Open thread: how did you become an atheist?

July 6, 2015 • 2:10 pm

by Grania

We’ve often talked about reasons for being an atheist on this site, but not so much about how we became atheists – that is if we weren’t one before. Probably few of us had as dramatic an experience as Jerry’s own Road to Damascus deconversion experience where there was one pivotal moment that marked: Here believer; and afterwards no more. Probably several readers here never believed and grew up in secular homes (you fortunate people). Jerry thought it would be interesting to ask readers: what did it for you?

TL;DR: you don’t have to read my overly-long saga below – you can now skip to the comments and add your own story.

For myself, looking back with the sort of 20/20 vision that hindsight blesses us all with, perhaps I was never a fervent believer. But I certainly had what Dan Dennett would call Belief in Belief. Raised in a moderately conservative family by a Catholic mother and a hard-to-pin-down father (he is technically Jewish, Lutheran on paper and was almost certainly skeptically agnostic but polite enough to never say anything about it).

I received a better-than-average schooling in being a good Catholic than the average Catholic circa 1970s. Unlike some modern Catholics who are outraged when Richard Dawkins had the nerve to point out that they are supposed to regard the transubstantiated communion wafer as the literal body of Christ, I was taught in painstaking detail exactly what Catholics were required to believe in. (Oh dear god, the wasted hours of frustration and boredom… )

I believed because everybody seemed to believe, perhaps not in my particular flavor of Christianity; but certainly pretty much everybody appeared to adhere to one of the myriad versions of it. But I expected more of it than tedious Catechism books and hours spent reciting mind-numbing prayers on and endless repeat cycle. Also the knees, damn wooden pews hurt like a sonofabitch after half an hour. I expected that the very least a benevolent God could do was at least once reply to my earnest prayers. There was never anything though, not even something that a relatively imaginative child could try to pretend might have been a response from a seemingly disinterested deity. The people and priests I talked to about this were kindly and patient and offered me all manner of conflicting advice: pray harder, don’t pray – just listen, read more about your faith (bad advice, really), maybe He has already answered you, sometimes God says No, sometimes God says Wait A While, don’t overdo the bookish learning – too much knowledge is enemy of faith (that’s true).

In the end, what killed my belief – or belief in belief was the following:

  • a serious lack on God’s part of ever trying to acknowledge my existence. That was just plain rude.
  • Latin in High School – Pliny opened my eyes to a version of early Christianity I had not ever heard about in church – especially the bit about female deacons.
  • Actually reading the bible. Paul pretty much made me lose my temper with his sexist twaddle and I couldn’t take the book seriously as a moral guide after that.
  • Law School – courses in subjects such as Comparative Law and Roman Law pretty much destroyed the last shreds of credibility the bible had left and laid bare its cobbled-together, plagiarised and fabricated origins. Ironically two of my very excellent lecturers were Catholics too.

Anyway, I came out of university accidentally unable to sit through any more Sunday sermons without getting fairly furious at the inaccuracies, the omissions and the one-sided version of morality that got served up. I didn’t call myself an atheist for many years to come after that, but I could not take religion seriously any more. It no longer held any interest for me and we parted ways amicably.

249 thoughts on “Open thread: how did you become an atheist?

  1. I didn’t really have an atheistic epiphany, I just made my conception of a deity more and more elastic until it was reconcilable with the absence of one.

  2. I personally claim to be one of the very few people who have happened to be born at such a place and time and under such circumstances that they were exposed to the whole cosmological model of modern science before they ever heard there was such a thing as religion. Yet I wasn’t indoctrinated into atheism either, I was just given the facts. And the first time I was confronted with the idea of a creator God when I started going to school (there were religious kids in my class) I was just baffled that anyone can believe such nonsense. It’s been like that ever since.

  3. A Unitarian (barely) father and an Episcopalian (barely) mother who were both well educated (MIT & Smith), and a very good education (University Chicago & McGill) plus innate skepticism equals atheism.
    Ergo, no childhood brain-washing plus education accomplishes wonders.

  4. At age 16 I came to the conclusion that since there were many religions, and not all could be right, then all should be wrong.
    I remember I said to myself: “I don’t believe in any god from now on. If no thunder strikes in the next few days, I will be an atheist”.
    No thunder stroke.

  5. When I was maybe 14, missionaries came to my family’s church to speak. Afterwards, I said to myself, ‘If I truly believe the church’s teachings, I too should become a missionary and devote my life to converting the heathens.’ But then I began to wonder: why had god created all those people who were “heathens” in the first place, and then make others of us have to spend our whole lives changing them? Why hadn’t he just made everyone true believers in the first place? The obvious illogic of the situation caused the whole religious house of cards to begin to topple for me, continuing card by card over the years until all was flat.

    1. For me a large part of my conversion was missionaries too…different reason. I once asked (when maybe 12) what happened to people like aborigines or natives in the Amazon when they died if they never heard of Jesus (since I was told Jesus was the only way to get to heaven). The answer: purgatory. A place that isn’t endless suffering, but endless boredom…I was never quite clear what it was, but decided it was better than hell. Then I thought that missionaries go to these people who live without the knowledge of Jesus and tell them about him. Now these people have to make a choice. Choose Jesus and live in heaven forever, or disregard him and burn in hell. So I thought that missionaries are sending lots of people to hell when it would be better just to leave them alone so they could at least live in the boredom of purgatory. Made perfect sense of the nonsensical “word”. Oh the young mind works in mysterious ways.

  6. I was born a non-believer and became a Atheist after being involved in a Church/State lawsuit at Douglas County, Georgia back in the late 1980’s.

  7. My 2nd cousin, (a priest now) is actually the one that made me question god in the first place. I was about 12-years old. Back then, he didn’t believe in God. I asked him why people would make up a god. He replied with one question: For what reason would Indians invent a god?
    That simple response was all that was needed for me to begin understanding that god wasn’t real, and that we had made him up. Such a simple thought, but one that made perfect sense to me.

  8. It was a long, gradual process (a personal evolution…I know, bad metaphor). I grew up Catholic but since college I started to question the basic assumptions.

    Then I learned a bit more about science (e. g. the astronomy films when I was in graduate school) and it began to dawn on me that there was no evidence of any of the deities that humans worshiped.

    So, with me: it started with “the Bible is false” –> “the Abrahamic religions are false” —> “I see no evidence of any sort of deity”.

    Strictly speaking, I am an agnostic a deist type deity might make sense, or perhaps there is some concept that I haven’t heard of that might make sense. But I see the standard human based deities as superstition.

  9. As answers to this question go, this one is going to be highly uninteresting:

    I didn’t find the stuff about convincing; I was aged about 11.

    That’s really as much as I can remember about the process.

  10. I would say that I became a full-on atheist by the time I hit my mid-twenties. I can’t recall any specific moment when I shucked off religion (no “Sgt. Pepper”-like moment for me!), but I can tell you this: of five children raised by Catholic parents, I was the only one who seemed bothered by it all. I was the one who asked questions. I was the one whose internal Crap Detector was working in full mode.

    It would make for a good memoir if I could recall more, but all I can say is that I went from Catholicism to reading stuff by John Shelby Spong, which somehow got me to Alan Watts and other quasi New Age-y stuff, which then got to me throw up my hands and realize that all religious chatter of whatever stripe was nonsense.

  11. I was born into a Free Methodist family, a holiness church. When I was five or six I tried to “pray through” and get saved. I never did.
    During high school I got up and lied during testimony. I just could not believe.
    I got mad at God bc he punished King Saul for not killing the livestock.
    I called myself a deist. I just never believed.

  12. I was born and raised in a small rural Georgia town in a community of hard core fundamentalists for whom the church was the center of the universe. My own belief was only seriously challenged when I physically moved away to go to school. Gradually the gap between the world as I was taught it was and the world I experienced and learned about through study became so wide I could not straddle it though I made a mighty effort to do so.

    The crisis came when I was doing graduate work in religious studies and I was forced to confront my own state of belief. I asked myself if I really believed that Jesus rose from the dead and when the answer was no I stopped calling myself a Christian. And when in my heart of hearts I admitted to myself that I really didn’t believe in god I started calling myself an atheist.

    It sounds awfully arrogant to tell people that I educated myself out of religious belief but, well, there it is.

  13. My father came from an Irish Catholic family. My mother’s family were secular Jews. Because of my father, I went to church and went to Catholic school for 8 years. But, I don’t recall ever feeling religious. I would go to school and listen to what the nuns and priests said and then go home and talk to my mother who would explain why it was nonsense. Mom was much more convincing. I went through the motions at school, but never found any meaning or desire for any kind of religion or spirituality. Mom never finished school, but she was one of the smartest people I have known.

    As an aside, my Catholic paternal grandmother’s maiden name was Coyne.

  14. I was never very religious. My stepdad never said anything at all about religion and my mom self identified as a Christian but other than watching Jesus movies during the Christmas season, you would never guess it. She bought into mysticism – tarot cards and psychic phenomena and really just seemed to have a thing for anything ‘magical.’ When I was in second grade, the closest elementary school wasn’t practical for me to go to so I ended up going to a Christian church school for a year and that was the first time I really learned that there were rules to religion. My brother was 8 years older than me and got me into 80’s heavy metal at a very young age. As cheesy as it sounds, I very specifically remember internalizing the idea that listening to Iron Maiden or AC/DC would lead me to hell and I remember kind of trying to abstain for a bit but really there’s only a flash of that phase in my memory. The rest is filled with unapologetically blasting any and all music I wanted to. I also vaguely remember telling at least 1 person in my neighborhood that I didn’t believe in God (I think I kind of equated belief in God with belief in Santa at that point) and I remember several people asking me about it in disbelief after that and at least 1 kid not being allowed to play with me anymore.

    Most of my early to late teen years, I would have self identified as ‘agnostic,’ and I think I was a little arrogant about it. I’d challenged several religious people in my life and had grown pretty confident in my belief that there were no good reasons for religion but in hind sight, I also ended up holding some nonsensical positions of my own, like moral/epistemic relativism and absolute pacifism, for instance. Luckily, I grew out of those though.

  15. Growing up in a not particularly religious family I refused Confirmation (which I was supposed to undergo because that’s “what you do”). I identified myself as agnostic though most of my teen years until I came to the decision that it doesn’t really matter if I can prove he exists or not for not believing in him

  16. Grew up very religious – lay minister and missionary until in my 30s. It started with education and my attempts to re-align my faith with evidence I couldn’t ignore. Culminated in about a year long “cry out to God” to save me from my heresy that very obviously never came. When it clicked in my head that the world made much more sense with the absence of god figures, that was it.

  17. Growing up in sixties and seventies Scotland the trappings of religion were everywhere – half empty churches, catholic schools, Christmas & Easter service at school and ministers droning on at weddings and funerals.
    Religion itself however was entirely absent. I think the only religious thing I remember anyone talking about at that time was Dave Allen on the TV. There was the odd Jehovah’s Witness knocking on the door I suppose but that was it.
    The overt religiosity of many Americans still comes as a surprise to me. It just seems weird.

      1. And then a certain version of a religion became associated with a particular political party in the US & off to the races we went with religion being much more in your face…

    1. I miss Dave Allen. He used to run on Saturday nights on PBS in Chicago when I was growing up.

  18. Atheism seems to have come ‘naturally’ to me. Although my mother, who raised me alone, sent me off to the local Presbyterian church, I sensed then and know now that it was for ‘social conditioning’ more than worship. Main-stream Protestantism, as I expect many readers will agree, really has no theological backbone: Presbyterianism, for example, once it discarded hard Calvinism, has had nothing much to say to its members but jejune pieties from the pulpit. And, of course, the congregation delighted in hearing that they were right with god while the rest of the world wasn’t.

    What drove me from the *institution* of the church, however, was watching from the balcony the men (yes, the men) whom I knew to be hypocrites, racists and just generally assholes bow their heads in prayer, sing the hymns and pass the plate, having, I suspected, put less into it than the pittance my mother gave me each Sunday as an offering.

    Philosophical study in college and graduate school confirmed me in my atheism. In the manichean contention between Aristotle and Plato, the Big A won hands down; and Hume swept the field of metaphysical idealism. Moreover, what science I learned made it clear to me that there was no need for god in the universe to make the universe comprehensible.

    Though of course I didn’t comprehend it then (the U) and know that now I never shall. But I do know the way to try and that others, mostly scientists, are trying harder and better and taking step after step, and genuinely getting somewhere.

  19. It was the issue of transubtation for me. I was raised Episcopal and when going through some sort of discussion, the concept was described. I don’t remember if the concept is embraced by the Episcopal Church or not, but, as an acolyte, I had seen the wafers come out of the box and wine come out of the bottle. I could accept a symbolic representation, but the literal body and blood….even in the sixth grade this was too much. From that point on I questioned everything and it all fell apart pretty quickly. I did not embrace my non-belief for several years, but when I did, it was more of a realization that I had felt this way for a long time rather than a sudden dawning.

    My undergraduate degree was in history and if one is holding onto the belief that religions are under the guidance of a benevolent deity, a cusory study of western history will quickly disabuse one of that notion.

  20. I grew up in a moderately Protestant house in the geographic center of the Midwestern U.S. We went to church on Sunday; and I was completely bored of it. I supposed I believed b/c I was supposed to believe, but I do not recall giving the matter much thought since I was only 8 or 9 years old, and we pretty much stopped going to church by the time I was 10.
    Meanwhile we had science books everywhere, including books about the history of life and human evolution. I would constantly examine these, and I was in love. I was in love with science, nature, and knowing how things worked. I knew about Mrs. Ples & the Taung child (famous fossils of early hominids) like other kids knew about The Monkees.
    On occasion I would wonder what I thought about religion. I think that for a long time I would have called myself an agnostic since I just did not want to admit I was an ‘atheist’. But gradually, gently, any vestige of religion that I had was gone. It had left so quietly that I did not even notice when it had closed the door on its departure. I knew I was an atheist probably by the time I was 12 or 13. There was no big moment. No epiphany. Just a gradual realization about what I was.

  21. A great leap of unfaith when I was 15 or 16. I remember the clouds that day, big, dramatic clouds, suddenly just clouds, no one behind them. There was no turning back though it was a scary time for me.

  22. “Unweaving the Rainbow” started the journey for me.

    I was eleven years old, and had ridden my bike to the local library. Walking through the stacks of books, the title and color of that text stood out to me. I loved rainbows! – and wanted to learn more about them. I quite vividly remember running joyfully up to the check out, where the elderly librarian no doubt realized that the book would be a difficult read for the young girl standing in front of him. But instead of dissuade me, he patiently helped me read the first chapter of the book. When I didn’t know the meaning of a word, he helped me look it up in a dictionary. At the end of the chapter, he gave me a dictionary to keep, and told me to keep the book as long as I needed to finish.

    When I got home, news that I had checked out a Dawkins book quickly spread through the family (“Who is Dawkins, and why can’t I read this book?” I inquired). I was given no answers, and was told to return it immediately. I spent the rest of that summer reading the book beneath my Noah’s Ark bed sheets after being put to bed – book in lap, flashlight in hand, and dictionary by my side. The thought-provoking metaphors captured my imagination. Rainbows, bar codes of the stars, squid skin behaving like an LED screen… The book filled me with wonder, and served as a catalyst for my love of science. Of course I didn’t understand everything the first read through – but I’ve read it subsequently many times. The beautiful prose introduced me to the science world, which instilled determination to read more science in later years – Sagan, Feynman, Darwin, Coyne, etc. My childhood beliefs were no more by the time I was in my mid-teens.

    I grew up in a devout Lutheran family, with only religious friends, in the middle of the bible belt. The journey to atheism was a painful process because of loss of depth to these relationships, but the joy of learning about the world around me, and in searching for the truth, has provided solace.

    Many thanks to the kind librarian.

    1. Needless to say… our public libraries have been in steady decline, esp. in religion-heavy areas. I suppose it has much to do with the scariness of freedom of access to information, something the parental indoctrinators of the world are morbidly terrified of.

    2. Powerful story. How could any parent take such a wonderful book away from a child?! And how courageous of you to persist and read it! Pure inspiration!!

      1. The family has since come around, and happily let me go on about whatever new thing I’ve learned about in the science world 🙂 We simply leave religion out of our conversations.

    3. What a wonderful story! And fantastic librarian!

      I wonder if there’s some way to call Dawkins’ attention to this?

      1. On Dr Dawkins site there is a page where the “converted” can tell their stories. It’s called “Convert’s Corner”. Perhaps aldoleopold can post it there.

    4. I love the bit about your reading the forbidden Dawkins book under your Noah’s Ark bed sheets!

  23. Understanding the basics of evolution during my teen years. The realization that there is no evidence or reason to propose any gods solidifying this conclusion later in life.

  24. After my bar mitzvah I kind a realized it was all nonsense but continued to go through the motions over the years (participating less and less and skepticism rising). I always had that nagging in the back of my mind “what if I’m wrong?”.

    Reading Richard Dawkins “The God Delusion” and joining the atheist community in places like this website confirmed my sense of relief from the nonsense.
    (Insert joke here about feeling born again).

  25. Not much of a story here. I was raised in a nominally Catholic household, but our observances were pretty much confined to Sunday morning Mass; there was no real talk of religion at home. I went to (US) public school and participated in a peculiar artifact of 1950s church/state détente called “release time”, in which Catholic children were excused from class to march across the street to the Catholic school for an hour of religious instruction once a week.

    None of it really stuck. By high school it was clear to me that the stories of Adam & Eve, Moses, and Jesus were of a piece with those of Odysseus, King Arthur, and Paul Bunyan. In college I met some Jesus freaks, full-on hippie evangelicals who spoke in tongues, but again it was obvious that they had no convincing reason to think their beliefs were true; they believed because it felt good.

