the heading “secular humanism” here, nor should I have to. I will simply give a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_humanism .

            Ask Vandana Shiva, Elon Musk and Hu Jintao what it means to make people’s lives better, and you’ll get three totally different and utterly conflicting responses. Which definitions of “good” are more correct than others, and who is anybody to be the judge?

            Ethics is complicated and everyone acts based on incomplete information and is influenced by their own particular biases and individual goals, so people disagree.

            The basic rule is that we judge the morality of actions by their likely outcomes. For example, Vandana Shiva opposes all genetically modified crops for no good reason and blanket opposition to GMOs contributes to food shortages and nutritional deficiencies, so she is wrong to do so. It also happens that your example is poorly chosen, since I can think of many things that all three of those people would likely agree upon. While they disagree, their disagreements are nowhere close to total.

            if a future AI being, or the sort of aliens that Stephen Hawking is afraid of, were to decide that the extermination of all humans is good? Would that be evil? There isn’t any rational or evidential basis for
            saying so,

            Wrong. The basis is “genocide is bad”. The evidence for that is all of human history, where it is a special case of the general conclusion of “human suffering is bad”.

            Also, you are apparently missing an essential point:

            That you personally want there to be some supernatural basis for ethics has exactly nothing to do with if any god exists.

            Saying “god must exist so that there is a basis for morality” is not a valid argument. It’s a common enough logical fallacy that it has a name, the “argument from morality”, and why it is fallacious has been repeatedly explained before: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Argument_from_morality

            If God had made the corruption go away with a wave of his hand, that act would have abolished human freedom of the will.

            You are completely missing the point. First, as rambler said, that is not true – even within the confines of the story. God could have willed salvation possible regardless of humans being “corrupted” or not. Remember: in that story, God made the rules and was the one who decreed that humans were corrupted in the first place. So God could have reversed that at will or also reversed the connection between being corrupted and having the option of salvation. And, again, in reality there was no fall. Humans are flawed in many ways, but we are not metaphysically corrupted due to our ancestors’ actions.

            The God presented in the Bible– one that respects us enough to give us freedom of conscience and real consequences to our choices, and loves us enough to undergo the profoundest suffering possible for our sake– if that isn’t a loving God, I don’t know what would be.

            Again, within the story of the bible, God didn’t need to undergo that suffering. The story makes no sense – which is unsurprising, considering its origin as a composite of a number of different myths. And, again, removing eternal damnation as the default end state is not equivalent to removing freedom of conscience.

            And a loving God would not damn anyone to an eternity of wailing and nashing of teeth. Even the most evil human who has ever lived does not deserve an eternity of torture. The god of the bible also variously endorsed and committed genocide, murder, rape, and a long list of other crimes. This is not a loving god.

            But this is all merely critiquing a fictional story, since the god of the Bible does not exist. We can say this because so much of the Bible is provably false that any god that may exist (for which there is no evidence) must be a very different character.

            And since I am repeating things that have been explained many times before, I am done.

            • Jason

              “And I am not inclined to describe the entire structure of diverse ideas that fall under the heading “secular humanism” here, nor should I have to. I will simply give a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S… .”

              Thanks for the link. I think I understand your viewpoint better. I’m still not convinced; in the end your arguments seem to depend on a conflation of facts and values. The is-ought problem is still there and I don’t see that you’ve explained it away.

              “Saying “god must exist so that there is a basis for morality” is not a valid argument.”

              I’m not making an argument that God must exist. I am saying that human beings cannot generate true moral propositions, and that there would be no such things if God did not exist.

              “Remember: in that story, God made the rules and was the one who decreed that humans were corrupted in the first place. So God could have reversed that at will or also reversed the connection between being corrupted and having the option of salvation. And, again, in reality there was no fall. Humans are flawed in many ways, but we are not metaphysically corrupted due to our ancestors’ actions.”

              To be corrupted is to be basically self-centered, which we are. Whether that’s because of the story in Genesis 3, or simply because evolution made us that way. Salvation ultimately involves a radical re-orientation toward God-centeredness and full redemption out of our default self-centeredness– it’s not as simple as God deciding our sins are no big deal. God cannot force us through salvation at will without completely stripping us of our own will.

