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Challenging All Atheists: Have You Totally Freed Yourself from Religion?

Challenging All Atheists: Have You Totally Freed Yourself from Religion? September 16, 2021

Whether you are a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Hindu or a follower of any other religion determining your religiosity is easy. All you need to do is look deep inside yourself to gauge how committed you are to following the tenets of your faith, then look around and see if other disciples of your religion are just as dedicated as you are.

I figured this out for myself before I was 25. I grew up Lutheran, converted to Seventh Day Adventism at 21, and quickly understood that to be the top dog in my faith I needed to become an ordained minister. Bear in mind that I didn’t go all-in to earn the most bejeweled crown in heaven. I loved my faith and couldn’t get enough of it. I merely determined that being a minister would be the best way to devote more time to learning and expressing my beliefs.

I suppose this is true for disciples who follow any religion. There’s an observable spectrum of commitment one can easily understand and see. One can know how personally committed they are to their faith simply by looking within themselves, then ascertaining how much their faith has become a part of their thinking and how they express it in their daily lives. They can also “judge” just how committed other disciples are by observing their actions.

For those who follow religions, gauging how faithful they are is a simple matter. For atheists, the challenge is learning how to purge the mind of all religious concepts and patterns of thinking. / Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Do you think like an atheist?

I’m always skeptical of people who claim they became atheists within a few months following years of being active and committed to a religion. Becoming an atheist is a process. One just doesn’t have an “aha!” moment and switch off a belief in God like turning off a lightbulb. Yes, there comes that time in one’s life when he or she recognizes a clear delineation from the moment they held onto a belief in a god, to the moment they knew they no longer believed.

I’m also skeptical of people who claimed to be atheists, then suddenly claim to be converted to Christianity (or other religions). Again, there’s a process involved with becoming and unbecoming an atheist, and this process is dependent on how much the tenets of a religion have entangled themselves within a person’s thought processes. For those who grew up in a church, who spent decades thinking and living as a faithful disciple, it usually takes years to unlearn and purge oneself from religious beliefs, myths, superstitions, ideas and concepts, behavior patterns, and overall worldview. My own “aha!” moment took 14 years. It just took that long to clear my head.

A challenge for Atheists

If you claim to be an atheist, can you safely conclude that you have purged your mind of all religious ideas and thought patterns? For example, what are your current views regarding abortion?

We tend to think of abortion as a religious issue, a pro-life cause that is championed by religion and backed up by the Bible and other “religious” concepts regarding the sanctity of life. Yet, there are many secular arguments advocating for both the pros and cons of abortion that lie completely outside systemized religious thinking.

The same holds true for issues like suicide, euthanasia, climate change, the death penalty—and so forth. There are “religious” ways to think about these issues. There are completely rational and scientific ways to view these issues. But there are also right and wrong ways of looking at these issues that bridge both religious and secular viewpoints.

To complicate matters, American culture is saturated with Christian ideals and norms. As I am reminded of often, America is a Christian nation. Virtually every aspect of our culture is dominated by Christian ideologies and theology. In a similar manner, a country like Afghanistan can be considered a nation of Islam, whereas a country like Japan is a culture influenced by a variety of ideologies such as Shinto, Buddhism and Confucianism.

As Christopher Hitchens said:

“Religion poisons everything.”

“Poison” might be too strong of a word to be used here. My point is that the influence of religion in any culture makes it more difficult for atheists to determine whether the thoughts and ideas they express are religiously or philosophically based, whether their ideas are driven by rationales based in science and rational thought, or whether their ideas are a hybrid of sorts; grounded by both science and supported by religion.

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About Scott R Stahlecker
Scott Stahlecker is a former minister and now writes for Thinkadelics about the joys and benefits of living as a freethinker. He is the author of the novel Blind Guides and Picking Wings Off Butterflies. You can read more about the author here.

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38 responses to “Challenging All Atheists: Have You Totally Freed Yourself from Religion?”