    One night during my freshman year I dreamed I was in a free-falling glass elevator watching the ground rush up at me. Convinced I was about to die, I opened my heart and thought: OK God, if you’re there, now’s the time to reveal yourself. But there was no answer, the elevator went smash, and I woke up knowing I had crossed the line from agnostic to atheist.

  26. I started reading Bertrand Russell in the local library when I was 14. It didn’t take long to shake off a religious upbringing.

    1. Me too – it was Bertrand Russell that did it. I grew up in a Christian family (Church of England – nothing extreme) and sang in the church choir. I believed in it all firmly until the age of 14 or so. I used to send up little telepathic prayers to God all through the day; they were nearly always ignored, but on one memorable occasion, when I was on a fishing trip I prayed ‘Dear Lord, please let me catch a fish’ – and the next second there was a tug on the line… That probably kept me believing for a year or two longer than I otherwise would have done. But round about 13 or 14 I entered a rationalist phase from which I have thankfully never emerged. I started to question the possibility of free will; and without free will the whole of religion became meaningless. (I still don’t believe in free will, except for the diluted compatibilist sort, which is good enough for everyday use but not at all the sort of free will that could justify sending people to heaven or hell.) Then I discovered Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian, and that was the end of it.

  27. I was raised in a Reform Jewish home where I was taught to “think for myself.” My parents were as “religious” as Reform Jews can be…

    I was always interested in “belief” and even majored in Religious Studies in college…and it was at that point that I decided in my own mind that “they are all basically saying the same thing.” That was the first step to my understanding that I really didn’t have any place for religion in my life.

    My lack of belief has developed over the years from reading people like Asimov, Hitchens and Sagan, although, I have to admit that my favorite “idea” comes from Dawkins…paraphrasing (because I’m not sure of the exact quote), “How thoughtful of God to arrange matters so that, wherever you happen to be born, the local religion always turns out to be the true one.”

    I currently define myself as an “apatheist” — I’m apathetic about theism. That means that I don’t care…I know longer have any interest…other than to keep it out of 1) my life and 2) my government.

    I ignore the religious part of my friends’ lives. Most know and apparently respect my apostasy. Perhaps some of them even they pray for me…but that’s their right, and as long as they do it privately it doesn’t hurt me.

    Two of my three children “believe” in something, but they’re universalists which means that aren’t the “my way is the only way” type of people. My daughter-in-law, however, doesn’t like the fact that I “don’t believe in God.” Since I try to keep peace in the family I didn’t say, “I’m an atheist (or apatheist)” when she asked me. I just responded (in Talmudic fashion), “How do you define ‘God?'” We agreed that we can both believe that there are “forces” in the universe which we don’t understand. That’s a broad enough definition even for me.

    My wife of 45 years is a non-religious believer…and we don’t really discuss it, because she doesn’t really care that much either. I predict that in a few years she’ll post her own “how I became an atheist” story


    1. I have a hunch that many young people who are religious go to college, and, being curious, take classes on religion. But some of them find that that learning about other religions and about how religions start begins the process of breaking the spell of religion.

  28. I was raised Greek Orthodox, and my family remains quite religious. My road to atheism tracked a gradually growing understanding of naturalism in that 10-15 y.o. range.

    The death knell was trying to fit souls into an evolutionary timeline – it was clear that that story required such a wholly arbitrary and nonsensical intervention (some people had souls, and some didn’t? Wtf?) that I realized none of it made any sense at all.

  29. I was raised as a southern baptist with a grandmother zealous enough to tear up playing cards, saying “there’s only one king!” (yes, the flagrant ignorance in that statement is… flagrant). I remember having an averson to church because of the apparent hostility in all preacher’s tones. And out of credulity I would take them and my parents at their word. One day when I was a very young my mom found me standing on the bible in my room (you guessed it, “stand on the word of god!”).

    I went to church less and less as I grew up, not going at all once I moved out on my own. In my late teens I was introduced to Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy. I jumped into Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Teresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, etc. shortly thereafter while studying western philosophy as well. The personal experience aspect of mysticism took root in me until I later took began studying psychology. While reading the Blank Slate, when Pinker mentions those who dismiss and demonized Dawkins about the Selfish Gene whithout bothering to read what he actually said, I realized I was a guilty party. I decided to give Dawkins a read and it was all over from there. I ended up reading everything he ever wrote. Hitchens, Harris, Coyne, Shermer and the like all followed immediately after. I guess the sad thing was the disappointment following my optimistic outlook after my dissilusion. I assumed all that was necessary for others to be dissilusioned was the appropriate information. WRONG! Influencing other’s value systems is a delicate and complex matter.

    1. I should add that my wife and I never discussed eligible until our daughter was born and I insisted she not be inculcated. She would be educated and allowed make her own decisions. When anything such as elf on a shelf came along I insisted that she be made aware that it was pretend, which did nothing to take away the value of the game or detract from the “observer” role the elf played. Like playing tea party, nothing is lost if everyone knows there isn’t any actual tea. She overjoyed me when one day when she said “I think mommy is moving the elf when I’m not looking but it’s fun to try and find it!”

  30. I was never a believer. Growing up, I didn’t really hear anything about religion from my father and my mother was raised Catholic but was disenchanted with the RCC. She pretty much never mentioned religion to us kids either.

    Perhaps twice I was taken to Christmas mass. All I ever recalled of it was dreadful boredom and dozing of and on in a really uncomfortable bench. And thinking how wrong it was that the church, a ritzy RCC one, was so fancy and yet the benches sucked so bad.
    That was the extent of my childhood indoctrination.

    During my middle school period on the urgings of a good friend I asked my parents if I could go to a Christian school. Thankfully they said “no way.”

    For a good part of my life I didn’t much think about religion and was very much of the, “hey, whatever you want to believe as long as you don’t force it on others,” school of thought. But my position eventually changed. It became very evident that that ideal was just that, an ideal. In reality it doesn’t, it never can or will, work that way. People can’t help but force their religious beliefs, any category of beliefs for that matter, on others. And religious beliefs are much more of an impact than most other categories of beliefs because they are especially important to people in that they are the foundation of their image of themselves and their world view.

  31. Raised Catholic by a devout Mom (Dad was nominally Anglican but never went to church). Stopped going to church pretty much immediately after leaving home for college. Never gave the whole thing much thought thereafter until one Christmas eve when I was home visiting the family with my girlfriend. We decided to “treat” my Mom & accompany her to midnight mass. In the spirit of the season I guess, the priest decided to use his sermon to remind everyone how special Catholicism was, how only IT was the true religion etc. Of course without any assertions of evidence whatsoever. I just remember looking around at everyone thinking “are you people just gonna go on swallowing this bla bla?” At the airport on the way out of town I walked into a bookstore where I (miraculously?!) came across Richard Dawkins’ God Delusion. Enjoyed it immensely, then saw him on Youtube along with C. Hitchens, Sam Harris et al, and came to feel like they do, that it is actually worthwhile to defend non-belief, reason, skepticism, and rational thinking from any further encroachments in the public space by illogical, dogmatic, blindly faith-based organizations & individuals.

  32. Around age nine I asked my mom if Ruth was a Jew. How I knew who Ruth was (Old Testament); I have no idea. She said yes. So I said she was not a Christian? She said correct.

    Well, that was it. Simple temporal unfairness, I thought. How can a religion, any religion, be right if it was not conveyed to all people for all time.

    No hard feelings toward believes, just a sense that I want no part of some arbitrary (waste of time) belief system.

  33. I was dating a girl who was an atheist, and she’d just ask questions. I was never strongly religious–growing up, we only attended church after my mother was diagnosed with cancer–but I did consider myself Christian. I was introduced to existentialism in high school and kind of adopted an existentialist belief system (we define what it means to be human, and were not, therefore, created with any specific purpose), I just didn’t take it the step further to say “there was no god to create us in the first place.” So the girlfriend would ask about my beliefs, and the more I tried to explain why I believed certain things (like the divinity of Jesus), the more I realized how ridiculous they were.

    Coincidentally, I was also taking a Roman Catholic Tradition course at my Catholic university, and was being told things like “Genesis 1 and 2 are both true.”

  34. I was a preacher’s kid. Long story short, in my teen years I took the stance, “Well if the whole Jesus thing is true, then it can withstand any questions and/or scrutiny I throw at it”. Whoops.

    1. Pretty much my story too except my questioning didn’t pick up steam until college. Also, as someone mentioned above, I could never explain to anyone else why I believed what I believed. So I stopped believing it. The whole edifice crumbled pretty quickly.

      1. Forgot to add that Sam Harris’s “End of Faith” is what turned me into a gnu atheist after having been a somewhat apologetic one for 20ish years. Despite my handle, that was about a decade ago.

        I have to say that my mental health has never been better since the gnu atheism/internet nexus started.

    2. I was a deacon’s kid who became a minister and thought the same thing. I also added a second thought, “If God is perfect and loving etc., etc., he would have to be better than me.” Since I wouldn’t be the genocidal asshat he is, he either doesn’t exist or is someone who I should keep at a large distance.
      Those thoughts, along with a lot of reading helped me see the light. I will say that it felt really good, almost like a conversion experience, to finally realize that there is no god. What a liberating feeling. Not that I want to be free to “sin”, but I don’t have to contort my mind to fit in all that nonsense, I can see the world for what it is.

  35. I was something like eight years old when my mother, probably under some pressure from her own fundamentalist mother, made a rather half-hearted attempt to indoctrinate my sister and me into christianity. We went to sunday school maybe 2 or 3 times. I don’t remember much about the experience except that I found the whole thing ambiguously creepy and decided i really wanted nothing to do with religion henceforth. A profound interest in astronomy and other sciences since early childhood reinforced this decision.

    So I really have no clear memory of ever believing in god, unless I did so around age five or six.

  36. I grew up in New England in a non-religious family. Never went to church, never went to a religious school, never read the bible (in childhood, I mean; I’ve read and studied it on my own as an adult). Religion was never a part of my life, so I never had to reject it and “become” an atheist. I’ve been an atheist more or less by default my whole life, and haven’t yet found a reason to change my mind.

  37. My road to atheism was manifold. I’ll try to list in chronological order.

    I actually don’t remember how old I was at the time but I couldn’t have been older than 8. The story of Jesus seemed more suspect to me than “God” and I grew ever more suspicious the more I thought about it. A god walking the earth? Seemed pretty unlikely. It’s when I started ruminating on the idea of changing god’s diaper that I finally decided that part of the story surely couldn’t be literally true. I told my mom I didn’t think I believed in Jesus and she simply assured me that I did, much to my confusion. Various stories in Sunday school also sounded ludicrous to me but I don’t have a specific moment that leads to a significant insight along my road to atheism.

    Puberty was a wake up call. I was a real tomboy and no one has ever prayed more fervently than I did for small boobs. I am currently looking to see if Obamacare will cover a breast reduction.

    Studying mythology in school was always a challenge to my “faith.” We were supposed to regard these people’s faith in crazy gods and goddesses as clearly fictional but supposed to think our own religion was for realsies? I also remember looking around during church and wondering if everybody really believed this stuff or if half the people there – particularly the husbands – were just there to placate their wives/spouses, or parents/children.

    In grad school I experienced the weird certainty that god suddenly decided to be my BFF – not long afterwards I woke up in a psyche ward being told I was manic-depressive and would I please swallow this lithium? I remember thinking at the time how much more sense that made and that I was going to take whatever my brain had to say with a grain of salt from then on…

    By this time I clearly was no Christian but I still entertained some New Agey types of possibilities. I read Dan Dennett’s “Consciousness Explained” and a lot of those ideas took a big hit. It seemed pretty clear that all of our conscious experiences were in fact emergent qualities of a purely physical nature.

    Still I prayed… until one day… I finally read a true atheism book. It was George H. Smith’s, “Atheism: The Case Against God.” Finally I grasped the sheer illogic of the whole god concept, Christianity in particular, and I’ve been a hard core atheist ever sense. That was about 25 years ago.

    1. Oh, I forgot to include the Santa Claus/Easter Bunny debacle. That was another big clue along my path to atheism.

  38. I’m the son of a Presbyterian minister. Church/worship was a central part of our family life and (through much moving around) I was exposed to Church of England, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, and Lutheran congregations as well as the Presbys. My wife being RC, we decided on Episcopal churches as a happy middle ground. All was well for many years.

    It wasn’t until my mid-40s when attending an adult-education lecture by the rector of our parish that my faith was truly shaken. He used Augustine’s Just War Theory to outline for the group how justified GWB was in invading Iraq.

    This offended me so much that I began to question how someone claiming to be a man of peace and inspired by Jesus’ teachings could say such things. Thus began my journey to become the atheist I now am.

    Someday I should thank him for starting me on that path — although he has since been stripped of his title by the Episcopal Church for misappropriation of funds and church property. The congregation I used to attend more-or-less split in two with lawsuits filed over who got the large and valuable church. He narrowly avoided jail-time — although I think he deserved it.

    I should add that blogs such as this one and Pharyngula helped a great deal in making my transition. So I owe a greater thanks to Jerry & PZ than to that scumbag rector.

  39. At some point in adolescence, I started to be bothered by the injustice inherent in the notion that God favors those who agree with us and condemns those who don’t. It was all downhill from there. I had a hard time with it; I loved religion and all of the ceremony attending it. It took me to adulthood to accept that I hadn’t lost anything.

  40. My grandparents originally were Baptist, changing later to Church of God, Holiness (extremely fundamentalist). I was raised as a Nazarene (still fundamentalist: NO dancing, smoking, drinking, swearing, playing cards, going to movies). As I was growing up, I had the feeling that my prayers were going nowhere.

    I went one year to Pasadena Nazarene College (we had: chapel on weekdays, church on Wednesday night and Sunday morning and evening, revival meetings twice a year, Old Testament and New Testament courses). Some of my experiences at Pas. Naz. added to my unbelief. For awhile, my husband and I tried to participate in less fundamentalist congregations, but couldn’t continue. We have not been members of any congregation for over 50 years.

    Over the years, education and reading brought about an awareness that we didn’t believe in a God, or Gods. We have an extensive secular library and belong to a number of secular organizations.

    This is part of a “poem” I wrote about prayer:

    My prayers lie lifeless about my head,
    a congregation of dessicated words,
    shorn of faith they are helpless
    to wend their way anywhere.
    I fear that one more prayer
    will bury me in years
    of stillborn prayers.

  41. On one’s becoming atheist and antitheist, I have only one piece of counsel: do not delay.*

    If at any one thing in one’s life, this one? This one is a rush – order: do it today. Embrace one’s godlessness today. FINE topic, Ms Spingies / Dr Coyne.

    I was long in to mawwiages, birthed kiddos, divorces, careers and finally just depositing paychecks … … by, actually, 42 years of age. A person* pertaining to sentence #1 and I were cleaning off paintbrushes, just the two of us, inside my condominium’s basement when, there in a stunning reveal, I was finally, at that nearly middle age, … … released.

    The revelation? His to me? It was a release. A release – a freedom – of an emotional and life – altering magnitude which has only been rivaled in size by one other event in my entire lifetime by then. Or since.

    Here if interested:

    But my point of sentence #1 is two – fold:
    i) for ~2/3rds of my lifetime to date today, I was living a lie and in a lie; and

    ii) in just two soooo, so short years from The Release, my main man with whom I could have shared quite vast quantities of such smashingly fun and interesting conversations about all manner of stuffs — IF ONLY we had both known of each other’s actual cores and essences — was dead.


  42. I can’t pinpoint a moment where I became atheist. But I can pinpoint a moment where I realized I wanted nothing to do with churches and religion.

    My mother was/is a “Christian-lite,” where she unapologetically takes the elements that give her comfort, and doesn’t spend any time thinking about the rest of it. We happened to have a Church right in the middle of our crescent street and, thinking it best we know something about Jesus, my mother sent my brother and I there to Sunday school.

    She didn’t know this was a biblical literalist, hell-preaching church! We were made to memorize sections of the bible, and constantly warned about hell and God’s coming apocalyptic judgement. And everyone wore that weird pasted on “too happy” smile while telling us this. It all seemed so creepy and, as my brother and I later discussed, there was always the impression these people were trying to *convince us* of something, in any way possible. Whether it was plying us with candy bars to learn and recite biblical passages, or scaring us with sermons and movies about hell, or talking of how great it is to accept Jesus with a sort of unnatural forced looking grin…it never felt right to us. It felt more like brainwashing.

    Finally, one day one of the ministers was talking to a group of us boys (I think I was around 12 or 13). I was really into science, nature, herpetology, dinosaurs etc.
    The minister was recalling an argument he’d just had with someone who believed in evolution. “And I said to him, I’m sorry but YOU may think you are related to a gorilla, YOU may think we came from apes, but that’s not what the Lord says.” The minister was working himself up, conveying his contempt but through that ever-present sweaty selling-something smile (If you’ve seen A Clockwork Orange, remember probation officer Mr. Deltoid’s demeanor on Alex’s bed, and you’ve pictured this minister’s combination of contempt and smarminess perfectly). He said to us “Boys, isn’t that just the most insulting thing you’ve ever heard? I’m not related to any gorilla? Are YOU???!!!”

    And I thought: Yes. I am.

    I read enough about the history of life on earth to know how we evolved and that we were related to existing apes. And it brought the most uncomfortable dissonance: Why is this adult, who is supposed to be smarter than I am and who is my teacher, saying such dumb things? Why is he trying to convince me to disbelieve what they teach me in school, and what I know through reading science books? This is just…too weird and creepy.

