This weblog is some kind of megaphone for me, a single Iranian ex-Muslim atheist. I thought I could use it to tell the story and amplify the voice of other Iranian ex-Muslims, so from now on I’m going to interview some Iranian atheists anonymously and ask them to tell their story. This is the first one, Shayan, a friend of mine. I have asked the questions and he has answered them.
Since when you are an atheist and tell me your deconversion story.
It was in the late 2008 when I was 19 years old. I was never a very devout person but I was afraid to obliterate god and religion from my mind but I never really practiced as well. I had a friend who was an atheist and he was also very conservative about his atheism and I found his atheism too controversial and didn’t want to engage him in debates. I had another friend who was very religious and also a Satanist friend. At that time me, my atheist, and my Satanist friends were close but we avoided debates on religion, until I introduced my devout friend to the circle. My devout friend likes to argue rather than chit chat, so we gathered in a ghahveh khaneh (a traditional tea-house) and the debates on religion began.
My atheist friend began defending atheism. I didn’t take my Satanist friend really seriously. This took place on a weekly basis and they engaged in fiery debates. There was never bad blood between us friends and my religious friend was very tolerant of our atheism and we are still friends.
This goes on for about a year. I felt trapped between the two. My atheist friend seemed logical and my religious friend sugar-coated some concepts that I was taught since childhood so I sometimes took his side and was more emotional. I usually remained quiet and only asked questions.
After a year my atheist friend had become a better debater and could provide a lot of evidence. One day after a walk in the park I asked him “What is the guarantee that there is no god” and he answered me quite convincingly: “I’m not religious and I can’t give you any guarantees. There’s only probability and the probability of the nonexistence of god is much more likely.”
At that night I had an epiphany and I decided that I’m an atheist.
How did you feel at the moment of your deconversion?
Some people feel nihilistic and emptiness when they think there is no god and no afterlife. But, I felt a sensation of euphoria. I was happy that there is no heavenly overseer who judges me and punishes me. I was in my room, about 1 or 2 AM, when I came to this conclusion I was walking around my room with a stupid smile on my face.
So do you think you are happier as an atheist in comparison to the time that you were a Muslim?
Now that I compare myself to the years that I was nominally Muslim I feel angry at myself and my family and those who have indoctrinated me with these thoughts and I feel I have been abused. And now I feel useful for myself because I feel I live for myself and not for someone in the sky or some religious leaders who claim to be god’s representatives.
One of the good things about atheism is that I feel happy that there is nothing after death and I feel happy to be in the same boat as other animals who also have no afterlife. And this feels good.
Does your family know that you’re an atheist?
Certainly not. I love my mother very dearly and I don’t want to hurt her feelings. She just thinks I’m not a good Muslim and she hopes that I get better. I never reject her and I only keep silent. My brother knows to some degree but he thinks that I read on atheist stuff but he thinks I’m a Muslim. I know that my family will ostracize me if they know I’m an atheist.
But how does that feel to you to hide such a great part of your life from the people who are closest to you?
I have a very comfortable house back in our city and I have a very comfortable life there but I live in Tehran because religious topics are brought up instantly and being quiet makes me uncomfortable and on the edge, therefore I live in Tehran and far from my family because I can’t stand this atmosphere for a long time.
Sometimes when my mother brings up religion, on very rare occasions I cannot help and give a short answer and I can see anger and disappointment in her face, and I don’t find those remarks very atheistic even, so I cannot bring up religion at all.
Some religious people say that shooting stars are meant to disperse the Djin and when my mother said that I laughed and disagreed but she did not even tolerate this much dissent because it’s written in Quran.
Apart from family, how do you feel, as an atheist, living in a society like Iran which is deeply religious and at the same time theocratic?
Very clearly it’s hard. You know that you can never talk about these things unless among the atheist or agnostic friends and I find talking about atheism among religious friends is too dangerous and I don’t think Iran will change enough to be tolerant of atheists for hundreds of years so I feel I need to leave. I feel like a hypocrite among people because I have to pretend to believe in something yet I don’t believe in it at heart, that feels very terrible.
But you were changed by an outspoken atheist in debates, I don’t mean to tell you what you should do, but as an idea, don’t you think that there are many religious people who could become atheists if more atheists came out in spite of the dangers?
Well… yes. Everyone can tempt others to become atheists but I feel someone like you who can talk to people who don’t know about atheism, most atheists can share it only with their close friends, but I feel it’s very good if atheists like you exist as well who are very audacious and are out to everyone and are never afraid of how the society views them and considers them the enemy. But, I personally think that even if there are more atheists they society won’t change and they will not have power and the right to speak, they will remain at the bottom and more of them will leave. Unlike you I don’t think that Iran will fundamentally change with the addition of a lot of atheists.
The most we can hope about Iran is that their religiosity is softened and they become a bit more moderate.
Do you think that religion still has some hidden influence on you?
Long after I was an atheist I still had many questions and unfixed bugs. For many years later I couldn’t think very critically of major religious figures like the Prophet and although I knew that there is no god I couldn’t insult the nonexisting god.
Right now all traces of religion are eradicated but I still think that for his time Mohammad was a progressive and a good reformer but he has fucked us now, but I don’t have any strong feelings towards him.
But if we want to think of tradition, since tradition and religion are linked, I sometimes still think that I’m traditional in a way that is rooted in religion, and my brain goes on a virus scan mode and I eradicate these influences. But a few years ago I lived easier in Iran but as I purge the tradition the life becomes harder.