  1. As with almost all atheist Americans, I’m a cultural Christian. I say “for heaven’s sake” when I’m frustrated, I shout “Jesus” when I stub my toe, I understand the joke in the Gary Larson Far Side cartoon: “Welcome to heaven, here’s your harp. Welcome to hell, here’s your accordion.”*

    *I would have posted the cartoon but, for reasons known only to the blogmeister, I can’t.

  2. I don’t remember ever believing, but as Michael Neville says, I’m a cultural Christian because anyone who spends any time in the USA is immersed in the faith whether they want to be or not, whether they realize it or not. I’ve heard the local Walmart and Hobby Lobby have Christmas decorations on the shelves already. A lot of the radio stations begin playing Christmas music on Halloween, and the month of December is all Christmas, all the time. Tv stations show the same old Peanuts and Rankin-Bass semi-animated Christmas programs that have been shown since the 1960s. Many schools start sportzballz games with mandatory Christian prayers and people aggressively shout MERRY CHRISTMAS in people’s faces to earn their Kriss-chun Warrior cred.

  3. I’m thinking I’d prefer heaven, but I’d rather be playing the accordion. 🙂

    You’d have to explain a bit more about being a cultural Christian. I’ve not heard the term. I’m hoping that it’s a much looser form of Christianity, in which you feel some flexibility in dismissing elements about the faith that just can’t be believed.

  4. I’m starting to better understand the meaning of cultural Christian.

    I think it fascinating that there are individuals like yourself that never believed. What a joy it must be to not be enslaved to a religion for decades of your life. I left the church right before my daughter starting thinking on her own and I was able to raise her as a freethinker. Consequently, she has a good B.S. meter. Anyway, it seems like you may have been raised under similar circumstances and got a jumpstart in life by solidifying a worldview that did not involve religious myths.

    There’s just something wrong about companies trying to get a jump on marketing for holidays before they arrive. I find it a bit offensive seeing rows of plastic trinkets of holiday items in my local grocer months before the actual holiday.

  5. I apparently don’t have the “believer” gene, but it’s not a gift when all around you are people who (as Captain Cassidy on Roll to Believe calls it) “play the Happy Pretendy Funtime Game”.

    The 1990s seem to have been the peak of the effort to shove Christianity down every throat, enough so that I sent my kids to Vacation Bible School one summer so they would have the cultural literacy and be able to recognize it when they saw it.

  6. Dawkins’s would call it the “God gene.”

    I’m guessing your kids learned the lesson you intended them to learn by attending VBS. You obviously had some confidence in them, and that attending VBS might cure them of fanciful thinking.

  7. The culture cannot be escaped. And given that in this society Christian references are often understood more than any other religious sources, why not use them? I’m of Vedic beliefs, though raised Methodist in the USA, but I quote Jesus at people all the time, lately mostly to refute the nonsense of the evangelical RepubliQans. I’ll talk about Matthew 25 all day if anyone will listen. The chapter is simply an explication of some of the workings of karma, after all.

  8. To add to this discussion, earlier I was reading an article on COVID, and someone made the comment, “They reaped what they sowed.” I understood it instantly. If you live in the USA, you are surrounded by Christian culture.

  9. “Becoming an atheist is a process.”

    I couldn’t disagree more strongly. We are all born without any knowledge or belief of any kind, including religious belief, i.e. there are no Christian, Jewish or Muslim babies… only babies of Christian, Jews or Muslims.

    Atheism is not a process, but the default of humanity. I was never taught to adhere to any religion as a youth, thus my atheism is not the result of any “process” other than birth.

  10. You’re right, we can’t escape it. And I agree with your comment on several levels.

    The hostility we see between atheists and Christians is a lot like the hostility between republicans and democrats. Those with strong tribal instincts, and who side with one side of the other, have a difficult recognizing the common ground between them. They become blinded and in some ways and loose their ability to think rationally and objectively.