    I went home and told my mother about my concerns and she understood, saying I didn’t have to go there anymore (same with my brother).

    Unfortunately it took years to slowly rid myself of the “what if it’s true?” fears about hell they’d tried to instill in me.

  43. When I read The Selfish Gene. It was then I finally understood how Darwinian natural selection could completely explain the seemingly incomprehensible complexity of life on earth, without the need for any unseen or undiscovered forces or powers.

  44. The sudden realisation that, because not all religions can be right, the only sensible conclusion is that they are all wrong. This light switched on when, as a 9 year-old, I was sitting in church wondering why only the Hebrew myths were history when all the others were just silly stories. And how come they suddenly got it all wrong when it came to Jesus if they remembered everything else in perfect details?

    I knew the Romans gave us Christianity but the stained glass window of a saint in what looked like a toga made me realise that Christianity was yet another Roman myth, no truer than all the others.

    Click! They were all wrong!

  45. Everyone is born an atheist. We would all stay that way if delusional people didn’t try to force their ridiculous superstitions on us. So I never had to become an atheist. As soon as I heard about the supposed attributes of God I knew it was a lie.

  46. I was one of the lucky ones that grew up in a secular household. I had a grandfather that was religious living with us and for a while all the kids were rounded up and sent to Sunday school every couple of weeks (only later did I realise my parents’ ulterior motive in emptying the house for the morning).I did go to church once at about 15 to see what the fuss was about but realised after about 10 minutes that you were hearing a load of crap and couldn’t answer back. I did come across the Sunday school teacher again about a year after that (she was 5-8 years older than me) at a New Years eve event. To be fair I did learn a lot that night so religion did have one benefit.

    1. “only later did I realise my parents’ ulterior motive in emptying the house for the morning”

      That is possibly the first, best and only practical use of religion that I’ve heard of. 🙂


      1. My parents did the same thing every Sunday, packing us kids off to the salvation army sunday school. It was only many years later that I also realised what it was about. Way to go Mum&Dad 🙂

  47. It was Easter Mass. I was thirteen and already skeptical. My father was a recovering Catholic and mother an indifferent Congregationalist so I didn’t have much religiosity growing up. But it was a sudden realization I had at that Easter Mass that drove the last (on many) stake through the heart of the religious in me.

    The epiphany I had is a common one for the holiday, but to my thirteen year old mind it seemed important. Unique. Like no one else had thought of it before. Over the years I have found the idea really wasn’t unique or new or even very significant but at the time it played a big role in my freedom. It is one that has played a role, I think, in freeing many people from the dead boney clutches of Xtianity for centuries; it’s not a sacrifice if you take it back.

    Once I realized that the religion was built on such an elementary falsehood (and one that we are not allowed to question) it was easy.

    Been free ever since.

  48. I am not sure I was ever a believer. I wasn’t raised in a very religious household. My mom was a Roman Catholic, but she fell out with the church when she was a novice nun, and her father died, and they wouldn’t let her go be with her mom. If she ever went to church other than for weddings and funerals, I never saw it. My dad had been raised Congregationalist, but even today he’s hardly religious. I was taught my “Now I lay me down to sleep,” and went to church when visiting the grandparents, but that was it. (My family’s religious background is somewhat colorful. An ancestor of mine was the last person to be burned for heresy in England. Another founded the first Baptist church in Connecticut. I am also a descendant of Roger Williams.)

    Then when I was in high-school, I had a history teacher who voiced what seemed like very sensible criticisms of the crucifixion and resurrection. (It was a private school.) I started to think about it, and by the time I was eighteen, had decided that gods didn’t make a lot of sense. By the time I read the Bible to any real extent, I was already familiar with the Greek, Roman, and Norse myths (thanks school!), and I couldn’t see any reason to privilege the Bible over the other god stories. It just seemed like another set of myths. (My sister, by contrast, has always been “spiritual,” married a Catholic, and converted. Now, as these things go, she is more religious than he is.)

    Since then I have only been confirmed in my opinion that gods, insofar as we know them from the writings of men, make no sense. At the same time as my education continued, I could only observe the turmoil caused by religion, and the very human prejudice it seemed, if not to foster, than to buttress.

  49. Ed and Mike Senerote made me an atheist.
    I grew up in the late 80’s in the sub-urbs of South Florida. My father is, I suppose, nominally christian, but he never attended church with us and my mother, an Episcopal, always seemed more taken with the hymns, the pageantry and the social aspect of church attendance than with religious faith. So for me, religion was more of a half-assed suggestion than indoctrination. But I did attend church and was even an acolyte for e brief time, which was done entirely to make my mother happy. I never put much thought into religion, I just assumed everyone else realized it was a parable as well until the Brothers Senerote and myself became teenagers. Mike and Ed were catholic and far more religious than me. They used to make fun of me for being Episcopal because we weren’t “hardcore” like the Catholics. They were also both thoroughly delinquent minors. One Saturday when I was 14, Mike, Ed and myself went to the movies at the mall. Those two shoplifted enough crap to open up a whole new department store. When I asked Mike how this squared with his piety, is answer was, “confession, are you stupid?”
    The dam burst in that moment. I have identified as an atheist since that day.

  50. I’d stopped believing in God many years before, but still went to Church with family without really asking myself whether this was anything more than continuing in the culture of my youth. The big release came when I read in Dawkins (and others) that the existence of God is a hypothesis about the way the world works, and I immediately agreed that there is no credible evidence for any god. So that confrontation made me realize with all my being (not just part) that I had been an atheist for a long time.

  51. What started me on the tangled path to non belief were the self satisfied, smug, mealy mouthed, small/closed minded, spiritually stunted, money grubbing, hypocritical, bigoted midgets who are “Public Christians”. The loud, uncharitable, unforgiving, unloving misogynistic ” The Most Reverends” who fly around in private jets to their various ministries fleecing their “sheep”.
    From an early age I needed convincing, but our culture is so steeped in religion it took me awhile to cut through the tangles.
    I chased Gurus for a few years and learned many meditation techniques, one of which I still practice but as Hitch said “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.
    The only “heaven” I’m interested in is one where all the Dawgs I’ve known and loved are there to greet me.

  52. Born and bred – my father taught logic and argumentation at San Jose State College, and was a deeply skeptical who spent his life studying related sciences; my mother was a far-left radical socialist. I was raised to question everything, trust nothing. There was never a suggestion that anything existed beyond the physical universe.

    The great shock of my life was when I realized – somewhere around the age of ten – that religion wasn’t something only crazy old people did. Up til that time I thought of churches as empty buildings filled with the metaphorical ghosts of old beliefs, and god-and-jesus as the same as santa and the tooth fairy. When i began to grasp that my peers were largely religious I was stunned, and when I became aware, in my teens, that most of the world believed, it was the beginning of my deep distrust of my fellow human beings. It led me to the inevitable conclusion that people – by and large – do not have any good reason for most of what they think and do; that most of us stumble around blindly assuming what we’re doing makes sense.

    1. Excellent video. Very nicely done.

      The ending was a bit of a bummer though 😉

      I do have a bit of an issue with the tactic quite a few atheists seem to take, which is often to try to take the wind out of Christianity’s sails by de-emphasizing our importance in the universe and basically saying “grow up and face the fact you are going to die, and that’s that.”

      I get the tactic, but in order to come off as “the grown up in the room, able to face the harsh reality” the message left can seem sometimes as empty as theists fear, and it’s not the case.

      I much prefer to emphasize how much about life remains amazing and wonderful, and may be seen even to be elevated when you compare trading the tiny mythical understanding of the universe of an ancient desert tribe with the wonders available to us now. The pleasure
      a clearer understanding of the world affords over the cognitive dissonance of constantly wrestling the square peg of old myths into the round hole of experience. How valuable it is to understanding reality better in order to achieve our desires and goals, etc.

      And the fact we our lives comprise part of a massive human story through time, and that we can engage in shared goals, be part of an impetus of change, that span far beyond our own lifetimes. Etc. Humans may not be the reason the universe exists, but there are plenty of ways in which our existence and particular traits are absolutely amazing and inspiring.

  53. I grew up in a god-fearing but not necessarily a highly religious family. By extension I was never deeply religious but in my teens I would have said I was spiritual but not religious. I hate that description now.

    Reading Richard Feynman in my early twenties made me an atheist but I probably still would not have associated myself with that label. Feynman’s show-me-the-proof mentality is still the strongest reason why I have stayed an atheist. Lack of proof is all I need to continue being an atheist.

    Finally reading Richard Dawkins a few years later was what I needed to start actively calling myself an atheist.

    If someone now asks me about my views on religion or god, I never shy away from them. This I owe to Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and professor ceiling cat.

  54. I was an Episcopalian dating a Catholic girl in high school. She told me that she felt sorry that I was going to hell. When I asked why I was going to hell, she said it was because I wasn’t Catholic. I asked her if primitive people in South American jungles were also going to hell. They were, she said, if they weren’t Catholic. That discussion formed the roots of my atheism.

    1. I talked to a girl once who was preparing for her confirmation. I didn’t know what that was, so she explained it. I replied “Oh, it’s kinda like an RSVP for heaven”. She was not amused. But I was!

  55. No epiphany either, but I can remember hashing out the “what if you’re wrong?” discussion with an older brother by age 7, with me taking the “it all seems like a load of shit” side, even at that early stage. Our Catholic (“reformed”, western-American-influenced) family would provide music for mass & there was obligatory Catechism on some night of the week. I was even an altar boy for years… basically all these behaviors as a non-believer, only to please the parental units – to give back to them for providing me with food and shelter and piano lessons, etc. An expression of my love for them was to put up with all this obvious bullshit and not to make waves about “beliefs”. The important stuff was the central key message: how we treat one another. They’ll know we are Christians by our love, etc.

    So I suppose I was more “agnostic” about the question of the existence of deities early on, but especially wary of the big contradiction of a “loving” creator who would make all of reality some kind of personal cosmic threshing machine, for running all his little loved creations through merely to put them all into “naughty” and “nice” piles. The whole conception just seemed so artificial, unimaginative, and primitive — and no amount of handwaving by the clergy (it’s a mystery) could dispel the blinkered stupidity of the central dogmas in my mind. We were being asked to embrace impossibilities and logical contradictions ONLY IN this particular aspect of life. I’m sorry to those who have been held hostage for so long, and I do know that my individual circumstances were such that I was allowed to explore different mental avenues (having 4 older brothers helped immensely)… but it did not take a rocket scientist to figure out from my early childhood perspective that the beliefs of huge swaths of people were greatly amiss – and not to trust elders’ advice so implicitly.
    I figured out Santa Claus by about 6 years old; it actually scared me a little that I looked all around me and saw adults everywhere who hadn’t quite tweaked to the Santa Claus thing the way I did.

    1. Yeah, I figured out the Santa Claus thing at 6 or 7 when we were living in Martinique. My mother explained away the dark-skinned Santa vs the light-skinned one that we’d seen in Vienna the previous year. She said they were just Santa’s helpers, and that you never got to see the real Santa (i had 2 younger brothers and another on the way, so she was trying to keep the myth alive). It was the heavy snowsuit in the tropics, not to mention the flying reindeer, that put me over the edge. My parents never pushed religion at all in any case.

  56. My mother was a lapsed Anglican and Seven Day Adventist (all forced on her as a child) and my father an anti-theist atheist. I was raised without religion and probably picked up on my parents’ own bad experiences with it. I was raised to understand science, especially evolution and astronomy and developed my own scientific interests as a kid. So, I guess there wasn’t much chance that I’d be anything but an atheist.

    The only thing was I had a really hard time as a child accepting death. It was a source of great anxiety and I wish it had been handled in a better way – my parents just told me when you died that was it. I had to grapple with this myself and I don’t think I had the cognitive ability to do so very well.

    1. The death of my grandfather when I was 7 or 8 had a huge impact on me personally, if not spiritually. I haunted my dreams for months, if not years. I’m not sure I ever really dealt with it and unlike Mark Twain, being dead worried me just as much as not being born, at least after I thought about it. Not that religion helped in any way, it really just made it worse. Being told that “god needed grandpa in heaven more than we needed him here” just confused and angered me, and being told that, no, animals don’t have souls so they will never get to heaven probably didn’t endear me to god much at all.

  57. I grew up in a Hindu Brahmin household. My parents were moderately religious as were the rest of the people in our little town. I went through all the rituals like the Upanayana and was taught the ritual Sandhyavandanam worship by my grandfather. I used to do it quite sincerely for many years. I learned to recite from memory some portions of the Bhagavad Gita and other Sanskrit prayers. I recall that even in school we used to recite Hindu prayers at the assembly at the beginning of the day. Even non-Hindu kids did it. Thinking back, those kids had to put up with a lot of Hinduism for the sake of a decent education. My parents did inculcate the habit of reading and never squelched my curiosity. I read a lot about science, particularly astronomy and space but didn’t really question my religious beliefs.

    During my undergraduate years I veered away from ritualism and more towards Vedanta philosophy and meditation due to reading the works of Swami Vivekanand. The work of anti-superstition organizations also influenced me to turn away from deeply entrenched ritualistic Hindu practices. When I came to the US for graduate school, I identified myself as Hindu. As I expanded my reading, I read a lot about Buddhism and I realized that here was a philosophy that rejected the core principles of the Vedantic religion (i.e. the existence of atman) and was still coherent in some sense. That made me question whether either of these were true. Another book that precipitated the seeds of doubt in my mind was Len Fisher’s “Weighing the Soul”. That lead to a lot of reading about science, philosophy of science etc.

    Being a new immigrant to the US and because I was studying mechanical engineering, I wasn’t tuned into the evolution vs. creationism debate. I was a teaching assistant for the fluid mechanics lab at my department for two summers. I discovered (quite accidentally) that the author of the textbook we were using, who still is a professor in the department (he’s a Cal Tech graduate) is a young earth creationist. I was surprised because I had never thought that anyone would think like that. We were always taught the basics of the theory of evolution in school. That lead to more reading and learning more about evolution via “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins and “What Evolution Is” by Ernst Mayer. I think I had already begun to doubt all religions but I believe that reading about evolution truly convinced me that a worldview without god is possible. An explosion of blogs related to science and skepticism around that time also helped. PZ’s blog was very helpful. I believe my “conversion” to atheism had started somewhere around late 2004 or early 2005 and was complete a bit before “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins was published in 2006.

    1. great story. Nice to hear a different perspective from non-US Christians, even thought there are a lot of similarities.

      I admit, if Id found out that the text being used in any of my classes was written by a creationist, I’d have been pissed!

      I also turned to PZ’s blog at first, early in my atheist awareness (i’d been a non-believer for years though) but the helpfulness ended abruptly, with attempting to enter into discussion and being attacked and cursed out.

      1. I’m more of a lurker on blogs and don’t have the stomach for shouting matches. I rarely commented on PZ’s blog and the experience was not good the couple of times I did. I don’t think my comments were particularly controversial. I still read his blog, though less regularly.

    2. Yes, very interesting to get the experience from Hinduism. I enjoyed looking at those links, ceremonies I’d never even heard of.

      And as quiscalus says, one can’t help but notice all the similarities as well, the hallmarks of indoctrination whatever the religion.

  58. I have no idea when it happened. Gradually, I guess, like many here have said. I just know that it went from something I was dragged to as a kid, assumed was real so prayed at night when I remembered, to at some point by high school laughing at others my age who went to church because I couldn’t imagine why they still believed that crap. There were certainly some things along the way that bugged me, but overall, it just sorta happened, like puberty.

    My grandmother was very active in her church, sang in the choir. I have a second cousin who is a minister. I had a great aunt who was a traveling preacher of some sort but I was never a regular attendee to any church and never willingly attended. Holidays were pretty secular, I didn’t even know Easter was religious until I went to college and discussed it in philosophy class! That same class introduced me to Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens but I was already an agnostic heavily leaning atheist by then.

    frankly, it’s a rather dull story. sorry.

  59. I’ve enjoyed reading all of these so far.

    It was education for me that started me on the path to enlightenment. And a little ironic that it was especially college education at a Seventh-day Adventist university (SDA education for me 7th grade thru grad school). My major professors (in Nutrition and Dietetics) rightly stressed over and over the importance of scientific evidence to support nutrition recommendations; and that with new evidence, practice must change. Learning to value evidence and avoid nutrition “quackery” was soon a way of thinking I applied to more and more of my life, including my very sincere and long-held religious beliefs. It was a very long, slow, gradual dawning.

  60. I was raised in a very strict christian home. My father was and is to this day a strong believer. My mom was more wishy washy. I’m not sure she ever really thought about it that much. She definitely had “belief in belief” though. She sort of went with the flow and many of her friends were believers, so she just rolled with it. She belonged to many different churches of different denominations, so she clearly wasn’t too serious about any one particular thing. My dad on the other hand was some sort of non-denominational that seemed close to Baptist.

    What I think happened to me was that due to the area I grew up in and various other reasons, my parents ended up sending me to a Catholic school. My father was never thrilled about that, but put up with it.

    Going all through Catholic grade school was miserable. I had a few public school friends, and even at such a young age, I could tell there was something different about them. They seemed more mature and less haughty, which I liked. The teachers were awful and would publicly humiliate you if you didn’t instantly grasp something. They caused a lot of stress and anxiety in me. When you are over a year younger than everyone else in the grade, and naturally a shy person, it gives the students the impression that it’s OK to target that kid and bully them. After all, the teachers did it. For years, I hated school and was terrified of it. I sort of went through the motions and never bothered to excel in anything.

