This is an ongoing series featuring your stories of how you came to identify as an atheist. If you want to send me your story, you can email me here. Please note that by doing so, you give me permission to publish it here as part of the series. If you wish to remain anonymous, please say so in your email otherwise, I will use just your first name. To read other stories, click here.
Our first story today is from anonymous. Anonymous had this to say:
Born into a Jehovah’s Witness marriage that sucked, my mother was truly convinced that Armageddon was going to be a real thing (this was in the run-up to the end of the world in 1975). She was deeply fractured by the death of her own mother when she was only three and easily persuaded. I don’t know if it was her idea, or the brothers’, but she believed that a crying child could be the death of our whole family in the heat of Armageddon; from the time I was a week old, every time I cried, she suffocated me. I have three much older sisters who confirm this, not to mention that I began remembering it between two and three. I like to think she was persuaded by others. She also, rarely, beat my bare rear with a belt, and, later (while being disfellowshipped for leaving my father, reinstated, and disfellowshipped again) permitted her “best friend” to spank me fairly regularly. Once, this friend dragged me up the stairs by my hair for having “sassed” my older sister. I was eight. We were poor and, as I referenced earlier, in especially trying times, so none of the Witness children was allowed to associate with me. But I wasn’t allowed friends outside the Witnesses, either. Too “worldly.” My older sisters were all moved out by the time I was eight. Who can blame them? It was fucking insane. I was told I wasn’t ever allowed to be angry because that meant I wanted the object of my anger to die. I was told God would love me if I only was good enough, but I was reminded constantly that I wasn’t at all good enough. My father continued to be a JW until his death when I was fifteen. Which means I went to meetings until I was thirteen when I finally stopped visiting him.
Then my mother and her friend became, I don’t know, some kind of apostate/JW hybrid. Mom didn’t go to meetings anymore, but she still prayed in front of me when she was around. I remember one phrase she often used, “we are in our father’s hands.” It was a vivid image in my little head.
Around ten, in my loneliness, I began philosophizing that maybe we were just tiny bugs in a bigger creature’s play world. I was only going to meetings when I visited my father. My mother broke up with her friend and started going to the Episcopal church. I went sometimes, but for so little a girl, I was pretty gun shy about churches. She didn’t make me. When I was twelve, she got very in-love-with-Jesus-y. A friend of mine wanted me to go with her to Ash Wednesday mass. I didn’t want to go. I felt uncomfortable with an unknown ritual, and I had fucking hated the JW meetings. I couldn’t imagine it being any fun at all. I was functionally atheist at that time. I just never thought about god anymore. Didn’t think about his terrifying hands anymore. It was nice. Then this stupid Mass. She made me go. It was no big deal, really. I certainly wasn’t inspired to suddenly repent of my boy-craziness. I hate to add this because it’s horrifying but relevant. My mother was having an affair with a married man; she was hypersexual my whole childhood and often masturbated when I was in the same room. So I’m ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, and my world is influenced by this woman who was obsessively in love with Jesus and either in bed with this married guy or had her hand down her pants.
When I was fourteen, you won’t be surprised to hear I met a guy and moved in with him. I’m still with him. He’s about an average dickhead, but he’s my dickhead. We’ve been together thirty years, now, and frankly, he fucking rescued me. I had a baby when I was 15, and I allowed my mother to convince me there was “something.” Had another baby when I was 18 (don’t worry, that was it). Life was really hard. We were poor, and I was still in the adjusting phase of having two children and a husband. And a full-time job. It was pretty horrible, and I needed comfort. She finally convinced me Jesus was the Messiah and Yahweh was god. I had a “peak conversion” experience a little later when I was in my early twenties. Totally convinced Jesus was real and paying attention to me. Praying the rosary. Surviving. Sorta. Surviving badly.
One older sister was an atheist. We all prayed for her.
Fast forward. I’m in a fundamentalist Brethren church (in an adventure from Episcopalianism where I was baptized and confirmed). I’m homeschooling. We don’t have a TV. I severely limit the music I permit myself to listen to because I think God disapproves of secular music. I just wanted to be happy. I really did. But my 16-year-old gets a girl pregnant. It becomes a HUGE scandal. She had an abortion. You can just imagine. It was a pro-life congregation, to say the least. I prayed so hard, tried to pray without ceasing, that she would have the baby. Give me the baby. Anything to let the baby live. Apparently, the Blessed Virgin Mary isn’t all that effective a mediatrix.
The elders come to our house and tell me and my husband our son is a sexual predator. At this point I had the wherewithal, with the help of my husband who had been humouring me for quite some time, to think, “those fuckers! who do they think they are?” But I never doubted Jesus was real.
I went back to the Episcopal church, and honestly, I did love it. We were there to sing and socialize. But I’d pray, pray, pray for my son to be healed. He’d been so shattered. And it was so totally my fault. I prayed through his drug addiction. He has recovered from that. Maybe St. Jude was a better saint to pray to for intercession.
All the while, hubby was an undiagnosed bipolar, and we’d have these regular episodes where he’d just come un-fucking-done. Sometimes suicidal. Often irritable, but, like, irritable cubed — super destructive.