    There’s a lot I don’t agree with in the Bible. Overall though, it’s stories and proverbs can tell us a lot about human nature. It offers great, humanistic insights. You mention Karma, I think of the Golden rule. Both offer good things to think about.

    In my last last sentence in this post I alluded to this: “or whether their ideas are a hybrid of sorts; grounded by both science and supported by religion.” I ended on this point to challenge atheists to discover that they likely have a lot of good thoughts floating around in their heads that are based or supported by religions.

  11. The only problem with religion is that it was created by and then corrupted by human beings. If there were some way to go back to Jesus, Mohammad, and all the other religious thinkers whose ideas have been used to found religions and religious sects, and have them sort out the core precepts, separate from human tendencies toward tribalism, discrimination and distrust, then we might have something worth practicing…God, god or no god. In other words, God is not the problem…the problem is us.

  12. I am a third-generation atheist and while it is true our culture is saturated with Christian ideals and norms, I do not consider myself a “cultural Christian.” Am I a “cultural Jew, Hindu or Buddhist” because I attend a Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist religious celebration I have been invited to?
    I do consider myself to be well-informed about the origins of Christianity and how that belief has spread and changed since the first century. Any atheist should be well-informed when you cannot escape being accosted by some, usually Christian, evangelist who decides to preach the “good word” to you.
    I too have had many Evangelical tell me “this is a Christian Nation!” Our Constitution is a secular document. It specifically states that there are no religious requirements for public office. Compare the Ten Commandment written in their entirety (there are at least three versions)in the various Bibles published and they all violate the first ten amendments of the Constitution. Read The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American Hardcover – Illustrated, May 14, 2019
    by Andrew L Seidel

  13. Verily I say unto thee, Scott, even I hast become an atheist, eh. For verily, I came to realize that I was created in the image of Man.
    As for abortion, I am all in favour, for I am the greatest terminator of pregnancies, eh. Scientists have learned that most pregnancies end in miscarriage.
    Poison is perfectly apt for unfounded beliefs that adversely affect the world.

  14. I can see how you are focused on many of the good qualities of religion, which Jesus and others may have emphasized. But there are many other detrimental and cruel things that the Bible and other religious texts teach that can’t just be cut out. For example, all of scripture is considered to be inspired by God and the H.S. The “bad” things contained in is verses weren’t just made bad because of the way modern man interprets them. They were just bad ideas and teachings to begin with.

    I do agree with you in the sense that “we” can find the good and redeemable qualities of religion, as well as the good and redeemable qualities of humanity, and form a humanistic set of core values that would greatly increase the quality of life for everyone.

  15. Thanks for your thoughts. I’m really interested in the comparison you mention between the 10 commandments and the first 10 amendments to the constitution. Should provide for interesting reading!

  16. I too am created in the image of man, which really amounts to us being products of our culture, environment, nationality, and other factors. Personally, I’m thinking those factors carry a lot of negativity and pessimism. Thankfully, we can aspire to be better.

  17. I was raised atheist. I’ve raised my three kids that way. If there is one thing I don’t like about many people that come to their atheism later in life is gatekeeping. Don’t tell me what a true thinks, acts, feels, or believes, other than not believing in any gods. I’m science-minded, pro vaccine, pro abortion, sex positive, believe all substances should be legal. I’ve also had a very rough life. Am currently an ICU RN. I have seen some horrific shit in my life. None of it has changed my grip on reality. What has changed is my tolerance for other people’s beliefs and opinions. Whatever gets you through the night, man. Unless it endangers people, infringes upon rights, or is suggested to me more than once despite my assertion that I am 100% firm in my atheism, etc. My dude, you have great energy and congrats on meeting reality. Don’t spoil it for others. All it does is cause a rift. The only way to get that point across is by demonstration and conversation. Not gatekeeping.