    Religion class became very interesting to me. It was easy. You could BS your way through most of it, but a key point here is that I’d come home from school and my dad would criticize and ridicule what I was being taught about Christianity. It certainly planted some seeds in me and made me question things.

    I took the faith pretty seriously. I remember for a few years I was telling people I wanted to be a priest. But I’d go home and I’d do my homework with my father around in case I had any questions, and he would tell me all sorts of things that were “wrong” about Catholicism. He’d want me to go to school the next day and start arguments with the teachers about different theological problems he thought he found.

    I had absolutely no knowledge of Islam, or Judaism, or Buddhism, or anything else, but I started realizing that there were huge conflicts within Christianity itself. So who was right? Who was I to listen to? My father, or all the teachers and students in this school? It was very confusing.

    I was a rebellious kid and I started hating everything about religion. I can’t quite find the right words to describe this internal feeling, but I was done. This is between 6th and 8th grade. I just couldn’t wait to graduate and get away from this people. Maybe discovering rock n roll helped. In fact, I know it did. It was the early 2000’s, and I had discovered bands like Black Sabbath and Marilyn Manson. I’m sure most of this audience are probably unfamiliar with Manson, aside for maybe some crazy rumors, but the man actually has a plethora of profound lyrics on topics such as religion, politics, etc.. I was really into poetry and would sit for hours trying to critically examine the lyrics and interpret them.

    I had no friends, everyone hated me, and I just couldn’t wait to leave this school behind for public high school. I was searching for the polar opposite of Christianity at this point.

    I was in a bookstore one day and discovered “The Satanic Bible” by Anton LaVey. I read it and was pretty amazed. I ended up getting his others books. I think at the time, I was probably young and credulous and was just looking for anything opposite of Christianity. I probably would have been happy with some spooky thing called “Satanism” that was about spells and candles and other nonsense. But to my surprise, it ended up being largely atheistic. You’d have to read his works yourself. I could go off on a tangent and describe what I mean in depth, but I’ll just say that for the most part his work was sound and helped introduce me to philosophy like Nietzsche. I’ve since abandoned “Satanism” as I’ve learned more, but still credit it as an important stepping stone to where I am today.

    I don’t remember ever learning anything about evolution in my grade school (which is now closed, fortunately) and learned a very bizarre take on it in high school. I think they sort of just brushed over it and didn’t really take the time to get the students to really appreciate how beautiful and true the theory really was.

    So finally, and I’m at the end here, in my late teens/very early 20’s, I was very well read with atheistic arguments. I debated my father a lot, but was only able to use philosophical arguments like the problem with hell and suffering for example. We’d have some good debates, but there was always a part in the conversation when he would say something like “You’re not one of those crazy evolutionists, are you?!”. I didn’t really feel like I had any grasp on it whatsoever. I was so naive, the question of “why are monkeys still here” was a problem for me. He had a lot of arguments from people like Kent Hovind and Ken Ham and the like that mixes some truth with fiction and that is why it’s so powerful and can seem convincing to lay people. I didn’t have any answers, so one day I decided “I keep getting bombarded and belittled by this ‘I hope you aren’t one of those silly evolutionists’ questions, I might as well find out what it’s really all about”.

    I bought Richard Dawkins “The Greatest Show On Earth” and Coyne’s “Why Evolution Is True” simultaneously and read one then the other. I felt they were great companion pieces to one another and really scratched my itch for knowledge. I came out of those two books feeling as though I now know much more about evolution than the average person, and that has been proven true. I became a bit obsessed and started reading as much as I could on the topic and watched all the YouTube video’s and that branched off and led me to people like Sam Harris and Lawrence Krauss, and then I read their books and just had a bit of a science attack on my senses. I was just studying and researching for hours and hours almost every day.

    I’ve convinced my mother now of evolution, and she is a big fan of all of you great scientist’s work now, but has to hide it so as to not ruin the marriage, as my father is still stuck in his delusion. A sweet, nice man, but just deeply brainwashed by his family in childhood.

    All of this has led to my returning to school, and I’m deeply considering a Biology major.

    I thank people like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne especially, not only for the knowledge, but for the inspiration and getting my life back on track. It’s amazing what good and bad teachers can do to a student. I feel like these “New Atheists” are some of the best teachers I never had!

    Thank you. My life has really taken a turn for the better as I’ve now embraced a more scientific and rational outlook on everything I do. It was a gradual process, and I’m glad it happened. I’ve never felt better.

    P.S. Sorry for the length!

      1. Every once in a while we find some great storirs on here like yours. I will add to my file of those who rejected religion and how they did it.Thanks Michael!

  61. Not sure there was one moment that led me to say I was atheist. I do know there were many moments that informed my opinions. I read every “holy” book written by humans by age 16 and as a young adult studied comparative religion and mythology. I saw injustice without punishment, saw too many people profess faith while acting without personal responsibility. I saw and read of violence done in the name of religion. I felt the absence of a deity while basking in the glories of the universe. I learned science, art, literature, censorship, denialism and did a bit of psychoactive drug experimentation. Then I read a science fiction book which used the line “Thou art god” and my heart felt that truth. I’ve lived 64 years and know that soul enriching experience comes from understanding, not an outside source.

  62. Raised Catholic, Catholic school, etc. It was always rather apparent the whole thing was bullshit. I honestly never remember believing it. Parents still don’t know and I never plan on telling them.

  63. In March of 2004, I was filling out a form to renew my Mensa membership. I had become very upset with the religiosity of the Bush administration, and – under religion – instead of my usual ‘agnostic’ I decided I was an atheist, and selected same.

  64. I am pleased that law school may foster disbelief. At medical school I learnt embryology and wondered why, as a fetus, I once had gills and in histology why the nerves to the eye ran in front of the retina and the recurrent laryngeal nerve looped around the aorta. Clearly major design faults– perhaps we were made from the wrong image.

  65. After years of fruitlessly trying to reconcile fact and faith in my adolescence and early adulthood, Victor Stenger helped pushed me off the fence from agnosticism toward atheism. His influence led me on the road to discover, through the books and articles of numerous authors, that religion is a primitive man-made cultural construct designed to exploit the hopes and fears of humanity, and that God is just Santa Claus for grownups. Thanks Vic (RIP).

  66. This is interesting to read. I wonder if I would have left religion if I had been born into one but given the same personality as I have.

    Me: Born into a family of ‘nones’ who answered all questions honestly and fairly.

    My parents actually forced me to attend Lutheran religion classes in school* because “we are living in a Christian country, so you have to understand what the majority believe”. So while the other atheists had free hours, I sat there and learned about what Jesus had to say on lost sons etc. And then realised that while I still remembered the material the next week, most of the supposed Lutherans around me didn’t retain anything and were only in it for the presents and money they would get at the confirmation ceremony. We are sparing our daughter that waste of time*.

    Anyway, can only say what I personally consider the strongest point against me becoming religious: Having soon developed a lot of interest in popular science – astronomy, dinosaurs, etc – I learned at a very early age (<8) about the enormous size and hostility of the universe and the enormously deep time since its birth. And the model of it having been created by a creator god who is benevolent and cares about us is just not a good fit to that reality. There are other considerations, but I think this is the big one.

    *) Me in Germany, daughter in Australia, thus religious instruction in public schools.

  67. Basically I was born atheist and never managed to overcome it, despite being encouraged to do so. I do remember when I decided I didn’t have to try to believe in gawd any more. I was about 8 years old, at Sunday school (not my choice) when they said gawd was a jealous gawd, right after they’d told us how perfect he was. That did it. Never tried to believe after that. I never actually thought about it much and probably never used the word atheist until I was in my 20s.

    1. Also, I was born and raised in Canada where I think religious pressure is probably not as great as it is where I live now (MN, right next to Michele Bachmann’s district!! Yeah!).

  68. I was raised in a Catholic household where my older brothers and sister attended and graduated from Catholic schools. By the second grade I thought that many of the stories in the bible were ridiculous and hard to believe. When I questioned stories about someone being swallowed and living inside a whale, I was told I was bad for having little faith. I also HATED the story of God telling Abraham to prove his love by killing his son, Isaac. I didn’t have much respect for God asking this, but I was horrified to read that Abraham was about to go through with it until God stopped him. That is far from a heartwarming story and it is far from having any moral value.

    My mother put me in public school after the third grade…I was much happier. I stopped going to church. I NEVER liked it.

    When I married at the age of 37, I went to church again with my new husband and his two adopted children (he had to take them to church because of the agreement in the divorce). I continued to think the bible was filled with nonsensical and brutal stories, but continued to attend church since we’d befriended many nice people.

    I had a diverse population of friends: gays, different races, religious, and atheist. I joined Facebook and began reading debates between atheists and the religious. An atheist friend gave me a couple of books: Christopher Hitchens’ “God Is Not Great: Religion Poisons Everything” and “The Atheist Camel Chronicles” by Dromedary Hump. God disappeared into the nothingness that he had come from.

    I became an atheist just about a year ago when I realized that we created gods…not the other way around.

    Better late than never…

  69. I was raised completely a-religious and was probably in the 4th grade before I understood the difference (the big one) between Jews and Christians – came to the defense of a Jewish friend when a little Christian bully started yelling about her not believing in Jesus. I’m all like, of course she does! My mother straightened me out later. My problem was lack of religion and I actually “became” whatever my best friend was. Took communion in a Congregational church. Attended Methodist bible school. I used to ask my mother “what are we?” And she would respond, “Oh, your grandmother was a Methodist, and I went to a Baptist bible school and it just kind of faded away. . . ” I also devoured mythology – Norse and Greco-Roman and saw a lot of the similarities – hmmmmmm. Vestal Virgins? Nuns are chaste for their husband Christ? Hel? If I had been able to do Anthropology graduate school, I would have majored in Anthropology of religions. Still considered myself Agnostic until sometime in the past couple of decades when I realized that I’m not religious – period. The bible is right up there with Edith Hamilton, except her writings are a lot more interesting!

  70. I grew up in a secular family in southern England, though I did go to a series of state schools (kindergarten and high school) where they had a very moderate non-commital form of Anglicanism. This involved having the local vicar come to our classroom and talk to us (though I can’t remember there being any sense that there was anything we had to believe), being given a little copy of the New Testament (which says in the introduction that it is all entirely true and without contradiction), and often being taken to the nearby church for school assemblies and hymns.

    My Dad was a little bit more sympathetic towards Christianity than anyone else in my family. I remember him trying to say once that Jesus was just a really nice guy. My Mum was opposed to the beliefs. So much so that when a friend of hers asked her to be a godmother, my mother had to refuse because it involved promising to bring the child up Christian. With regret that there wasn’t a secular alternative available, she had to say no. However she did do charitable and community work in connection with the church, because it was good, regardless of belief. Basically, both my parents thought that the properly religious stuff was just a bit weird. A bit like the kind of thing the local crazy person says down the pub. And they didn’t have the intellectual curiousity about it that I had have in adulthood.

    I can’t remember ever believing even in Father Christmas, let alone the God of Christianity. Perhaps memories from before 7 escape me, but I really can’t ever remember believing in Santa. I knew that my parents were providing the presents. I think I thought that I had to pretend I didn’t know in order to get them, so that’s what I did. My father was Santa at the school grotto. I helped him to build it, and never experienced any cognitive dissonance.

    I can’t remember consciously considering any of the central claims of Christianity before about the age of 13, when immediately I thought that they weren’t convincing. I remember laying there at night thinking that it was all fishy, and looking forwards to when I was older and I could say so to other people with confidence. At high school we had a Reverand who would come and teach Religious Education, and when I was 16 I told him what I thought. I did feel a little embarrassed. He seemed a little affronted in a kind of resigned way, but it was fine.

    Since then I have been a hardcore naturalist / humanist / atheist, and everything I have learnt in science and philosophy has seemed to support this, though I try to keep an open mind as much as possible.

  71. I am a 49-er like Jerry. I grew up in a Lutheran home in Wisconsin. I began to have trouble with religion when one Sunday school teacher said that “dinosaur bones were placed by evil scientists to mislead us”, or something like that. I became one of those evil scientists (a chemist), but maintained a Lutheran connection for most of my adult life, even though I also argued evolutionary principles in various liberal Protestant churches, into the 1990’s. One of my children attended a Lutheran (though liberal) college. Then I started having issues with my mom, who was alcoholic and in an abusive marriage. It didn’t take long to see that when I really needed it, prayer was useless. I transitioned pretty fast to being an agnostic, and maintain a relationship with the Unitarians in my area, though I’ve never joined the church. My husband and kids also transitioned without any input from me. My son is probably one of those “atheists in foxholes” that no one admits exist. If someone asks, I maintain that religion just isn’t important to me, because that’s how I feel. It’s likely that most of my acquaintances don’t even know. I thought about “coming out” on openly secular day, but didn’t. Maybe next year. To finish the story, it was my hard work, and that of my very christian sister, that got my mom out of that abusive relationship. She never forgave either of us, and died wanting the asshole back.

  72. I discovered at age 8 that the Easter bunny was likely my mom, seeing as I peeked in her shopping bags on a Wednesday and the same stuff showed up in my Easter basket on Sunday. It wasn’t too far a leap to figure Santa and the tooth fairy were probably not real either. And if the Santa story wasn’t real, just something made up to trick us into being good, it wasn’t a far cry that all of those Sunday school stories were made up for the same general purpose. Just made sense to me. It also helped that I was reading way above grade level and started digging into texts that most adults looked at with a raised eyebrow. Yes, I’m sure I want to read about the holocaust, yes I like stories about the witch trials, yes, I think the just so stories are made up, just like the bible myths. No, I don’t think I’m too big for my britches, Sister Rita. Sorry. Flashbacks.

    1. You remind me that I was blessed to have parents who encouraged us to dig into those texts. I think they realized that understanding people as they are builds empathy.

  73. I grew up in a secular NYC family, but was not openly hostile to religion, until I dated a woman who lived in a building that rented a large hall every sunday to an evangelical baptist church from the Bronx.

    Every sunday, the preacher would drive up in his top of the line Benz, followed by his wife, in hers. They would park in front of the fire hydrant and also block the building entrance. Their cars would stay in place for the duration. Then, the parishioners would show up, crowded into their rusty minivans, usually burning oil and fixed with duct tape. They would double park up and down the entire block (this was in Manhattan – 103rd and Riverside, for what it’s worth).

    If you wanted to get in or out, good luck. You not only couldn’t get near the place with an automobile, but even on foot you had to run the gamut of scowling large young men in black suits who, I assume, were protecting something.

    My girlfriend, a devout buddhist, and I had a number of discussions about the various flaws of Christianity. What she didn’t know at the time was that I was applying the same criteria to buddhism. I can’t say I ever met a buddhist who acted as badly as those christians, but the points to be made about the inanity of the religion itself all struck home.

    For several years afterwards, afraid of backlash, I styled myself an agnostic. It has only been in the last 5 years or so that I’ve been willing to lay it on the line and proudly call myself an athiest.

  74. I was parented by confirmed atheists. I independently convinced myself a god did not exist because none showed up to help out innocents during the Holocaust.

    I dislike the way “it’s traditional”and the iron-age bible is used to glorify the vilest things, including slavery and racism.
    Southern white religion’s track record on civil rights convinces me that religion can put lipstick on the pig and make vile appear respectable.

    1. Ah yes. Religion eats many of the southern’s up so much they cannot even see their history correctly.

    1. I like it best as an adjective, too, but often have a hard time remembering to use it that way myself. “An atheist” is just too familiar a phrase.

      1. I think he means he’s just an atheist, not athiest.

        It’s one of those comparative things, atheist, athier, athiest. 😉

        (averagely athiey)

  75. I’ve really been wanting to tell my full story for a few years now, but putting it all into order is hard. I was born into a Seventh-Day Adventist home and I didn’t become an atheist until after I left for college. The short version is that following a personal tragedy, I started to heavily research apologetics in an attempt to make sense of what had been happening in my life. Armed with more knowledge and critical thinking skills than I’d ever had before, I was eventually able to realize that what I had been raised to believe was all false. The process took two years, during which I went through several phases and finally emerged an atheist. The whole thing took a lot out of me, though, and my mental health has yet to fully recover.

  76. No exciting story of transformation here. Was born without religion and have remained so for the last 65 years. My parents never push religion at all and I only recall attending a church or Sunday School a few times around 6 or 8 years old. I think mom was for exposure to everything, including dance and piano. My folks had to work to raise four kids so there was not much time to waste on things like religion.

    Never spent any time wondering about it or reading much either — not a big reader of fiction. Probably did not think much about being an Atheist until Richard Dawkins came along. I was always there but it wasn’t important.

    In my job you were mobile and moved around lots of times. No place brings you closer and more constantly around religion than the south. Texas was where I saw it and felt the interference of religion in places it did not belong. Blue laws are a specialty down there. It has since, seeped into many northern states a great deal more and it worries me.

  77. Possibly I became an atheist because as a teenager I was into a sustained low-key rebellion against my staid Anglican parents who didn’t deserve my surliness.

    At the same time, I was worrying at the question, “How does believing in God save me from sin?” Attempts to answer it eventually led me to reject the doctrine of salvation through vicarious atonement and then original sin; with those gone, God’s existence was mostly superfluous.

  78. Why I’m an atheist can be answered simply–I have no knowledge of credible evidence that any deity exists. Here is my story of how I reached this status.

    I was raised in a religious home. My parents not only took my brothers and me to church regularly, they were often participants in the activities of the church beyond services, including serving as deacons & such. If water has anything to do with being “saved”, I’m covered. I was sprinkled in a Methodist church as an infant, voluntarily dunked in the Baptist church as a tween or teen when I was saved/born again, & sprinkled again on moving to a Presbyterian church a few years later. 