              “And, again, removing eternal damnation as the default end state is not equivalent to removing freedom of conscience.”

              Yes, it is. As I’ve said, God cannot force us through radical transformation without removing freedom of conscience. Damnation is just being left to one’s own default state of self-centeredness.

              “And a loving God would not damn anyone to an eternity of wailing and nashing of teeth. Even the most evil human who has ever lived does not deserve an eternity of torture.”

              But if one’s completely rejected God? Would it really be better to destroy that person’s personhood by totally overriding their own will?

              “The god of the bible also variously endorsed and committed genocide, murder, rape, and a long list of other crimes.This is not a loving god.”

              I’ll admit I have a hard time with the Old Testament. However, when you examine the actions and culture of the Israelites after they became established as a nation, they were far less nasty than every other culture around them, and their culture became more barbaric as they abandoned God (erosion of social justice, child sacrifice, etc.).

              And since either of us is unlikely to convince the other, I’m done too.

      • MumbleMumble

        My “goodness” stems from how I feel empathy and sympathy for other human beings. I do not want other people to suffer, because I would not want to suffer, and if I can help or behave in ways that do not injure other people, then I will do that. I can recognize how other people feel or could feel, and I can recognize that suffering is bad, and I can adjust my behavior accordingly.

        I can also justify my actions. For example, I can say that murder is wrong because (a) I would not want to be murdered, and (b) if everyone were allowed to kill each other then society would fall apart. This is very different than saying that murder is wrong because God says so. You are essentially passing the buck – you have passed the decision-making off to a separate entity which alleviates you of any blame for your behavior, as well as providing comfort.

        You said that your efforts to be good all were based around being selfish – you were behaving in a way to make yourself feel better. Is it possible that you are doing the same thing now – that your belief in God is a selfish desire to feel better about your actions and your life?

        • Jason

          That is definitely part of my decision to believe. However, if it’s all true, then anyone who believes will have all their selfish motives and desires totally redeemed. If there’s a heaven, there are no selfish people there– and that’s exactly what makes it heavenly. I may still be very selfish now, but my faith convicts me about that every day, and compels me to want to get better. One doesn’t just get to kick back and be the same old person.

          • MumbleMumble

            Okay, that sounds like a very cynical approach to faith, if you ask me. But if that’s what you think, then that’s fine. But you are being just as intellectually dishonest as you claim atheists to be. You are adopting a subjective definition for what “good” is, and you are claiming that as the truth. You have no other basis for what defines your morality, which is disturbing to me.

          • MumbleMumble

            Okay, that’s fine, but don’t say that other people are intellectually dishonest for being atheists and believing in goodness. You are simply using someone else’s definition for “good” and convincing yourself that it is truth.

          • Obazervazi

            “If there’s a heaven, there are no selfish people there– and that’s exactly what makes it heavenly.”

            I would argue otherwise. It would be incredibly painful for an empathetic, loving, unselfish person to know that there are people suffering horribly in Hell, especially their loved ones. I would much prefer to suffer alongside those I love than to spend eternity knowing that the only reason they’re suffering and I’m not is because I happened to believe a specific unsubstantiated claim.
            As far as I can tell, one would have to be remarkably selfish to actually enjoy Heaven.

            • C.L. Honeycutt

              Well, we already know that people in Heaven would effectively have to be super-lobotomized to just not go insane from the passage of time (making time irrelevant to a person would definitely count as lobotomizing them), so they might not be selfish, just, you know, brainwashed by God to the point that they aren’t really even people anymore.

      • Anna

        At that point, the story about God becoming a man and submitting to his own creation, and fixing us by an act of grace, started to make a lot more sense to me.

        Out of curiosity, what did you think needed to be fixed? I admit this is one of the most baffling aspects of conversion stories for me. They only seem to work on people who think there’s something wrong with them, that they are inherently bad or “broken” in some way. I can’t imagine this line of thinking would have any appeal for someone with a healthy sense of self-esteem and also esteem for other human beings.