  18. I was born into religion and got out of it on my “turn around” year. (in other words, from 1959 to 1995. I struggled all my life to believe, but I just wasn’t able to fully. Don’t know how often I cried at the altar. My break was planned out but happened sooner than that. From Jesusing I went to White Witching, from there four years later I went to atheisting. That is where I am at peace. Despite the efforts of parents and all the different denoms we attended, I only had more questions than firm beliefs. Happily, my teenaged children also opted out of religion around the same time (for different reasons, but still…!) My BF is the arbitrator of my will and knows that if some strangers stand up at the service and say I converted to xianity just before death, to toss them out. Catching an old, feeble and gone-minded person to say “Jesus is back” is simply untrue. Never, ever!

  19. I don’t see my comment about how you don’t get to gatekeep atheism. Atheism is one thing- no god/s.
    My 17 year old son read your post and thinks you have now chosen to make atheism your religion.
    I hope all these missing posts find their way. Otherwise, you’re just talking in an echo chamber.
    Lastly, suicide is NOT on par with abortion. A person of sound mind chooses to terminate their pregnancy. Suicidal people are not of sound mind, and that ain’t religion talkin.
    This “no True Atheist” spiel is dreck.

  20. Not being from the US at all, but rather from the ancestral homelands of most white Americans: Europe, I think it is difficult to ‘eradicate’ the structure of ‘religiosity’ if it has been bred into you from before the age of 4 (this is where our morals are being mostly structured, which eventually be build up to our ‘character’/’personality’). I do feel I can proud myself to be an actual atheist (hard atheist), because I see the world/reality from a logical causal connected point. This means that when something is stated that doesn’t fit the causality of reality, it fails to contain any possibility to be true, until it would be proven by reproducable and testable evidence. Many theists claim that if a god intervened in reality, you wouldn’t be able to notice, however, that makes no sense. We as humans have come this far due to our ability to archive our history (whether totally correct ‘winner makes history’, or not) and reflect on what happened. IF something had intervened in reality (let say the part that Muslims think is so important to them: Splitting of the moon), then history would tell, either by written/oral representation from different points, but even more important, when we check the actual object, it should show any type of ‘breach’. EVEN if that was not the case, there would be a causal temporal difference from before and after the moment. People would have painted the moon differently before and after the even. If it was such an awe-inspiring moment, it would surely be painted by several different artists. This is something that theists of any religion or spirituality fail to understand. Causality is not just a string of events. Causality is the intrinsic nature of how logic works on reality. If logic fails, causality fails and THEN you would have a moment to see if something happened that was outside any possibility. Still it would mean you have to figure out WHAT caused it. And yes, then it would simply fall into that same causality and logic, but just on a different scale and perspective.

  21. Excuse my ignorance, but I’m not sure what you mean by gatekeeping. If you get a moment, explain it as you understand it. My hats off to you for being a nurse. My wife’s a nurse. She normally works PACU, but due to COVID they have been floating her to ICU. I’ve been an atheist since 2004. I lived in agnosticism limbo for 14 years before arriving at atheism, and I’ve been defending it since then.

  22. Interesting story! I never questioned Christianity when I was a Lutheran. Probably because I didn’t take religion too seriously. While growing up, church was just a place we went to on Sundays that served good coffee and donuts. It wasn’t until I went to school to study for the ministry that I took it seriously. And I had serious doubts about it even after I got a position as an associate pastor. My theory is, former believers who take religion very seriously also take atheism seriously.

    I swear, if some friend or family member turns my funeral into a proselytizing opportunity, I’ll come back to haunt them. But that’s doubtful, I’m planning on having a party instead.

  23. About missing posts . . . for some reason a lot of comments are getting caught in my spam folder and waiting for approval. My apologies if this happens and I’m looking into it.

    I think it’s cool that you have a 17 year old son that understands concepts like atheism. But it’s interesting that you two think I make atheism my religion. Funny thing is, I’ve posted about 120 posts on Thinkadelics and for that post I actually had to create an atheism category for it. In other words, I don’t recall ever technically writing about atheism, though I’m sure I’ve said a few things about it.

    I mostly write posts about developing freethinking skills.