    It was my time in the Presbyterian church, along with my own natural curiosity, that probably sowed the seeds for my later unbelieving what I’d been brought up to believe. I remember times in Sunday school in which I’d keep asking questions & eventually reach a point where the teacher had no reasonable answer, about some inconsistency or other fallacy of the bible. 

    And in the church youth group I attended, among the speakers brought in was one who discussed the Baha’i faith with us. What I recall as the basic description was that Baha’i posited that the saviors & prophets of the world’s major religions were each sent from god to a time & place to give a message tailored to the needs of that community. This description lead me to begin thinking in a different fashion about the multiplicity of religions in the world (which I now think is a strong argument against the validity of any religion–really, how can any of us be expected to be lucky enough to be in the small minority of people given the chance to choose the “right” religion in the vast reaches of time & space?) and prompted further exploring which religious/spiritual track might be better, or better for me. 

    At some point during my considering the existence of god, I realized it did not matter to me. Either some creator god exists and granted me the intelligence to look at the world and reason as best I can; or he/she doesn’t exist. In either event, it’s not going to change my thoughts or behavior, as I am left to my own devices to figure out the truth about this world as best I can.

    The next phase of my progression was reading & studying & practicing in “new age” areas. I think essentially what was occurring during this several year period was me searching for better answers, without yet being willing to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” by rejecting the supernatural/spiritual as a whole. I read books, practiced meditation and other techniques based on reading those books, & joined an organization that purported to provide guidance in these matters. Eventually through continuing to question enough I saw that this “new age” track wasn’t getting to the truth. 

    As I considered what I’d experienced during those years of searching during the next few years, I slowly let go of all spiritual/supernatural assumptions & came to realize the only sensible worldview for which there is credible evidence is that of naturalism & agnosticism or atheism. I identify as atheist now because after all that searching, I have come to think that the best explanation of the evidence to date is that not only does the supernatural not exist, it cannot exist. If something considered supernatural were to be confirmed by evidence, it would no longer be supernatural. 

    I think what eventually got me to this point was in some sense the difference between  the practices of science & religion. Though I believed the religion(s) I was taught, I never was able to completely take them on faith, & so continued to question & allow myself to be open to new evidence and new explanations. That difference, between faith & critical thinking, is I think the core difference between religion & science. Also, I think my relative lack of emotional thinking was an element for me–I currently think that much of the persistence of religious thinking in people’s mind’s comes from sentimentality, by which I mean clinging to an idea or belief because of its emotional resonance rather than any extrinsic evidence. As a dear friend of mine said to me, “You are atheist.  I am not.  I can’t tell you why I’m not – it is just such a deep strong sense that I accept it.“ I’m not willing to abide by a deep strong sense, or by the dictates of the cultural tradition in which I happened to be born, when better, more objective information is available.

  79. Question for the Americans: Did anyone else have their stridency jacked up on 9/11? I won’t tell my story, just note that I recall a visceral disgust with religious faith of any kind. It soon faded but, on the day, had Jesus returned I’da spit on ‘im.

    1. Christopher Hitchens called it ‘a faith based act” or something liked that and it pissed off a host of commentators! It was three planes hijacked by religious people who were using their faith in Allah(God) based thinking to decide how to act! Not that many of the religious picked up on that. We were on vacation and practically all the motels had “God Bless America” on their marques! How ironic!

  80. Just saw all the hate/war/violence and intolerance in the world. I thought, if there is a God, it wouldn’t let this happen. Thus, no God.

  81. No epiphany, no personal growth :-). I was raised in an atheist family (parents and grandparents) and didn’t really have much exposure to religion during childhood. Later, my father took care to educate me about religion(s), so I was given all kinds of books about the origin of various religious beliefs and customs, the historicity (or not) of Jesus and the Bible and so on. For a while, I found the topic fascinating and read a lot, but then other interests took over.

    With all that book-derived knowledge, I tended to treat religion as a historical phenomenon rather than a real force in contemporary life. It was only when I immigrated to the United States that I appreciated the importance of religion in contemporary society (in the meantime, its influence grew in my native Poland as well).

  82. This is a long post, but my loss of faith took several years.

    I was raised a Catholic, and didn’t question any of it–I didn’t realize that Catholic beliefs WERE beliefs; I thought that they were facts. To me there was no difference between “Jesus was the Son of God” and “George Washington was the first president.” I was astonished when I was in first grade and learned that some people didn’t believe that God was real; I hadn’t known that that was a possibility. It didn’t make me question my beliefs though–I assumed that those people were wrong, the same as if I met someone who thought that 2+2=17.

    My first difficulty with religion did occur around that time, though. I had been taught that God created the world in 6 days and Adam was created on the sixth day; I was also taught that dinosaurs lived millions of years before the first humans. It took a couple of years to notice that there was a contradiction there. My parents said that the “days” in Genesis were a poetic way of saying “period of time,” so I grew up accepting that everything in the Bible wasn’t literally true. I attended catechism, but didn’t buy a lot of what they were selling (papal infallibility, etc.) and was never confirmed.

    In High School, my best friend became a Born Again Christian and invited me to Bible Study classes. I went along–I was still a Christian, although not a Catholic–and began reading the Bible for the first time. I knew all the stories from books like “Stories From the Bible” as a kid, but had never read the real thing. It was reading the Bible cover to cover, seeing the absurdities, contradictions, and evil passages (condoning slavery, etc.) that made me realize that Christianity couldn’t be true. I still believed in God, but decided that the Biblical God wasn’t the real one. I then read a medical book with pictures of grossly deformed babies and people with horrible diseases, page after page, and realized that there was no loving, merciful God watching over us. It was not easy to give up my faith–I fought against it every step of the way–but I finally realized that I didn’t believe.

  83. For me….I don’t think 9/11 had any religious affect at all. I didn’t think of it as being attacked by religion at the time. I have listened to some, like Sam Harris say what a big affect it had on him but at the time, in 2001, I did not see or have knowledge of the connection.

    It did seem to make sense to strike back at Afghanistan and the Taliban and Ben Laden but I sure did not see the staying there part. There was no reason for Iraq and it was one big stupid mistake. Such a waste of money and people and it still goes on.

  84. Short version – born one, never had any reason to change.

    Slightly longer version –
    I didn’t grow up in a religious household. By the time I was 18, the only times I had been to a church were for a cousin’s christening, a grandparent’s funeral, and Christmas carolling with my step-grandmother.

    But I was surrounded by various religious beliefs. My mother was into new age spiritualism. Various relatives were believers in different religions, from Christian to Bahai. Both parents were very fond of Buddhism, though my Dad was more into it as an outlook on life rather than for its ontology. In school, I attended Protestant Scripture lessons, which in Australia meant largely a benign form of Anglucanism.

    At the same time, I was surrounded by all sorts of fantastical claims about the universe. Of psychic powers and ‘natural’ medicines. Of spiritual healing and astrology. Of aliens and cryptids and mystics with magical powers. In other words, there were a lot of claims about the world, and not all of them could possibly be true.

    At 12, I became am outspoken atheist, because it seemed to me that God was as imaginary as Santa or the Easter Bunny. Indeed, once I started learning about other cultures and the gods they believed in, it seemed quite an obvious next step that the God of our culture could be similarly fictional. The way the scripture teachers talked about God didn’t help. They talked about God as an invisible presence in our lives, and that disbelief was merely a rebellion. Given that they couldn’t produce any strong evidence God was there, I had no reason to believe they were doing anything other than talking out of their arse.

    This state of being an outspoken atheist continued until I was about 19, when I started encountering apologetics online. It amazed me how much argumentation was centred around trying to make atheism seem an untenable position, playing around with concepts like certainty and proof that I simply didn’t have the philosophical skills to counter. I retreated to a position of noncognitivism – which now I find a bit of a cop-out – until I happened to chance upon The God Delusion in an airport bookstore.

    The funny thing in the book wasn’t that I found the arguments particularly earth-shattering, but that it inspired and emboldened the naturalistic view of the world I had come to on my own. It gave me the ability to once again call a spade a spade, and revel in the naturalistic view of nature. Looking back now, I think chapters 3-5 have better proponents than the case Dawkins made, but at the time it was what I needed to help think about the nature of nature and the nature of knowledge.

    These days, I tend to think that claims about God are either so vague as to be meaningless, contradictory, or in the rare instances where they are concrete enough for evidence to act upon them, are falsified by how we know the world to work. Apologetics, at least by the proponents I’ve read and encountered, is the act of pulling God between those three options depending on the kinds of criticism they are seeking to avoid at any given time. In terms of what we can know about God and how we know it, there are no good answers to even the most basic questions, and the more I learn about philosophical argumentation, the more ad hoc and childish theological statements seem. Science didn’t kill God; God died the death of a thousand qualifications.

  85. It’s actually hard to say exactly when and why I became an atheist.

    I may be wanting to remember myself as more reasonable than I really was, but looking back, I don’t think my theism was ever very strong. I was raised Mormon. I made two attempts at preparing to serve the (not 100% obligatory, but 100% expected) 2-year proselytizing mission. But I couldn’t bring myself to go through with it. I just really didn’t want to. I think I was trying to believe, but deep down I didn’t. Another telling thing was that once a month, the Sunday meeting would consist of random members of the congregation taking a mic and “bearing their testimony”, ie, telling everyone how fervently they believed. I never did it. I never felt like I had anything to say, and I worried that if I tried others would see through the insincere, pat phrases that were the only things I could offer.

    But, at the same time I did experience real anxiety over being judged at the “second coming” (of christ).

    So, did I believe or not? I don’t really know, and it’s difficult to say when I finally slipped into full-on atheism. It may have been when I was searching for Bach cantata movements on YouTube and came across an aria from the St. Matthew Passion to which the uploader had appended Dawkins reading his refutation of the argument from design from The God Delusion.

    1. I stated dAd’s prayer wrong_”Our Father who art in the haymow, hallow be thy name”…………………and ends up “a jug of rum and High o” Jack in the Game!” Another thing-our adoption papers “required them to take us to church”. These are the final court records after their two year probationary period when they were then approved to keep us permanently from the court in Oskaloosa,Iowa 1948, August. Friends of mine with PhD from Columbia University thought they could find this “prayer” online, but could not!

  86. My brother and I were adopted by a couple who had a 80 acre farm on 63 hwy six miles north of Oskaloosa, Iowa in July 1946. I had just turn 4 and my brother was six in September. Two years later my dad”s brothers kids came to visit from Florida and mom, who taught Methodist sunday school, asked dad to say grace. It went something like, “Our Father who art in the haymow, hallow be thy name and ended up high o jack in the game!” Mom turned beet red and never asked dad to say grace again. We were required to go to the Lacey, Methodist Church and when I was seven I got to my mother’s sunday school class. Mom was shocked to find out I did not believe that Jesus or anyone else ever walked on water and the Bible said that Jesus believed that people were sick because the were possessed by demons and that Jesus believed he could drive these demons out of people by appealing to God and saying certain words. I told mom that there were not any demons. Mom said she wasn’t so sure. As I got older and read the Bible I saw all kinds of stories that did not make sense. The Bible God did not seem like any decent , moral God and many stories seemed ridiculous. I finally bought a notebook and went through the Bible taking extensive notes and tried to have discussion with mom though I knew she read it as a believer and not with a critical mind. She was unaware of many stories and we saw many of the stories very differently. I will be 73 July 8 and have read many books on religion and hundreds of atheist type of books and continue to be amazed at the things I had not thought of. All My Days Are Good!!

  87. I was raised with a Catholic mother and agnostic Methodist or was it Lutheran? father. But my father’s entire way of thinking was really committed to the scientific method. And my mother for all her Catholicism, in other matters was equally analytical, in fact sometimes surpassing my father in leaps of the mind to grasp a concept.

    When young I bought into Catholicism, progressed to it’s all a metaphor, then to ‘oh there is a generic God being’, to: wait a minute! -maybe it’s all a human construct!

    I think the final push to complete atheism was becoming a mother. Just like I felt repugnance of parents using extravagant measures to convince a child of the reality of fictitious characters like the Tooth Fairy or the Elf on a shelf, I was even more deeply conflicted to raise my child as a Catholic.
    He was baptized- finally at age 2 per his father’s wishes. But after his father’s death in 2009 I could not do less than raise a rational thinker. “Mom, if the Easter Bunny isn’t real and you are the Tooth Fairy, what about Santa Claus?” My answer? “Well, what do YOU think?” This was a real conversation, and I really wanted to know his answer.

    As in, it is up to my son himself to reason out the reality of these things. To question, look for evidence, decide what constitutes proof. I want to raise a rational thinker. As a mother I can do no less. (Thanks Dad- my father!)

    Is there a god? Not enough evidence.

  88. I don’t recall an “ah ha” moment, when it came to adopting atheism. I was raised Episcopal by a mother who became increasingly religious and a father who could care less, but liked to sing. I was a fervent moralist as a youth and saw religion as an outlet for that, while I was young; but in high school I ran into beatniks, and they got me to reading and thinking things I hadn’t previously broached. I got on a modest philosophical kick and began reading Tillich, Kirkegaard, and Kant, etc.; but I found all their arguments to be so poorly based that, if I wasn’t an atheist before, they drove me over the edge.

    By the time I hit college, I started to encounter ministers and priests who were, for all intents and purposes, atheists; which made me question who, exactly, was leading the charge?

    I basically credit my atheism to the highly rigorous moral and intellectual climate of Upper Midwest Scandinavian immigrants, amongst whom I grew up. I think my atheism is pretty much the standard garden variety grown in most of Scandinavia today.

    It is my observation that people adopt the beliefs of their peer group; and that is the most important operative: who is the peer group. Those of us who think we adopted atheism through careful analysis and clear, logical thinking are fooling ourselves. We adopted atheism because the people we identified with are atheists. If we didn’t grow up in the milieu of atheism, we adopted a group that did; and it is that group identity which governs our belief system. We apply our logic to justify our beliefs, not to form them.

    1. Well certainly was not true in my case. Being adopted and my dad not being religious I always assumed that gave me some opening to question religion. My dad rarely said anything except a couple of times about about not making common sense! I never knew anyone else who did believe until college and only a couple of people then.To be aa
      ble to reject religion at seven astounds me. I have no other explanation.

  89. Growing up, I always questioned everything. I still do. I was raised catholic but nothing in the bible made sense to me. No question I had was ever answered logically if at all. It all seemed made up to me. I went through the motions as a good son should do but by the time I joined the navy at 17 I was already an atheist (mind you I don’t care for that label or any for that matter). My dog tags stated “no preference” for religion.

  90. My parents were agnostics, but as a child of the 1950’s I contracted a mild case of Christianity from the culture surrounding me. In elementary school we said the Lord’s Prayer along with the Pledge of Allegiance.

    When I was 10 my family moved to California, which didn’t have school prayer. I’d also been studying science since I could read. Astronomy was my passion, but the school had a summer science program combining biology with camping, so I got ecology at 11 and marine biology at 12.

    Riding home on the bus one day we passed the Catholic church and it occurred to me that it had been a long time since I’d thought about God. The thought that followed it immediately was, I don’t believe in God. It made me uneasy, so I took a poll, and my selves responded “It’s just Santa Claus!”

    My entire family, sister and brothers, nieces and nephews and spouses, are devoutly atheist, and a passionate interest in science is taken for granted.

    1. I should mention that when I revealed my insight to my father, he said we’re agnostics. An atheist claims there is no god, which is as much an act of faith as the reverse. It’s an old tradition, one to which Bertrand Russell adhered, and was reflected in the first edition of the American Heritage Dictionary.

      I started calling myself an atheist in the late 1990’s after a godless friend irately pointed out that usage had changed.

    2. Never in my 73 years(Birthday July 8) have I ever encountered an atheist that argued that they could prove that there is no “God”. Not one person and being outspoken I encountered lots of nonbelievers with various names for their nonbelief. If a a person is quiet about their own thinking then you will not encounter very many nonbelievers. You need to be outspoken about your nonbelief to find those that no not believe also.

  91. Episcopalian mother, relatively religously-apathetic father who went to a United Brethren church as a kid because his practical mother saw that it was the closest church to their house. (Said church is now being adaptively rehabbed into an artists collective. For more on that, search Transformazium church.)

    Happily, there was never any fundamentalist bent, so I never had to make the passage that many of you have. Evolution was freely mentioned and accepted at home. The fundamentalist mindset seemed so ancient. But my mother used to implore me to go to church, and I even became an altar boy, thinking I might feel something more in doing that, but it just seemed like being on stage, knowing the lines and moves. I think from an early age it just seemed like a great waste of time, particularly the dwelling on 2000y/o things when there were far more meaningful and relevant things that had happened more recently. In highschool I went to a couple of weekend church camp/retreats, but those were more out of an interest in girls that might be there.

    The metaphor that someone here used a few yrs ago seemed particularly apt – I didn’t lose my religion, I set it down on the curb and walked away. That didn’t happen immediately when I went off to Wm&Mary – I did go to the Episcopal church there three times when I was a freshman. The last was when LBJ went to a service there. I actually got in, and was in the balcony when the collection plate was passed. When it got to LBJ, some woman in the balcony ran up to see what he put in. If there was a punctuation mark, that was it. And all the neo-fundamentalist blowback has only steeled my atheism.

    Weddings and funerals excepted, I haven’t been to a church service since except for a few times under coercion, and I’m happy to say that both of my kids are resolute atheists.

  92. I was about 12. CBC Television changed the time of my favourite space program (Space 1999) so that it clashed with our church youth group meeting (which I disliked anyway). I was done.

  93. Both my parents went to Catholic school and hated it. They always told stories about how horrible the nuns were. We went to church, but I think it was more of a formality.