        • Jason

          Anna–

          What needs to be fixed in me is my fundamental self-centeredness. Not that I or anyone else is completely evil or incapable of doing good things, but at bottom I’m pretty selfish and unable to change that. Even my good deeds are tainted by selfish desires for approval and a certain kind of social status. There is no psychological or medical treatment out there to cure anyone of that.

          Another thing that drove me to Christianity was an awareness of how my actions are linked to other people’s suffering. Even just about everything I buy or use is implicated in somebody’s suffering somewhere. No matter how hard I try, my actions will inevitably hurt somebody in some way. I can’t change or fix that.

          So basically, I need transformation, and I need forgiveness. In a word, I need Jesus. I believe all people share that need. I’m not attempting to prove that Christianity is true, but if it is true, it’s the solution to the problem of being human.

          • RowanVT

            “Even my good deeds are tainted by selfish desires for approval and a certain kind of social status.”

            You say this like it is a horrible thing. Why? Why is it horrible to do something good for approval? Has being christian really changed that aspect of you at all? And is that not really what the whole religion is about? “Do good things so God will take you to heaven.”

            How do you feel that being Christian helps you deal with the fact that an individual’s existence can often cause harm to another individual? Nothing in the real world has changed about that fact.

            • Jason

              “You say this like it is a horrible thing. Why? Why is it horrible to do something good for approval?”

              Because it is a self-centered desire. If I do something in order to be applauded, even if just by myself, my desire is really more for the applause than for anybody else’s benefit.

              “Has being christian really changed that aspect of you at all?”

              Yes. I still desire others’ approval, but the craving has gotten noticeably less acute since I converted.

              “And is that not really what the whole religion is about? “Do good things so God will take you to heaven.””

              No. One doesn’t earn salvation; it’s not a game to be played.

              “How do you feel that being Christian helps you deal with the fact that an individual’s existence can often cause harm to another individual? Nothing in the real world has changed about that fact.”

              No, it hasn’t. However, I do think that Christian faith compels people to develop increasingly authentic love for others, and to act on it in tangible ways.

              I’ve said everything I have to say. It’s been good talking with all of you.

              • RowanVT

                “Because it is a self-centered desire. If I do something in order to be
                applauded, even if just by myself, my desire is really more for the
                applause than for anybody else’s benefit.”

                Again… what is so horrible about this?

                For example, I do animal rescue. I do this because it makes me feel good. I love snuggling animals that I’ve saved, and knowing that *I* saved them.

                They don’t care that I do it for ‘selfish’ reasons. The animals I rescue only know that they are no longer hungry/scared/in pain. So too with humans. So what if I feed the homeless near my work because it makes me feel good to do so, and makes me feel good to see them happy? The tangible result is that moment of decrease of hardship in their lives. Food provided with complete selflessness and food provided with selfishness fill the stomach the same way and nourish the body the same way.

                Results are what matter. I am filled with sorrow that you find these *completely normal* ‘selfish’ feelings to be repugnant, and I blame your christian upbringing for it.

                • Anna

                  It seems like once religion has convinced people there’s something wrong with them, it’s hard to get them to believe otherwise.

          • Anna

            Well, I don’t get it. What’s so bad about what you described? You sound like you’re a perfectionist, like you want to be perfect, and if you’re not perfect then you feel horrible about yourself. But why?

            And you describe needing forgiveness for that? Why? You haven’t done anything wrong. You’re punishing yourself not for bad actions, not even for bad thoughts, but just because you want to be perfect. Actually, that seems more self-centered than the reverse.

            From my perspective, the only “problem” in being human is the one you seem to have created for yourself.

  • ImRike

    I’ve been non-religious as long as I can remember. What made me an atheist was when religion started to get into politics.

  • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

    I was raised deeply entrenched in Catholicism, converted to Protestantism in my teens, and continued searching for what I thought of as “Biblical” Christianity until I ended up in Pentecostalism. This was before the current trends in ID/creationism and complementarianism, like in the 80s and early 90s, but we still did the whole inerrant thing. I was informed constantly by apologetics writers and church leaders in several denominations that there was tons of historical proof for Jesus’ existence and for the various historical and scientific claims in the OT and NT, and I had no reason not to believe them. Well, that ended with my very first Classical-era history class in college. I took the class entirely because I wanted to see that evidence for myself. I’d talked to a lot of non-believers (and non-fundies who were “fake Christians” as my church understood them) and they all said there wasn’t any proof of what I was saying, and I didn’t like that, so I was trying to educate myself. I entered that class a bright-eyed, perky little fundie and left it on the last day of the semester with not only none of that promised evidence in my hands, but a host of disturbing facts that rendered the Bible’s claims absolutely impossible and Christianity just a context- and culture-dependent religion that bore some startling similarities to those around it at the time.

    What’s awful to me today is that nothing’s really changed, except that Christianity’s worst elements not only still hold to those disproven claims but have doubled down on them even harder than they were doing in my day. That was not the straw that broke my particular camel’s back, but once a host of other stuff began piling up, inerrancy wasn’t one of the defenses at my disposal. When I later fled to the Bible for consolation, trying to study harder and pray more in the hopes that I’d recapture my faith and find something to lean on there, I discovered that now that I was seeing the Bible as nothing more than a book with no more divine authorship than any other book might have, I was starting to see things in it that I’d never seen before. In the end, I began to realize that it was a book filled top to bottom with erroneous claims, cruelty, barbarity, hate, and lies.

    I can see why toxic Christians deny science and history in favor of their delusions about inerrancy. As they have grown more and more toxic, the denial is getting thicker and thicker. But that in its turn just polarizes people more–the number of people willing to deny reality over some of the small stuff might be fairly large, but once you get down to a Young Earth and volcanoes catapulting Australian fauna to their homes from the Ark, that number seems like it’d shrink dramatically to just the hardcore zealots.

    • Anna

      I was informed constantly by apologetics writers and church leaders in several denominations that there was tons of historical proof for Jesus’ existence and for the various historical and scientific claims in the OT and NT, and I had no reason not to believe them.

      I had a long conversation with a fundamentalist Catholic on another thread, and he pretty much espoused the same line of thinking. I admit I remain baffled at how otherwise educated people simply point to the Bible as proof that the Bible’s claims are true. It’s especially confusing coming from those who already know that there aren’t any other texts that mention Jesus. Why do they not see this as circular? I’ve never gotten a clear answer.

      • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

        I wish I had a coherent answer for you. I wasn’t fundamentalist as a Catholic (just really fervent). Fundamentalist Catholics don’t make the least bit of sense to me considering the religion’s reliance on extra-Biblical interpretations and sources. I don’t even get how that’d work with a literalist view of the Bible. But I was a fundamentalist Protestant and can easily remember non-believers’ frustration with my insistence on doing exactly what you’re describing. It made sense to me at the time for a couple of reasons: first, I believed, heart and soul, that the Bible was reliable and accurate, so not using it as evidence for its claims made as much sense as not using a math textbook to validate the quadratic equation; and second, because honestly there aren’t a lot of other options for a literalist. As you’ve said and as I learned to my shock and horror, there are no other pieces of contemporaneous evidence validating the Bible’s claims–and there remains none despite pseudo-scientists’ and junk archaeologists’ extensive efforts to “prove” the Bible’s version(s) of science and history.

        The problem is that there is a *lot* of pseudo- and junk-science and history out there for Christians to cling to. And the culture itself makes circular reasoning like this make total sense. When Christians aren’t making ignorance a virtue, they’re insisting that their members can easily educate themselves to become the equals–or even the betters–of even college professors and professional historians and scientists. They don’t emphasize critical thinking or how to assess information’s validity, for obvious reasons, and only very rarely even trouble themselves with learning even the most basic tenets of science or history in their rush to declare that we found Noah’s Ark (again) or that macro-evolution is a lie because nobody’s ever witnessed a cat get born from a dog’s belly. And they’ve got entire libraries’ worth of catchphrases and slogans they can use to deflect anything of truth or value (like “were you there?”). When you’ve got people confusing abiogenesis with genetics and talking in bumper sticker phrases, little details like “you can’t use a book to prove that book’s claims are true” sounds like pure lunacy. (“Of course you can. Look, I just did it,” I can almost hear them saying.) But in answer to your question, no, they don’t see that it’s circular at all, largely because they have no idea why a circular argument isn’t effective, much less why it’s invalid, and even if they did, the Bible doesn’t count because it’s totally true, so of course you can use it to prove its own claims because it’s true. And we know it’s true because it says so. Didn’t you realize?