  24. I was born an atheist, raised in a completely secular, nonreligious household. My parents treated religion kind of like one might treat the didgeridoo — you know it exists, but you simply don’t have anything to do with it and rarely think about it except one someone happens to be playing one close by.

    I have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and am currently pursuing my master’s in same, and that is where most of my ethical values come from: studying various ethical systems and determining what is correct and incorrect about each of them.

  25. You offer lots of food for thought. I think likewise about what you define as the “causality of reality.” If something can’t be proved then there is little point to wasting time thinking about it. If I apply this point to say, a believer who is in the process of becoming an atheist, they undergo a change in their way of thinking in which they slowly begin to purge the mind from superstitions and myths to only relying on facts to build their own new worldview. I consider a hard atheist (like myself) as a person that has spent many years (or a lifetime) purging the mind of falsehoods. Which is why I’m skeptical of people who say they were atheists but then became converted. The reason I’m skeptical, is because there’s more to being an atheist than not believing in gods. Being an atheist implies that a person uses their thinking skills much differently than believers. They have established an entirely different way of cognitively navigating though life.

  26. Nice didgeridoo analogy. I wish I could say that it was easy for me to disregard the influence of religion in our world. Unfortunately, its influence in everyday life doesn’t sound as pleasant to me as the didgeridoo. 🙂

    Not sure where you hail from, but wherever it is every society and culture also provides us with a set of ethical values. Which I’m sure you know. I think atheists enjoy an advantage in being able to logically differentiate what values are good and which are bad in their country of origins. But since atheists also tend to have more of an open mind and better thinking skills, they are usually better able to determine what values are good in other systems as well.

    Where atheists err, and free-thought advocates can also have this problem, is that they can “hate” religion to such a degree that it renders them unable to acknowledge that some religions actually do offer good ethical values to consider.

  27. I am going to have to disagree with the digiridoo example.

    In Holland, Spain, the Americas from Canada to Chile, Germany–and other places where Christianity is baked into the culture–if you live there, you grow up immersed in the culture. Like a fish is immersed in water.

    Even if your family doesn’t believe, you get The Charlie Brown Christmas where Linus gives an endless speech on Christianity, you see the KrisKindlMarkt stalls go up, your entire neighborhood takes part in La Posada. In the USA the Christmas decorations go up ever earlier, and you might even be forced to endure Christian prayers before school events.

    You’re born knowing nothing, but when you live in the world, and the culture of that world has Christian trappings, then you learn what that is the way you learn breakfast and dinner.

  28. Your comment reminds me of a prayer I was taught and used to say before every meal when I was a kid. My family was going to church every Sunday, but I had no clue what Christianity meant. I didn’t understand the concept of sin, repentance, redemption. This was a short prayer we said before every meal. “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest, And let these gifts to us be blest.” We stopped attending church regularly when I got into 7th grade, but out of force of habit I’d still give thanks to God for the evening meal. Although I was just a Christian by name at this point, I felt guilty if I didn’t say this prayer. After I left the church entirely I still felt guilty and retained a foreboding fear that if I didn’t give thanks to God for my food he’d stop providing me with it.

    Breaking free of performing Christian rituals is one thing, but I think people who leave Christianity and other religions still retain many of the feelings and mental states that were ingrained in their way of thinking. These feelings carry over into everyday life. Having an apocalyptic mentality about life is another strong mental state of mind a lot of people have that’s a carryover from religious indoctrination. Many people who are not even believers move through each day with an impending sense of gloom, like the world is going to come to an end.

  29. I was 7 when I remember coming to the realization that religion was a fairy tale. My aunt was visiting for Christmas and was telling my mom how the “lord” was looking out for her, he allowed her to make exactly the right amount of money every month so she still qualify for food stamps. I thought but why didn’t he just give you enough money so you didn’t have to get food stamps? And why you and not the families of the 25,000 children the man on the news said would starve to death that very day while my aunt was gorging her fat ass on turkey my mom worked 3 jobs to provide?