    I skipped catechism more than I attended, the teachers seemed offended by questions. The resistance to science, and the platitudes were too much for me. Studying science and other cultures pretty much sealed it for me.

  94. I’ve said this before so I’ll be brief. As a early-teenager at school in England, I don’t think any of my contemporaries really believed. I was much more interested in science anyway.

    My parents didn’t believe very strongly either, they just felt it was ‘the proper thing to do’. I got sent to Sunday School (methodist/presbyterian or similar, mostly I think to placate my grandfather) where I felt quite guilty about not believing any of the boring Bible nonsense. Eventually I was struck by the blinding realisation that if none of the Bible was true (which is what I thought) then there was absolutely no reason to feel guilty about not believing it and I didn’t even have to try. Eureka! What a relief! I told my father I did NOT want to go to SS any more and he didn’t argue too much.


    1. Thinking on it further (OK I know I said I’d be brief. I lied) – my painfully boring wasted Sunday afternoons were a bit like aversion therapy; for decades after that mention of religion or gods in books or movies made me feel vaguely uncomfortable. It was a feeling of potential embarrassment, almost, as if religion was somehow ‘dirty’.

      Also, it gave me a latent streak of anti-Zionism. (This has absolutely nothing to do with the “Jews killed Jesus” brand of antisemitism, as far as I was concerned Jesus was a Jew and if they wanted to kill him that was entirely their prerogative and none of my business). I just felt highly indignant that we should be wasting so much of our time on some arbitrary bunch of Middle East thugs who had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with our own (British) history, who thought they were supremely important, and who were celebrating their atrocities – and we kids were required to accept this offensive absurdity as a good thing?
      (If we had been required to learn all the Norse Sagas instead I guess I’d have a streak of anti-Scandinavianism instead.)

      I guess I’m just a born contrarian.

      (Think I’ll found a new church. The Church of Contrarianism. Thou Shalt Disagree With Everything The Preacher Says.)


      1. “Look, if I argue with you, then I have to take up a contrary position.”
        “Yes, but that’s not just saying ‘No, it isn’t.'”
        “Yes it is.”
        “No it isn’t.”

  95. Metaphorically I became an atheist in a foxhole when I saw what some people would do in the name of their God. Reading Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins really confirmed it

    1. Grew up in Christian family. Loved the music and still do. Non believer late teens and atheist in 2000

  96. My parents were technically Church of England (Protestant), but besides a crucifix, given by a more devout relative, hung on the wall, sending me to Sunday School was the totality of our religious upbringing. I remember praying a few times before bed when I was little, but that was about it.

    I was a bright little kid, and figured out about Santa quite early (and thanks to my parents for being honest when I asked). Then one day I was given a children’s bible to read, so I did.

    My Mum is now proud to recall that after reading it, I pronounced that it was all garbage. So I was an atheist from then on, around 7 years old, and the rest of the immediate family followed suit.

  97. My sister was atheist (in a catholic family) and initially I guess I was jsut apeing her. But then, the more I thought, the more I thought belief in christianity is absurd. It was quite a hard process, because i think I am one of those people who are “predisposed” to be believers (religiousness has a heritable component). That is, I would love to believe in God, but my reason alone does not allow me to.

  98. I went from Sunday school as a child to eastern religions as a teenager but found Krishnamurti right up my ally.
    I then spent many years not bothering or bothered but holding the thought of some life essence, spiritual force or such was driving the cosmos.
    Like any one who cared and thought about a world in conflict, the inequality, cruelty and indifference it was becoming rather apparent religion was not serving anyone but it’s own self serving interest and as a local NZ band, Split Enz sang, ‘What can a poor boy do’.. remain calm and carry on?
    In my mid forties I happened upon a great science book, Children of the Universe by Hoimar Von Ditfurth, it was the kick start I needed. I followed that with The Blind Watchmaker, The Selfish Gene both Richard Dawkins of course and it was effectively over for religion and wishy washy woo.
    Still it took a little nudging to rid myself of the residue as I firmly told myself and I remember doing this, there is no all powerful supernatural being and there never was.
    Basically, it was like putting the rubbish out, off to the landfill (as we now know) of useless ideas.

  99. I was brought up by undemonstrative Christian parents who went to church because that was what you did. So did I. I enjoyed singing in church choirs and carried on doing that for many years. As adults, my wife and I generally went to the local church because that was an easy way of getting into the local community, especially when we moved to a small village in SE England.

    I am a bit embarrassed to say this in view of all the clear-eyed testimony above, but until quite late on in life I didn’t really scrutinise religious doctrines and beliefs in any detailed way. They were just there, in the background. Of course I read all Dawkins’ books on evolutionary biology as soon as they came out, and was convinced by them. I also read books such as Robin Lane Fox’s “The Unauthorised Version”, which discusses the Bible as seen through the eyes of an ancient historian (and is still a good read, by the way). The ‘Eureka’ moment for me was when my mother died, and I went to see her body in the hospital mortuary. For the first time I really understood, psychologically, that this life is it and there is nothing else to come.

    I remember afterwards looking at myself in the bathroom mirror and saying ‘You don’t actually believe any of this stuff any more, do you?’ And not long afterwards I began to realise that I hadn’t believed in it for ages.

    One final point. When I finally accepted my disbelief, I think I expected to experience a sense of loss and regret. On the contrary: I felt as if a burden had been lifted from my back, and the sense instead was one of release and relief. Better late than never!

  100. Where it starts for me is in my lifelong passion for science. Atheism and so on was basically a side note of my general interest in intellectual fields, but quite a disillusioning side note nonetheless.

    I have always been fascinated by science, though my appreciation for it has really increased in the last few years. I love watching David Attenborough documentaries. I never stopped learning about dinosaurs. Put me in an aquarium or natural history museum, and you’d have to drag me out after hours and hours. A good chunk of my bookshelf is devoted to scientific non-fiction, such as the works of Feynman, Sacks, and Pinker. I dabble – to a much lesser extent – in other fields of interest, such as history, film, classic literature, philosophy and so on.

    There’s nothing particularly interesting about my atheism because there was never really a moment when I could honestly say I was a theist. Our family is almost entirely indifferent to religion; at most, there’s the occasional “belief in belief” and “it’s OK so long as people get along” line, but even that occurs once in a blue moon. At most, I was an implicit atheist who became explicit. I certainly don’t remember feeling particularly opposed to religions collectively.

    No, the real change was my growing anti-theism, or more broadly my anti-religionism. It baffled me to learn – long after reading The Selfish Gene – that anybody could find it a bleak and even nihilistic read, because I found it wonderfully enlightening, even exciting. It explained so much, and introduced me to my first compelling understanding of Darwin’s theory (it was covered in school, but I barely remember it as a subtopic that maybe took up two or three lessons, and it certainly didn’t leave a lasting impression).

    I picked up on Dawkins’ atheism after reading the footnotes in that book (I had the 30th anniversary edition), and eventually got around to reading The God Delusion, though I think I delayed it for a while. I was hearing more about his “strident” and “outspoken” reputation, and while I read his other books, I still have never bought my own copy of TGD. I was uncertain, even slightly nervous, about what this “militant” atheist had unleashed, especially since the explicit idea of fully opposing belief in god was one I hadn’t really come across before, at least not that I can remember so vividly.

    Yet, read it I eventually did. In hindsight, the book is probably not as compelling as I found it at the time, but it was certainly a gateway about finding out more about this God hypothesis and the case against it. I had other things to do at the time, so it came to me piecemeal at first, but eventually I found more time for subsequent reading.

    To say I was increasingly disappointed with the theistic case was an understatement. Religious claims to morality and the Big Questions – areas alleged to be outside science – led me to read a few philosophy and ethics guidebooks. I was fascinated by the new world on offer. Here, I learned more about deontological ethics, consequentialism, virtue ethics, meta-ethics, normative and descriptive ethics, etc. There were other concepts I’d only vaguely intuited at best.

    I found myself grappling with new ideas to understand consciousness, aesthetics, epistemology, reason, and even determinism and free will. Yet, I kept feeling like a lot of drek was being mixed in with all the good stuff; the standards felt much looser than when I’d been immersed in science and other “harder” subjects. And in every case, I found religion was consistently under the “drek” category.

    I began to learn more about religions’ role in the perpetrating of atrocities, though later on I associated this more with other factors that too many religions seemed prone towards. That said, I find it bewilderingly naive when people either blame religion for everything (I found Hitchens’ book, the only other “Four Horseman’s” book I read, less compelling than the more intellectual angle of The God Delusion), or seemingly excuse it anything. In any case, religion could be totally benign, and I would still find too much wrong with its positions.

    No, what proved the fastest way towards anti-theism was the rhetorical manipulation masquerading as goody-goody impression. This was something I found more often as I joined online communities and discussions, in particular. I was appalled at the oft-quoted idea that religious people were somehow “spiritually endowed”, as if my feelings of awe, wonder, love, and marvelling at beauty somehow didn’t exist or were inferior. The idea of belief in belief is to me the presumption that humans are mentally stunted sheep that need to be shuffled around like puppets if they’re ever to do the good thing. The fear of nihilism that keeps some people theistic struck me as the result of some serious warping, if not an outright admission of a severe mental disorder.

    And the idea that religions get a pass in many fields – charitable status, the stereotype that a pious person is a notably good or better person, the shameless use of the “offence” canard to bully others – whereas us “mere mortals” who rely on little things like logic and reason do not, is so head-slappingly ridiculous that I can barely contain my frustration at the whole charade.

    Don’t even get me started on the whole science-religion and larger reason-faith conflict. After comparing the endless and sound fascination of the former with the paltry offerings, manipulations, and underhanded play of the latter, I certainly don’t sympathize with anyone taking the accommodationist position, much less the full-on fideists and religious apologists. Watching religionists try to stick their crap over science et al is increasingly a sight I find saddening and irritating.

    So that, in broad strokes, is how, over several years and readings and discussions, I became an anti-religionist.

  101. My parents were religious though I doubt that grandparents were particularly. On my mother’s side were some non-conformists, as well as CoE, while my father’s grandfather learnt to play the organ in church so I was told. I was a chorister but I never really had any ‘faith’ to lose. It was just something one did – go to church, listen to some boring self-righteous pious spouting, sing some great music (I appreciate that at least), & do that every day for four years.

    We rehearsed before school, after school then sang at evensong. We rehearsed Saturday morning for an hour then I went to school having missed maths – never caught that up. Sunday rehearsals & two sung services. I never put my name down for confiirmation classes, then the precentor said you can just come along & no need to go through with it – of course I did, but it never meant anything to me. I always thought the idea of an after-life was just too absurd. At the time I could just about credit some ‘intelligence’ in the universe, even if it was only the universe itself, whatever thast might mean, but ‘Heaven’ & ‘Hell’??? no – too silly for words.

    And the idea for a soul?! I never doubted evolution – I was always eager to read about natural history & grew up with a firm understanding of the range, variety & chronological depth of life, & its relationships. (My parents would not have doubted that either, nor would most of the CoE since Darwin.) So when I read of new fossil discoveries such as were made by the Leakey’s in the 60s & 70s I would ask myself, ‘did they have souls?’ And the idea that there would be one person say 500,000 years ago that did not have one, then all of a a child of that one that DID have a soul, was just absurd. Either all creatures had one – which would be equally silly – or none did. The latter was the only answer that made sense.

    I had no Damascene moment – I really am a natural atheist.

  102. The De La Salle Brothers beat my belief out of me, and once I started to think that completed the transition.

  103. Born and bred an atheist Brer Fox, born and bred an atheist. My father had some sort of wishy washy belief in God, and a stronger belief in social conformity, which meant that he tried to send us to Sunday school, my brother and I. We did not cooperate with this. The last time I went to Sunday school they wanted us to learn the names of the craters of the moon, which I thought was pointless and I refused to ever go again. I would have been about 9 I suppose. We had religious instruction in school, of which I have no memory, except colouring in pictures of Bible stories.

    My mother was a convinced atheist who, till this day, cannot understand how rational adults can possibly believe such nonsense as religion, even though she was raised going to church three times on Sundays, as there was nothing else to do. Her deconversion story is interesting though. She was in church in her early twenties in London (so sometime in the early 1950s), and the vicar, who was a very high church Anglican minister, told the congregation they should all go to confession! At that point she realised she didn’t believe a word of any of it, and she never returned. She is suffering quite badly from dementia now, but she’s still an atheist.

    1. Learning the craters on the moon seems a non-religious activity & rather fun – wish I had done that! What I got from all the services is an appreciation of the violence of the Old Testament from the psalms that were omitted. One I liked that we did sing, was –
      “Then the Lord arose out of sleep,
      And like a giant refreshed with wine
      He smote his enemies in their hinder parts
      And put them to a perpetual shame.”
      That god is a proper Bronze Age god like Enlil or any of the Babylonian gods to whom he is akin.

      1. If we’d sung hymns like this one I might have gone for longer. I love “smote his enemies in their hinder parts”, I guess this is Aramaic for “kicked their asses”!

    2. Why would a Sunday School want you to learn the names of the craters of the Moon? That’s a (probably fairly obscure) branch of astronomy, I would have thought. I find that curious.


      1. I didn’t get it either. I had finally agreed to go in the spirit of anthropology, but the craters of the moon had no relationship to religion that I could see.

  104. Coming out of St Benedict’s church in the Bronx after having served as an altar boy that morning, I realized the only reason I was Catholic was because I was born into the faith, and the same goes for almost every other child. That started the long road. A couple of Geology degrees essentially ended the journey.

  105. I had the good fortune to be born into a home where both parents weren’t atheists openly but didn’t practice any religion either. They were also both openly critical of the RCC, which is the prevalent Christian church in my area.
    You might say I grew up agnostic.

    As an adult, I briefly converted to protestantism which seemed to be less gaudy and ridiculous to me than Catholicism with its manifold saints, the Maria worship and belief in transubstantiation.
    I became quite serious as a believer for a short period but being someone who needs to understand things, I started to study earnestly. This lead to a slow but steady de-conversion process which slowly turned me from a believer to someone having doubts, then on to atheist and at present I would classify myself an anti-theistic atheist.

    I’ve written a series of posts about my de-conversion, for those interested:

  106. I am more of a religious non-believer. I became one because I read the bible, the qur’an and some of the believes religions of the world myself instead of listing to someone else.

  107. Mother read Bulfinch’s Mythology to us before school as early as I can remember, I read all the classic fairy tales, etc. By the time I got around to the bible, it was one more story. And not a particularly interesting one at that.

  108. At 16, one friend gave me Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Place” and another questioned why God would punish his kind and caring mother with so much pain, losing many family members over a few short years, each death unrelated to the others. He also questioned why God would punish innocent children, starving them to death in poor countries, and so on.

    About 5 years later, I wondered in the same vein why I was being punished, knowing I’d done nothing worthy of the harsh, even brutal life I lived. For strength, I turned to anger, and for safety, I aimed that anger at God. I could not aim it at the individual humans involved, but God supposedly created them, so He was ultimately responsible.

    I broke from Judaism. Despite or because of a comparative religions course, I felt zero attraction to any other religion. Eight years later, missing mostly the prayer melodies, I gave Judaism another try. Twenty years more, and I came to appreciate that Judaism was a culture worthy of keeping, God was not. My rabbi accepted this without argument and welcomed me same as ever.

    I think Jewish culture, which praises good argumentation for its exercise in critical reasoning, just might naturally mature its bravest followers into non-belief. The disproportionate numbers of scientists, writers, philosophers, etc., along with my growing appreciation for the historical numbers of Jewish atheists, not just coming out of the Holocaust but even centuries before, are good signs.

    Perhaps the legendary Abraham truly meant to destroy all idols and gods, but found the change too radical for others. Perhaps he compromised on one invisible god, just to help others transition.

    Since then, Christianity has added two back: Jesus and the Holy Ghost. Islam has effectively added back Muhammed, since Muhammed is treated like a god. Judaism at least hasn’t done that, and I am hoping, despite the few extremists on its right fringe, that the tiny population of world Jewry finds a way, in addition to science, to lead the world out of superstition.

  109. Wow, what a lot of responses!

    In my case, a lapsed-Catholic Anthropologist father and a Lutheran (turned Christian Scientist turned woo-inclined Hindu/Vedanta-infused) mother baptized me Catholic, sent me to be confirmed as a Lutheran, while simultaneously giving me books about human evolution. The latter always made more sense than any of the religious nonsense and I was never a believer. I wasn’t “out” about atheism, however, until Sam Harris’ The End of Faith which struck me as a profoundly courageous thing to write at the time.

  110. I grew up Southern Baptist, bent on pleasing my very Christian parents, extended family, and friends. I attended a Baptist college then taught kids at small Christian schools. Total immersion and true belief. But from middle school on, I had been a different thinker than everyone I knew; I enjoyed tough questions and digger deeply into my faith. I started reading “forbidden books” about a year ago, like Jesus Interrupted by Bart Ehrman, and everything started crumbling.

    What struck me most in the beginning of my turning away was how the church had taught me that the Bible was inerrant. But there are differences in all the gospel accounts…so which is true? One has to be a lie…why would God allow a lie in “his” book? And so forth to the point of atheism.

    I struggled a lot and didn’t want to be an atheist. I prayed and prayed and cried, but I never felt that “overwhelming sense of peace” again; I had pulled the plug on the magic. Now I’m a secret atheist to my family and most friends, because I undoubtedly would be abandoned if I shared my secret.

    1. I am very glad you are here, where you can feel so welcome and safe, where you can continue learning and even teaching, as we all try to learn from each other. Good on you for pursuing truth and staying practical.