  • Jay

    In my early teens I was in catechism and asking deep questions about the bible I was studying. The answer from my teacher was outright hostility. He absolutely flipped out every time I asked a hard question about faith. I became picked upon by him for simply being interested in what I was learning.

    That lead me to question who decided he was an appropriate person to teach children. It was then that I realized that I was at the bottom of a pyramid of dysfunctional, delusional morons, and was forced to consider how an omnipotent, omniscient god who loved me would allow such a terrible group of people to design a system where a 60+ year old man would be allowed to bully a teenager asking questions because he was interested in the bible.

    At about this time in my life I had Bulfinch’s Mythology in my bookshelf, and was reading Tolkien’s stuff as well as writings about how he created his world. That caused me to look very closely at what I was learning about the bible, and it became stunningly clear that there was no magic man in the sky and that I was reading a lot of mythological bullshit. Tolkien took mythologies from several different cultures and spun them into a fairly sensible story. Why? He picked the sensible parts, and was a competent writer.

    The bible is so far from that it’s laughable. Even in my early teens that was blindingly obvious. If the word of god couldn’t do at least as well as an english professor could, what does that say about god?

  • Stephen Wilson

    I grew up in a West Virginia fundamentalist community in the late ’50′s and early ’60′s, with most of the stereotypes short of snake-handling (though some of THOSE churches weren’t far away!) Watching reading classes for adults on TV (before the Saturday morning cartoons,) I learned to read before I started school. From about age four I started devouring science books, encyclopedias, watching the few science programs that were on TV, etc. and, though I could recite my Bible School lessons, I thought even then they didn’t make much sense. The more science (and I) investigated things, the more sense SCIENCE made. Investigating and questioning my religious teachings, and teachers, went in the opposite direction, to more convoluted nonsense: “We’re not SUPPOSED to question God!” (My impertinent questions in Bible School class were reported to my parents on more than one occasion and I was punished for them.) I memorized all the Bible School lessons as a child for approval, not because I believed or understood them.

    By my early teens, I concluded 1) that there were so many interpretations of “God” all over the world was evidence the concept was man-made in the first place; 2) with that as a premise, then all the BS, in a way, DID make “sense,” in that the base ridiculousness of it became obvious.

  • raerants

    I grew up in a secular Jewish household. We did Chanukah, but it was just a family get-together thing, like an 8-day Thanksgiving with presents. My parents laid the groundwork very early in my life for me to become scientifically literate.

    For reasons I no longer recall, when I was in junior high school (around the late ’80s) I tried to believe in Jehovah/Yaweh. It lasted for … I’m going to say less than two weeks. I just didn’t have the energy to keep pretending that I wasn’t talking to myself.

    When I was in college, I discovered neo-Paganism. I call that period of my life my Fox Mulder “I Want to Believe” phase. To this day, even though I don’t believe any of it literally, I am drawn to the poetry of the myths and metaphors.

    It’s atheist resources on the Internet that have helped me grow from being a de facto atheist to an atheist for expressible, enumerable reasons.

  • midnight rambler

    I think I’m somewhat unusual in that I grew up with essentially nothing. My family could be considered “culturally Christian” because we celebrated Christmas and Easter with big meals and presents/candy, but that was about it. Religion literally never came up – I’m now in my late 30s and my parents are in their late 60s, and it just occurred to me a couple of years ago that I have no idea whether they believe in God or not.

    So I was never a believer, though it wasn’t until I started seriously reading the Bible in college (beyond Genesis, which sounded similar to Greek myths, and Kings & Chronicles, which sounded like pasted together history books) that it really struck me how completely silly it was for anyone to believe in religion.