    Christianity is a very selfish religion, people pray for selfish things and when they get them they believe that their god somehow loves them more than their neighbor. During natural disasters you always hear the one person who’s house was the only one left standing on the block claim that the “lord was looking after them” , but what about their neighbors who are just as pious and were praying just as hard for their house to be sparred?
    I truly believe that “faith” is a form of mental illness similar to narcissistic personality disorder because “true believers” have convinced themselves that no matter what they do or have done in their lives that some supernatural force is looking out for them above all other people on the planet.

    When I told a Christian fundamentalist the story about my aunt she claimed that “god” was actually doing those 25,000 children a favor by letting them die one of the most horrible deaths a person could die of, starvation, because they would get to go spend eternity in heaven with him rather than suffer down here without enough food to eat. Over looking the total insanity of that statement where she claimed her god let them starve to death so they wouldn’t have to suffer from starving to death, I asked her “well then why do “Christians pray for help then? why don’t they pray for their god to let them starve to death so they can go hang out with him and spend eternity praising him for allowing them to starve to death?

  30. Re post #16 and reply at @19: I falsely assumed that my post would be under my usual patheos identity of Gord O’Mitey, where my avatar is a well-known portrayal of the face of the Christian god. My posts as Gord O’Mitey are often intended as satire and humour to ridicule anti-social and irrational religious beliefs. I do this in the hope that people who are questioning their faith read my satire and take comfort in the fact that people can live, indeed flourish, without religion.

  31. The methods for posting on Patheos can be confusing. I’ve had my own share of the angst.

    And those of us who have a passion for people to flourish without religion have been known to try any tactic in the book. When a rational approach doesn’t seem to be working, satire and humor sometimes do.

  32. After reading your post this morning I was thinking that you bring up a lot of examples of how Christian beliefs make a person think and say the most irrational things. Some might say “stupid” things, but IQ has nothing to do with it. It’s just plain poor thinking. I don’t want to get too personal, but your aunt seems like she believes in a kind of Christian socialism. Her belief in God rests on the notion that she wants God to take care of her without realizing that perhaps she just needs a little more motivation and self-confidence? The fundamentalist’s story you tell sounds more like an excuse to not be empathetic and compassionate. It underscores the belief by a lot of the faithful that there is no reason to build a better world. After all, if God cursed the earth and promised to make it anew why bother even trying? Many Christians are merely treading water through life and waiting for the second coming.

  33. Hi Nathan Graham
    Nowhere in the Bible does it say that by believing in God that you will be exempt from death or pain or that you will get straight A’s for your exams or that you will not loose your innocent 4 year old to cancer etc. So whether you are Bill Gates or sweep the streets, burn to death or die peacefully in your sleep it all happens in the little dot (your life on earth) on the infinity line. People have free will and even though one cannot always change the circumstances you live in, you can choose how you are going to live it under it.
    If you take the time to read a Bible, you will note that it is the only book on the planet, that tells history in advance, with around 1000 prophecies of which half have already been fulfilled, some to the finest detail

  34. Etienne Van Heerden, did you actually read what Nathan Graham wrote? Because your response doesn’t show you understood what he had to say.

    Additionally, what is it that leads to you believe the folks here haven’t read the Christian book, some of them many times over? Despite your claims, there’s no evidence whatsoever that any predictions have been proven true. In fact, the countless errors in the Christian bible is what led many to begin thinking for themselves.

    Simple things that collection of oral tales of Bronze-age sheepherders got wrong, like (pi) = 3, the Earth having corners, bats being birds, rabbits chewing their cud, people turning into salt, a world-wide flood. Then there are the self-contradictions such as the Begats, the various contradictory creation stories in Genesis, the various contradictory versions of how many of what kinds of animals Noah was told to load onto the ark, the contradictions in the letters Paul was said to have written…the book is a mess. It can’t even keep its own story straight, much less its various warnings and predictions.

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