      1. Thanks for the encouragement! Thankfully, I’m pursuing a Masters in a different profession now where my beliefs are much more well-suited!

    2. I totally get where you are with your family. I guess I never prayed that hard; belief just went away, and I felt better almost immediately.

  111. My Departure from Religion mirrors much of the path of Grania.

    I was raised Catholic.

    Studied Latin.

    Three years of excellent Catholic Schooling.

    Served as an alter boy for 4 years right up to my Junior year in High School.

    What killed it all for me…..

    1. I actually read the Bible (Old Testament)in my Sophomore year of HS, and the precise moment when the first seed of everlasting doubt was placed in my head was when I read the story of prophet the Elisha calling the bears from the woods to kill little children because they teased him about his bald head. No doubt I had read numerous insane passages prior to getting to that horrible part, but that one did if for me.

    2. I loved biology, but became forever immersed in it when I read the first chapters about natural selection that same year. I was in a High School in the South in the Mid 1960’s, but my biology teacher was a really enlightened women, probably near 60 years old. She opened my world to science…. leading to an undergraduate degree in microbiology and a masters in environmental engineering.

    3. I stopped going to Sunday mass every week within a month of entering university. I attended a few more times in my freshmen year with my Catholic roommate because we found it a really good place to meet girls. This was in a southern city with a very very small Catholic population. When Catholic parents saw two clean cut college boys in the pews, they practically handed over their daughters to us, not unlike Lot handed over his daughters to the mob to protect his visiting angels.

  112. Maybe not the exact moment, but definitely the genesis of my Atheism, was coming out of the cinema, after watching the 1976 remake of King Kong.

    It was in Neinberg, West Germany, (at the time), where my Father was serving in the British Army. I came from the cinema on camp and went into a shop, where I had seen a book on King Kong and was hoping to persuade my parents to buy it for me. I lifted it and saw another book on dinosaurs beneath it… what to do? As any parents out there know, the answer is, ‘throw a fit and get both’

    That dinosaur book sowed the seeds of the many questions I would have about the existence of god(s) and ironically, the shop was run by the Salvation Army

  113. I sort of went through several stages.

    My parents are as I say jokingly, “homeopathically religious” – they are UUs. I was dragged to their church every Sunday (while it ran, coinciding with the school year at the time) until about age 8 when I really found it mind numbing. Acted out, etc. eventually told I didn’t have to come (age 10 or so). I was still likely a theist, since almost everyone around was (I know now my father wasn’t!), but in a weird non-standard sciencefictionesque way. I was very religiously skeptical (and read some fantasy, for example, which helped) from then until I read usenet alt.atheism for the first time at the end of high school. Then I became antitheist.

    Later developments included reading Michael Scriven (whose book I got from my grandfather!) and reflecting on what I had learned in physics classes about conservation laws, etc. (Bunge was a help here.) I also became interested in the history of religion and other social and mixed sciences of religion. Reading Greek philosophy in class and elsewhere allowed me to realize that the weirdness of the NT which we breezed over in religious education (non-dogmatic) in school was actually *meant* to be weird. And this helped me understand where people are coming from, etc.

    My only major change recently (past 10 years or so) is that I’ve become more patient with those who might not have had all the reading and discussion opportunities I’ve had, and in a way less patience with those who have and still make inane comments or what not.

  114. I’m 47. I was born into a nominally Episcopalian family but we stopped going to church when I was around 5. I probably stopped believing in God a year or two later, around the same time I stopped believing in Santa Claus and like, for the same reason: extraordinary claims with no evidence, let alone of the extraordinary variety. That it was all one or other form of mythology was what made the most sense. I grew up in (US) town that was small and conservative but had a college that helped to “balance things out” — my father was a professor and most of my friends’ parents were as well or at least had some academic connection. I watched a lot of PBS (“NOVA”, “Cosmos”, “Connections”, even “The Ascent of Man” though I was too long to get most of that) and sci-fi (Star Trek:TOS, Outer Limits, Twilight Zone), and I think these all helped me develop my world view. Not least, I liked rock and roll. When I was 9 or 10 my older brother brought home Black Sabbath’s “Volume 4”, and pretty soon they were my favorite band and “Under the Sun” one of my favorite songs (if you don’t know it, Google the lyrics — I don’t listen to Sabbath much anymore but this song could still be my anthem.) Today I’m a scientist; still an atheist but with a world-view that owes a lot to Buddhism.

  115. There was no earth-shattering conversion, as the exposure I had as a child with Catholicism didn’t take hold. I was never indoctrinated into any faith, as my non-religious parents pretty let me and my siblings raise ourselves. My mother had some Buddhist exposure as a child but wasn’t ground in any faith. My parents just believed in the necessity of hard work, kindness, common decency and fairness.

    Out of pragmatism, they sent us to whichever ‘good’ schools were closest, and our kindergarten was run by nuns and was more like nursery school, learning our ABCs and basic maths and our times tables. We didn’t really learn much about religion except how to recite prayers. I was pretty clued out about religion, as we didn’t do those things at home. Prep school was secular, and my parents hired a driver to take us there. Then we were sent to Catholic high schools as they were reputed to the better schools with better teachers from abroad and nicer environment. The boys went to a boys’ school run by Jesuits, and I went to a girls’ school run by nuns. The education was pretty good and I was mostly interested in science and literature. We had to do religious studies including reading the bible and attending mass in the chapel on the school grounds. As I said, nothing would stick and I just learned to recite off stuff, and it became more about adopting the cultural habits of the society we found ourselves in. The first time we had to do the Stations of the Cross, I was privately appalled at the barbarity of the Crucifixion and felt something was not right or making sense about all of this. I used to call it the crucifiction, and I was equally appalled at having to sip the blood of Christ from the same chalice on which the old priest and all the other kids with their coodies had put their lips. According to one of the girls, there was a priest there who was creepy. I also could see that the head mistress lacked some basic compassion and good judgement in dealing with certain disciplinary situations – so much for her being a loving Christian and the head of the convent and the school.

    So that was the price we had to pay for getting a good education on a little island in the Caribbean. We got absorbed into the culture. My eldest brother was supposedly placed in charge of taking us to Sunday Mass, but I most often ducked out. When he was in University, I think he took up with some people who were Seventh Day Adventists and my parents had a fit, because he was trying to preach to them that they had to donate (tithe) money to their church. I think they even threatened to kick him out if he continued this way. Of course they didn’t mind going along with the Catholic culture, as that’s what they saw it as — something you could partake in or not, not as a life-defining thing.

    And so it was that when I married an equally blase and ‘lapsed’ Catholic guy who had a hardcore religious mother and sisters, we just continued in what we saw as a cultural scene, even though we were privately atheists. Our children were exposed to religion in Catholic schools too, as part of learning about several religions, but nothing stuck to them either, and they’re atheists too. All of my family except for one other brother (who married someone fairly religious) have left those things behind. The ‘outlaws’ haven’t though, and we tolerate their occasional random spouting of scripture, as they are nice people and still family.

  116. Never believed.

    Raised Catholic, went to Catholic school with weekly Mass and catechism. To me, it was all obviously something left over from the old days in my grandparents’ time when people didn’t know any better. Something that was just being carried on out of tradition. My six-year-old self would have been astonished to know that people still believe in religion 50 years later.

  117. It’s hard for me to pinpoint when I actually realized what I am. Growing up, my parents went to church on Easter and maybe Christmas, but all I remember is Easter. But they did send me to Sunday school when I was very young, and my mother used to read me Bible stories out of a book that was not the bible itself. She also made me say a prayer every night before going to sleep (“Now I lay me down to sleep . . .”) My father had no discernible interest in Church or the Bible. So I can’t say I was steeped in the Christian religion as a child. Mother had a copy of Rousseau’s Emile, which I think she told me once was a book on how to raise a child; but I don’t know how much of it she read. I still have the book. Maybe I will understand Mother better after reading it.

    After I was 10 years old, my mother became increasingly irrational, no doubt due to worsening alcoholism. She often said “Science and religion will someday be one”. But she never explained how that would come to pass. Somehow she heard about Christian Science, and the name was enough to convince her to send me and my sister to CS Sunday school (this was in Phoenix, AZ). We both got copies of their “holy book” Science and Health. Anytime I got sick I would read it thinking it would cure me. It didn’t. I couldn’t make any sense of it. The best time I had as a Christian Scientist was a picnic outing with our class, when I found a king snake and showed it to our teacher! That shook her up pretty good. I knew enough about snakes to identify it, I guess.

    I was not yet 14 when Mother died. As I was walking home from school, I saw the ambulance in front of our house. She had been suffering fainting spells when she would stand up, and hit her head once too often. She spent months in a coma.

    In high school, my best friend and I sang in a local church choir and joined Methodist Youth Fellowship. I must have taken some interest in learning more about Christianity, because I visited the pastor and borrowed an old book about Paul. (I was reading it in the bathtub when it fell in. I had to return it in considerably worse shape than when I borrowed it.)

    What stays with me about that time is that, while I assumed the other kids were taking Christianity seriously, I felt like an outsider who was faking it. It was during this time that, even though I still believed in a
    God of some sort, I knew he wasn’t a “person” but imagined him as some kind of vague spirit or creative principle. I suppose I was a deist. Another friend wrote to me “of course there is no real god”, which I found shocking. Yet when I filled out forms for enrolling in university, I remember putting “agnostic” where it asked for my religious preference. I thought it was cool.

    Another curious brush with Christianity came in high school when my best friend got saved at a storefront revival. He invited me to come–dragged me against my will almost. I marched up with the others to get “healed”. When the pastor asked how I felt, I didn’t know what to say, because I didn’t feel anything. But I didn’t want to embarrass myself and him.

    Just before my senior year at university, I got married. My wife had joined the Lutheran Church, so I joined too, for domestic harmony. As a musician, I enjoyed singing in and later conducting church choirs. I knew the liturgy by heart, and occasionally listened to the sermons. Our marriage lasted 17 years, and during that time I took religion for granted as just part of living. We raised our two daughters to get used to going to church and Sunday school. But underneath I was always glad on those days I would skip church (which of course I couldn’t do when employed there!)

    After my divorce I did attempt to have a serious relationship with God. I was unemployed, single, with few prospects for the future. I bought a Bible and read it for inspiration and solace. One lonely night I was lying in bed in the dark, and had the feeling that God was in the room with me, saying things were going to turn out all right. And I suppose they did, but I later realized that the feeling was an illusion of the brain to ease my despair.

    I continued to attend (Methodist) church with my second spouse, and often played a violin solo in church. But during this time my friend (who took me to the revival) had been learning about evolution and sent me some issues of “Creation vs. Evolution.” This was in the late 80s and early 90s. About that time I subscribed to Skeptical Inquirer and Free Inquiry. I suddenly understood that there were people who weren’t afraid to call “bullshit” on religion. I believe those influences caused me to think seriously about continuing to attend church. I began to attend some skeptic conferences, which further strengthened my point of view, and the rest is history.

    Still, the term “atheist” still had baggage for me, so even though I didn’t think God existed, I didn’t want to label myself as one. It probably was another decade before I was comfortable with doing so. Atheism is not a belief system; at most it is just a descriptive term, used for convenience.

    In summary, I would say it was the weakness of my commitment to Christian dogma coupled with become a critical thinker as the century drew to a close were chiefly responsible for my atheism. I learned to take responsibility for my beliefs rather than identify with them, that is, not to let my beliefs define me.

    The hardest thing I had to accept was that there will be nothing for me after I die. But knowing that it is the fate of every living thing (except possibly cancer cells) to die helps to keep me grounded. I like to think it makes the moments of this life more precious.

  118. Going through my divorce – That really pulled the rug out from under a lot of cherished beliefs. But things are a lot better now.
    I think that through the experience I learned just how un-necessary faith is – That has really been my enlightenment. I see now that faith and religion was always an impediment to my moral life and self honesty. Being honest with my self is the greatest gift I have today. I am more honest and able to accept criticism and more content when I am not religious. That we are “lucky” fortunate and happy when things go one way and sad and bummed when they dont and that has nothing to do with a god. I love Dr. Coyne so much and his podcast with Sam Harris was a peak experience for me. Coynes books are like scaffolds or latices.. they help me think.. I find myself thinking and putting things together after his books in a way that feels spiritual.. or like I have some suitable answers to the big questions.. like why am I here and what am I here for..

  119. My parents were atheist buddhists. Buddhism was unconvincing so I wound up with no religion at all 🙂

  120. I was raised Methodist but was rather bookish as a child. I read the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion fairly young. I also read lots of Norse and Greek mythology. By 6th grade I realized that the bible was just another collection of myths like others I had read, and nothing special.

    So I guess I became an atheist at 13, although I was unaware of the term until I was at university in the mid-2000’s. While at college I had a friend tell me that I was more christian than most christians he knew, which is a humorous thing to say to an atheist.

    Although I do have to admit that I’m an ordained minister in the church of the flying spaghetti monster and have officiated a wedding with a pasta colander on my head.

  121. Realized around 13-14 that I was an ape after watching a NOVA episode. My very first question to an adult after the program was whether or not they believed in God. I was told that that was a silly question and was subsequently asked the same question. I replied no with little hesitation. This enacted a violent emotional outburst up to being asked never to return (my older sister’s house where I stayed weekends in the summer). Not joking.

    I kept the family peace throughout my teenage years and throughout young adulthood.

    Then the internet happened and it was only a matter of time before I reconnected with the obvious. Though there were many sites, I credit the Craigslist atheist/religious forums, of all places, with helping me back to atheism.

    Synopsis for sure.

  122. I grew up in a very devout Catholic family, who was forced to go to church pretty much every Sunday. I wasn’t as devout but I was still a strong believer and had friends who were also as religious. I stopped going to church out of laziness at first, but I still identified myself as Catholic. However I met a pretty hardcore Christian who proclaimed that non-christians have a one way ticket to hell. It took me by surprise as I have friends who aren’t christian so I ask myself is this what I truly believe in?

    Breaking away from Catholicism was very difficult, my mum especially could not understand why I refused to go to church. But once I did break out, I could look from the outside in and see how much I was brainwashed from birth to believe in a religion. I do not blame my parents, they were brainwashed from birth as were their parents. It sort of disgusted me how religion works, get them while they are young and is difficult for them to think otherwise.

    I am glad I am out of religion, I did hide my atheism initially from others as I didn’t know how they would take it. However with Richard Dawkins and co. championing the Atheist cause, I am more comfortable to let people know I do not believe.

  123. At this point, reading all the comments is like reading a novel. Not since Ben Goren asked the three questions about the historicity of Jesus have I read so many new stories and comments. It’s cool to hit the tiny button that spurns the hoards…and I’m a hoarder too.

    I’m still glitched by PCC getting a half ton of wood on his Big Toe. OWwwwwwww. The most painful thing ever was another everlasting thread.

  124. Reading through the fascinating posts on this thread has encouraged me to tell what seems to me “yet another boring story”. One of the main reasons for telling it is to express my gratitude to the non-believing community whom I have felt to be an important support in a fairly long and difficult period in my life leading up to the death of my partner just over two years ago. I haven’t been religious for a very long time, but it is since discovering the freethought community and reading the mind-freeing books of Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Coyne and a long list of others that I have felt truly liberated from the shackles of the “respect” due to religion and the religious that was very much a part of my upbringing although nothing was ever harshly imposed. My English/Irish paternal grandparents were both lay preachers and missionaries and my widowed grandmother emigrated to Argentina after the First World War with her six children. The “Mission” and an allowance from her father-in-law’s family permitted her to become established and she went on to teach in a number of British schools and became the Headmistress of several of them. Argentina at that time had the largest British Community outside any Commonwealth country. Religion didn’t ever seem to be an important part of my father’s life and by extension of our nuclear family, but when we stayed with my grandmother it was Grace said at meals and prayers every evening; she also used to set her six grandchildren tasks to be completed before we all met up the next time, such as learning the 23rd Psalm and we had fun proving, in front of the other cousins, that we had been diligent in completing whatever the tasks were. I am sure that there were times (possibly when living far from my Grandmother) when I don’t think we even went to church every Sunday.

    When I was at a Church of England boarding school between the ages of 13 and 16 (one my Grandmother had been Headmistress of) it was my decision to be confirmed although there was no pressure from my parents.

    During my young adulthood I seem to remember being rather weighed down with guilt whenever I “transgressed”, and as a child that guilt and fear of the repercussions was definitely there. All of which I bitterly resented at the same time while hating the Church’s assumption that it had the right to dictate what was Right and Wrong across a broad swathe of everyday situations in relationships between the sexes.

    I married a non-believer at 21 (which did me good. That relationship split up and I then (feeling guilty the while)moved continent with a new partner and built a new life in Spain. Interestingly my partner and I were never actually married.

    When my son from that relationship was at boarding school in N. Ireland he became evangelized (not for very long, happily) but it was at that moment that I realized fully that the Bible was nonsense, that I didn’t believe and was rapidly becoming anti-religious. For nothing in the world would I have tried to argue him out of it, but was much relieved when he came to his own conclusions, and eventually became my co-conspirator in anti-religiosity and we discovered the freethought community together.

    My partner agreed with me, but was possibly less militant. My militancy is mainly in my own mind, because I am still very reluctant to confess my atheism to those of my many friends who sincerely believe. I can admit that I question everything but find it difficult to say I am an atheist. I now live in deep rural France with many friends belonging to old families to whom the Church is part of their identity, but France’s separation of Church and State and the insistence for respect to all, believers or not, is music to my soul. The difficult years I mentioned above occurred at the same time as I discovered Freethought radio, books and blogs on the subject and all that gave me a sense of freedom and self-worth that I have never felt before. Thank you Freethought community and sorry for the long and boring recounting, which has done me good.