I was in utter despair. I had this horrible, intrusive fantasy about cutting off my own hands. Absolute misery. I listened to The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and decided not to suffer anymore. Then what happened next is blurry. Hubby did one of his go-away-don’t-come-home-don’t-answer-the-phone things. I was praying that he would come home safely, not stop and kill himself somewhere, that this would stop happening to us. And I realized I’d been praying for that exact same thing for *years*. Clearly, the praying wasn’t doing any good. All the praying had done no good. Not my mother’s prayers. Not my prayers. NOTHING was improved by prayer.That still wasn’t it, though. It was a little later, but maybe only a week. I was on Amazon surfing for a book to make me feel better, looking at the recommendations for people who’d read Eckhart Tolle. I don’t remember what was in that feed, but it made me think, “maybe there’s no god.” I terrified myself. I was so scared that just thinking that would assign me to hell.
Over the next just few days, I became certain there is no god. It made the absolutely most perfect sense. Everything in my life made sense.
I stopped going to church quite abruptly. It took me some time to have the courage to tell my husband. He still believes in some sort of something, maybe. My older son, who got the good-son bible degree, is now a nihilist. An inconsistent one, he tells me. My younger son doesn’t talk to me about god ever at all. And I so don’t blame him. We have a pretty good relationship, all things considered. He’s got a job and is working on his second Bachelor’s. He’s going to be ok, I think. Hubby is more ok most of the time. Religion was making everything vastly worse. I think there’s so much more to analyze, but that’s why I became an atheist. Either there is no god, or he isn’t good, or he isn’t omnipotent. I wasn’t asking for bad things. I was asking for good, sensible things. But you know what I wasn’t doing? Anything about it. I was leaving it in my mother’s “father’s hands.” And he was just making a mess of it. I couldn’t possibly do worse.
Thank you, anonymous. I’m so glad you shared your story with us – the perfect example of how faith can lead some to take no action in their own lives, and instead wait for God to do something. I’m happy to hear you’ve gotten away from that sort of thinking and that your family seems to be doing much better because of it.
Here is Kira’s story:
I was raised Christian, went to church whenever I could, I loved it. I attended a private Christian school also, so you could say it was pretty serious. My father ended up committing suicide the day after my thirteenth birthday and it killed me inside. I prayed and prayed and prayed and begged and pleaded with god to help me get through it. I ended up getting really depressed and suicidal, at fifteen, I was still struggling with my beliefs. I started researching and questioning things. There are so many contradictions in the bible, none of it made sense. So I started looking into other religions, none of them were believable to me either. I played around with agnosticism for a while, never committing to atheist until after I wasn’t suicidal anymore. I realized god wasn’t the one to help me through it, I did it on my own. From then on, I’ve looked at myself as the only “One” in my life.
Kira, I am so sorry about your father and everything you had to go through in the aftermath. I am so glad you’re here to tell us about how you found your own strength. Sharing this story is, no doubt, a help to others who might feel lost right now. Thank you.
The final story today is from Andy. Andy had this to say:
I have been an Atheist for as long as I can reasonably remember. Although my parents had me Christened religion was never a big part of our lives, my Dad always said he thought there was something ‘up there’ but he wasn’t sure what. I went along with this as a child, even when he started reading stuff like ‘Was God an Astronaut?’
I used to let him convince me I was an agnostic and would always correct me if I told anyone I was an Atheist. He was also very superstitious- believing in fortune tellers, ghosts and that sort of thing. My Mum was perhaps a bit more religious but was never allowed an opinion- it was one of those households!
There were no shortage of people who tried to convince me that I should believe and I must admit I wavered from time to time, but I always had this feeling that it just didn’t make sense and as I was particularly interested in science and prehistoric animals as a child it never really added up. Why would a god let preachers lie about how old the world was? Why would he even care about one planet? So many questions.
I have suffered through the years, keeping very quiet at times when people ask, ‘But how can you not believe in anything? That’s awful.’, and variations on this. One day, in my twenties, I was talking with my Dad and some of his friends and the subject of God came up and I was once again corrected- ‘No son, you’re an agnostic’. ‘No’, I said. ‘I know the difference and I’m an Atheist!’ From that point I have stood fast and defended my lack of faith. When I became a father to two boys I refused to have them Christened, as it would have been a gift gathering exercise at best and I was adamant that they would have a choice in the matter, which obviously to me meant discussing the matter when they were older. I have always told them both that it is their choice and if they so wanted I would have them Christened without hesitation. So far, neither one has asked!
My Mother-in-Law, a Catholic, to this day tells me I was wrong not to have them Christened as I am denying them a religion and I should leave it to them to leave it if they wished. What a ridiculous argument! What bizarre logic! She believes that children who die without being Christened go to Hell- what an appalling thing to tell a child!
I am not worried by others’ faith, some of my friends are devout Christians and we have some good times together, so it can be done, although I live in the UK and I have a friend who lived in the USA for a while and he tells me that this would be very unlikely there. Such a shame!
I think that ultimately I am an Atheist because in my life I have seen not one shred of evidence, not heard one compelling argument to make me think there could be ANY supernatural being, let alone an omnipotent God and I am happy and at peace with myself. I do not need moral guidance from anyone, or anything, else to be a good person!
Thanks, Andy! I have to say, I share a similar stance. I am also an atheist because I have never seen anything convincing enough for me to believe in a god.
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