    • CassandraJK

      Your experience mirrors my own very closely, but I grew up fairly certain that my parents did not believe. It wasn’t until I became an adult that they (my dad in particular) openly shared their atheism with me. We also had the big family gatherings at Christmas and Easter, but the language of religion was never spoken.

      • midnight rambler

        Ironically, the holiday where religion was most up-front for me was Thanksgiving. Easter was only about the Easter Bunny, chocolate, and ham, and at Christmas we listened to and sang carols but they were just songs of the season to us. But both were always gatherings of immediate family and one or two friends only.

        At Thanksgiving we would go to my great-aunt’s house with about 10 other extended family members, and she and some of them always went to church on the Friday morning afterward. For some reason she also had copies of The Watchtower in the bathroom even though she wasn’t a JW (I guess she just let them sign her up when they came to her door), so that made for interesting reading. I’m sure she was a real believer but in addition the church was a huge part of her social life.

    • Anna

      That’s almost exactly like my experience. My parents never mentioned religion. It wasn’t until college that I interviewed them (for a class project) and learned what they believed. Growing up, religion just wasn’t part of my world. By the time I was in late elementary school, I realized it existed, but I honestly thought that it was something that was mostly confined to “olden times.” I think what cemented my atheism was learning about different cultures’ gods, rituals, etc. Thanks, Charlie Brown!

      http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41%2BlGckid7L._SL500_SY300_.jpg

      • midnight rambler

        Two replies in an hour, so maybe not so unusual after all! I was well aware of religion early on, because I went to elementary school with a lot of kids from a fairly insular Italian immigrant community and they all went to CCD (at a church where, I found out much later, one of the priests was abusing children). I didn’t know what it was for, and they didn’t seem to either, so it didn’t make it attractive :)

        • Anna

          I think I was vaguely aware that some people were Catholic and other people were Jewish, and I remember wishing I was half-Jewish so I could celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. I had a major Hanukkah obsession!

          When I was really little, I went to a nursery school and kindergarten that was attached to an Episcopal church, but I had no idea what church was for. I had some sort of vague notion that churches were where people got together to sing.

  • Svelaz

    For me it was a little of both. My father was an atheists but my mother wasn’t at least not as religious as some in the bible belt where I live now. I had the privilege of being raised in two cultures and seeing many perspectives. My grandparents were extremely religious and my grandfather was a minister. What I saw on my times at church were mostly a social gathering every Sunday. When I first started reading the bible I kept noticing contradictions and omissions and things that just plain didn’t make sense at all. Reading the book of job was basically the crystalizing moment for me that this was mostly a really embellished religion. I have been reading more about the historical events of the time the bible and it is completely a different view. What is considered Christianity today is really just a very very organized cult that has fractured into thousands of versions. I still go to church but only because my wife still believes. I am always fascinated knowing what I know and seeing what goes on in churches. It’s like watching a train wreck every time.

  • JN

    I became an atheist in a very similar way. I went to a seventh day Adventist high school and university and started a minor in religion. Having forced worship both in high school and college was damaging to my faith, and after having important conversations with religious and non-religious friends as well as examining philosophic and evolutionary thought I completely lost any faith I had left. The more carefully I looked into religion the more I saw it’s futility.

  • Robster

    I was eight during the Vietnam war when it became obvious that praying was a complete waste of time and belief in god and jesus was just as silly. From there, exposed continually to christian nonsense it didn’t take long to shed the last echo of faith.

  • Nancy Shrew

    Despite both of my parents coming from Catholic families, they were basically lapsed by the time they had me and I wasn’t even baptized in the majority Catholic country I was born in. We never went to church, even for big events, and the most religious we really got were nativity decorations for Christmas and perfunctory grace at big meals. I probably know more about the Bible than they do, to be honest.

    Still, I tried to be a believer, but by the time I was eleven or twelve I was basically wondering “what for?”. My journey was gradual. I’m more or less an agnostic atheist. And yes, learning how fucking terrible the Catholic Church is made my transition to non-belief easier. So did reading the Bible.


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