  125. I was raised a Christian Scientist. Both my parents were very dedicated to the religion, reading the prescribed passages in the “good books” daily, expecting that it would protect their family, and rid my mother of multiple sclerosis, which she had been diagnosed with about the time I was born.
    Attendance at Sunday school for us kids was mandatory well into high school. It involved taking turns reading the scripture, punctuated only by singing an occasional hymn. I can’t remember a single time when there was a meaningful discussion. Questioning the scripture was not welcomed.
    Entering school in the early ‘50’s, I saw kids who were suffering the ravages of polio. Within a couple of years when vaccine became available, most of my classmates were inoculated, but not me. I had a religious exemption. Luckily the umbrella of “the inoculated” stopped the spread of polio to those of us who were under the delusion that we were protected by our prayers. My mother was not so lucky however, as she died at an early age despite my parents spending many thousands of dollars on professional Christian Science “prayers”, known as Practitioners. The reason for her inability to cure herself by praying and thinking the right thoughts was explained to me in an unsolicited comment by one of her Practitioners – she was not cured because she was “not a good enough Christian Scientist”.
    Like many before me, I cannot point to an instant in time that I became a non believer, it was an accumulation of questions that nagged me, such as none of my classmates who were inoculated against polio getting the disease even though I was not aware that any of them had prayed for protection, my mother’s worsening condition, plus lots of other illogical and contradictory religious claims along with my wife’s religious doubt. Furthermore, prayer didn’t seem to help day to day issues turn out as desired. As George Carlin said in his comedy routine, Religion is Bullshit, praying to God or Joe Pesci, about the same results, 50/50.
    Frankly, until I was a grandfather, I never thought about religion a lot after I drifted away from Christian Science, except when my father kept wanting me and my wife to indoctrinate our kids as I had been indoctrinated. Then the damage of religion hit me like a hammer between the eyes.
    About 7 years ago our daughter in law placed our 5 year old granddaughter in a fundamentalist Christian school over the objections of our son. At a very formal ceremony at the school celebrating the end of our granddaughter’s kindergarten year, her teacher droned on and on about one little child who would not accept Baby Jesus as her savior regardless how they tried to convince her. The teacher continued, saying that several months into the school year the little girl came crying to her and said that she would now accept Baby Jesus as her savior. The teacher then announced the identity of that little child who had resisted when all her classmates had long since agreed, our granddaughter. I was furious and sickened, just imagining the pressure the poor little girl likely endured. The teacher was just as proud as could be that she could report that 100% of her class had been successfully brainwashed. It was at that time that I became as hardened and outspoken about my religious opinions as Christopher Hitchens was about Jerry Falwell.

  126. I realized that if there was any real evidence for souls (or any kind of consciousness absent a material brain), real scientists would be testing, refining, and honing that evidence like the do with x-rays, electricity, magnetism, and other things that are real.

    Without souls, gods are irrelevant. I only tried to make sense of “god” when I thought I had a soul that might suffer eternally if I didn’t believe in “god” (whatever that is).

    Consciousness is so obviously a product of evolution… it helps it’s possessor survive and reproduce; consciousness without a material body makes no more sense than sound in a vacuum. I can understand why humans could believe in such things, but I also understand why it cannot map to anything real.

  127. Was at best Agnostic until 5 years ago when a bad COPD exacerbation resulted in a long hospital stay and, for the first time in decades, a lot of “Me time”. It was easy to realise that I really didn’t believe any gods existed. Bottom line, just take the time to think things through.

  128. it was pretty simple for me. i was 8 or 9 yrs. old, waiting in the basement of st. teresa’s rom. cath. church on the lower east side of manhattan, i was next on line to answer my little 10 weekly questions on the way to doing my “holy confirmation”, when a voice came on the line, or i felt a push, or I GOT IT. i looked around me, i remember it all precisely, and i was flooded with the absolute certainty that this was all b.s. i didn’t know what to do with this so i did nothing except that was bye- bye church for me. grew up some, went to viet-nam, marines, not that i felt i that i needed confirmation, but i felt vindicated i guess, “yea this whole god crap is just that.”
    i can feel for people who grow into adulthood and then all of a sudden it hits them. after so many yrs. something that has always been so solid, is now crumbling around your feet.
    i sense a certain small measure of excess pride in having helped my younger brother through the process of navigating the minefield of guilt and shame and mostly fear that is laid down all around you as you grow up theist. he is now god-free and quite the militant. i have no doubts, like ron reagan, i expect no rewards and fear no punishments.

  129. My parents are both quite traditional Christians, I grew up attending church most Sundays with my family. I took the whole God thing on board without questioning it much at all until I was older. One of my best friends during school was a strong believer and I went to different religious events and youth things with her which led me further down the path of delusion..

    It wasn’t until I was into my 2nd or 3rd year at University that I really started seriously questioning it all. I felt I was half assing being a “Christian”, and if I wasn’t going to fully commit why bother at all. That’s when I saw all the hypocrisy and cherry picking that happens in Christianity.

    I started considering other possibilities. I heard what Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris had to say. I realised how warped my thought paths were because I’d been indoctrinated into believing. I remember being told at a youth fellowship meeting years before, “Questioning the bible and god is the devil’s influence.”

    It was a slow and unnerving process to be honest but I finally admitted to myself there is no god or afterlife, that this life is all we have and that’s perfectly fine!

  130. At, Sam Harris has an interview with Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Fred Phelps who is the head of the Westboro Baptist church. She talks about leaving the church. I don’t think she claims to be an atheist (I may have missed some parts), but her story is probably one many here can relate to.

    1. Incidently, Fred Phelps died (of natural causes) a year or two ago. Before dying, his own church spat him out. He just might have grown a conscience or gotten in touch with reality, but whatever his turn around, they couldn’t handle it. And, they still didn’t allow his son to visit him in the hospital on his death bed. I’m referring to the son that left the church and became an outspoken atheist.

      1. Oh yes. I forgot that he died last year. I listened to this when I couldn’t sleep in the night and dozed through parts I’m sure.

    2. Thanks for this. I didn’t remember her until listening to the interview, and seeing some images. She seemed very well spoken. I kept thinking “Wow, this is the person that held all those horrible signs (with a smile on her face)?” When Dr. Harris asked her if it was a cult, she got a bit dodgy, but she’s on her way (hopefully).

  131. Mine was not dissimilar to yours, Grania. My faith just withered away at university. I was a “believer in belief” for a long time afterwards however.

    Reading The God Delusion is what crystallized my thinking on religion. I’m a 6.9999999… on Dawkins’ scale.

  132. I am sorry this response took so long. I wasn’t even going to post… but Grainia’s comment struck a chord that I couldn’t suppress: where she said she would get “fairly furious at the inaccuracies, the omissions and the one-sided version” presented in church. Because, as I see it, this is exactly how liberals present Charles Darwin. I started reading Darwin’s books in March of this year, and was very surprised to learn that: (1) he very clearly invoked a supernatural explanation for the laws of the universe and the origins of life in The Origin of Species, and (2) he wrote that humans have diverged into “distinct races or … subspecies” in the Descent of Man. Despite the popularity of his books and the clarity of his writing, these points are often utterly misrepresented.

    My family are religious and I went to a private Christion school that taught Young-Earth Creation. However even as a child, I knew that encyclopedias gave a very different account, and I couldn’t square the contradiction. It was only after studying chemistry (my major) in university that I realized how reliable radiometric dating is, and how wrong the Young Earth claims are. But now I am starting to realize that it is not just religious fundamentalists who try to mold reality to align with their worldview:

    (1) In Origin of Species, Darwin debunked the notion that each species was the product of “independent” or “special” creation. But he relied on a supernatural explanation for the beginning of life, writing in the second edition (page 484), “probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form, into which life was first breathed by the Creator.” Note the similar wording to Genesis 2:7, which says that God formed man and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (KJV). Darwin also wrote that the physical laws were “impressed on matter by the Creator”.

    Numerous atheists pass off Darwin as endorsing the claim that natural selection can explain the natural origins of life. (I understand this to be the central thesis of “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” by Daniel Dennett.) In fact, Darwin wrote that understanding how mental powers first originated “is as hopeless an enquiry as how life itself first originated. These are problems for the distant future, if they are ever to be solved by man.” (Descent of Man, Ed 2, page 66)

    (2) On March 1, 2015, the Guardian newspaper published an article, titled “Why racism is not backed by science”. In it, Adam Rutherford wrote that Charles Darwin did not think that human races were separate subspecies. This left me confused because Wikipedia pages on Darwin suggested that he maybe might have sort of considered that it was possible that perhaps human races might be subspecies.

    So, I started reading the Descent of Man and realized with fascination just how explicitly clear Darwin claimed that humans WERE separate subspecies. (In Descent of Man, Ed 2, page 608, Darwin wrote, “since [humans] attained to the rank of manhood, he has diverged into distinct races, or as they may be more fitly called sub-species.”) I was horrified to realize just how brazenly deceptive and even dishonest the likes of Rutherford and contributors to Wikipedia can be. This led me to email the complaints department at the Guardian newspaper directly. My first email was ignored, so I sent another strongly worded email, pointing out that their editorial code required that significant inaccuracies required prompt correction, and I questioned their integrity in the matter. At this point, they amended the article, but it is absolutely disgusting that they resisted correcting something so clearly false.

    Another example of the dishonest representation of Charles Darwin is a conversation with Steven Pinker where Adam Gopnik goes on a long rambling spiel. He says that Darwin toys with the idea that races might be separate in the way that subspecies might be, but then says that Darwin explicitly rejects because “all human beings belong to a single race”. In fact, Darwin used the term “races of man” many, many times, and wrote that humans formed “distinct races”.

    Social justice warriors claim that Darwin was a radical egalitarian, and that he only came up with his theory of natural selection because of his opposition to slavery. This is complete nonsense: many abolitionists were religious; Darwin didn’t need natural selection to oppose slavery.

    True supporters of Charles Darwin will counteract this ridiculous campaign of distortion and lies from the left, instead of just pointing fingers at religious people.

    1. “Numerous atheists pass off Darwin as endorsing the claim that natural selection can explain the natural origins of life. (I understand this to be the central thesis of “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” by Daniel Dennett.) In fact, Darwin wrote that understanding how mental powers first originated “is as hopeless an enquiry as how life itself first originated. These are problems for the distant future, if they are ever to be solved by man.” (Descent of Man, Ed 2, page 66)”

      There’s a disconnect there. You refer to origins of life, but then quote Darwin on origins of mental powers – not the same thing.

      Second, Darwin said “these are problems for the distant future” – well this IS the distant future. No contradiction of Darwin there.

      I’ll leave the biologists to deal with the rest.


      1. Darwin did not say that the origins of mental powers was the same as the origins of life. What he said was that he was not in a position to explain either. I am sorry for not posting the entire sentence: “In what manner the mental powers were first developed in the lowest organisms, is as hopeless an enquiry as how life itself first originated.” (Descent of Man, Ed 2, page 66).

        You wrote, “No contradiction of Darwin there.”
        Any suggestion that life naturally arose from non-living matter or that there is no supernatural entity clearly DOES contradict On The Origin of Species (as I pointed out above). In his autobiography, Darwin explains how he had lost faith in Christianity before writing On The Origin of Species, but that he was still a “Theist”. Over time, he became agnostic, which explains why such claims would not contradict The Descent of Man (as far as I know), which was published 12 years later.

        You wrote, “well this IS the distant future.”
        This is exactly my point. Contemporary scientists are hypothesizing how life started, and that is great. But any claim that life originated naturally from inanimate matter needs to be presented as their own. Darwin never made such a claim.

        You wrote, “I’ll leave the biologists to deal with the rest.”
        You are missing my main point. Whether Darwin was correct or not is entirely orthogonal to my critique. I am saying that people are misquoting Darwin, both inadvertently and also deliberately. This is a problem. We need to report what Darwin actually wrote, BEFORE biologists can discuss the merits of his claims. To quote Darwin, “False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness: and when this is done, one path towards error is closed and the road to truth is often at the same time opened.” (Descent of Man, Ed 2, page 606).


        1. “Any suggestion that life naturally arose from non-living matter or that there is no supernatural entity clearly DOES contradict On The Origin of Species (as I pointed out above).”

          I think that’s hairsplitting. In Descent of Man he states that origin of life is “a problem for the distant future” (i.e. arguably now), leaving the door open for a naturalistic process.

          I do agree Darwin shouldn’t be misrepresented. But I think you’re doing a bit of misrepresenting yourself: “Numerous atheists pass off Darwin as endorsing the claim that natural selection can explain the natural origins of life.”

          I think most better-informed atheists (certainly those on this site) emphasise that origin of life != natural selection, that the two questions are quite distinct.


          1. No, it is not hairsplitting to say that Charles Darwin relied on a supernatural entity to explain how life began in On the Origin of Species. We are talking about the most famous book in the science of biology. That he made this point, at that time, is a basic fact. Whether it is correct or not, is another matter altogether. As we both agree, he did not maintain this position when he wrote The Descent of Man.

            I wrote that “numerous atheists” are guilty of X, and your response is “most better-informed atheists” are not guilty of X. Logically speaking, that does not address my point at all. Even if most atheists are not guilty of X, there still could be numerous atheists guilty of X. Even if all “better-informed” atheists are not guilty of X, there are probably many ill-informed atheists guilty of X.

            I wrote that numerous atheists are guilty of misrepresenting what Darwin wrote in a specific book (The Origin of Species). In response, you wrote that better-informed atheists distinguish between natural selection and the origins of life. Your response entirely ignores what these atheists do and don’t say about Charles Darwin. That is the point of my post: prominent atheists are misrepresenting what Darwin wrote. I’m not writing about the differences between natural selection and the origins of life per se.

            Check out the conversation between Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, where they both sing the praises of Charles Darwin. Dennett says that Darwin brought together the world of material lifeless matter and the living world. Dawkins endorses this position. What Darwin actually brought together was all of life, into one amazing, branching tree with shared ancestry.
            At 8:25 in the video, Dennett describes “cranes” (natural mechanism to speed up evolution) and “skyhooks” (supernatural events too complex for natural selection), and says there are no skyhooks. Dennett describes the idea whereby its cranes all the way back to the origin of life, but then a skyhook is needed to start life. He says many people find this idea attractive, but he says this idea is incoherent. Well, maybe it is incoherent and maybe it isn’t; I don’t know. But please don’t pretend that Darwin didn’t rely on that exact idea in his most famous book.

            Here is Professor Coyne discussing On the Origin of Species:
            “I don’t see how the equality of votes for Darwin and the Bible shows anything like a “balanced approach to ideas”. Those ideas are inimical and incompatible, one book adumbrating natural causes for life and its diversity, the other offering untenable supernatural explanations for not only those phenomena, but everything else. What it shows is that half of Brits are science-friendly, and the other half can’t extricate themselves from the quicksand of superstition. And if someone voted for both, well, God help them.”
            So, Jerry wrote that On the Origin of Species reports “natural causes for life” and the Bible offers “untenable supernatural explanations”. Well actually, both books rely on supernatural causes for life. Both books claim that life was “breathed” in at the start (see quotes in my original post; Darwin also uses the term “the Creator” several times).

            In closing, I want to say that most of my family believe the Six-Day Creation narrative and have very negative views towards Charles Darwin. I appreciate efforts of the atheist community to protect Darwin’s idea of evolution by natural selection. But there is so much room for improvement in this endeavor.

            1. @ Stan

              What do you think Jerry meant when he said “adumbrate”? It can mean “foreshadowing”, in which sense Jerry’s statement is not inaccurate.

              Why do you quote the second edition of Origin as definitive of Darwin’s thoughts? (Jerry has previously discussed hereabouts the reasons why Darwin added references to a “Creator” in this edition.)


    2. My original post was in response to Grania writing that “the inaccuracies, the omissions and the one-sided version” presented by Christians made her upset. Taking the analogy further, I think that the responses I have gotten here are similar to responses when I tried to talk about evolution in Sunday School. Which I’ve done twice. Staunchly conservative Mennonites don’t want to hear about evolution in Sunday School, especially when the lesson is on Creation. I knew there wouldn’t be a productive conversation, but I knew I had to try. There were awkward pauses. A few people hit the usual talking points. Everyone was happy when the subject moved away from evolution.

      Back to my critique about how liberal atheists portray Darwin, nobody commented on the substance of my criticism. Nobody acknowledged that I might be right. There was some vague claim that I was misrepresenting atheists. I am reasonably confident that most people here are just wishing that the subject will change so they can go back to portraying Darwin the way they want. As a liberal atheist. And a social justice warrior.

      1. LOL! Please post a link to anyplace atheists are portraying Darwin as a liberal atheist and social justice warrior!

        Why am I feeding the troll?

        1. Actually I was reading them until Stan the man co-opted the stream of consciousness! The question wasn’t about Darwin anyway right?!? Definitely used as a forum for his gripes and not about answering the question.

  133. I’m reasonably confident nobody’s reading this any more. This thread started a month ago, that’s a century in WEIT terms. Seriously, if you want his discussed, find a current (i.e. new) thread that’s reasonably apropos and re-post. I guarantee you’ll get some traffic and from people better qualified than me to discuss it.


  134. I would help if there was a way of telling when new post are added otherwise I have to scroll through and reread the post by what I think was the last date. How about some kind of marker?

    1. Willard, below the comment window there is the option to “notify me of new comments via email.” Just click the box beside it before hitting “Post Comment.”

      (This works for most if not all WordPress bl*gs, IIANM.)

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